# 8 Janae Marie Kroc: Being Transgender
This transcript was exported on Feb 23, 2021 - listen to the podcast here
Janae Marie Kroc: When I was outed publicly, my social media accounts were flooded with messages from men. And the thing is, they're all using these fake accounts. And the funny thing is a large majority of them are from the parts of our culture that are the most homophobic.
Ashley Rivard: Hey guys, I'm Ashley Dawn Rivard and you are now Into The Dawn, a provocative podcast that looks at all things taboo such as suicide, grief, sex, addictions and more. Each week, I talk with experts who successfully investigate their areas of interest. And if you like what you hear, please remember to subscribe.
Ashley Rivard: Janae Marie Kroc is a transgender woman who also identifies as gender fluid and non-binary. Prior to her transition, she was a world champion and world record holding powerlifter, United States Marine that was selected to work in presidential security under president Clinton, cancer survivor, published author, licensed pharmacist, public speaker, and a proud parent of three sons.
Ashley Rivard: Janae was the subject of an award-winning documentary, Transformer, which is currently available on Netflix and many other streaming services. She hopes that by openly sharing her experiences, she can inspire those who can relate and help educate those who don't understand. In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
Ashley Rivard: In the last year, 53% of the transgender youth have been depressed and hopeless. I just watched your documentary, Transformer, on Netflix. And I thought it was phenomenal. I really would be what you'd consider naive to the transgender community and not understanding really anything about it. Having no judgment towards it, just not knowing about it. Right? So, I really walked away going, "Wow, this woman now has really bared her soul, showed her struggle, showed a lot of what transgender people probably are going through."
Ashley Rivard: And really what I got from it is you are committed to living your truth. And it's so beautiful. I want to start with, basically for everyone who's listening who might be naive to the fact, you identify yourself as transgender, gender fluid, non-binary, right? What does that mean?
Janae Marie Kroc: Yeah. I'm glad you asked those things because a lot of people are confused by just the definition of being transgender. If you're not part of the community or you don't know anyone that is, that can be very confusing for a lot of individuals. And then when you talk about being non-binary, or gender fluid, I mean, that's further confusing, especially for people outside of the community.
Janae Marie Kroc: So basically what that means, I guess first I'd just like to start by saying I'm not a huge fan of labels because as soon as we label something, then let's just say, like I refer to myself as being transgender. So, anyone that's listening to this, whatever they know about being transgender, maybe they know someone else or maybe they'd seen something on TV, but whatever that is, then we have a natural tendency to apply that to that person, whether that fits or not.
Janae Marie Kroc:And trans people, the one thing I really want to get across is that we're just like everyone else, minus our gender issues. I mean, some of us are doctors, some of us are lawyers, some of us are really nice people, some of us are horrible people, some of us are athletes, some of us are very intelligent, some aren't. So, there's a wide range.
Janae Marie Kroc: I think the community as a whole tends to get stereotyped, but we exist in all phases of life just like everyone else. And we've been around as long as people have been around. There's evidence throughout all different cultures going back hundreds and hundreds of years of trans people have always existed.
Janae Marie Kroc: So that being said, to get back to your question of how I identify. So, I identify as transgender, which basically means I have a strong cross gender identity. I was born in what most people would consider a male body and some people in the community referred to as being assigned male at birth. But from the time I was a young child, I knew by the time I was four or five years old that I just felt like I was supposed to be female.
Janae Marie Kroc:And I didn't understand it, I didn't know what made me feel that way. There was a lot of guilt and shame associated with that. I thought there was something wrong with me. And I knew that even as a young child that I couldn't tell anyone how I felt or it was not going to be received very well. I knew that if I told my parents, they weren't going to be like, "Oh, that's great." It was going to be very, very negative. I was worried about what they might do to me.
Janae Marie Kroc:As I got older, I thought, "Oh my gosh, would they put me into some kind of shock therapy? How would I be treated?" Like all this crazy stuff. So, I was terrified. I was terrified of anyone finding out. I grew up in a small town in Northern Michigan. Like out in the woods, on a dirt road, way out in the middle of nowhere, very small town. And even as a young child, I already learned by that point that there were things that were okay for boys to do and there were things that were okay for girls to do and that those two things didn't cross over.
Janae Marie Kroc: And that me being me, if I said anything about how I felt, the outcome was not going to be good. So, basically I grew up with a ton of guilt and shame surrounded around my identity, but these feelings never changed. Never went away. Basically only got stronger as I got older. It was very confusing for me and I was very tormented about it.
Janae Marie Kroc: And eventually, I reached a point in my life where I considered suicide because I just didn't see any way that my life would work out and that I would ever able to be me. So that being said, going back to the non-binary and gender fluid. So, gender fluid is a term people use to describe their gender having a degree of fluidity to it. Maybe some days they feel more masculine, some days they feel more feminine.
Janae Marie Kroc...: And there's a lot of people that feel that way too. I know a lot of women in the strength training world that have very masculine aspects to their personality. And with gender fluid, it's that basically it's not stable. It's not like, I want to try to help people understand this without confusing them, but at the same time it's not like a magic thing that all of a sudden it's gone and it comes back. It's just there's different degrees of it.
Janae Marie Kroc...: Think of it as more of like a spectrum. And so, some days, yeah, I have very masculine aspects to my personality, and some days I feel more masculine. And some days I feel extremely feminine. But my identity, who I am, that never changes. I've always had a female gender identity and I'm always well. And as hard as I tried for the first three decades of my life, there was nothing I could do to change that.
