Call me Jessica Summers: A transgender student’s struggle to be respected

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Perla Lara

Jessica Faye Summers a transgender student advocating for transgender acceptance her new name is the start of creating her identity as a woman. Her new first name Jessica begins with the initial for birth name she wanted to have a connection to her birth name, Faye means fairy comes from the T.V. show Lost Girl, and her last name Summers comes from the movie 21. Photo credit: Perla Lara

Perla Lara

William Shakespeare wrote “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” His famous quote suggest that a name is not important that it is the essence of a thing, a rose, or a person that matters.

However, names are tied to a person’s identity, acknowledging a person’s name is the most basic way of acknowledging who someone is. It is giving someone the most basic form of respect.

For Jessica Faye Summers, undecided major, obtaining even that small amount of respect is a struggle. Having her identity as a woman acknowledged and accepted by friends and family members is a fight she faces on a daily basis.

“There are still days that I wake up and I’m just, I realize that if I just kept living my life the way I was I wouldn’t have all these issues I wouldn’t be fighting for what I’m fighting for I wouldn’t be struggling with society with friendships with just everything in general.”

Summers is a transgender student who realized that her biological male gender was not who she was.

Being transgender was not a realization that Summers reached automatically it was only after several years, many conversations about her identity, and a lot of introspection on who she was that she came to the conclusion that she was a woman despite being born with a male body.

“Well I guess I can say it kind of really started in high school, I always really had this kind of what everybody called ‘metro look’. I was very pretty I took care of my hair, my clothes, my nails, my eyeliner, my mascara when I went out with friends, things like that […]

“I was kind of into the whole emo, punk goth scene and it just kind of fit so I never really thought too much of it.”

She continued, “I loved the industrial [fashion] you know nice tight clothing, really fitted […] I kind of started in high school, I was very feminine at times the way I’d walk around the way I’d use my hand gestures, they’d be a little feminine but it was just something that I would do that’s all I thought of it.”

It was only with her then fiancé Ashly Campbell that Summers had discussions about gender identity.

Campbell said, “It was a lot of digging that we really didn’t really reflect on.”

Summers said, “It was just a discussion, but it really didn’t go anywhere. It was just kind of something [Campbell] touched up on and then just kind of left on the back burner and after we talked about it that was the end of it for some time.”

It was only seven months ago that Summers came to the realization and accepted that she was a woman and had to live her life expressing herself as a woman.

Summers recalled the moment that she realized who she was.

“About seven months ago I was sitting at home watching T.V.[…] I was just sitting there I was watching anime and I realized that I wanted that. I was looking at these characters these female characters and I envied women because they could portray these characters the way that they are meant to be portrayed and it’s like I physically cannot because of my physic and it just it infuriated me.

“I realized this and that’s when I came over [to Campbell] and we started talking about it and little by little [she] mentioned it could be something more like an alter ego and I went home with that idea.”

Summers continued, “The idea of it didn’t quite settle with me that it was just an alter ego it was just something else, you know, a pen name, something that I choose when I want to because that’s not what it was and the more I thought about it the more the more it was there.

“The more I realized that to me it’s not just a pen name, it’s not just an alter ego, it’s not just something that I choose to be when I choose to, I realized that I was a woman. I was a woman and it is who I am.”

Summers had to face her family and let them know that she no longer was the son they had given birth to and raised.

“My siblings know and my parents know […] my mom hasn’t spoken to me in three months um my dad talks to me still but it feels a little distant […]

Campbell who has been Summer’s support throughout her difficult times said, “Be honest about your feelings too, you’ve cried in the car with me Jessica.”

Summers acknowledged, “I cry, I do and it’s difficult because you know I come from a Hispanic background and culturally it’s very family oriented, so I’m used to that, suddenly I don’t have that anymore suddenly you know family is nearly nonexistent.

“I have my brother and my sister and one other family member that knows and that is it I don’t have a mother and my father I’m pretty sure he’s just still in shock still in denial and it’s painful.

“Even though I have friends, even though I have the support of the school, faculty, […] when you lose something that big what can you do?”

