By definition, a contradiction is a direct opposition between two things. There is a blog on the internet with pictures of a beautiful, smiling baby girl. She is swinging on a child’s swing, wearing only her diaper and a long necklace. There are also photos of a young man named Jackson; he is the person who created the blog. Jackson writes with confidence and grace in his blog as explains himself to the world. The little girl on the swing and the young man who wrote the blog are the same person, they share the same soul.
Jackson Darling, 27, is a transgender man. His birth name was Jessica Darling and his road in transitioning from Jessica to Jackson has been anything but a straight line.
Kindergarten was Jackson’s first time realizing that his expression of self and what was expected of him did not match up. Jackson heard his mother correcting his teacher that he was not a boy, but that he was her daughter. Jackson was proud of looking like a little tomboy but it was clear to him in that moment, that his mother wanted him to be seen as her daughter. “That’s when I first saw gender with such a black and white perspective,” Jackson said. It taught him that when someone gets your gender wrong, you are supposed to correct them. When you are young, Jackson says, gender is not a concept that you know how to describe or comprehend. You are just expressed as a person. But once you start interacting with the world around you in a more formal way, gender becomes something that you are conscious of.
Jackson grew up in a progressive Unitarian Universalist family. His mother, father and older sister have always been supportive and open-minded. In high school, Jackson had both a serious girlfriend and a serious boyfriend and has always been attracted to both sexes.
Family members of transgender people go through a huge transition themselves. They have to go through many of the same steps with coming to terms with their family member’s gender. Through open communication an education Jackson’s sister, Robin Darling, has become a very strong ally for the LGBT community. It was not always easy for Robin to face the reality that her little sister was not going to be her little sister anymore. Robin attended San Francisco State and graduated with her masters in the sexuality studies program. She even did her thesis on female partners of transgender men.
A huge turning point for Jackson came when he began college at the University of California, Berkeley as an art major. He remembers signing his artwork with the name Jessica and feeling like his name did not reflect the person he was at all, as if someone else’s name was on his work.
“It was a really important time for me to discover myself and gain a sense of independence. I had to figure out how I wanted to be as a person in the world and for the first time didn’t see myself as a child living at home who was trying to please my parents,” Jackson said. “Since the things we repress never really go away, the feelings I had always been having about my body not representing who I am came back. During college, I learned that when making decisions about my life, the answers are always going to have to come from within me. I can ask people for their thoughts and advice and get support but ultimately I will know the answers to the challenges I have,” Jackson said.
Changing his name from Jessica to Jackson was a long process. First, he went by the name Jess in college. It fit him better because it was more androgynous. Then he started going by the name Jay. He thought Jess felt like too much of an association with his old self. “At work I was still going by Jess and using female pronouns but I was going by Jay with friends. There was a mix of people calling me different things so my transition into Jay was a little bit slower.” After an extensive decision-making process and deciding that he still wanted a J name, he chose the name Jackson. “It was a piece by piece process to announce to everyone. There was certainly a time where I didn’t know how to introduce myself. I would introduce myself and give people all these options of what they wanted to call me. Finally I had people who would ask what I prefer and told me that if I wanted to go by Jackson, it’s ok.”
Jackson currently works as the project manager at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. At the center, Jackson is a leader for his employees and thousands of volunteers. One of Jackson’s employees, Marnie Florin, says Jackson is an excellent listener and even better at giving advice. “He knows how hard to push people but is very cautious of not giving someone so much responsibility that they feel overwhelmed, which is a pretty impressive skill. He’s incredibly encouraging, and always makes me feel appreciated for everything I do,” says Florin.
Florin remembers feeling overwhelmed in the beginning with her job to recruit new volunteers. “I realized that I was probably not going to hit my recruiting goal and I was really disappointed. Jackson had me write down everything I had done the past few weeks, so that I could see that I had really done a lot. I was just so focused on the numbers that I couldn’t see all the stuff I had accomplished,” Florin said.
Throughout his journey, Jackson has learned that there is not just one way to be a transgender person. Just like there is not one way to be a man or a woman, Jackson says, there is not one way to express your gender. So identifying as a transgender person does not determine who you are. If you are a trans man, you get to choose what kind of man you are. You can be a sensitive man, a man who cries, or a man who works out at the gym, or not, Jackson says. You get to decide who that is and make choices about how you behave and how you interact with people.