Janae Marie Kroc: But like I said, I mean, I do have very masculine aspects to my personality and that's what allowed me to survive and flourish in certain parts of my life. I was naturally very competitive. I loved sports and I felt very comfortable in that world. So I was in that, and I don't mean to imply at all that those are things females do not do or shouldn't do or anything like that. I mean, obviously, to me, sports have nothing to do with gender.
Janae Marie Kroc: But for me as a child, that was a world I could hide it. Because it was okay for little boys to play baseball. And then later I got into football and wrestling and I was always obsessed with strength training. I was always obsessed with weightlifting. So, I was able to hide in that world. I was able to immerse myself in sports. I was obsessed with lifting.
Janae Marie Kroc: And doing all those things, that was considered very normal. And so, I was able to hide in those worlds and pursue those things. And that's what allowed me to get through. And that's what I focused on. And I tried to bury down all the parts of myself that I knew wouldn't be accepted. And then getting back to the third part of that question, the non-binary.
Janae Marie Kroc: So, non-binary people, essentially what that means. So we have a binary gender system. We have male and we have female. Well, non-binary people feel like they do not fit exclusively in one of those two categories. Some people feel like they're both, some people feel like neither. They just feel like it's not that clear for them. There's not these defined boxes that they fit neatly into.
Janae Marie Kroc:So, non-binary basically just means outside those two binary roles. And I feel like that somewhat too. Like I said, I have a female gender identity, but I'm not your typical girl, and I'm not even your typical trans woman. But so for me, really, all I'm doing with those terms is trying to help people understand. When they ask me, "Well, how do you identify? How do you feel?" I'm just using the best terminology that I have available to try to help people understand what it feels like to be me.
Ashley Rivard: Right. No, it's well said, thank you. You wrapped it up and there's no label. You're feeling into the energy in the moment of, am I in the more masculine or I'm in the more feminine today? And I know in the documentary it ended with you making just your facial repair and your vocal. Why was it important for you to do the vocal prior to genital reconstruction?
Janae Marie Kroc: Here's the thing for me. I mean, and everyone's going to feel different. Some people, there are certain surgeries for them that really matter more. There's a lot of, for example, I'm still quite muscular. I'm nowhere near as big as I used to be, but I'm still very muscular, and there's a lot of trans women that would not feel comfortable that way, as well as cis women that wouldn't feel comfortable and it wouldn't feel feminine for them. For me, the muscles don't make any difference. I don't feel more or less feminine, but there are certain things, like my voice was one of them.
Ashley Rivard: Got it.
Janae Marie Kroc: My voice was extremely deep and very masculine. And for me, that's what trans people would refer to as feeling very dysphoric. Like it would cause me a lot of anxiety, it would cause me a lot of stress. And whenever I'd hear myself speak, and just little things too, like talking to people over the phone and constantly being identified as male, that was very hard for me. I know some women that have very deep voices and they love it. And that feels very comfortable to them.
Janae Marie Kroc...: But for me it didn't, and the vocal cord surgery helped a lot with that. My voice still isn't as high pitched as I would like it to be, but it's a significant improvement over where it was. So, I mean, overall, I'm glad that it made a difference, but to be honest, I wish it was still more feminine. And there are exercises and stuff I can do to continue to work on those things.
Janae Marie Kroc: But for me, the voice has always been a big part of it. And the surgery was very important for me to be able to feel like me. And the facial surgery was the other really big thing that really helped. But yeah, it's all about how we're comfortable in our own bodies. And for me, face and the voice were two really big things.
Janae Marie Kroc:And I do plan to have bottom surgery. I'm actually trying to schedule. I tried to schedule it in the past and we're actually trying to include it in the documentary, but there was just no way to get it scheduled in time. And unfortunately, the popular surgeons have very long wait lists. The surgeon that I want to see has a four year wait list.
Ashley Rivard: Oh my God.
Janae Marie Kroc: Yeah.
Ashley Rivard: Oh my God.
Janae Marie Kroc: We tried to talk to them and see if there was any way they could bump me in but it wasn't happening. And then there's issues with insurance paying for it. It wasn't that long ago that none of the insurance covered it, but now a lot more insurances are starting to cover at least the bottom surgery. But there's still all kinds of hoops we have to jump through. It's not, like you hear these things in the news and the media and make it sound like anybody can just walk in and change their gender anytime they want, and kids could do this. That's absolutely not true.
Janae Marie Kroc: It's a very difficult procedure that takes a long time. You actually have to have letters from two different therapists. You have to meet with a surgeon, have consults. And the therapist, it's not like you walk into an office one time and they go, "Oh, cool. You're clear. You're good to go."
Janae Marie Kroc: No, there's recommendations. They want you to be living in your target gender role for at least one year full time. And there's other things that they want you to demonstrate before they'll sign off on it. And like I said, it's not just one therapist. You have to get one therapist to approve, then you have to go see another therapist. And then basically got to go through the whole thing again.
Janae Marie Kroc: And then you've got to book a consult with a surgeon, and then usually there's a long waiting list. There are some surgeons that are more new to this that don't have such long waits, but for me, this isn't, I don't want to go to someone who has only done a couple of these. I want someone that's got decades of experience.
Ashley Rivard: Absolutely. Yeah, makes sense.
Janae Marie Kroc: So, unfortunately it's a complicated procedure that takes a long time to get done.
Ashley Rivard: I can imagine. And so, what was it like then when you came out to your family? I'm sure that was beyond the most vulnerable... I can't even imagine what you're going through, but just walk me through what that was like and how it was received.
