Transgender Activist Shares Experiences at the White House
When people meet FedEx SmartPost manager Jesse White, they see an African-American man—not a man who was born female. Being transgender means a person’s gender identity, or internal sense of being a man or a woman, differs from the sex the doctor marked on their birth certificate.
When people make changes to match the way they feel inside, it’s called transitioning. When Jesse started his transition in 2009, he knew it would be difficult for some to accept, but necessary to be true to himself. Today, Jesse is an activist, advocate, educator and mentor who cultivates diverse schools and workplaces, and supports inclusive communities. His work led him to the White House to discuss transgender policy issues and celebrate cultural achievements.
FedEx: Assigned female at birth, when did you first identify as the opposite sex?
Jesse: As far as I can remember, I always identified more as a boy than I did a girl, even though I was born female. At 3 or 4 years old, I was no longer allowed to use the same restrooms as the boys. We were split up for certain activities based on gender, and that’s when I started realizing that I was different from my other male friends.
FedEx: How did being transgender affect you growing up?
Jesse: I wasn’t aware of the word ‘transgender’ or what that meant. I didn’t know there were options for me to align my body with the way I felt, so that the rest of the world could see me the way that I saw myself. Puberty was a struggle. I was really self-conscious, timid and shy. I wanted to hang out and play and be more social than I was, but I felt trapped in a shell. I felt like I couldn’t express myself the way that other boys could. I remember wanting to play football, but hearing that girls can’t play football. I spent a lot of time questioning myself and feeling trapped. I didn’t know there was a way for me to escape the shell that I felt like I was in.
FedEx: How did your family react to your decision to transition?
Jesse: When I told them, they were initially confused and hurt. My parents thought they did something wrong. A lot of parents feel like that when they learn their children are transgender–that perhaps they somehow failed them. I see it as the complete opposite. If someone feels comfortable enough to express themselves to their family, then their family has done a really good job in molding an individual to be comfortable with who they truly are.
I waited to tell my parents until after I began therapy. Their initial concern was that I was safe and seeing healthcare professionals, and not in some back alley somewhere or doing something illegal. Around the time that I ‘came out’ as being transgender, I was becoming more comfortable with who I was. A lot of education needed to take place, and my parents and I grew together.
Having my family’s support is definitely huge. My mother and father are my champions, and I’ve gained my strength to persevere from them.
FedEx: When you started at FedEx Ground in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2007 you had not yet transitioned. Was it difficult to transition in the same city, with the same job, versus relocating for a fresh start?
Jesse: It was a process for everyone involved. I had been on the job for two years before I started the transition, and I think working with a small group of people during that time definitely helped. I had a lot of support, but also got a lot of questions, which I wasn’t sure how to answer at the time. While difficult initially, it became easier when people realized that I was the same person inside. My outward appearance changed, but at the core of who I am, I am the same.
I gave my senior manager two books about transgender individuals in the workplace when I disclosed that I was going to begin transitioning. He asked me how he could be supportive, which I didn’t expect. I had heard so many stories from others transitioning on the job that were not positive, and so I was prepared to not have an advocate in leadership. His support in educating other employees removed a lot of stress and allowed me to feel more open at work.
FedEx: So you started transitioning in 2009. When did you start to feel more comfortable?
Jesse: I had a euphoric sense immediately after beginning to transition. I am still a work in progress, though definitely much happier with who I am as an individual. I became most comfortable during the summer of 2014 when I had my first gender affirming surgery.
FedEx: You are involved in your community as a transgender activist and mentor. Why do you promote education, awareness, and inclusion?
Jesse: This activism, organizing, educating and awareness evolved from my survival needs. Prior to beginning my transition, I was merely existing. Once I began walking in my truth, I realized there are many who struggle much harder than I do. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 40 percent of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt, most of those before the age of 25.
I have made many friends along this journey, who are no longer here because they lost their lives to hate, fear, ignorance and bigotry. This fuels my will to continue.
FedEx: Your activism led to a visit to the White House during the Obama administration. Why was the Transgender Community Briefing important to you?
Jesse: The briefing included Lourdes Ashely Hunter, from the Trans Women of Color Collective, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, from the White House Office of Public Engagement, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch. It was an opportunity to celebrate the many contributions of transgender individuals, and transgender-led and owned companies across the United States. It was a time to uplift one another.
FedEx: What are your hopes for the future?
Jesse: I hope we can live authentically in our truth. I hope that transgender individuals can be a part of the general community, and people understand that we’ve existed for centuries, that we are going to continue to exist. We are doctors, lawyers and educators, and we don’t want to just be tolerated. I hope we move towards a space of acceptance and understanding, and can have conversations without having great debates, and that people can openly love and live in a world that is safe for them.