R. Kelly’s Response to News of His Son’s Coming Out As Transgender Means We Have A Long Way To Go

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.


Duni Arnold
Duni Arnold is the Junior Editor of Issues for The Flounce and lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. Her subjects of specialty include women’s issues, race, social justice and policy. On a typical day she can be found oil painting, scribbling music, studying economics and browsing the interwebs on her laptop with her dog Star at her feet.
  • fiona

    Another “article” without a shred of personal experience, talking about binding breasts and struggling with a child’s decision. Are you trans? A parent? Neither? Just talking about shit you don’t know?

    You know what we call that? A blog.

    Don’t pretend you have any fucking idea what either is going through, in the national spotlight. You’re just giving an armchair opinion of something you know nothing about.

    I’ll be happy when that’s The Flounce’s tagline: We’re just making this shit up!

    • http://theflounce.com Jen Pink

      I’ll probably change it to The Flounce: You’re Reading it Anyway!

      • Guest11

        That’s pretty accurate! Nothing but garbage, but it’s good for a laugh!

    • Guest11

      It sounds like you’re kind of defending R Kelly’s response…I’m certain that’s not your intention, but to me it came across that way. Just in saying something like “you don’t know what anyone’s going through,” to me reads as an excuse for r. kelly’s behavior. when I have a rough night, my response isn’t to deny anyone’s sexual identity or make transphobic remarks – no matter what’s going on or how close it is. The point is, also this is just another addition to r. kelly’s already disturbing public rap sheet. It’s admittedly easy to target people who have already fucked up, to watch them more closely, but I just am not in any rush to defend R. Kelly.

    • Duni Arnold

      Personal experience is not required to talk at length about a subject, especially when there is historical precedent (and there’s loads!) backing up assertions. If you have a problem with my mentioning breast binding, I made a point of bringing it up in this article because Jay himself said he binds his own breasts to appear more masculine, not because of some preconceived notion of what it means to be trans.

      Now, you’re correct to presume that I am not a mother or a transwoman, and may have a limited perspective on those viewpoints. However, as a woman of color I am able to speak with some semblance of authority about the rampant queerphobia in many minority communities, particularly the black community.

      Thanks for sharing your point of view, sincerely, though!

      • Guest11

        So you’re saying that minorities are more queer-phobic that whites? Interesting point of view. Ahem, racist. Racist point of view.

        • Duni Arnold

          Lol, no, I’m not saying that. That would suggest that minorities individually are more queerphobic, which I don’t think is a thing.

          I’m saying that aspects of the black community are markedly homophobic (and, in general, a bit queerphobic) and that it has percolated significantly through the community in subtle ways that a queer person of color is likely to take note of. I would claim, though that the general white community is more quick to accept a trans person than the general black community, at least at first, but I would not say that minorities individually are more queerphobic than whites. (If you can pick up on that distinction – I know it’s a subtle one.)

        • http://theflounce.com Jen Pink

          Hey Fiona, the onslaught of ugly comments and replies to yourself (they all link up on the backend, FYI) is not a good look. Nor is your refusal to just use your real screen name so your buddies can high-five you publicly. This whole performance just reads as pathetic. And bitter, which sadly for you would’ve given you away even if the IP addresses had not. So, here’s my final farewell because I just feel sorry for you at this point. Bye, girl. But hey! Keep on hate-reading! We don’t mind!

          • Fiona

            Given me away! I’d never use a real screen name, I’m embarrassed enough to read this BS at all.

    • Guest545

      Grooooan. Just like in the home birth thread, you have no idea what you’re talking about and are just bitchin for the sake of bitchin. Can you hear yourself? Do you have any idea what an idiot you sound like?

      • Guest11

        This article DID suck tho. But my fault for reading the Flounce!

        We all knew it would be bad, just not THIS bad.

  • C_Mads_Go

    I think this is a well-written piece; if we eschew intelligent arguments based solely on the fact that the person offering it up is not from the exact same minority, how will we ever move forward as a society? The author never made false claims – she offered up an intelligent reflection on R. Kelly’s public comments.

  • Waterbears

    I am in no way trying to delegitimize Jay’s gender identity, and I am 100% in agreement with the idea that you can’t “cause” someone to become transgendered, but I have to say that the first thing I thought when I read this was, “If R Kelly was the one who taught me how women are supposed to be treated, I wouldn’t want to be a woman either.”

  • JenniS

    Well, R. Kelly is not exactly known for being a positive role model to anyone. Why try to change that now?