Janae Marie Kroc: Yeah. Well, as you saw in the documentary, my parents didn't necessarily take it the best, like with a lot of trans people. I mean, excuse me, it still could have been a lot worse. There's a lot of trans people, especially if they're younger, that their parents actually kicked them out of the home, refuse to talk to them, won't see them.
Janae Marie Kroc: I know a number of trans people that have had that happen. They've been completely alienated from their families. My parents, they were shocked. See, the thing was too, so I had had, for people who are listening that may not have seen the documentary, have never heard of me before. I basically excelled in the male world. Even though I always joked that I was better at being a boy than the boys were.
Janae Marie Kroc: I went in the Marines right after high school. I did very well there. I was selected for presidential security duty and actually worked in Washington D.C up at Camp David under president Clinton. And then with sports, I played sports year round in high school. I did very well. And then later I got into very... I mean, I was lifting ever since I was nine years old, but I got serious about competing after I got out of the Marines in my early twenties and I competed for almost two decades. And eventually, I broke the all-time world record in my weight class. And when I left the sport, I was the number one ranked lifter in the world in my weight class.
Ashley Rivard: Wow.
Janae Marie Kroc: Yeah, but the hard part about that was that the more success I had, the harder it felt to come out. I was this kid from a small town and everybody knew about me having success in these areas. I was on the cover of magazines and things like that. And even though powerlifting isn't like pro-football or pro-baseball or something like that, it was still, a lot of people had heard about everything I'd been doing.
Janae Marie Kroc: And at my biggest, I was 280 pounds of muscle. And everybody, a lot of my friends, my family, they all looked up to me. And so, I felt like I had been put on this pedestal. And I felt like if I was coming out, I was going to let everyone down. And I knew that no one was going to be happy about it.
Janae Marie Kroc...: So, even though I enjoyed the things I was doing, and I love to compete, and I actually loved powerlifting, the more success I had, the harder it made it to come out because now it was like, I just kept building up these expectations higher and higher and higher and I didn't want to let everyone down. And then people would be like, "Oh, they can do anything. They've done all this and this and that." And they'd be talking about me and I'm sitting there thinking, "You have no idea. There's so much about me that you don't even know."
Janae Marie Kroc: And so, it was really, really hard. So then when I started coming out, I first came out to some of my very close friends and my immediate family like my brothers, my mom and dad. And everyone was shocked. And the weird thing was I had worked so hard to hide everything, but there were times I thought people could tell. I was always paranoid growing up, in the Marines, even into adulthood, I just felt like somehow people knew. They could just tell. There were certain things I said or did. Maybe I slipped up and showed a little too much interest in certain things, or whatever it was. But I felt very vulnerable. And I felt that people knew what was going on.
Janae Marie Kroc: And when I came out, especially to my mom and my brother, I was expecting them to actually be like, "You know, we always kind of wondered. We saw this. We saw that." But no, they had no idea. They were completely shocked. No one had a clue. And so, I think that made it a little bit tougher because it came out of left field. They had no idea. Some of my friends actually thought it was a practical joke. Like I was pulling a prank on them.
Ashley Rivard: Right. Right. Yeah.
Janae Marie Kroc: Yeah. Because the funny thing is, even in a sport like power lifting, which is very blue collar, very masculine, it's full of all these tough guys, but even in that sport, I was considered the craziest one. I was considered the most intense. I was considered the alpha of the alpha.
Janae Marie Kroc: And some of my friends said, they were like, "You are the last person I ever would have expected to be trans." They were like, "I never saw that coming." And so initially, my brothers were shocked, but then they came around. They were always very supportive of me. There was never a question of whether I was going to lose their love or their support, but it was just, they didn't know how to deal with it. They didn't know, especially my one brother, Kurt, who's only a year and a half younger than me. We were very close and he just didn't know how to relate to me that way.
Janae Marie Kroc: And the other thing, I think the biggest fear he had was losing the brother that he had always known. In a lot of ways, we were like a team and it was really hard for him. He was afraid of losing all that. And with my parents, they just didn't see it coming at all. My mom just, she basically just refused to talk about it. I told her and she just acknowledged it, but I would try to talk to her and she would just change the subject or just wouldn't really say anything. And this went on for like 10 years.
Ashley Rivard: Wow.
Janae Marie Kroc: So, the funny thing is, during the documentary, when she talks about it, that was the first time I'd ever heard her speak about it.
Ashley Rivard: Oh my God.
Janae Marie Kroc:I had tried over and over and over again. And then when she said that she felt like her son had died, that was the first time I'd ever heard her say any of this.
Ashley Rivard: Yeah, that was intense.
Janae Marie Kroc: Yeah. That wasn't necessarily the reaction I was hoping for. And then my dad, obviously, the funny thing was the first conversation with him wasn't that bad. He didn't really understand and he almost, it was like he was trying to talk me out of it like this was something I decided to do on a wimp.
Janae Marie Kroc: "Oh, that sounds like fun." But then by the end of the conversation, he was like, "Well, no matter what, I still want you to be in my life." And it actually ended very well and I thought, "Oh great." But then after a little bit of time went by, maybe after it sank in more, then it started to bother him more and more. And then he got to where, like you saw in the documentary, he's basically, "If you transition, I'm heading the other way."
Janae Marie Kroc: And I don't know. He never did. But he's been, I don't know. They've both gotten a little better. It's still not what I would hope for. Just recently, my mom has really started to come around, but she's still uncomfortable with it. And the other thing that makes it hard too, my mom has always been a tomboy. When we grew up, she was always wearing blue jeans, T-shirts, never wore makeup and was very rough and tumble.
