Editor’s Note: This article includes reference to issues faced by transgender men and women, including violence and death, and may prove triggering for some.
Early in June, the 13-year-old son of R&B singer R. Kelly, born Jaya, publicly came out as a transgender boy named Jay on the social media site Ask.fm. Months earlier, he had revealed his identity to his mother and older sister, both of whom he describes as having been supportive. His father R. Kelly became aware of the fact more recently, but remained silent on the subject until a live interview yesterday in which he was asked for his comment on the issue. “You don’t really wanna open it up by saying my daughter is becoming my son,” he said. “Because if that were true… don’t even give the blogs that kind of credit. You know what I’m saying? Real talk.”
Asked for his response on Twitter, Jay said he wasn’t upset at his father’s discovery of his transgender nature. And that is remarkably mature and understanding of the 13-year-old; the comments made by his father were incredibly offensive and hurtful, especially considering the reveal was made public by Jay himself, and not a rumor invented by “the blogs.” To purposefully misgender Jay by referring to him as his “daughter” and to dismiss the idea as mere hearsay despite the information being released via Jay’s own Ask.fm account would be inconsiderate and objectionable no matter who it was in reference to, but it must be doubly hurtful coming from one’s own father. Add to this the uniquely harsh social climate that transgender people of color must face on a daily basis and the degree of taunting and teasing that the average cis 13-year-old has to deal with from peers (let alone that of what a transgender teen has to contend with), and it becomes unacceptably cruel of R. Kelly to issue such a public statement about his son.
Some will argue that R. Kelly is just in denial, adjusting to a very difficult and likely unexpected new dynamic in his family life. Even lacking the personal experience, I can say with some certainty that the discovery that one’s daughter is now a son is probably not an easy change to adjust to. After all, every parent has dreams for their children, sometimes gendered and specific, and it can be difficult to accept the reality that one will not be giving his daughter away at the altar, that the little girl one thought they knew so well is in truth the opposite gender as the corresponding sex assigned at birth. No, it’s never easy.
But you know who has it harder? Who has had to (and likely will have to) deal with the identity conflicts, the taunts, the pigeonholing of restrictive gender roles, likely for years prior to coming out? Jay. It is not R. Kelly who has felt a dissonance within himself since he was six or seven, a sense that something wasn’t quite right about him. It is not R. Kelly who binds his breasts to maintain a physical appearance that is concordant with his self-image. It’s not R. Kelly who has to wait until he’s sixteen until he can undergo much-desired sex reassignment therapy. It’s Jay. Jay is the true victim here, not only as a transgender boy in a still-queerphobic society, but as the son of a man who is not able to accept him for who he truly is.
We live in a world where a brutally murdered transwoman of color cannot even be referred to in death by the proper gender or desired name, erroneously referred to as a “crossdresser” by local news sources. While the commonly-cited statistic of one in twelve trans* individuals falling victim to murder is not true, the reality of violence in the trans community, especially for trans* people of color, cannot be ignored. This is not a world that is kind to trans* folk, and the least a parent can do is offer their unflinching acceptance and love to their queer child and foster in them a sense of pride.
So don’t feel sorry for yourself, R. Kelly. The issue of trans* people coming out in record numbers is not going to go away anytime soon; like many parents of trans* children before you, you’ll have to get over it in time. And the sooner you do, the more likely Jay will be to forgive you and welcome you into his new life, post-transition.