Interview With Janae Marie Kroc: All Anyone Is Asking For Is Equality

Janae Marie Kroc is a transgender/genderfluid/non binary, world champion & world record holding powerlifter, bodybuilder, Marine, cancer survivor, author, and pharmacist.

In a recent interview, you expressed that “living in the open” and dealing with experiences you never dealt with as Matt, will be prove to be your greatest feat of strength yet. You even said that cancer did not feel like a big deal, because out of all of the struggles you’d had in life, it was nothing. Being transgender was the most difficult thing you’d faced.

In the recent Strength Depositions podcast, you discussed the ways in which transitioning served as a “sobering experience. To go from one end of the society spectrum to another.”

How did that change your worldview? You said it helped you see how differently people can be treated, and what it’s like to go from a place of privilege to the complete opposite end. How can we get other people, who haven’t had that experience, to realize their privilege?

For me, it was getting to live both sides of it. It was so eye opening. It helped me grow as a person, and I’m thankful for that experience. To get people to understand what that’s like, it’s helpful to educate yourself and expose yourself to diversity. If you have the opportunity, make friends with different types of people, who maybe come from a different part of the spectrum. Maybe you have some friends that you’ve never really talked about those things with. Be open minded, and be open to listening to other people’s perspective.

We all have bias that is based on our own experience. Understand that life is very different for other people, especially people that come from other backgrounds and have their own different experience. Always try to appreciate things from other people’s perspective, so that you can recognize that your experiences may not be representative of everyone.

It helps to read. Online, you can search tons of articles about different subcultures. Pay attention. When you come from a place of privilege, you’re really just unaware of how difficult things are for other people. Things that you may take for granted, you have no idea what a huge struggle it is for someone else.

Previously, I was a white male. I didn’t worry about things like going through airport security, or getting pulled over by a cop. My biggest concern was “Oh, is he going to give me a ticket for speeding, or not?” Now, as a transgender woman, it’s a totally different experience. Now I wonder if I’m going to be treated fairly, or if I’m going to be harassed. If I’m going through customs, will I be denied? Will I be detained?

Those are very real fears. It happens every day. Recognize those things. Be aware of them.

When things come up as voting issues, be conscious. Do your homework. Understand the impact it has on people. Don’t just listen to what the politicians are saying, or what you’re seeing on the news. Half the time, those things aren’t accurate, and they’re coming from a place of bias.

Do your own research. Talk to people that are affected by these issues. It’s a difficult thing, to understand someone else’s life experiences when yours is very different from theirs.

I grew up poor. I always joke that I was stereotypical poor white trash. I was used to being looked down upon, and being seen as less. Being transgender is a whole other level. It’s walking into a place and immediately being looked at as if you’re less than human.

If you come from a minority, there are a lot of issues that happen on a day-to-day basis that other people don’t even know exist.

It might sound absurd to other people, but I’ve spoken to trans girls who have gotten arrested for prostitution simply for walking down the street. There’s a lot of issues out there that people who come from privilege can’t even relate to. Maybe sometimes they think it is exaggerated, or that people are looking for special treatment. In reality, all anyone is looking for is equality.

It’s powerful to have someone like you discuss these issues for a variety of reasons. One of them being the fact that you grew up poor. I’ve often been asked, “How can I have privilege if I’m poor?”

Right, so coming from a rural area and being poor, I did have things happen. It was not uncommon for me to be dating a girl and have her family not approve. They’d actively try to get her break up with me because I wasn’t “good enough.” On sports teams, some kids got positions over me because their parents were more important than mine were in the community. You know, stuff like that. There are some things you have to face and deal with.

That’s completely different. As a transgender person, you can face violence. Trans girls get attacked, beaten, and murdered all the time, for no other reason than existing. You may think, “I’m a poor person, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against and not have privilege.” You still have privilege in other ways.

In this country, in this society, just being white offers you a lot of privilege. Just being straight offers you a lot of privilege. Being part of a religious majority offers you privilege. People treat you preferentially. I read a quote recently that there is a lot of truth to: “When you’re used to privilege, equality can feel like oppression.” So you hear from the majority, “They’re trying to take our rights away!” When really, all anyone is asking for is equality.

 

People are so used to the way things are, that they feel any change is against them. That they’re being attacked. No one is trying to take rights away from anyone, we’re just trying to make it equal for everyone. Coming from a place of privilege, equality may feel like oppression, because they feel like they are losing something somehow.

When most people talk about privilege, they tend to just imagine the rich white people. That’s not always the case.

