Im jessica Potak! Or CuteJessLi if following me on instgram. Im a post op transgender woman and Im here to share my story of my life and the empowerment of myself in the process.
So for some background. As a transgender woman, I was assigned male at birth. So All my external features were male but my brain was hardwired as female. With transgender people this happens because in the womb, primary sex characteristics are formed early in gestation while the fetal brain is developed later and imprinted with the gender identity, which can differ from the primary sex characteristics
I was born September 9, 1981. I was a healthy baby and came into life with a loving family which included a brother Carl a few years later. We grew up middle class right here in Roslyn where I lived up until my mid 30s. My Parents were Hard-working and well aligned people. My mother was a nurse and my father worked as a dental technician.
As a child I was very aware of myself in my surroundings. Even though I had a relatively happy childhood with good experiences I always felt wrong and displaced, like something was just off.
I always had an odd fascination about women and women’s clothing. I secretly always thought that should be me but push those feelings aside because that just made no sense to me. As a child we pick up on gender norms very quickly through observation And imprint that to our subconscious.
Even though I had a few boys as friends, the majority were girls. I found it very difficult to socialize. Kindergarten..I repeated because I didn’t get along with anyone in my first class. I realize now that that was a result of my gender dysphoria manifesting.
I was definitely an atypical “boy”. I was very docile, I wasn’t into competition or much sports, I had a love of playing with dolls and my action figures frequently had relationships. I had many girls as friends…which felt comfortable. When we used to play, I was slightly jealous as I wanted to be a girl too. I always wanted to play dress up but the cultural norms that were printed my head always told me that was wrong so I never let anybody know.
My family was mostly accepting of my preferences. Luckily my father wasn’t big into sports so that wasn’t crammed down my throat. They let me have and play with Barbie dolls and have my own kitchen set..Which was heavily skewed as girls toy at the time. I also loved my little ponies. For my eighth birthday all I wanted was a my little pony castle. I was overjoyed to receive that as a gift but also got a bike too… I feel like that was my dad‘s way of trying to balance the gift out
With all the shows I watched I always associated with the female characters. I wanted to be them so badly. Any time there was any show or movie that dealt with transformation always hit me deep, I always imagined that I could be changed into a woman too.
Now keep in mind…At that age I was very aware of social norms and knew I was abnormal. It wasnt enough to make me stop though.
By the time I was in middle school I mostly had myself figured out. I remember watching my female professors and being so jealous. I frequently daydreamed about being them and how wonderful it must be.
I started dressing in womens clothing behind closed doors. It was an amazing feeling. I felt euphoric and so… normal. Since both my parents worked, I had a period of time where the house was all to myself during the afternoon so I ended up dressing on the regular and just hanging out and watching tv like that. As puberty began and my sexuality started coming online, my thoughts and feelings leaned towards one of a young girl. I felt wrong, I felt shame, I felt confusion…I was scared.
Eventually I came to the conclusion on my own, without any external influence that I really was a woman inside and I wanted to live as such. I distinctly remember making a plan. I was already picked on at school because I was different and so I would have to wait until after high school to live as a woman as I didn’t want any more negative attention
Around this time someone did find out that I was dressing in women’s clothing and I was approached about it. It was the most terrifying conversation I ever had because this was never in the open. I was told that it was wrong and it was something that I shouldn’t do and at that point I began to repress my feelings Really hard.
I tried to just be normal and told myself that my desire to be a woman was just a dark fantasy and other boys probably had the same feelings too and it’s just something that we never talked about. I carried the Weight that if anybody felt out my feelings I would lose my friends and everyone I loved. Changes from puberty started coming and my body started to change. I tried to fight back and shave every hair that popped up but sadly this was a losing battle…especially with my genetics.
I continued to Move on with life. Come high school I had a wonderful group of friends we called the crew. We were always having fun, laughing and Doing stupid things. I started playing bass in a band with some friends and it became a big focus for us. It made it significantly easier to Live a relatively happy life and make me ignore my gender dysphoria. I still never felt right and felt displaced inside. I got along well with women, but always like a friend and had a very hard time attracting women. I avoided my high school proms as I had nobody to ask, things like that hit me emotionally pretty hard.
I continue to Repress my feelings in my 20s as they were so packed down approaching it was just terrifying. I continued to have an awful time with women and felt very alone despite having good friends. I was still living in the shadows. I was secretly attracted to men and acted on my feelings behind closed doors. I felt lost and directionless in my life. Frequent drug use became a coping mechanism to ignore the reality of my feelings. By 24 and a lot of research on the psychology of attracting women, I was finally able to get a steady girlfriend. while this was a big achievement for myself and I thought it would be the cure-all for my feelings, I still felt wrong inside.
At 26 the repression of my true self lead me to downward spiral. Depression and anxiety became a massive limiting factor in my life. I had another relationship with a woman and we had my daughter Leah together by surprise. This was a big wake up call for my life as I Needed to clean up my act and realized that all my feelings had to be put on the back burner. I knew my life was about Leah. The relationship didn’t last and in less than two years We split apart and I took full residential custody at the age of 28.
As a single parent I was confronted by the situation of being around lots of other women. The amount of single fathers with custody is still quite low to this day. I began to socialize and relate with more women in daily parental situations and felt much more comfortable than with the fathers, which I felt a disconnect. In girl scouts, they always said I was one of the girls. I continued to date women but still had difficulty.
In sept 2014 I met someone that changed everything. I met Jen, we both fell in love instantly, like in one of the romance movies, i wanted to marry her by the second date,things progressed and a year and half later we moved in together. We planned to be together forever and have a family.
