by Kristina Vakhman and Sarah Willson
Central Connecticut State University student Jacey Long’s username on Twitter is “xyjacey.” The two front letters represent the biology she was born with; however, for Long, they don’t define who she is.
“Yes, the chromosomes are there,” Long said. “That is real, but that doesn’t make [me] any less of a woman. That doesn’t make you any less of who you are. A lot of people think that’s hard-coded and it’s very important to learn to see past that.”
Earlier in the year, Long went by “Akai.” Before that, she was “James.” She grew up as one of two twin boys—as a brother to her identical male sibling and to her older sisters who, coincidentally, are also twins. “Jacey” came about courtesy of one of her sister’s teasing when they were children. A combination of the initials of Long’s first and middle name at the time, her sister thought the title was cute.
“I remember being embarrassed because I was like, ‘No, don’t call me that. That sounds kind of feminine,’” Long recalled. “It was vaguely different enough at the time that I didn’t like it. Although I said I didn’t like it, I liked that dynamic of me saying ‘No. No,’ and her calling me it anyway. Then she stopped because every day I was telling her I didn’t like it. When I came out, I was thinking of names and then I was like, ‘You know. I could go with just the initials,’ but I’d heard that Jacey was a popular girl’s name, so, it works.”
Still, Long said that realizing she is female was a lengthy, arduous series of events. Skipping from term to term and label to label, the unfolding of her true identity only surfaced once she was a student at CCSU.
“It started with looking and removing options. ‘So, I know I’m not fully masculine. I know I’m not a guy. I know I’m not non-binary. I know I don’t want to be what they call a demigirl or a demiboy. I know those are out. I know I’m not any of those things, so I’m probably just trans,’” Long explained.
“You sort of take yourself through a process of elimination,” Long continued. “I like to joke and say that there’s a lot of plausible deniability with this stuff up until a certain point where you can take it forever and just keep going and going and going with it, but at a certain point, it just becomes easier to accept all these things as the basic truth that you’re just trans. Maybe that’s why I’m a philosophy major.”
“I wouldn’t call it an ‘aha!’ moment,” she added. “It’s more of a seed that grows and grows. Hopefully, by the end of it, I’ll look like a flower.”
Long is blooming with the help of peers, dressing in clothing given to her by her friends and applying makeup per their instructions. Her brother has rallied behind her and her mother—though a bit tougher to convince at first because of the conservatism in their family—paints her nails.
CCSU has also extended a hand. With clubs like PRIDE and services like the LGBT Center, Long has places to turn to on campus. She attributes the university’s gracious stance to matters like gender and sexuality to its consciousness. Nonetheless, Long sees faults that can be easily mended.
“There’s actually an issue currently going on because the LGBT Center doesn’t have a full-time staff. The people working there right now are all students. When I was having a small crisis, I had to wait an hour because the students’ schedule didn’t line up,” Long said. “The people that are there are great. It just sucks that [when] they graduate, [they’ll] leave. It’s definitely tough.”
Despite the general openness on campus, Long is concerned with normal, everyday things as simple as going to the bathroom, finding herself having to hide and to sneak into gender-neutral lavatories when she’s made certain that nobody is looking. Her confidence is tested when she receives confused stares while wearing items like skirts and heels, putting her in a position of vulnerability. Her primary worry is her career in the Student Government Association where not every senator and constituent is aware of the fact that the “Akai” who has served them since freshman year is a person of the past.
“I’m considering a run for the [executive] board, but I’ve changed my name, so will people even remember who I am or remember all the things I did before?” Long posed. “I know a lot of people who are acquaintances who tend to vote for me don’t all know. Will they see a whole different name and say, ‘I don’t know who that is. Skip.’”
“Even just deciding what I wanna wear in the morning,” she went on. “If I wear something that’s too overt, I feel like people won’t take me seriously. Maybe that’s just a part of femininity as a whole or just exclusive to trans people. I don’t know, but it’s definitely tough, the transition process.”
Nonetheless, Long is hopeful that, with raised awareness on campus about individuals like her, the university can become even better at addressing the needs of the LGBT plus community. She also encourages others to learn more on their own and to not be afraid to come talk to her.
“If you see me around, say ‘Hi.’ Tell me how great I look. It helps. Those compliments make my day. Do research. It’s fascinating. If you’re ever having questions about who you are, it’s okay. It’s okay to think that and to not have everything figured out all the way,” Long said.
“All of the coolest guys like to wear dresses. It’s just a fact,” she finished, speaking not only to the CCSU community, but to the parts of her she’s left behind in “James” and “Akai” to become Jacey Long.