When I learned about Jay Pryor from a friend, I heard that he was a great guy who worked as a life coach and business coach for women. He seemed like someone that I would love to chat with. When I learned he was also a transgender man, I was even more intrigued and knew I had to talk with him. Our mutual friend put us in touch, and honestly, I could have talked with Jay all day. His story is captivating, and his personality is warm, funny, charming and honest. He is someone who has overcome so much and has remained a loving and positive person through it all.
Your story is fascinating. I have never had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with a trans person, so I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to chat and share your story. I have a million questions for you, but I will try to narrow it down. Can you tell me a little about what it was like for you growing up in Kansas as a little girl?
It was fantastic or tragic depending on which story I tell. I am blessed to have been raised in a family that loved me, and that was a powerful contribution to our community. My dad was the mayor of our city, and my parents were both very involved in church and civic leadership. I loved being a little kid in Kansas. I never wore a shirt or shoes unless I was in school until I was probably in Jr. High. Life got difficult personally when puberty hit. I was embarrassed by what was happening to my body while my other friends started enjoying becoming women by wearing makeup and shaving and carrying purses… I felt awkward at best. I recognize the feeling now as feeling like I was in drag when in a dress. I didn’t have language for it at the time, but now I realize it is a pretty common experience for Trans guys.
You mentioned that you lived as a lesbian before your transition. When did you know that you were a lesbian, and then when did you realize that you were transgender? What was your experience of coming out as gay when you were young, and then trans later in life?
I was 13 when I had my first intimate (kissing) encounter with another girl, and it was like an immediate knowing of what had been wrong or missing my whole life. So I came out to myself as woman loving at 13. I knew that about me like I knew nothing else. I deepened that knowledge at 18 when I actually started coming out to other people. From the age of 13 to 18 I only told one other person. At the age of 16 I told a friend that I was gay, and she stopped speaking to me. After two days, I told her I was just kidding. I just couldn’t take it. I never told another person until I was in the psychiatric unit at age 18.
My experience coming out as a lesbian or gay person was terrible. All the hiding was pretty hard on my soul. I was suicidal and ended up in a psychiatric ward for six weeks. That’s how I finally came out. It became do or die for me.
I have always identified as a butch dyke more than a lesbian, and I believe that butch is part of the transgender spectrum. In that sense have always been trans. However, I actually started coming out as trans around the age of 28 when a friend of mine sent me the book, “Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Feinberg. That book changed my life forever. I started coming out as trans then. I didn’t begin taking hormones to alter my physical appearance until I was almost 35.
Coming out as trans wasn’t that hard. It took time and me giving up how it should look but overall I am blessed to have a family that, for the most part, gets over it and loves me for who I am.
Can you please tell me a little bit about your experience having a family as a trans person? Did you have your children before or after you transitioned?
I didn’t have children before. My wife and I adopted our kids not that long ago. Actually, Jessica adopted our kids. According to Kansas law, I am still female and, therefore, a lesbian and lesbian couples aren’t allowed to adopt children in Kansas. We are in the process of doing a second parent adoption though. Jessica and I were foster parents and adopted both of our kids out of foster care.
I am not sure what to say about the family part. I have some funny stories about my kids figuring out what it means that Daddy is part girl and part boy. They have been very funny about it as kids are. My daughter, in particular, went through a phase of really enjoying pointing out that I used to be a girl. I have shared with my kids that I was born a girl, and they know that I am part man and part women. They don’t know any different so to them it’s just me.
How has becoming a father changed you? Is there anything unique about being a trans dad?
Being a father changed me but it doesn’t have anything to do with being trans. Being a father rearranged my molecules. I tell people all the time that having kids is the most transformational experience a person can have, and I have had a sex change, so I think that’s saying a lot.
Seriously, though, having kids is what has me face myself and my own humanity on an intense level. I had to deal with my perfectionism and my control issues. I had to deal with my deepest feelings of unworthiness and get to a new level of forgiveness and love for myself.
It was the catalyst for all my work since. I thought I had it together until I had kids. I’m a better coach and better person because I have kids.
Here’s a great story about my daughter and me being trans. I have a doll that my grandmother made me for when I was a little girl. I loved this doll. My grandmother hand made the doll and made me a lot of clothes for the doll. I loved dressing her so much that my grandmother would make me new clothes for her all the time. Needless to say, I have a lot of clothes for this handmade cloth doll.
All my life I have thought that someday I would have a little girl to pass this doll on to. So on my daughter’s adoption day I gave her the doll.