Janae Marie Kroc: And my aunts would tell us stories about my mom fighting when she was in high school and stuff like that. And so, the thing is, is there are aspects of my personality that are extremely feminine and I really enjoy all of that. And that's a big part of who I am. And it's hard because I can't even share those things with my mom.
Janae Marie Kroc: My mom's not one, like we're not going to go get our nails done together, or we're not going to talk about makeup and stuff like that. She just really isn't into any of those things. So, it's unfortunate. We can't relate to each other in that way because she's just not that type of woman.
Janae Marie Kroc: But like I said, she's coming around. This was the first year she actually invited me to Thanksgiving and then she came over to my house for Christmas, which I hadn't been to in about five years. And it was one of those things too, it wasn't like she would say, "Oh, you're not welcome here. Don't come." It would be, she would kind of like when I would ask about it, she would be like, "Well, I think I'm going to have something, but I'm not sure when."
Janae Marie Kroc:And then when she decided, she just wouldn't tell me. And then it was like, yeah. So, it was like, she wouldn't tell me not to come, but she wouldn't let me know when it was. And a lot of times I wouldn't find out. My brother would text me and be like, "Hey, what time are you going to be at mom's?" And I would be like, "For what?" And I'm like, "She never told me."
Ashley Rivard: Wow. How hurtful.
Janae Marie Kroc: Yeah.
Ashley Rivard: How did that make you feel and how do you move through that?
Janae Marie Kroc:For me, fortunately, growing up the way I did, I was the oldest of three children and I was always very independent. And my parents, neither of them graduated from high school. We were from a very small town, so they're not educated. And I was just always a very ambitious person. And I just learned from a young age, if I wanted anything, I had to figure out how to do it myself.
Janae Marie Kroc: Whether that was participating in sports, or other activities, or just branching out into other areas of life, I just very much learned that if I wanted something, I was going to have to go get it. So, the good thing is that I learned to be very independent very young. And I also acted in more of like a father role to my two younger brothers.
Janae Marie Kroc: And my dad, when we were growing up, had a lot of problems with alcoholism. And so, there was turmoil and stuff with that. And so, I really stepped into more of a parent role and at a relatively young age. So, like I said, the good thing, one, is it taught me to be very independent and I grew up never really depending on anyone else.
Janae Marie Kroc:So, the good part of all that was that, without their support, I was already used to not having it in other ways. So, it wasn't a lot different than what I was already used to. So, I think that made things a little easier for me. Even though it was hurtful. I'm not going to lie.
Ashley Rivard: Of course.
Janae Marie Kroc: It wasn't nice. I was also used to having to do things on my own. Even with this whole process, going to my surgeries and stuff, all of these I've gone on my own.
Ashley Rivard: Wow.
Janae Marie Kroc:Except my brother did come to one with me. And it was funny because it was completely unannounced. I didn't know. A few days before I went, I've actually had two facial feminization surgeries. The first time I had one and I just had some minor stuff done. I was a little bit worried like, "Oh my gosh, what if I come out looking weird? What if it's..."
Janae Marie Kroc: I didn't really know. I mean, I had studied, I had... I'm the type of person, if there's something I want to know or something I'm interested in, I research everything. I buy every book on the topic, I get online. And so, I felt like I knew what I was getting into, but still the idea of changing your face was... And I was like, "Oh my gosh, what if it comes out really weird?"
Janae Marie Kroc: And then I had done one thing that spooked me. Back then, oh my gosh, this is like, when was it? About 10 years ago when I was researching it, maybe even longer than that. 10, 15 years ago. And one of the things I did was there was this person on the internet that was also transgender themselves and I think they were an artist. And they were doing, you could pay, I think it was, I don't remember what it was. Like $300 or something and they would basically take your photos, basically kind of like the apps they have now that we'll do male, female faces.
Janae Marie Kroc: And they were doing that for trans people though to give them an idea of what their surgery would look like afterwards. But of course, it's not going to be a hundred percent accurate. So, I paid this person to do this and when I got the results, I didn't like how it looked at all. It wasn't what I was hoping for. And it really spooked me. And I'm like, "Oh my gosh, what if I come out?"
Janae Marie Kroc: Because I felt like it looked really, it was really weird-looking. And I was like, "Oh my gosh, if that's how I'm going to look, maybe this isn't what I want to do." And so, it really spooked me. So anyway, I had one facial surgery and just had some minor things done and then it turned out I was really happy with that. And then I just wanted more.
Janae Marie Kroc: And then I had the second one, obviously, when we were filming the documentary, and I'm very happy with those results. And that's something I have zero... Honestly, every single step I've taken, I don't have any regrets. And with a lot of transgender people, you'll, if you talk to them later on, typically the only regret they ever have is that they didn't start the process sooner.
Janae Marie Kroc: I mean, there are people out there, I mean, once in a while and there are certain groups that try to promote this and act like it's a big thing. But there are some people that have transitioned and regret it, but that's extremely rare.
Ashley Rivard: Is that because they don't feel? Do they not feel like...
Janae Marie Kroc: Well, I think it is what it is. I haven't honestly spoke to and I don't know of a single person I've actually met that feels this way, but I have seen people online talking about it. My suspicions would be from what I've heard those people say and from what I know, my guess is that part of it may be that they had other issues in addition to being transgender and they probably didn't resolve some other things before they went through the whole procedure.
