by TC Rogers
As transgender issues gain media attention, Rhode Island native and University of Rhode Island (URI) graduate Jessica Brand takes the topic to a more local and even deeper place.
Jessica aims to help youth who are struggling to be seen and heard as their authentic selves within their bodies and their sex. She was the student speaker at the grand opening of the University of Rhode Island’s Gender and Sexuality Center on May 6 of this year and has been interviewed by NPR and various newspapers.
Jessica knew at an early age that her true gender was incongruent with her physical body and endured severe depression because of it. Unfortunately this experience is too common among transgender individuals. Jessica explained, “Countless times, around age three to four, I would slam the toilet seat down on it, trying to snap it off like a twig.” As she continued to age into a body that was not hers, the measures taken to cope led to more significant consequences. “One day, around age nine, I was so resentful of my body that I took a saw to the offending area, and began to slice back and forth on it.” She attempted suicide several times, and was almost successful once.
Jessica discussed notable shifts within her personal journey—physical ones induced by hormones and surgery, and symbolic ones, like a name change. “A new name was never difficult for me [or my sisters]. It was a bit harder for my mother, though not in a condemning way; it was just a psychological adjustment to a new name and female pronouns.” Although Jessica was not open about her journey with many people at URI, she found the campus and its medical staff to be safe and supportive.
More recently, Jessica took the final step in her journey– having sexual reassignment surgery, which URI health insurance covered after the co-pay. The surgery took place in San Francisco because there are no local places to have it done. “It has been much easier to communicate with others since this process began. I also have become much more happy, and ever since surgery, feel that I finally love myself for who I am,” Jessica stated.
When asked what would have happened if she were unable to have sexual reassignment surgery, she answered, “I was going to commit suicide. This body, and living the life that it implied was simply that terrible for me and made me hate myself beyond all words. It was absolutely a necessity for my survival.”
Jessica classifies herself as one who had a transsexual medical condition and is now cured. Encouraging us to dig deeper in our understanding of sex and gender, Jessica explained, “I am no longer trans. In Latin, trans means through and I have completed my journey.”
So, who is Jessica Brand at the end of this journey? She’s a thoughtful and articulate young adult, with a remarkably supportive family, who enjoys sports, traveling, romantic comedies, politics, the stock market, and cherry cheesecake. “Since transition, I would say that my interests remained largely the same, but with the important note that I now feel safer, on an interpersonal level, about being able to express these interests,” she shared. And after years of feeling as if she couldn’t form close relationships because she wasn’t truly herself, she’s especially ready for a “nice boyfriend.”
Her future professional endeavors include working on Wall Street and being an advocate for those with a transsexual medical condition, especially youth. Jessica advocates for crucial advancements, such as the ability to “make sex changeable on birth certificates in all 50 states, have hormones provided at the age of 12 or 13 for all transsexual youth, change sex before age of majority in all states (as Rhode Island has done), and creating a greater support network for youth.”
Additionally, Jessica serves on the board of and has a feature role in the documentary What I’m Made Of, which for two years has chronicled the journeys of transgender and genderqueer teens and their families as the teens safely transition under the care of Rhode Island pediatrician Dr. Michelle Forcier. The film is scheduled for release in 2016. The trailer and information can be found at www.wimodoc.com.
Jessica’s journey, at times filled with concerning despair, ends joyfully. Her perseverance and courage, support from loved ones and medical professionals, and appropriate medical coverage helped Jessica become her true self. “You just never know what to expect from society at times, but Rhode Island seems to be doing a simply fantastic job of equity matters here,” Jessica posited. For those experiencing challenges relating to gender, she advised, “Find even the simplest way to be yourself. Stand up for your right to simply be. Embrace yourself, and just let you be you!”