There’s privilege in a lot of different ways. It can be socioeconomic status. It can be race. It can be gender. It can be sexuality. If you’re straight, you don’t fear walking down the street holding hands with your partner. If you’re from an LGBTQ community, and you’re two males, you can fear violence just by holding hands in public. The same thing with a lesbian couple, or a trans couple. You’re afraid to show affection in public because someone may harass you, or try to harm you.

Recently, a coach told me that he has a few transgender athletes at his powerlifting gym, but that they never expressed a desire to compete. He went on to say that, since transgender athletes make up such a small percentage of the population, it wasn’t “worth” exploring avenues for them to participate anyway. As you have said, there are a lot of closeted people, and denying those that are already out a place in society does nothing to help those that haven’t been able to come out yet. How can we combat that? How we can encourage coaches, like the one that I mentioned, to change their minds and make space?

It’s an interesting question, and a difficult question. From his point of view, he’s thinking, “Why am I going to go through all of this hassle, for such a small percentage of people?” That’s one of the arguments you’ll hear from some of the majorities. “Why are we changing our laws to make the majority uncomfortable, just to please a very small percent of the population?”

First of all, no one knows how many transgender people there are. There are so many people that are closeted, or in denial, because of all the things they fear about coming out. They fear the reaction from their family and friends. They fear losing their job. They fear losing their privilege in all of these areas. Then there’s a large percentage of the transgender population that lives in stealth. They often move and start their lives over where no one knows them, just so they can exist day-to-day without all of the other issues.

So in reality, we can’t even talk about numbers until being transgender is completely destigmatized, and people feel totally ok to be themselves, regardless of where they are. We’re a long ways away from that. Even with gay men and lesbian women, there’s still a lot of stigma that prevents them from coming out.

Second, just because someone hasn’t asked about competing, doesn’t mean that it’s not something they’d love to do. They may be intimidated, or fear how other people are going to react. I get asked all the time about competing. I’ve said over and over again, since I’ve come out, that I don’t have any interest in competing directly against women because I feel it could do more harm than good. Both for the powerlifting community, and the transgender community. I’m a special, one-off case. I’d love to compete again, but I don’t feel the reward justifies the risk.

So never assume that because someone hasn’t expressed interest, they’re not interested. They may be afraid, or they just don’t see that as even being an option. It’s well known that the Crossfit organization does not allow transgender people to compete. So anyone interested in that, even if they’re stealth, is probably afraid to because they’re afraid of being outed. They know that the organization doesn’t welcome them, so they don’t want to take a chance and get in trouble, or get banned.

There’s no downside to offering a division or opening up your gym to being trans friendly. In some areas, maybe you’d get some backlash from those who also oppose transgender bathroom rights and gay marriage, but there’s always going to be people who don’t like to see progress. For the most part, having those options, and having your gym be a place that has gender neutral restrooms or locker rooms, won’t cause you to lose business. You’ll probably gain it.

Going forward, I only see things as getting better. The businesses that were very anti trans and anti LGBTQ won’t sit well, especially with the younger, more open minded generations. Things are going to continue to get better, and in the future, they’ll look back and be surprised that places wouldn’t do these things or help these type of people.

I honestly think it’s a smart business plan, but it takes people to break that mold and be a little bold, to help people move forward.

I also hope that things continue getting better, and that people will purposefully make space.

You said, “There are so many things that we’re told, and taught, and conditioned to believe at a young age,” and your transition has allowed you to question all of that. Is there anything else that you started questioning about about society and the status quo after all of this? Outside of, or in addition to, what we’re conditioned to believe about traditional gender?

Oh my gosh, there’s so much. There’s so many things.

From a very young age we are conditioned to be in a binary system. We’re taught to believe there’s only boys. There’s only girls. Boys do these things. Girls do these things. It’s so harmful for everyone, and that’s what people don’t see.

Even for someone who kind of fits the straight stereotype, like a straight, athletic male.

 

For women, think about what we see starting at a very young age. If a little boy is running around the playground and he falls down and gets hurt, he’s told, “Oh, shake it off. You’re fine. You’re tough.” Then a little girl is told exactly the opposite. “Girls don’t get dirty. It’s ok to cry.”

What are the first things we tell little girls? “Oh, you’re so pretty,” and girls are taught to internalize at a very young age that their looks are the most important thing about them. It’s so damaging, to everyone.  The idea that someone’s value as a person is based on their appearance is horrible. Yet people unknowingly do this from a young age, without realizing that they’re doing any harm.