Janae Marie Kroc: And sometimes they have this assumption that once they transition, it's going to solve all their problems in life. No, it's going to help with your gender issues, but if you've got other issues, it's not going to change that at all. And then some people too, I think if you're not able to pass, and in the community would that means like, so if you transition and you can blend in and no one knows that you're transgender, that's what people call as passing.
Janae Marie Kroc: And I really hate that terminology because what does that imply? Either you're passing or you're failing. And so, that means if you transition and if you're not able to blend in, then that's somehow failing. So, I don't really like how that's phrased at all. But the reality of the situation is, if you're not able to pass, life could be very difficult.
Janae Marie Kroc: So, if some of these people transition and they're never really accepted into that gender role, they don't pass, they're treated very poorly. And I experienced a lot of this, especially when I was first going out into public and my makeup and fashion skills left a lot to be desired. And plus, I was just super muscular person. And it was really interesting because at that point in my life, one weekend, I might be competing at a world championship or signing autographs at a fitness expo somewhere and people are waiting two hours in line to take pictures with me and just to get my autograph.
Janae Marie Kroc: And then I go back home and I'm a pharmacist and I have a family and now I'm this person who's just another middle-class person working their day-to-day life. But then when I started going out into public presenting as female and I didn't pass, then now all of a sudden, I'm a third class citizen and I'm being treated horribly. People are laughing and snickering at me.
Janae Marie Kroc: I'm being mocked behind my back when I walk past people. Sometimes people would yell insults and stuff as I walked by on the street. And so, it was a really interesting time because one day I'm being treated like a celebrity, another day I'm just the average person living my life, and then yet another day now I'm less than human.
Ashley Rivard: How did that make you feel?
Janae Marie Kroc: Yeah, at first it was really difficult. I didn't have any illusions. I knew what I was getting into and I was prepared for it, but it was still hard. And I mean, fortunately, honestly I worried that worst would happen and probably in part due to my size. I was never physically attacked and that's actually quite common with trans women. But I did have one night I had four or five guys follow me into a parking garage and followed me all the way to my car.
Janae Marie Kroc: And it was very clear that their intent was to assault me. And I think the only thing that stopped them, I think when they got close to me, it was in the summertime and I was wearing a spaghetti strap dress. And I think when they got close to me and saw how muscular I was, I think that made them hesitate just long enough for me to make it to my car and get inside.
Janae Marie Kroc: It was really spooky because it was late at night. I got in my car and I closed the door. And literally the one guy was standing right against my door, like mean-mugging me through the window. And there were like four other guys behind them. And they all had these angry looks on their faces.
Janae Marie Kroc: And they just stared me down and never said a word. And I just discreetly locked my door really quick, started my car, backed out and left. And they never did anything, but it was very clear that they did not have good intentions.
Ashley Rivard: Why do you feel that the, we'll call them haters, towards the transgender community, why do you feel that this is happening?
Janae Marie Kroc: Well, I think it has a lot to do with our society and how we view things. I mean, first of all, we live in a patriarchy, right? So, unfortunately, men are considered at the top of the social pyramid and women are considered less, which is obviously completely ridiculous and horrible, but that's the society we live in. And then the other thing is we live in a very hetero-normative society. Meaning that heterosexuality is considered the norm.
Janae Marie Kroc: So, anybody who exists outside of that dynamic makes a lot of other people uncomfortable. And some of it sometimes is because maybe people have a very strict religious background and they've been taught that that's wrong and that's sinful. So, there's a lot of people that get very upset and very angry thinking that you're breaking their rules.
Janae Marie Kroc: And then for other reasons too, which the funny thing is, and not to say transgender men don't have a hard time. They do. Life can be very challenging for them as well. But we do see a disproportionately, large amount of the violence is directed at trans women and not trans men. And I think that speaks to two things. Number one, the homophobia and transphobia, and the fact that there's this whole idea that trans women are just trying to trick men into sleeping with them. Which is really preposterous. No one would transition solely to be in a romantic relationship with a certain person.
Janae Marie Kroc: The funny thing is a lot of transgender women still date women, identify as lesbians. Some are bisexual, but their sexuality is all over the place just like in the rest of the population. That's another misconception that all transgender women are attracted to men. Some are, but a large number aren't. And speaking from experience too, as soon as I came out, you do get a lot of men that are quite interested in transgender women. And it's something they're very secretive about, there's something they don't want anyone to know. But for whatever reason, a lot of men that identify as straight men are very attracted to trans women.
Ashley Rivard: Would they be gay?
Janae Marie Kroc: No. No, they're not gay. They're not gay because a gay man would obviously want someone who's masculine or someone that looks like a male. The men that are into trans women like someone that looks very feminine, acts feminine and is pretty and beautiful in all the ways that we assign with femininity. But there's something about the fact that they blur those gender lines that they find very attractive.
Janae Marie Kroc: And immediately when I was outed publicly, my social media accounts were flooded with messages from men. And the thing is, they're all using these fake accounts. And the funny thing is, is a large majority of them are from the parts of our culture that are the most homophobic. And so, it's all very secretive. And a lot of them would admit right off the bat, they would say that they're very attracted to you or whatever, but that no one could find out.
Janae Marie Kroc: And so, in some cases, I think a lot of the, and this is well-documented, but there's a lot of men that pursue trans women knowing that they're transgender, but then end up having sex with them then they freak out afterwards and they're like, "Oh my God, what if someone finds out? What are they going to think of me? They're going to think I'm gay. They're going to think all these things." And then they ended up turning that anxiety and that anger on the trans woman. And then literally it's not uncommon many women have been beat to death right after-
Ashley Rivard: Oh my God. Wait, okay. So, I have a few questions about this if that's okay.
