I spent three years following a transgender teenager. The three-part series ran in the summer of 2017 in The Oregonian.
Jay stepped outside his first day of high school and knew he should feel lucky. Whole generations had lived and died without any of the opportunities he would have. He was a teenager coming of age in an era Time magazine had declared the Transgender Tipping Point.
By his senior year, Jay's quiet life would ride a surge in civil rights.
Barack Obama would become the first president to say the word "transgender" in a State of the Union speech. Target would strip gender labels off its toy aisles. In Oregon, student-athletes would gain the right to decide whether to play on the girls' team or the boys'. Girls would wear tuxedos to prom.
That didn't make the path forward easy or safe. North Carolina would forfeit $3.7 billion to keep people like Jay out of the bathroom. An Oregon city councilman an hour from Jay's house would threaten an "ass-whooping" to transgender students who used "the opposite sex's facilities." Even Washington, the liberal state Jay called home, would consider a bill rolling back his right to choose the locker room that felt right. President Donald Trump would take over for Obama and ban transgender people from serving in the military.
But that morning, Jay was just a teenager, just a boy walking to school. He didn't want to be a trailblazer. He wanted to be normal.
Part One: A Transgender teen at the tipping point
He was 12 when "girl" started to feel like the wrong word for him. He was a ghost without a body, he thought, a vampire who avoided mirrors. His reflection found him anyway. There were mirrors in the hallway and next to the kitchen table. Turned off, the flat-screen TV was a black projection of the body he tried to hide. Even the coffee table, a glass-top smeared with after-school snacks, caught his form. His face was round and so was his body. He turned away in disgust.
That's not me.
Part Two: Transgender teens's quest for surgery
Jay had three more years of high school and hadn't told many friends that he was transgender. Three years of homecoming dances and pool parties. With surgery, those might be bearable.
Part Three: Transgender teen navigates new life
Jay thought top surgery would make him happy. But the road forward would not be easy.