I hate to harp on about one subject but, Jenna Talackova, the transgendered Miss Universe contestant story is one that has a lot of depth to it that so many of us can relate to in some way or another. Even if we cannot relate to the whole transgenered issue, there are layers to this woman’s life and story that we can all likely resonate to in one way or another.
This school photo of Talackova at the age of 13 years, in grade 8 at Vancouver’s Killarney secondary school hit me on a number of levels that I think most of us can identify with in some way or another.
It’s easy to see that Talackova wasn’t looking boyish at an age when most boys are starting to look upon physiological changes of impending manhood as happily awaited life stepping-stones. Quite to the opposite, Talackova appears to be struggling with feeling like a girl and wanting to be a girl but, having to try to conform to what his physical gender was dictating he should be feeling.
It’s hard to fathom what he/she must have been going through mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Many of us can speak of times when we were doing as we were told to do, being who we thought we should be but, feeling something very different inside. Most of us can say that we were “acting” the parts we were supposed to play or felt that we had to play, at some point or another in our lives.
For many, it’s a daily identity we take on. We have our “at home” personalities and our “at work” persona that we take on. The former feels right and we feel as though we’re who we truly are while the latter feels foreign, faked, unnatural and even stressful. Leaving those work place doors at quitting time can feel like getting out of jail but, what about someone who is trapped in a body that requires taking on a “fake” persona permanently? What must that be like to live with, day in and day out?
For 19 years of her life, Talackova lived in a body that was foreign to her. She has told her story of how she couldn’t look in the mirror to see parts of her physical body that didn’t match what was on the inside. She felt like a female but, her physical attributes were those of a male and she was stuck in that body, unable to understand why nature or God had given two conflicting parts to herself. It was a constant, long, hated struggle. Many of her classmates wondered about Talackova’s gender as they went through school.
One classmate recalls how he felt about Talackova during the time he knew her as a male classmate. ‘It was very obvious,’ said Teruko Walker in an interview with The Vancouver Sun. “It wasn’t like she looked like a boy, but acted like a girl. She very much looked like a female.”
Most of us will remember that growing up wasn’t always easy. There was peer pressures and heaven help anyone who didn’t fit in with the norm. One flaw or deviation from that expectation was fodder for being shunned, bullied, rejected, taunted and alienated. For some, it led to a lifetime’s worth of internal shame, pain, low self-esteem and in cases, permanent scars. One can only imagine what the coupling of that type of pressure on top of the inner feelings that Talackova was dealing with, must have done to her inner self. There have to be deeply hidden scars in there somewhere that a psych professional would have a field-day with. Talackova showed inner fortitude when she made the decision to get off of the merry-go-round and make the commitment to become outwardly, who she was inwardly.
At the age of 19, Walter Talackova went through gender reassignment surgery to become Jenna Talackova. She told the world during an interview with Barbara Walters that the surgery and subsequent hormone injections were painful and intense but, “ultimately rewarding”. ‘As soon as I was conscious, I just always knew that I was not what they were saying. It wasn’t right. I thought that I was in the wrong body,’ Talackova said during the Barbara Walters interview. Jenna’s mother still calls her, Walter.
Of course, one can only imagine the difficulty that her mother was going through as well. She had 4 sons and though she had always wanted a daughter, she had resigned herself to the fact that she had all boys. When Jenna transformed into Jenna fully, one can only surmise how difficult it was for Talackova’s mother to have to adjust to realizing that some 19 years later, she now had 3 sons and a daughter.
Talackova tells media that she felt she was a girl at the age of 4 and began hormone shots at the age of 14. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must have been for not only Talackova but, also her mother to have a 14 year old starting the physical transformation from being a boy, into being a girl. Most of us, as parents, have a tough time letting our kids of that age go to certain parties or concerts, let alone getting hormone injections that will eventually change their entire gender.
Talackova’s story is one of bravery. It’s the story of someone who realized early in life that they weren’t who they were supposed to be and honored that, doing what was necessary to become the person they knew that they were. Her story is inspirational in a lot of ways, even if one is squimish or against the entire transgender issues.
Perhaps, the biggest message in Talackova’s story is not about gender. It’s about being a hero or, properly said now, heroine in a nightmarish situation. It’s about knowing who you are and in spite of the battles that you have to face, not wavering or letting society or even family waver you from becoming who you truly are. That, in and of itself is a story worthy of paying attention to. We can all learn something from it.
As Talackova has stated, ‘I regard myself as a woman with a history. ‘If it’s helping anybody else, my story and my actions, then I feel great about it.’Perhaps, no matter what we feel about the entire transgender issue, we can learn something from Talackova in some way or another as simply people who are struggling to get through life where expectations of us are not always what we, ourselves know is right for us.
Talackova’s story and the lessons we can learn from her life is one of bravery, courage, determinaton and knowing oneself.