I told her how my grandmother had made it for me, and how I had waited all this time to have a little girl to pass it on to. She was very touched and loves the doll. For a few weeks after she got it, she would take it with her to church. And every opportunity she could get, she would tell people, “my daddy had this doll when he was a little girl.”
How did you end up becoming a life coach for professional women? What is it that draws you to coaching women specifically?
I have been coaching execs, entrepreneurs, and small business owners for a long time. First of all, I liked coaching women better. Second, I started noticing cultural conversations that women are in that has them putting their own wants and needs below just about everything else. Because I used to be a woman, I get it, but I also get and can see the men’s perspective. I have experienced how differently I am treated when perceived as male than when I looked female. I think it gives me a unique insight for women, and they appreciate it.
The majority of women I work with come at business as a way to contribute to the world, a way to be of service and as a way of personal fulfillment. Making money happens as a result of all this, but, for the most part, they don’t focus on that. I find that refreshing and fun. I love women, and I love to create with them. Seeing a woman get out of her own way and really harness her true power inspires me to no end. As a coach, I am a co-creator of what my clients are up to. It’s a blast for me.
What about living as a man has surprised you?
The first thing I noticed was the lack of people staring at me and whispering about me. I had gotten pretty used to people wondering loudly about my gender and “what” I was. Once I started passing as a man 100% that stopped completely. The next thing I noticed was that people looked to me to know things and or be in charge. At work, I was automatically assumed to be an expert. I had grown accustomed to having to prove myself as a woman. I started noticing that service people would address me if I was with a woman friend and often not look at her at all even though she may be the one making the request.
Men started saying things about women’s bodies in front of me. That hadn’t happened in that way before. Men would joke with me before, but never before had random men on elevators and in the street assumed I would find it appropriate for them to point out women’s anatomy to me. I was shocked at how common this is.
In business, once I was a man there was a level of immediate credibility I had NEVER had before. It shocked me so much at first that people noticed the shock on my face. In the beginning I used to mantra to myself when I would go into meetings, “I’m a man, I’m a man, I’m a man, I’m a man.” Just so I wouldn’t be shocked when they didn’t question me. I had to remind myself.
I read a quote by you that said you consider yourself both man and woman. If you are a genderfluid person and identify as both, why was it important for you to transition from female to male physically?
I have always wanted the male body, and I always hated the breasts. I love being stronger in my upper body and being able to grow a beard. I like that look and style of it more than I did my female looking body. I am still happy I did it. One downside to appearing male I’ve noted is that when I approach women they stop talking, and I don’t get to be “in” on all the girl talk.
Also, I wasn’t sure when I started taking the shots of testosterone how I would feel. It wasn’t until I had the male body that I realized that for me shooting testosterone didn’t make me a man. I became very conscious that much of gender expression is training. I was trained as a woman. Changing my body didn’t change that for me.
Ok, I have to ask, how in the world did you end up on a recent episode of Dance Moms? What was that experience like?
This is a long story so I will do my best to give you the cliffsnotes version. A few years back the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) brought a troop to our town of Lawrence Kansas to present their live touring show that is a part of the It Get’s Better Project. When they come to town they do a lot of grassroots organizing and education on LGBT Bullying and suicide prevention. They also invite community members to be a part of their last scene and sing the final song of the show.
My wife Jessica and I are both singers, so we were asked to participate in the community choir. Being an out trans family we also participated in their World Café event they had for the community to educate around bullying. Jessica and I met the cast and director for the show and they heard our story of adopting our kids and me being an “out” trans guy. They asked us at the time to come on stage during the performance. We did. They left town, and we thought that was the end of that.
A year or so later just a few months after one of my very best friends committed suicide, Leisel Rhinehart, the director of the GMCLA It Get’s Better Tour contacted me. She said that they were rewriting the show and wanted to use stories of real people and how they had struggled and it got better. They had remembered meeting me and wanted to know if I would be willing to be interviewed and have my story be a part of the new show. I was honored and happy to do it. I did a few Skype interviews with Liesel, and again that was that.
Then last spring another friend of mine that was trans killed herself. That day I fired off an email to Liesel Rhinehart to say, “I have to do more.” I was really sad and frustrated that so many trans people had taken their own lives. Being someone who had been suicidal and was a survivor, it was even more real for me what these people were dealing with.
Literally one week after I sent that email to Liesel she got in touch with me to say that the TV show Dance Mom’s had reached out to the GMCLA about the “It Get’s Better Tour.” They wanted the girls to do a dance to one of the songs from the show and it just so happened that the song they chose was the one from my story. GMCLA thought it would be powerful for the girls to meet the actual person that the song was about. That is how I ended up on Dance Mom’s.
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