Jordan Furr: On Being Trans

I consider myself to be extremely accepting and pretty liberal. Before college, I lived in Chappaqua, NY: home of the Clintons and a homogeneously white, privileged, and liberal town. Further, we were not a diverse area: I had never even met a transgender person before. However when I came to U of M, I still assumed myself to be readily open minded to a diverse campus and didn’t think I could ever be in the same category as someone who is intolerant. Nonetheless, through this interview I quickly discovered that this “liberal” identification I had taken on did not cut as deep as I had thought: even the most open minded of us are susceptible to implicit ignorance. Thus, when I was first assigned to do a profile piece on someone at UM who is “notable and noteworthy,” I instantly thought of Jordan. I knew I was lacking information and awareness about the transgender community, but also knew I had to be careful in approaching this interview, as trans people are often tokenized and used as a spectacle. For me, learning more about Jordan was more about strengthening my own understanding of the trans community and clearing up the ignorance about the transitioning experience that I previously thought I was above. In reality, most of the people who identify as being accepting and tolerant of everyone no matter their gender or sexuality do so blindly. We all are guilty of implicitly making assumptions and letting bias dictate these assumptions. Moreover, I wanted to learn more while also giving Jordan the chance to clear up these biases and assert his own narrative over whatever narrative we implicitly have set in our minds about him and his transition.

It is also important to note that gender is not the only thing about a person. Because I am cisgender, white, and privileged, I don’t really have to worry about my actions, externalized persona, or my relationships being stamped with the label of my sexuality or gender. For many people that are not cisgender, their entire being is marginalized within which gender they identify with, if any. Upon interviewing Jordan, I was blown away by his incredible tenacity for making a difference and getting involved in multiple projects amongst a vigorous Computer Science coursework. The most interesting and noteworthy things about Jordan were not his gender. Further, it is important to recognize the heteronormative, cis-normative narratives that create the implicit ignorance of which even the most liberal of us could be guilty.

HC: Where are you from?

JF: I lived most of my life in Utah because my parents were Mormon, but have lived in Paris for the last four years. And so, I feel like I’m more from Paris.

HC: What was your childhood like?

JF: That’s such a big question. It’s hard to say; I would say up until I was fourteen everything was perfect, everything was great. I was a firm believer in the Mormon life, and then I guess 14-18 years old I realized a lot of shit. But up until then it was a good time; life was simple.

HC: Is your family close/is there anyone in your family you’re closest with?

JF: My family is, like, abnormally close. Genuinely it’s weird. And then we moved to Paris and didn’t know anyone or know French, so now we spend so much time together. We actually have these custom rings, they’re called signet rings and they’re usually used to close envelopes. They have a wolf on them, and my brother drew the wolf because it’s, like, our family mascot. It just sets the stage for things being fucked up, because we were so close, but I felt like there were a lot of things I couldn’t talk to them about.

I would say I’m closest with my brother now because he’s really accepting, and we only recently reached a point where we could talk about stuff like going out and girls and stuff. It was cute, he asked me this question, “How do you deal with hooking up with girls and telling them you’re trans?”. It was cute because we were finally talking and, I don’t know, I guess to be cheesy my brother always said he wanted a brother, so now we have this cute kind of connection. My brother also told me that he wants to try to use the correct pronouns, but my Dad yells at him for doing that, so that kind of sets the stage too for my family dynamic.

HC: Was there a specific, defining moment in your life when you knew you were trans?

JF: I have, like, two moments. The first moment was when I was 16 and I basically realized that I was “gay,” but I also knew that that label wasn’t right. I couldn’t figure it out, like, how can I like girls but not be gay? I didn’t know what to do.

Another moment was senior year. I was talking to my friend about these feelings I had about myself. She was like, “Dude, I think you’re trans”, and I was like, “What.” I obviously had an identity crisis, because I was like, “Wait, that makes so much sense” and I realized I had to rethink my life. But looking back, I realize there were obvious instances I probably should have known.

I remember how, when I was nine or ten, I basically started being super weird with my friends. I stopped going swimming with them. It was unexplained, but it just freaked me out for them to see me in a swimsuit. At the time there was no explanation, but now it makes sense.