Campbell has known Jessica for about 10 years, “He was my first boyfriend and I met her when I was 13 so I was absolutely head over heels for Ricky. [now Jessica]”

“Jessica, she’s a lot different than Ricky. Ricky was unhappy and had no direction in life but I feel that through this transition Jessica feels like a full person.

“And I think that a lot of that has to do with the fact that she was repressing her true identity, and you can’t feel complete unless you are completely who you are. So aside from all of the horrible things that she has to go through I’ve never seen her so alive and so passionate and driven to do something that she really wants to invest her life in.”

Family is not the only loss that Summers has had in the past seven months.

She has also faces a loss of trust in the friends she thought would respect her new life as a woman.

Through tears Summers recalled how someone she only described as her male best friend attacked her.

“We were having a really good time and it was for one of our friend’s like early birthday that’s why you know we had a drink on Wednesday [Oct. 19].

“Suddenly [her male best friend] and another friend were you know going off on this tangent on pop culture and what not and it’s like ok they’re doing their thing.

She went on, “My other friend was sitting there kind of quietly you know, where’s the inclusion what happened there, so you know kind of just turn over to him and I put on my phone a little bit of music.”

“He turned over to me and grabbed my hand very forcefully in a very assertive manner squeezing it to the point where just pulling away isn’t going to cut it, you know he’s gripping on to me making sure that I acknowledge him in a sense.

“So I ignored him and in doing so he then uses my name, a name that I haven’t gone by in nearly seven months. You know a name that is a part of my past, he wasn’t calling me Jessica and he was doing it on purpose because he knew that it would hurt me.”

The first time, Summers believed it had been a slip and when it happened again she knew it was being done on purpose.

“Between the second and third I told him ‘excuse me,’ so he grabbed my hand even tighter, he looked me dead in the eye and repeated it a few more times, then grabbed my phone and chucked it across the street.

“I’m trying to avoid any conflict I’m trying to keep my composure, […] ,so I get up you know of course in bit of anger, I don’t even remember what I told him but it wasn’t even aggressive it was more so assertive. [ I ] tell him that I’m not going to stand for that, I’m not going to stand to be disrespected and if that’s the way it’s going to be then that’s it.”

Summer’s aggressor took this as a signal to start a fight so he shoved her.

“I am in heels at this point and I mean I have fallen plenty of times, I know how to fall. I know how to contort my body so that I can make sure I know where I’m going to land so I can reduce the damage to my body.”

Summers noticed that she was going into a fence with steel metal bars and spikes.

“Had it not been for me trying to look for where I was landing, God knows if I’d even be sitting here right now. I slammed my face, I was already bleeding from three different places, my lip was [injured], I needed stitches, it was deep and even still he was calling out at me, not just my other name but he was still calling out at me.

“So at that moment thankfully one of my other friends being a security guard and a bouncer, a rather larger fellow, restrained him and pulled him aside because he was basically standing in front of the entrance in front of the gate.”

“What I did next is […] I’m not too sure quite frankly for some reason had it been anybody else, I wouldn’t have hesitated but I told him that he better be f*cking glad that I am not calling the cops,” Summer said.

As a result of the attack she now has nine stitches, five on her lip, three on her cheek, and one on her eyebrow and a bill for $120 for the emergency room.

Through all the struggles Summers will continue to be an advocate for the transgender community.

She said, “Out of 23,000 students, statistically, there’s no way that I’m the only one. So to [transgender students] say life is hard there’s going to be people that we believe we can trust but we can’t, and there’s going to be those that you think you can’t trust but the truth is you can it’s just an endless struggle.

“At the end of the day it’s staying alive, it’s fighting, it’s knowing who you are and why you wake up every morning because there is somebody out there that will listen to your story there is somebody out there that will hold your hand and let you cry on their shoulder.”

Campbell supports Summers in her efforts to advocate for the transgender community.

Campbell said, “I hope that Jessica through her efforts and her journey for the transgender community, if she doesn’t change minds, I at least hope she opens minds around the campus […] I hope people will at least be willing to open their minds and see her as human and as a person just like themselves their best friend or their family.”