Kenny Ethan Jones (he/him), a trans man striving to bring awareness through modelling and campaigning, speaks about his experiences growing up, being trans in school and what he wishes he could tell his younger self on Just Like Us’ new podcast series, Growing up LGBT+.
On being trans at school
“I went to an all girls school, and it was also Catholic. When you start in an all girls’ school and you’re confronted with these feelings and realising that I’m trans, it was very much a confusing time for me. I’d just see myself as being different, I was like ‘I don’t understand why I’m here, I’m not a girl, get me out’. As I started to understand puberty and things like that, and girls started having periods, I was like I don’t like any of this – this kind of future and road I’m supposed to go down is not who I am, so it was hard for that reason.
“Teachers weren’t very supportive, they just didn’t really understand it. I don‘t think it’s that they were necessarily transphobic to any degree, it’s just that they didn’t get it and they didn’t get how to support me or what I was going through.
“My name Kenny actually came from a girl in my school who was like ‘you’re so much like a boy, we’re going to give you a boy’s name’ and so that’s how Kenny was actually birthed.
“Although it wasn’t the best place for me to be, I feel like I don’t think I would’ve understood I was trans so early on in life if it wasn’t for that conflicting feeling of being surrounded by girls and being told that I am a girl. I think in that moment I became very strong because I was consistently having to go against what everybody else was telling me my future would be. And I don’t think I would have this strength today if it wasn’t for that.
“So as much as it wasn’t the perfect situation, I’m very grateful for going to that school and I feel like it’s a strong part of my story.”
On labels and coming out
“16 years ago, the label trans didn’t really exist, it wasn’t the language I had or knew. So it was never like ‘oh I’m trans’ it was just ‘I’m Kenny’, and the trans label came later but everybody just kind of already saw me as a boy and I kind of knew what it was. The idea back then of saying I was assigned female at birth and I’m a boy? It was a lot for people to understand and so I didn’t want to put so much of a label on it, I just wanted people to just accept me for the people I was becoming without throwing labels and terms at people as well.
“How I originally came out to my mum was saying that basically ‘mum, I don’t see myself as a girl being with a girl, I see myself as a boy being with a girl’ because I was explaining that I found myself attracted to a girl. And she was like ‘oh so you’re a lesbian?’ I was like ‘hmm, that’s not it’. So that was my way without knowing the terminology back then of explaining it to her.”
On coming out to biological family
“My mum was always my number one supporter. My dad on the other side was quite different – my dad was born and raised in Jamaica, Kingston, and so his understanding of transness was very different. It was an unacceptable kind of thing, which is unfortunate but it is what it is. So when I came out to him he was like ‘no, this is not acceptable, this is not happening’ and just kind of ignored it.
“He started to slowly come around – surprisingly – I just thought that was going to be it but I guess my mum had talked some sense into him and he wanted a relationship with me.
“I remember having tears in my eyes when he introduced me to one of his friends as ‘my son’. Just before he passed – he loved motorbikes and so did I – we had this real bro moment around talking about bikes and our love for cars. That felt very much like a father-son moment and that was a very good way to hold his memory. It was tough but we got there in the end.
“Although you are transitioning, it’s a journey for your family as well. It’s important to bear in mind that your family is still processing things as well. I think I was quite single-minded when I was growing up – I didn’t think about how it was affecting my family. I’m just really grateful for how my dad came around.”
On self-acceptance and chosen family
“I think there’s something powerful with just being like ‘I don’t need your acceptance, I’m going to be me – you can be angry but at the end of the day, I’m Kenny’.
“It gets to a point where if you want to be the most confident version of yourself, if you really want to live a life that’s just more freeing, you’re going to have to get to a point where you start to accept where some of your relationships are at. If you hold onto this hope forever, what is that doing for you?
“If you are showing me that you care and you are trying, I’ll stay here with you and we’ll work on this. There are many people out there – chosen family, specifically, that will love me for me – so I’m not going to waste my time with people that don’t fully accept me.”
On what he'd tell his younger self
“Trust the process. Just trust it – I know it seems very gloomy and hard in the beginning and everything can feel heavy but as long as you lead with your heart, you stay true to you, you prioritise self-care and you, you’ll be alright. Trust the process, it will happen and you deserve to be the person you are. You’ll get there, you’ve just got to keep pushing through that’s all.”
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