Another example is that my Church groups were super segregated into girls and boys when you turned 12. I remember that being super weird, because I was with all of the girls and I felt “out of place” and didn’t know how to manage those feelings and just kind of assumed I was “super quirky.”

I think if I had been born a couple years ago, I would’ve known earlier, because now people actually talk about it. I was also the first person to come out as gay in my high school, and people were so weird about it. It’s like, now I know there are lots of people out in my high school, and it’s good to know that now it’s not acceptable to be unaccepting. I also was just so sheltered, like I didn’t know it was possible to be gay or trans. The first time I knew about it was when I saw a gay couple at age 15 or 16. Until I questioned my sexuality, the only time I had heard about any of it was when my Mom told a story about someone from her high school coming out and how “sad it was.”

HC: What would you say is the hardest part of transitioning?

JF: It was definitely my family. Someone actually interviewed me a couple days ago, and they asked what my greatest accomplishment is and I would definitely say transitioning. I feel like I had so much up against me, and my family was so hard about it. When they knew I was close to starting it and considering it, they went all out. They would call me and text me non-stop stuff like, “You’re going to be so ugly” and “look so bad.” Even my brother was trying to convince me that the transitioning hormones are what cause the high suicide rates in trans people! They were like, “No one is going to love you,” and my mom argued that I “was turning my back on women.” They also say things like “you shouldn’t anyways because you’ll never be a boy anyway.” They threatened to cut me off financially and eventually did which was really freaky. They said “you have two weeks to stop or we won’t pay for anything,” and then they tried to bribe me and say they’ll pay for everything if I stop and that I won’t have any college debt. It was just all really manipulative.

They said I ruined my family and “murdered their daughter” which was hard because, like I said, we were so close. Obviously it’s already a freaky thing to do, and I was already so stressed that I was going to regret it and already had doubts. I thought I would fuck things up for trans people and prove that it’s a phase but I just wanted to be someone who would change the opinion on trans people.

HC: Would you say you feel part of and/or supported by the LGBTQ communities at UMich, if any?

JF: No. The LGBTQ community here has a history of kicking trans people out. Even pride marches and things like that were started by two trans women of color and they’re the most harassed. Trans people of color have a 1 in 9 chance of being murdered!

Anyways, they started the movement and then got kicked out. It’s hard because there aren’t many trans people so they can’t have a focus, and trans people aren’t included at all to begin with. I’m part of a group on campus called Trans Forum, but we don’t do that much. It just doesn’t feel like there’s an awareness for trans people. The current movement is very focused on sexuality. I get why they formed in the first place, like, “Let’s put all these weird people together!” It kind of makes sense because sexuality and gender are related, but they aren’t the same. People just always focus on sexuality and there’s no focus on transgender representation.

HC: Who has been your biggest support/biggest inspiration in your transition?

JF: It’s definitely just myself. Because I’ve moved so much, I don’t have a long lasting best friend who was with me through everything. I have close friends now, but they didn’t know me before.

HC: How has your life changed since transitioning?

JF: It’s so much easier, which is weird. I’m so much happier, have so much energy. It was just this huge obstacle blocking me from everything. I was so sad, couldn’t focus on homework. Part of the reason I started my shoelaces company was that I had something I could work towards without that weight. It’s been weird because I increasingly feel less attached to the LGBTQ community as a whole because my struggles are diminishing. It’s not easy to be trans, but at least now people know my pronouns and aren’t as confused. I just don’t really need that community to define me, but I do want to stay in it. There are a lot of trans people that pass really well - we call it “going stealth” - and you just live your life as a straight, cis person, and you don’t identify with trans people. There’s this one dude on Instagram, who’s trans, and he’s completely silent about his past and the community, because he just doesn’t want to talk about it and just passes as male. I’ve only been transitioning for four months, and I know in six months I’ll be even further along, but I don’t want to fade into that “stealth” mindset.

HC: What are some things you want people to know about being transgender and the transition process that you feel like often goes unacknowledged or seen with bias?

