Jay Malakai Shannon
Trans Man (he/him)
Married to Alisha Shannon
Colorado Springs, CO
Loving Father, Husband, Son, and Brother
On gender identity, and the coming out experience...
“You know, it’s such a complex thing to try and explain. In order to be the man that I am today, I had to go through a lot. I was always a ‘tomboy’... A rough around the edges, ball playing, dirt bike riding, fast car loving type... Growing up in the dating scene, I was the ‘butch’ lesbian type and never really had to announce myself as such label, it was just almost expected. Through my years I continued to learn about the world and myself. It wasn't until I got married and moved to Colorado that I started to break away from my small town roots, with a small mind mentality. I realized then that there is an entire world of other people out here who exist but are yet not understood nor accepted. I can't deny as naive, or maybe even as ignorant as it may seem now, but social media platforms are what taught me who I am... transgender. I started to research the science behind our brains, I read thousands of personal stories and I felt these people’s emotions and hardships in my soul. I have been doing hormone replacement therapy for almost 2 years now. Right before I started hormones is when I really came out and said, ‘This is what and who I am..this is how I'm going to identify..and these are the steps that I'm going to be taking to truly become myself.’
"I prefer he/him, because that’s what I identify as. However, this is where I feel I differ from a lot of other transgender people I have read stories about. You see, I understand that I was Heather for 26 years. I was a she and a her... A daughter… a sister… a niece… So I understand that not everyone is going to pick up on all the changes overnight, or even over a few months time. Does it suck? Absolutely! Does it hurt my heart because I'm going through all these changes, injecting my body weekly, surgeries, sacrifices, just trying to get to the ultimate he and him and physically looking on the outside as the man I feel like on the inside? Yes, it definitely hurts [being misgendered]... but I understand that there were so many years that I was another person, one that everyone knew and loved. I just can't expect for them to forget Heather and be on board with Jay. That being said, I am from a small town in Missouri, with a traditional family, but everyone is making strides in their own way. That’s all I can ask for, progress not perfection. Because in reality I'm a process of progress, an unfinished product. When I told my wife and my mother about being transgender I said, ‘I want you guys to be just as comfortable with the process and the transition, as I am.’ That means understanding I'm not that I'm not just going to wake up tomorrow and have a beard, or flat chest, and be this big bearded burly man all in a days, weeks, or even months time. That’s not going to happen, it's all a series of events with no timeline. Plus, my 3 little brothers lived with me during most of this journey and I definitely wanted them to be comfortable with my changes. The older boys have known since the beginning and were never against it or really questioned me on why... it was a very smooth transition with them. My youngest brother however we decided we would just let him watch and pick up on the changes on his own, in which he has. When I came home after having top surgery, I was standing there with my shirt off, taking my bandages off, and he said ‘You have a man chest now!’ And it was just that simple. We didn't skip a beat.”
Favorite part about the community?
"The love, pride, and resilience of my brothers and sisters! I tell all my straight friends they should go to a gay bar at least once in their lives. Just to see the energy, the love, that life of the party type feeling that everyone gives off. One of the biggest differences that I use to explain is simple. It’s like when you're in a traditional ‘straight’ bar, and you bump into someone they usually react in a negative way and ready to fight. And when you bump into someone in a gay bar, both people are immediately apologizing and responding ‘oh sweetie, it's fine…’ or something along those lines. There is just always love to be spread in our community. I've met so many brothers and sisters within this community that were thinking of even attempting to kill themselves, because the everyday struggles are just getting to be too much, but they don’t. They keep fighting, we keep fighting. We are survivors, we are warriors, we have pride in the steps we take to be true to ourselves and love our partners with everything we have. And it’s that, that spirit our community has. We give everything we have. I don't think I have met one person within the LGBTQ group that doesn't love with all of their heart, and who doesn't give with all of their soul.”
“One of the most frustrating things is the misconception that goes into everything… Obviously in any group of people, there’s the bad people that give that whole group a bad label… bad apple makes the whole tree bad, however you wanna call it. But people really don’t understand what we go through, they really don’t… So many lesbians, gays, and transgenders will tell you they wouldn’t choose this life a second time around. Not because were not happy or believe we weren’t born this way, but because every day is hell sometimes. You don’t fit in, you get made fun of, a lot of us get bullied… or even worse, killed. We can't walk into a room without being judged, we can't even interview for a qualified position without being viewed as incompetent, or as a liability... We are constantly thought of as less than equal to our straight counterparts. People don't think our voices should be heard, and they try extremely hard to shut us out. And for what? For loving other human beings. That is insanity…”
What is something you would tell a younger you? Advice for anyone out there who feels like they can’t come out, or they don’t have a community to be a part of?
