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Episode two of 'TEA: The Transgender Experience in Arkansas' featuring June Simmons

Taylor Johnson: "June, you were born male, but around age 14 in the fall of 2020 you realized that you're trans. How long have you been living as your new gender?"

 June Simmons: "I realized it in September of that year, and I came out to my parents that coming January. My parents are very accepting. I have a really wonderful family. And I've been able to be myself for about two and a half years now. I started socially coming out that winter. And then about a year and a half later, I started on hormone blockers. And then very recently I started on estradiol, so I'm on feminizing hormone therapy now."

Johnson: "Do you think having a more accepting family has helped you in your journey?"

Simmons: "It is difficult to describe how much it benefits and how many different ways it's beneficial. You know, there's the very obvious effects of you're [being] able to access medicine that you need and mental health care, you know, being able to talk to a therapist. And being able to be open with your parents and your family about who you are really helps with mental health. There are so many trans kids, especially, who aren't able to tell anyone about how they feel and it's a massive weight. And not having to deal with that is indescribably helpful."

Johnson: "Do you have any extended family that are LGBT that might have helped, you know, pave the way for you in terms of your coming out process?"

Simmons: "One of my dad's brothers is gay. And I've known that for a long time. It never really was a major thing to me, especially since he's not trans. So he didn't necessarily pave the way for me quite as much. But one of my mom's siblings is nonbinary, they came out quite a few years ago as a trans woman, and then a little more recently came out as nonbinary. And that has helped pave the way for me a lot. It helps because I have family who already had the experience of knowing someone who's trans, switching names and how [to] refer to someone."

Johnson: "What were the first few things that you initially explored when you were discovering your trans identity and affirming it for yourself?"

Simmons: "I had some LGBTQ friends. I don't think at the time I knew anyone who was trans other than my mom's sibling. And so I wanted to know a little more about trans people. And I started to realize about myself, you know, that I have a lot of these experiences and a lot of these feelings. And that led me through, you know, just some, you could call them online rabbit holes of exploring myself and the community. And what exactly I was feeling. And if it was not normal, or if it was. Once I came out, I had a really wonderful teacher at my school who asked me my pronouns the first day I met her, and that signaled to me, you know, that I knew she was someone I could talk to. And so, I started exploring and I had settled on a name at that point, and started using that name in a public setting and presenting as a girl wearing dresses and that type of thing. By the time that summer came, I was actually pretty comfortable being very feminine, and presenting as a woman, in general. And a lot of that was due to the experience I had in school, and also having supportive family."

Johnson: "So coming out equals a lot of change, usually, right? And you mentioned that you changed your speaking voice. Can you describe that process and how you kind of settled on the voice, how you taught yourself? What was that like?"

Simmons: "I've always enjoyed playing around with my voice and making different voices. So, when I started looking into how to feminize my voice, doing feminizing voice training, I was able to just follow some really pretty basic tutorials online. I didn't need to go to a therapist, and I could do it myself. Before I came out I was working on my voice. And I was able to change it a good bit. I kind of just went until it was somewhere I was comfortable with and something I was happy with, to hear myself. And it's a very common sentiment that a lot of trans women and men — I think it's maybe a little more prevalent in trans women — will almost overtrain their voice so they'll go very far in one direction and sound very, very feminine. And over time, you know, scoot back a little to a little more of a comfortable talking voice, which I definitely did myself."

Johnson: "Earlier you mentioned some gender affirming care that you're receiving. Do you feel comfortable describing the treatment for us?"

Simmons: "Yeah, so I won't go too in-depth. But I believe it was early Spring of 2021, I started on hormone blockers. I was on two specific types, there's one called spironolactone. And the other one is norethindrone acetate. One tells your thyroid to stop sending messages to produce, in my case, testosterone. And the other medicine actually tells, you know, the parts of my body that do produce that testosterone to produce less when they receive that message. And so I was on that for about a year and a half before starting on estrogen, which I'm doing in the form of shots, so I inject it. It's a synthetic estrogen that my body picks up and distributes as if it was creating it. And that also helps suppress some of the testosterone production and also the effect I believe. And that's where I'm at right now."