Right away we’re conditioned into these strict binary roles, and taught that there isn’t supposed to be any overlap. That’s absurd. The reality is that everything is on a spectrum. All males and all females have aspects of masculinity and femininity, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Above all, people should be encouraged to be themselves. Whatever they like, whatever makes them happy. As long as they’re not harming anyone else, they should be encouraged to pursue those things. If a girl is into construction and wants to get her hand dirty, more power to her. If a boy is into ballet or makeup artistry, or any nontraditional masculine thing, more power to him.

It’s so often that people are discouraged from a young age, and so they don’t explore things they’re interested in because they’re afraid of the reactions. That’s finally changing. Covergirl has a male makeup artist now, and a couple of the other brands are doing things like that. We’re seeing the number of women with nontraditional careers grow, but we are so far away from true equality in those areas. There’s people out there that don’t mean harm, but are encouraging and reinforcing gender roles, and limiting their child’s options for the future.

I knew by the time I was five- or six-years-old that I was trans. I didn’t know how to put that into words at the time, but I knew how I felt. I also knew that I had to hide those feelings, because they wouldn’t be received well.

Growing up, I knew I had to emphasize certain things, and hide other things about myself, and it made me miserable. I never got to enjoy so many things, because I didn’t even consider them as options. I was ashamed of even desiring those things, or letting anyone even know.

You don’t have to be trans, or gay, to feel like you’re being boxed in. It often happens without people even realizing it. “Be you,” is a common theme in children’s movies. Really the message that is being shared is; “Be you, as long as it’s the you we’re comfortable with. As long as it’s the you that’s not going to step outside of these boundaries and ruffle any feathers.” That’s extremely limiting to everyone, and you don’t have to be part of a minority to experience that.

Some people try to advocate for gender roles by saying that they’re beneficial to society, but there’s no evidence to support that whatsoever. There’s tons of evidence to show that anytime someone’s ability to express themselves is limited it’s very harmful.

The best thing to do is not treat anyone, especially children, differently. Let them know that everything is an option, whatever they’re passionate about. If someone expresses interest in something that isn’t “traditional”- who cares? Let them be happy. Let them be themselves. Encourage them to explore everything.

Some of the people that are the most gifted and the most talented in certain areas are the same people that didn’t see that as an option early on. I’m a big fan of Kevyn Aucoin. He was passionate about makeup as a young boy. As an adolescent, he was doing makeup on his sisters, using food to stain their lips. He became an icon in the makeup industry, and he was so passionate about it. If he hadn’t been allowed to explore those things, it would have been a huge loss.

Often, when people go against the grain it’s the people that are truly passionate, and are the game changers. It’s an important message. Don’t ever limit anyone into thinking they have to be anybody. A lot of parents are guilty of that, but people are people, and just because they’re your children doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be just like you. That’s ok. Encourage them to go after their own passions, and let them know that they have your support no matter what. They’ll do so much better in life, and be so much happier.

I love to hear you talk about “normal being an illusion.”

I don’t believe “normal” exists. I define “normal” as society sees it, as the part of ourselves that we’re comfortable sharing with everyone else, that we feel will be accepted. The reality is, all of us, regardless of background, are hiding a part of ourselves that we are afraid either won’t be accepted, or won’t be accepted in the way we’d like. 

Every single person that I’ve ever talked to about this subject has acknowledged that yes, there are things they hold back, or hide. Or secrets they keep. Anytime you’re not able to be all of who you are, it’s harmful. You’re going to be unhappy. Yet, everyone does it, because we’re so afraid of what other people will think.

I was carrying around a heavy burden and hiding myself from a lot of people. Not being open about a lot of things really bothered me. The main reason I did it was that I was trying to protect my boys until they were out of High School. They’d known all their lives, but I was afraid about how they might be treated if people found out who I really was. Once I was publically outed, and I was more free to be myself and be open about it and talk about it, it was just so freeing. Such a weight lifted off of my shoulders.

It was stressful initially, too. I didn’t know how people would react, or what the consequences would be. And there were consequences. I lost my main sponsor, Muscle Tech. They dropped me when they found out I was trans. But it was so nice to finally be able to be open, and to stop hiding.

I’ve experienced how being honest about who I am has not only made me so much happier, but also allowed me to finally feel whole as a person. It’s rare that anyone has nothing they’re hiding. I can truly say that, though. I’m open and honest about everything. I don’t have anything that I’m still ashamed of. I’ll answer any questions, and I’m honest about everything. That is such an empowering feeling, to be in this position where I don’t care what people think.

As much as I’d like to, I guess I can’t say that I truly don’t care at all, because how people perceive you does affect your life. It can affect your employment. It can affect how you’re treated. So in the back of my mind, I recognize the consequences of being completely open and honest and I recognize that people are going to view me a certain way but as far as allowing people’s opinions to determine how I express myself or how I live my life on a daily basis, I truly don’t care in that regard.