JF: I haven’t thought about this before. Maybe just, like, people think being trans is “wanting” to be something different, and I guess that makes sense. Like my mom was like, “You want to be a boy,” but I feel like being trans is just a process of making your outside match your inside. For me, I feel like up until recently if I looked at myself I wouldn’t recognize myself. It’s a weird feeling. Like I’d see myself and think, “what?” It’s like your brain is programmed a certain way where you look at yourself and can’t figure out who you are. It’s freaky. Now I’ll look in the mirror and think, “what the fuck, that’s me;” it’s weird. The thing that sucks is that once you know, it sucks to have that realization. You can be oblivious at first, but then once I realized I was trans, I really realized how I wished I looked and was like, “fuck,” because I felt that physical disconnection even more.

HC: What’s your major?

JF: Computer Science.

HC: What are your hobbies/projects outside of school?

JF: I have so many different hobbies. This is my Utah-Mormon heritage talking, but I actually love cross stitching. It’s a type of embroidering, it’s, like, so fun. You make little Xs in fabric and it creates a grid, and I just love the weird-grid-mathiness of it. I’m obsessed.

But also I’m working on this project in my blockchain - a type of technology that bitcoin is built on - and I’m basically working on this project that’s meant to save endangered animals; it’s cute. I’m making a game that’s, like, a blockchain zoo, and the animals are digitally scarce. But the idea is you want an animal in your zoo, but it’ll be proportionally scarce to how they are in real life. So they’re rare and that way it makes them valuable, and when people are trading them part of that transaction goes to saving that animal. The more scarce or endangered an animal is, the more valuable in the digital zoo, and the more money you pay to get it; coinciding with saving the real, endangered animal. People’s digital appearance is so important, so I think it’ll be cool.

I’m also starting an LGBTQ brand called STAR. It’s really cool, and I guess the idea was that people don’t often ask your pronouns when you meet them, and some trans people wear an ugly pronoun pin on their clothes or backpack and it’s so tacky. So I was like, “That’s not going to do, no one wants to do that.” The goal was to have something cis people would think is cool, because there’s not a lot of trans people, so if cis people wear it, it’ll be noticed and the conversation will be opened up way more. A lot of cis people wear them now, so a lot more people actually care I think. I hope to donate the funds to helping trans people, too. It’s also very street-style and I think a lot of people can wear them and it could be really successful. I think it just creates more of a public consciousness for trans people, like, at least you’re thinking about someone stating their pronouns.

HC: How did you come up with the brand STAR? Any specific inspirations/models you followed?

JF: I was just in Berlin and I wanted to make a shoe line, like, have pronouns printed on the shoe, but turns out you need thousands of dollars and a huge team. And then I just decided that shoelaces could work, even if they’re a little less noticeable. When I did think of it, I was like shaking, I was so excited that it could work and people could wear them. My inspiration for the name STAR was that the first org that was created to help trans people was called Star. It was created by the two women who started all the pride marches, and it’s really wholesome because they saw that there were a lot of LGBTQ homeless people, especially trans homeless people, and they got a house to shelter homeless LGBTQ people. To fund it, they had to do sex work because it was the only work they could get. I just think that’s so cute, and I wanted to give back. Doing sex work as a trans person is also super dangerous because customers are dehumanizing them and fetishizing and it’s super fucked up. I just thought it was nice that they wanted to help trans people. One of them was actually murdered: shocker!

But yeah, I just wanted to honor them.

HC: What are your goals with STAR? Next steps?

JF: My goal is to make it way more broad-reaching. Like, I’m in Optimize - it’s a social innovation competition - and you work on a project all year and then in February you pitch and can get up to $20,000 in funding. After that, I want to create more laces with different colors and contact bigger stores to see if they want to sell the product. Who knows? I think you can sell it to all types of people, like even converse and adidas have, like, rainbow shoes and shit. I think the message will be easy to sell. I have two reasonably big trans people on instagram who agreed to promote it, so yeah, I want to just make it more broad-reaching.

HC: Tell us a fun fact about yourself :)

JF: I trained wild horses! You know, from fucking bucking-you-off-level to “trained.” It’s cool, super fun. It’s funny because I don’t tell people I ride them because they’re judgy about it. Instead, I make wild horses trained to sell to the “horsey horse girls.” A trained horse is worth, like, $30,000 compared to a $1,000 untrained horse. I had a horse and trained him from the beginning and then resold him. That was cool.