“My support system is definitely intact now, but when I first came out as transgender, it was not. I thought that my marriage was going to turn to a divorce… I thought my mom might walk out of my life, which would include losing my brothers… I thought all my uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins… I didn’t think there would be anyone… I spent a lot of time alone during this transition… So, I would tell myself, it is okay… it’s okay to ride the boat alone. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. Because you are going to make it to the other side of the sea. What I would tell others… I guess the same thing. Don’t be afraid to stand alone if it makes you happy. I promise you, that you loving yourself is more important than anyone else loving you. There are definitely going to be times where you feel alone but you have to know it is okay and it does get better. You are vallid, you are beautiful, you are enough, and you are loved… Remember that.”
Most people go by or keep the name given to them at birth, as a transgender person you have the unique opportunity of choosing your name, how did you choose your name?
“I went back and forth… I won’t lie… My mom told me that my dad got to name me if I was born female, and my mom got to name me if I was born male. Obviously, my dad got to name me. My mom was going to name my Cody James. I went back and forth with using Cody or not, it was very hard for me. In my younger days, I made a character (online) - which shows you that I knew what was meant to be when I was that age - it was 7th grade, and I named them Cody. So when I came to pick my name as an adult, I thought about using Cody, and I didn’t feel right about it because it felt made up. I didn’t want to bring up that past. So, my dad’s name is James Michael Shannon… I wanted to go with the same initials. I won’t lie, I went through every name from A-Z and I’d call myself it, and I’d send a list of them to friends and they’d say they were all whack, don’t do it… Jay was always the one everyone said felt like me. My wife’s middle name is Brunilda… and I always call her Queen B. Every now and again she used to call me by the nickname of Jay… so it all kind of worked itself out. I chose Jay Malakai Shannon, to have the same initials as my father, but still keep my own identity…”
What in your life are you most proud of?
“My family. My dedication to my family and always being there for them. My mom is a single mother of 4 children, me being the oldest. I was taught responsibility and priorities at a much faster rate than other children my age. But it made me who I am today and prepared me for my own family one day. My core and my reason for living is without a doubt my family. My wife, who is pregnant with our daughter, my mother, and my 3 brothers… that is what makes me the man I am today. A family man to my core.”
Someone once told me you should never ask a transgender person their dead name, what’s your opinion on that?
“...You hear a lot of people talking about how that part of their life is dead to them…. Something I say is that I had a good life as Heather… yeah, I was depressed, and knew that I was holding stuff in, and wasn’t able to be myself, but I had friends, I had family, I was the jokester, and the class clown… I loved my family with everything I have… I didn’t have a bad life as Heather. It just wasn’t what I was meant to do. It wasn’t destiny. She’s not dead, she’s definitely a part of who I am, and who’s made me who I am. It’s easier to relate to that part of my life because she didn’t have a bad life, and she’s not a bad person… we did cool things. I kind of go back and forth… and will probably get a lot of backlash for my answers from the transgender community, because to me the only way to get this transgender thing out there, and understood, and having people really reading about it… trying to understand… trying to learn about it… We have to be willing to answer questions like that. We have to be able to answer to, ‘What was your dead name? What did you identify as before, what do you identify as now? Have you had surgery? If you have, what kind of surgeries are those? What do they include? I know for some people, that’s not okay, you don’t ask those questions. But my opinion is, if we really want the world to see us... to view us… to understand us, we have to answer those questions. We just have to. From my point of view, I answer them… I tell people, because there are so many people that will say, ‘I got a question, buuuut I don’t wanna offend you…’ and I see their wheels turning. I tell them they’re never going to offend me, and to just ask. I would rather you ask me, lets have this conversation… and there’s some stuff I may not even have the answers to, but we might have to Google together, but just ask. That’s the only way we’re going to find out...”
With the state of the nation and the world in its current state, what’s one thing you would change if you had the power?
“I’d want every human to be seen as a human - whether you’re white, black, hispanic, gay, transgender, disabled, autistic… no matter who you are… just for them to be seen as a human. I was talking to my friends the other night, and I brought up, ‘One voice…’ I don’t want to be the voice for transgender people, I don’t want to be the voice for white people… I don’t want to be the voice for black people… I want us to be one voice for us all. One voice for everybody… Right now, we are not one nation. We are a million divided nations…”