Jamie Lynn Hemphill before and after her transition. Photo courtesy of Carol Tanis

Transgender Woman Launches Facebook Site 'Faces for Equality'

BY CAROL TANIS

When Donald Trump won the presidency, Jamie Lynn Hemphill felt she had to do something. She wanted to put a face on transgender individuals with the hope educating Trump about how his actions could adversely affect their lives. Transitioning and Trump's election prompted her to launch the site "Faces for Equality" on Facebook. The site is open to anyone to view, like, or add a comment. And she hopes it will inspire others to get involved.

"I have endeavored to become a visible face to let people know that trans people are real," said Jamie. "We have feelings and all we want to do is just live a normal life. After being a white male, becoming a minority as transgender and female has been an eye-opening experience."

On the site's main page, a photo of Jamie is featured prominently and positioned among the letters she's written to Trump and copied to members of Congress and Michigan's Legislature.

She's pledging to write a letter to Trump each month, informing him of how such measures as requiring transgender individuals to use separate bathrooms or the bathroom that corresponds to one's biological gender is discriminatory.

"My letters basically say whether you give me rights or take away my rights, this is the face of who you are doing this to. That's my point. To put a face on these things. I'm just an average person who pays her taxes every year. I work hard for a living and I deserve the same rights as everyone else. I want to stand up for what I believe in, no matter what the cost. I believe in the saying, 'bad things happen when good people do nothing.'"

Jamie's letter-writing campaign also seeks to promote equality for women, Muslims or any minority that's targeted by discrimination. Additionally, she hopes "Faces for Equality" will inspire others to write the president and lawmakers. "My dream would be for this to become a national movement, for there to be so much mail that they can't ignore it."

Transitioning from male to female has increased her awareness of how women are sometimes belittled and harassed by men, particularly in her profession as a long-distance semi-truck driver. Jamie has viewed most of the U.S. from the cab of a truck. She's driven in New York City, crossed the Continental Divide on I-70 in Vale, Colorado, seen the border fence in El Paso, Texas and viewed sunsets and sunrises over palm trees in Los Angeles. Now, as a woman driving an 18-wheeler, she has noticed male car drivers occasionally making lewd gestures or flashing her, and questioning her ability to drive her truck, often prefaced by the words, "honey," or "sweetie."

"In Detroit, I had to back up to a very tight loading dock, and the customer asked if I knew how to back up a truck. I said, 'I've been driving a truck for ten years.' He was kind of surprised," she said. For safety reasons, at night she doesn't leave her cab, which is equipped with two bunks, a small refrigerator, microwave, TV and chemical toilet.

While some now question Jamie's ability as a female truck driver, others have been mostly affirming of her transition, including her current employer. In 2015, she came out to management saying she wanted to transition. Her role serving as a mentor to other drivers was discontinued. However, she was allowed to change her driving schedule to accommodate attendance at therapy sessions, which are required to get hormone replacement meds. She took one week off from work, leaving as James Frank Hemphill and returning as Jamie Lynn Hemphill, presenting as female and wearing form-fitting clothes.

Then in 2016, she had her name changed through Social Security, including on her birth certificate, and driver's license. Jamie said she's always been attracted to women's clothing. As a kid, she wore her sister's bathing suit once, but her dad demanded that she take it off immediately and punished her. As a teen, she didn't like seeing hair appear on her legs and she rarely went swimming without wearing a shirt.

In her 20's, Jamie got married to a woman with two girls. However, the marriage broke up because she was so unhappy living as a man and yet could never speak of it. (She remains in contact with the two girls from that marriage, who are now adults, and they support her transition.) Jamie abused alcohol to medicate her pain and then got married again in 2009 to Marykaye. After they had been married a couple of months, she told her wife that she has cross-dressed all of her life. Her wife was okay with the news, but Jamie requested that they not discuss it, and for the next seven years they didn't.

Through the years, they began to drift apart, and Hemphill knew she had to finally speak the words that she'd known all her life--that she was meant to be a woman. She knew that, if she couldn't transition, it would be difficult to go on. "I was at the point where there was no holding it together any longer. I was shaking when I told Marykaye. Here I was about to do something where I could lose everything I had in life: my wife, my children, my job," said Jamie.

Marykaye thought Jamie was going to ask for a divorce, but when she learned that she wanted to try living as a woman, Marykaye said after some thought "let's try it," and the process began with Jamie wearing a wig and dressing as a woman at night in the car. Marykaye said Jamie promised to transition only as far what she Marykaye wished. "But I didn't know what I was comfortable with," said Marykaye. "Then I began thinking about it and later I said if you want gender confirmation surgery, I'm fine with that. I had been sexually abused by more than one family member at age six for a couple of years. My dad is schizophrenic and physically abused me and, as a result, I didn't trust men. So, I'm okay if Jamie doesn't need male genitals. It's kind of like I've been pre-conditioned to be her wife. It took some time to get to that point, but now we are effectively wife and wife."

During counseling sessions, they both work on their personal issues and what they face as a couple. Talking with a therapist has been affirming for them both as individuals and helpful for their marriage. Jamie has never been happier. "I'm becoming the person I've been on the inside my entire life, and now I can let the world know it," she said. "I'm able to be myself for the first time. And our relationship is stronger because there are no secrets. Before I met Marykaye, I'd never experienced unconditional love, and her love has made it safe to come out."

Marykaye agrees that counseling has helped them both in many ways and she remains attracted to Jamie even as a woman. "Here's this wonderful person who treats me with love and respect so how could I not reciprocate if my spouse wants to be true to herself. Plus, there are so many issues from my past that I would not have worked on in counseling, had she not transitioned." MaryKaye adds that being married to a transgender woman is not exactly what she "signed up for" when they married, but she remains physically attracted to Jamie.

Marykaye also plays a strong role concerning "Faces for Equality" by administrating the Facebook page. She posts letters on the site that Jamie has written to politicians. Also, she has created and administrates "Our Transgender Journey Together," a Facebook site detailing their lives together as they go through the transitioning process and strive to maintain a solid marriage.

Last fall Marykaye and Jamie joined Plymouth United Church of Christ in Grand Rapids, and

Jamie was baptized. Jamie said the affirmation she's received at the church and from her employer has empowered her to come out publicly as transgender on "Faces for Equality" and to keep going when people react negatively to her.

Trans Support Groups in West Michigan

For those seeking support there are two groups in West Michigan:

- One group meets the third Friday of the month at 6 p.m. in Grace Episcopal Church in Holland at 555 Michigan Ave. Call 616-396-7459 for more information.

- Another support group meets in Grand Rapids at the Pride Center at 343 Atlas Ave., SE. Call 616-458-3511 for meeting details.

Visit the "Faces of Equality" Facebook page to support Jamie's efforts.
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