Janae Marie Kroc: Of course.
Ashley Rivard: I'm pretty naive about it. And I apologize if anything comes out not PC. So these men who are into transgender women, and then they have sex with them, then they freak out and they go, "Oh, I'm gay." Do they think that that transgender woman is fully reconstructed down there or they know she's not?
Janae Marie Kroc: Here's the interesting thing. They usually want to know ahead of time. And a lot of the men are more interested if you have not had bottom surgery.
Ashley Rivard: Okay. Then that makes them gay.
Janae Marie Kroc: Well, no, because it's not the same thing. Because gay men are not interested in trans women.
Ashley Rivard: It's still a penis.
Janae Marie Kroc: Okay, it's a little confusing but let me, yeah, exactly. And that's part of the attraction, but it's not because they're attracted to men. And I know from being outside the society and stuff, that seems very confusing. But the problem is with sex, we have a very genital-focused view of sex, right?
Janae Marie Kroc: Like it's all about, well, if you have a penis and you're interested in a vagina that makes you straight. If you're interested in a girl who has a penis, you must be gay. Well, they're not. They're not at all because they have no interest in dating other men. They don't find other men attractive. They don't find masculinity attractive. But there's something, for some reason, something about a woman who still has a penis is very exciting for them. And it's actually quite common.
Janae Marie Kroc: I read some statistics a while ago that transgender pornography is one of the most popular types of pornography on the internet. There is a large subset of the population that's very interested in this. And any trans girl will tell you that if they've dated and if they're interested in dating men, they will tell you when they first transition, it is, and this will sound crazy to a lot of people, but it's the absolute truth. It is harder to find a male partner after you have bottom surgery.
Janae Marie Kroc: So, once you have made that transition and you have a vagina, a lot of trans women will find... Yeah, it sounds crazy, but there's a lot of people that that's what they really want. But there's so much stigma attached to it. No one's talking about it. No one admits it, but it's very, very common.
Ashley Rivard: It's interesting because here you are as a transgender woman who you put everything on the line to live your truth, right? And you fight every day for just your authenticity and who you are and breaking down these stigmas. And then you have these, it's so many different cultures, but it's just like those men who are hitting you ladies up probably are still shaming transgender to fit in.
Janae Marie Kroc: Oh, absolutely.
Ashley Rivard: They're hiding. Everyone's hiding. And it's just like-
Janae Marie Kroc: And it's absolutely. And the worst part is, these are the same people that when laws come up to help give us equal rights, they're voting against them. They're the same people that are telling their buddies very prejudiced jokes behind closed doors. They're the same one that if something comes up about transgender women, they're going to mock you and make fun of you and ridicule you. And then yet two seconds later, they're texting you privately and wanting to meet up. And I've had this conversation, and if anybody out there is wondering, I actually have a girlfriend. I've always been attracted to women and still am.
Ashley Rivard: Does that make you a lesbian then?
Janae Marie Kroc: I mean, I don't really worry about definitions but-
Ashley Rivard: I know. There's no labels.
Janae Marie Kroc: But yeah, I would describe our relationship more of a lesbian relationship, but to be honest, it's a little blurrier than that.
Ashley Rivard: Yeah.
Janae Marie Kroc: It's not this clear cut, and neither of us really care about it. But my girlfriend has always dated women since high school. I'm the first trans person she's ever dated. And when we met, I don't know if she really even thought about it or whatever, but I think she assumed I was further along in the transition than I actually was at the time.
Janae Marie Kroc: If she had saw me as a male, she would have not been interested in me at all. But yeah, it's just, like I said, we like to act like things are very black and white, and we like to have these strict boxes like, "Oh, you're gay or you're straight." But the reality of the situation is almost all these things exist on a spectrum.
Janae Marie Kroc: And don't get me wrong, there are people that are a hundred percent straight. There are people that are a hundred percent gay. But I really think there's a lot, and this is my experience. And from coming out, I've had so many people reach out to me and share these things, and people that I was completely shocked by.
Janae Marie Kroc: I have some of the manliest men you've ever met. The type of guys that everyone would be like, "That's a bad dude. You don't mess with him." After I came out, they would reach out to me and tell me that everything from them having their own gender issues to... Like one of my good friends who was this 365 pound powerlifter told me that he had, and he'd always been in relationships with women, but that he had a friend from high school that they would meet up every once in a while and have sex. And this was something they'd been doing since high school.
Janae Marie Kroc: And he had no interest in being in a relationship with this person, but there was something that both of them found very satisfying about sharing this intimacy. And I began to realize very quickly how common this stuff is. And there's so much of it that goes on, but there are so many people hiding it. And like I said, I mean, if I showed you my inbox of DMS, you would be blown away. Daily still I have people reaching out to share messages and things like thanking me for being open because it's helping them deal with who they are.
Ashley Rivard: Of course.
Janae Marie Kroc: But then also men pursuing me or wanting to meet up. And I've had this conversation with guys trying to get them to understand the damage they're doing by being closeted about all of this, and not being willing to be open, and trying to encourage them like, "Hey, look, you need to talk about these things because there are a ton of men who feel the same way you do."
Janae Marie Kroc:And then they'll be like, "Oh, I can't. Absolutely not. If anyone ever find out, no one would be friends with me and my parents would be extremely upset," blah, blah, blah. But they don't realize by staying closeted about all of this and continuing the act the way they do, that they are furthering harm towards that entire community.