You don’t have to be part of a minority, or be discriminated against, to feel as though you have to hide a part of who you are. I really think we would be shocked if we were to magically step into a world where everyone had to be honest, and they were no longer able to hide anything. As a society, we’d be shocked how many things that appear “taboo” or “fringe” are actually quite common among the whole population- especially as it relates to gender and sexuality.

Some people may not be aware of it. They feel these pressures their entire lives to conform to given roles, and have no idea how many things that are “out there” may be things they enjoy. They aren’t given the freedom to explore it. The idea of “normal” is absurd. Variation is normal. We’re such complex creatures, and the fact that we feel the need to hide all of these things about ourselves in order to be accepted by society is absurd. The things that we worry about are the same things that everyone else is worried about, yet here we are hiding all of these things for no good reason.

The idea of “normal” changes from culture-to-culture, and over time. What is acceptable is arbitrary, and an illusion.

I wonder how can we take that idea, and use it to reach to more people. I briefly mentioned in one article recently of an instance of abuse in my life, and I had a lot of women reach out to me to express a similar sentiment to yours: Once they were open about their experiences, instead of hiding that part of themselves, it shifted things.

We’re all human, and we all have these human fears. An important caveat, though, is that some people are in real physical danger due to their perceived differences.

People should consider, if you have things that you are hiding, things that are negatively affecting your mental wellness- Imagine if not only that was true but should you choose to come out and speak openly about these topics and step into your truth, you would then be in danger and have opportunities taken away.

I want to find a way to make people understand that even if they don’t have the most privileged existence, even if they have hardships of their own, there are still areas of their life that they don’t even recognize as being privileged.

I totally agree with everything you just said. The question is how do we get people to realize that not only do they still have privilege, but also to help everyone to be able to be themselves. As you said, imagine if being open about the fears that you have may provoke others into attacking you, or beating you as you walk down the street. And for no other reason than simply knowing you’re different.

How do we combat the misinformation? There are so many myths that surround different types of people, that are absurd. Even the idea that gay marriage may somehow threaten heterosexual marriage. It doesn’t “destroy the family unit,”- that’s a scare tactic.

Look at the way they tried to turn the whole transgender bathroom issue into an issue of child safety. That’s a great thing to use as a weapon, because who isn’t concerned about their kids? As soon as you make that the issue, it’s easy to get a whole bunch of people up in arms saying, “We can’t let this happen! We have to protect the children!” The reality is, there’s never been a case where all of the things they were saying could happen, has happened.

All of the misinformation distracts from the truth and distracts from the reality of the situation. In reality, you have a segment of the population that is in danger of physical harm if you force them to use the restroom they don’t identity with. People throw forward the idea of the trans person being a perverted, very masculine individual in women’s clothes, entering the women’s restroom. The fact is, transgender people have been using those bathrooms for years and years, but no one was even aware of it. It’s never caused any problems.

It’s just the misinformation that strikes fear into people. We need to be able to share the truth, and the reality of the situation, in order to educate people. It’s a hard thing to do because then it becomes; “Well, you say this, but they say that, how do we know who is telling the truth?”

I always encourage conversation and private discussion, too. I have a handful of very conservative-minded people that will consult me whenever these issues come up. I had a lot of people message me privately about the possible transgender military ban because they know that I’m not going to attack them, argue, or become aggressive. I’m just going to state realities, and what I see from my perspective. These are the exact same arguments that were used to keep the military segregated until almost World War II. They are the same arguments that were used to keep women out of the military, and to keep women out of combat roles. We’ve heard these same arguments before, and they’ve never proved to be true.

I frame things in a rational way, so that people don’t immediately shift into a defensive mode where their only goal is to defend their position. Because as soon as you enter that, you’re not going to make any progress. I try hard not to “argue” things, but instead say “here’s some facts, here’s the reality of it, and this is why I see things this way.” We need to present facts and try to discuss them in a non combative way to get people to think deeper. At that moment, they might not agree with you, but if you plant a seed in their mind, maybe they’ll go do some research on their own.

You’d be shocked at how many people are willing to change their mind. I just had someone message me on facebook thanking them for discussing these issues, because I changed their mind about transgender people in the military. They had the discussion at the gym with one of their other friends, and they completely changed their opinion, too.

It spreads. Education is the most important thing, but it’s not the easiest thing to do. I’ve had some parents thank me because I completely changed the way they treat their transgender children. Those things are huge. So being able to discuss things in a non combative way is the best way to reach people.

Even if it’s only one person at a time. You never know who you might help. It could be huge.

 

Follow Janae: @JanaeMarieKroc

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