Transcend, Transform, Transition

College is the second biggest transition of my life.


Photo by Paige Twenter

Joey O'Kelly

In less than six months, I will be transformed into a college student, transported five hours away, and to be transparent, I’m shook to the core about it. I’ll be leaving my hometown, my people and the life I have been accustomed to these past 18 years. Luckily for me, transitions are nothing new.

As I’m sure everyone is fully aware, middle school is the epitome of awkwardness in every sense of the word. This was no different for me, but I took it to an extreme. After months of an internal struggle like no other, I came to a realization that transcended the idea of middle school awkwardness: I’m transgender. In a carefully worded email – dweeby, I know – I told my parents the secret I had been struggling with for months. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was the beginning of the biggest transition of my life.

In the following weeks, my life was overtaken by hours of research articles, countless uncomfortable questions and weekly visits to a gender therapist. Who knew coming out was such a process?

There was a reason I chose to come out around this time. I was nearing the end of eighth grade, getting ready to transfer up to the high school. There would be new classes, new people and new teachers. High school is a time promising new opportunities and a chance at a new life for everyone. It was a perfect time to completely transform my life.

I started going by the name Joey. I wanted a name that started with the same letter as my birth name. I treated it like
a trial and error process where I went by a “J” name for a whole day and saw how it felt. Jacob didn’t feel right, neither did Jordan, nor Jonathan. But Joey and Joseph had nice rings to them.

I also switched to the male pronouns: he, him and his. However, this was easier said than done. I had to get a lawyer to get my name and gender legally changed, which was done in April of my freshman year.

The day I opened PowerSchool to see the name “Joseph DeVer O’Kelly” was an incredibly emotional day. It was the culmination of the hard work my family and I had put in over the year prior. I had a minor surgery to help my physical transition. I attended gender therapy sessions with my family to learn more about what it means to be a transgender teenager. I even lost some people in my life due to their moral beliefs about my gender identity.

Since this time in my freshman year, I’ve gotten much further in my physical transition, thanks to the endocrinology department at Children’s Mercy Hospital and the top surgery I had in November, 2017. I’ve progressed in my mental transition too, thanks to the open- mindedness of the people with whom I surround myself.
Transitioning was an enormous task for a 14-year-old to take on. It wasn’t something I planned on, but it’s who I am. It was a transition that changed my life and will continue to change my life for years. This next transition into college is going to be challenging, but I have a bit of experience in big transitions. Whatever happens, I’ll be ready to take it on.