Janae Marie Kroc: And so, it's a really sad thing. And it just, like I said, it all goes back to the stigma associated with it and the fact that we live in a society where those types of people are deemed less than someone who's hetero and cis-gendered.
Ashley Rivard: Yeah. I mean, the way I look at it, I just want to commend you for literally stepping up and living your truth because you freed yourself, even though you deal with so much. And also you're freeing so many other people. And that is, like you said, it is such the basis of depression and anxiety when we are holding shame within ourselves and not being able to express ourself.
Ashley Rivard: I think I mentioned to you, I have been a volunteer at the Suicide Crisis Line and the stories that I hear over and over, which made me want to do a podcast that talks about taboos and stigmas, because I said, "You know what? People are killing themselves." I took notes all the time. What is the common theme I'm hearing? It's not just about being in the LGBTQ, I mean, whether it's being raped and this and that, and they don't even realize that it's really about being able to express yourself, say your truth, right?
Ashley Rivard: And that can save your life and many others. So, it's demystifying all these taboos. And like you said in your documentary, which I love, you were talking about, which I do want to talk about your relationship with your sons. You had made reference that it was so important to teach your sons not to conform but to be truly who you are. And so, if you didn't fully transition, you would have been teaching them it's more important to conform than live your truth.
Janae Marie Kroc: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And for me, for them, the thing is, is that yeah, that the most important lesson was that if I didn't be true to myself and who I am, what am I teaching them? That we should suppress that and conform to society because we're more worried about what other people think? And like I said, I thought that that's a horrible lesson.
Janae Marie Kroc: And for me, even though my transition hasn't been what maybe a lot of people would consider traditional. It wasn't as simple as going from male to female and that's it. Like I said, I'm still very muscular. I don't wear makeup every day. There are still a lot of, I have a lot of interesting things I do that people consider quite masculine. I'm into hot rod muscle cars and I still love lifting weights. And that's just all part of who I am.
Janae Marie Kroc: I really just basically got to the point, for a couple of reasons, but to where I just was like, "You know what? I don't care what anybody else thinks anymore. I'm going to do..." I lived the first three decades of my life in terror, in complete fear of what everyone else thought about me and trying to please everyone else, and being so afraid, and feeling horrible about myself.
Janae Marie Kroc: I had so much self hate and loathing. I hated who I was. I literally did. And that's what people talk about. Like, "Oh, trans people just want to be different." No, nothing can be further from the truth. I tried everything. I prayed and did all these things. I sought out these groups that supposedly cure trans people and all this stuff.
Ashley Rivard: What.
Janae Marie Kroc: And oh my gosh. There's some crazy things out there. And the sad part is they're actually very harmful.
Ashley Rivard: Sure.
Janae Marie Kroc: I don't know if you've ever heard of any of the reparative therapy programs, they call them.
Ashley Rivard: No.
Janae Marie Kroc: So, the boys' mother, the church she was involved in, they had one of these programs where they "cure" gay and trans people. And which of course is absurd. It has to do with the wiring in our brains. There's actually a number of studies that there's a lot of evidence for this now. And they've done MRIs of young children that are already affirming they're transgender by the time they're six or seven years old.
Janae Marie Kroc: And so like me, I knew fairly young, a lot of kids do, but not all do. Some of them don't figure it out till they get a little older. And with some, it might be a little more complicated than that. But anyway, they've done MRIs on the brains of these kids before any hormones, before they'd done anything and it clearly shows the brains working in ways that they've identified that the opposite gender works.
Janae Marie Kroc: And there's been other studies they've done on post-mortem people where they've dissected brains of transsexual women and there was a specific area of the hypothalamus that in males had a greater androgen receptor density and where women it has a lower density. And in the trans women and every single one of them, the density in those receptor areas was the same as the cis-females and very much lower than men.
Janae Marie Kroc: So there's a lot of evidence to indicate that being transgender is a physical condition, not a psychological one. It's actually differences in our brains. And they actually know. Like there's a couple of mechanisms which they know it can happen and there's other ways they're not sure. And we can talk more about that if you'd like, but the reality of the situation is, it's not a choice, it's something that people deal with.
Janae Marie Kroc: But the problem, the big problem that we just touched on was that there's all this stigma surrounding it. And there's stigma around sexuality, there's stigma around gender identity, and there's this huge stigma, if you don't fit in these boxes, if you're not "normal", then there's something wrong with you. And so, that's how I grew up my whole life thinking I was broken, thinking there was something wrong with me. And I hated myself.
Janae Marie Kroc: And part of the reasons that drove me so hard like in sports and everything, I was so insecure about who I was that the only way I had to feel value about myself was to have some kind of success in sports, or in school, or in where I grew up at fighting. And so, if it was inside, I hated myself and I thought everyone was looking down on me. And the only way I had to feel better was I had to beat them at something. If I was better than you at a sport, if I was smarter than you in school, if I could beat you in a fist fight, well, then you couldn't look down on me anymore. And that's how I felt.
Janae Marie Kroc: So, all these things became part of my life and part of my world. And those are the only things I had to give myself some type of self-worth. So really my whole thing is the whole reason for sharing my story and being as open as I am is I never want anyone to have to go through what I went through. All of that self-hatred, all that self-loathing, feeling so alone.
Janae Marie Kroc: Like when I was young, and that was pre-internet, I didn't even know there were other people in the world that felt like me. The first time I heard about another transgender person was when I was probably about 11 or 12 years old.
Ashley Rivard: Wow.