Johnson: "You've also received mental health care with a therapist. How has that helped you in your journey?"

Simmons: "One thing that I think isn't necessarily always talked about is, I mean, you always hear about how difficult and how mentally straining being trans and having dysphoria can be. And oftentimes it is, oftentimes that by itself, is a source of immense anguish. But there's a lot of times and especially for me, where it was a lot more of an underlying stressor. And my therapist has helped me talk through it. I was dealing with some self-harming at the time because of my identity and lots of things. And he's also helped me just become more comfortable in my skin, kind of understanding where some of these feelings may be coming from. And also understanding where other people's feelings may be coming from, you know, family who are surprised when you come out, especially when you come out as trans because that feels very different. And I think that's something that is difficult to understand from the perspective of a trans person, it's so much to be dealing with. And so it almost feels like how could anyone else have struggles when I'm already dealing with so much? Why does this thing have to be a problem to them?"

 Johnson: "On top of perspective shifts and ways to be comfortable with yourself and with other people in your life, you also discovered that you're neurodivergent. How do you manage that diagnosis? And does that play into your identity discovery?"

Simmons: "Yeah, so I’ve actually been diagnosed with OCD and anxiety for quite a few years. That was a couple years before I really even started exploring my identity. And I think it maybe changes the way I think about myself compared to a neurotypical person. And the combination of the two can really be a one-two punch and cause a lot of difficulty. OCD — it's kind of hard to describe how that would impact my identity and the way I see myself. I'm sure it has. But I don't have any concrete ways to talk about that other than, you know, maybe I am a little more obsessive about some things or have certain times where I feel like I need to focus on something and so that could, you know, help with transitioning because you can get really set on something and that, depending on your situation, that can be helpful."

Johnson: "So June, you are a senior right now attending Fayetteville Virtual Academy. And you're also taking college courses. When you first came out, you were attending Springdale public school. What's been your school experience, as you emerged in this new identity and have become yourself?"

Simmons: "I actually had a kind of complicated relationship with schooling. I mentioned that I had a teacher who really helped me explore my identity socially, and how I presented myself. That really helped. But you know, the environment at Springdale is less accepting than some other schools in the area. I think generally, the teachers were either very kind and helpful or didn't have a strong opinion, at least that they showed. But you know, some of the students weren't the nicest. I never had anything targeted directly at me. But I think that may have been more due to my general extraversion and willingness to be myself. But, you know, I knew people who I would, like, be hanging out with [who would] get a slur thrown at them by another student. So my parents decided to put me into Haas Hall Academy at Fayetteville. It was generally a more accepting environment, I never had to deal with slurs or any general vitriol from students or teachers. Now that I'm [enrolled in] Fayetteville Virtual Academy and going to the UofA I haven't had any issues."

Johnson: "Do you have any advice for young trans folks such as yourself that are either beginning this journey or are on it? Do you have any words of wisdom and encouragement?"

Simmons: "Come out when you're safe. When you do know you're safe, it's a wonderful thing to be able to do. It's very important to be physically safe, over everything else. And not very far behind that is being able to be mentally safe. And coming out is a massive step in the process of becoming more mentally safe in yourself and in your community. Feel free to explore your identity, there are so many ways you can do that. You don't have to talk to other people about that if you are not comfortable with it. It's a good thing to do, but if you need to just go online and figure out what on earth you are feeling, that's perfectly ok."

That was 17-year-old June Simmons, interviewed by Taylor Johnson for KUAF's new Listening Lab eight-part series "TEA: the Transgender Experience in Arkansas" filmed by Emerson Alexander, edited by Sophie Nourani, and produced by Jacqueline Froelich. To view June's interview and learn more about TEA, visit the Listening Lab.

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Emerson Alexander is the coordinator of KUAF's Listening Lab.
Sophia Nourani is a KUAF producer and reporter.
Jacqueline Froelich is an investigative reporter and news producer for Ozarks at Large.
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