Janae Marie Kroc: I was home sick from school one day and saw there's a woman named Carolyn Cossey. She was actually a famous model who was in one of the James Bond films back in the 80s. And when she was in the James Bond films, someone who knew who she was from back home outed her. And then she was one of the first really well-known people that was outed as transgender.
Janae Marie Kroc: And then, so she ended up writing a book. Well, actually she wrote several books and was talking back in the eighties, she was on all these talk shows, talking about it. And I remember the people in the audience just being extremely rude and saying some really ignorant things. And she handled it all with lots of grace and I was very impressed. But I remember sitting there on the couch at home watching this and just being glued to the TV and being like, "Oh my God, I didn't even know this was possible."
Janae Marie Kroc: Even at that age though, I was still too terrified to admit to myself that I was like her. I was like, "Well..." Because she was this gorgeous model and extremely feminine. And here I was this athlete. And the other thing was too, between being into sports and being attracted to girls, that was enough for me to keep convincing myself that I wasn't trans. Because all the transgender women that I had heard about were very stereotypically feminine and were also attracted to men.
Janae Marie Kroc: So I'm like, "Well, I like girls and I like sports. I'm "okay", I'm normal." But in the meantime... And looking back throughout my life, there were signposts all along the way. I didn't go to any dances in high school. I never went to a prom. I never went to Christmas dance, because the idea of having to wear a tux and play that role was so uncomfortable for me that I just couldn't even do it.
Janae Marie Kroc: And at the time, I didn't know exactly what the problem was, but I just remember it filled me with anxiety like nothing else. And I just avoided it at all costs and because I wanted to be the one in the dress and the one putting my makeup on and all that kind of stuff. And I knew there was no way, I can't tell anyone that, I can't... And back then, if I would have tried to do something like that, oh my gosh, I would have got the crappy dog. It wasn't even an option.
Ashley Rivard: So when you go through those moments of deep shame and unworthiness, what do you do to shift out of that, to keep going, to find your center and know that you are worthy of being who you are using your voice?
Janae Marie Kroc: Yeah. Well, that was a long process. It wasn't something I came to overnight. But one of the things I always remind myself of, and when I meet other people that are in the places where I've been, one of the first things I try to get them to understand is, "Look, just because someone else doesn't understand you, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. If they lack the ability to understand you, that's their problem, it's not yours." So that's one thing I like to keep centered, just because-
Ashley Rivard: I love that.
Janae Marie Kroc: I mean, 99.9% of the time, I'm totally good with everything. But there's instances I'll be out in public and maybe someone will give me a disgusted look or say a certain thing. And at this point, I don't even know if they're reading me as trans or if it's just because they think I'm a big muscular woman and they don't approve of that. Because muscular women get a really hard time too.
Janae Marie Kroc: Every once in a while somebody will do or say something, and on the internet, obviously, there's tons of trolls and haters and they'll post and say all kinds of things. And then, like I said, 99% of the time I do a very good job with it. It doesn't bother me one bit. But every once in a while someone will say something or do something that just hits those sensitive spots just right and it'll stir up some of those old feelings and then I've just got to go back and remind myself, "Oh, hey look, that's their problem. It's not yours."
Janae Marie Kroc: And I just remind myself all the ways that I am valuable, and all the things that are important, and all the people that love me. But yeah, it's really important to love who we are and no matter what that is, and it's not an easy thing to do. I mean, it sounds so simple, but...
Janae Marie Kroc: And especially there's a lot of women that struggle with this because there's so much pressure on women from such a young age. By the time they're young girls, they're already being told, "Don't eat that. Don't do this. You need to look a certain way." And so much of your value is placed on your looks and all these things. And so many of us grow up with all these issues.
Janae Marie Kro: And even for guys. "Oh, you're not tough enough. Don't show emotion. You can't cry." And so many of us go through our whole lives, and it's terrible because it's passed down from generation to generation. And whether it's a father putting all this pressure on their sons to be a real man or a mother pressuring her own daughters about what a woman is, so many of us grow up feeling broken and feeling like there's something wrong with us and we're not good enough.
Janae Marie Kroc: And the reality is, people are extremely complex. We're all different and that's okay. We shouldn't have to fit in a box we don't. And trying to force everyone to be the same is just going to make for tons and tons of miserable people.
Ashley Rivard: Absolutely. And I look at like, I feel your struggle being transgender, even though people might not look like you do or know what the transgender experience is, I think we can all relate if we take off the labels and the black and white of what we've been taught or what we see versus going, "Oh, wow. We're just alike. We have the same struggles. We all want to be lovable. We all have self-hatred in certain areas. We all have an issue with being comfortable on our skin." This is like a human experience.
Janae Marie Kroc: Right. Exactly. Yeah. And I really think too. That's what I've really realized. I think you hit the nail on the head. We all feel that way. And in one way or another, I think every single person has something about themselves they wish was different. And for some of us it's, like in the trans community, or it's usually trans women, it's always not feeling feminine enough or not feeling pretty enough.
Janae Marie Kroc: But it's funny because you'll see these girls that are drop dead gorgeous and you're thinking, "Oh my God, she must feel so good about how she looks and everything." And no, you talk to her and really get to know her, she's got issues too. There's certain things she doesn't like about her body, or maybe there's other things in her life that she's not happy with, but we all have insecurities. We all have our things.
Janae Marie Kroc: And then like I said, for me, it's just, I want people to, if there's one thing that they can take from my story is that, just be true to yourself, love yourself. And that happiness will come from loving and embracing who you are, not fighting against it.
Ashley Rivard: Yeah.