After living together for a little, the cracks in the relationship started to show
There was a disconnect neither of us could put our finger on, it drove her to depression and me to a lot of hesitancy. I still fantasized about men and when things were tense I got the feeling of ..why am I pretending to be like this ( my masculine form ). I continued to push it down as just crazy feelings that Arose due to our relationship issues. I also knew our love was very real and that was undeniable.
We kept on trying to make it work but we kept crashing harder, one day i came home and found she was packing her things, i broke down. Even though I was enduring a fair amount of mental stress in the relationship my heart was shattered.
This was the summer of 2017, I was broken but I was trying to hold myself together. I strived to pick myself up and be the best person I could be. I went to the gym 4-5 times a week and put on a ton of muscle. I Started going out more and being very social. In an attempt to get over my ex I started dating again very quickly. On paper I was doing well but that feeling of wrong still persisted.
I started crossdressing again. Well I didnt really stop..it was just very infrequent. Maybe I would do it when everyone was asleep late at night every few months. I started crossdressing and it made me feel comfortable...and normal. I was magnetically drawn to it. I felt beautiful, attractive and sexy and actually liked how I started to look in the mirror. I was feeding an internal need that had been locked away and demonized for so long..25 years at that point. Soon crossdressing became an everyday occurrence after I put my daughter to sleep. I couldnt wait until the day was done and I could continue to experiment with my looks. It didnt take long for me to come to the acceptance that I was a crossdresser. I began to start taking pictures of myself and found a community on reddit where I could interact with others like myself. I used a secret alias “Jessica” and coined my username CuteJessLI. While there I read many stories of people who thought they were a crossdresser but discovered they were in fact transgender. I was fascinated but at that point I was very unaware of the trans community because it wasnt something that was talked about much and not given a good deal of media attention.
Luckily online the community was large and there were many people freely talking about their feelings and their journeys. I was captivated and honestly.. started to get a little jealous. These were vibrant and beautiful women who were living according to their own rules. I spent weeks seeking out trans perspectives and reading as much as I possibly could. I was shocked at how the experiences were eerily similar to my own feelings. I was beginning to think...maybe I am trans. Being inspired by the beautiful trans community i decided to buy some cheap makeup from the dollar store..which was absolutely terrifying. I watched some brief makeup tutorials and went to work. When i finished i was floored. Admiring myself i burst out crying. I never thought i could look so pretty and i felt so good. I never wanted that feeling toend. Every fiber of my existence was telling me that this is more true to myself than ive ever felt. I was so confused. I had these feelings for my whole life but they seemed so wrong...yet so right.
The next month I was as distracted as could be. It was the only thing I could think of. I did more of the same, relating with others experiences and dressing. I also learned about transition and how trans people went on HRT or hormone replacement therapt to chemically change their bodies to run hormonally as the opposite sex. This in turn sets your body off on a second puberty which for trans women allows them to feminize, grow breasts and mentally change to a female perspective. I never knew this. I wanted it so bad. I became hooked on HRT timeline videos that showed how much people would change over time with HRT. Soon it wasnt a want, once my mind realized this was a possibility I couldn't let go of it...i needed it. This finally came to a tipping point and I made the most life changing revelation again..that I was really a woman inside. For a day I felt amazing that I had figured this out. The feelings of wanting to live as a woman at 12 were as real as could be and I started to unpack a lifes worth of repression. It wasnt a small amount.. dysphoria about my being started spewing out like lava. My anxiety kicked into full panic mode and I could barely function. I was so overwhelmed and scared and felt so alone. I was terrified about telling anyone. Based on my earlier experiences I felt like nobody would ever accept me and it made everything that much worse. What would happen with my daughter? There was so much, I was about to crack big time. I approached my Mother and had the hardest conversation of my entire life. She was beyond supportive and I felt so much better after. I knew that i wanted to get on HRT as soon as humanly possible and that I wanted bottom surgery. That was a little much for her at that point but I knew my course. I created a timeline for my transition and knew it would be about 3 years of transition for all to be said and done. I was dead on.
Oddly enough my ex jen who i hadnt seen in months resurfaced and seemed to be interested in trying again. She had changed and seemed to be doing better than ever. It killed me..I knew i had to tell her even though it would spell doom for a romantic relationship. She was really concerned yet amazing and supportive. She’s a makeup pro and taught me more about technique and products. She also Helped me with my looks and brought me into the world as my female self.
Slowly I began coming out to people and family closest to me. I dreaded it. It felt like a heart attack every time. I always felt like I wouldnt be accepted and I had to mentally prepare to loose that person. I was extremely lucky that I was supported by virtually everyone I knew. This is unusual as many people loose friends and family to those that dont understand. Again I was lucky.
The pain from dysphoria was hard. Knowing I was a woman made it so much harder to present male. I couldnt wait for the day that I could live as my true self. The only thing that made the dysphoria better was to work on my transition. I made strides to change my body and appearance. I started laser hair removal to clear my facial hair. Went on a specialized diet to loose fat and trim the muscle I built up just months prior. Socially I started wearing nail polish in public for a slow rollout which got people at work gossiping. I also started seeing a gender psychologist regularly to sort out my mind and get myself prepared to talk to my daughter. Out of anything..the fear of causing her some mental harm from transitioning was the worst part. She is my everything and I was petrified of the outcome. When I finally told her, she was so understanding and loving. The emotional maturity of her at 10 just blew me away. She was actually so excited she ended up telling all her friends at school..which forced me to have conversations with her teachers and friends parents sooner than i would have liked.
Come December 9th 2018 I was finally allowed to start on HRT under the supervision of planned parenthood which wasn't a decision to be taken lightly. It takes time for all the changes but it is magical. It changes your skin, sex drive, smell, sense of smell, depth of emotions, body shape, face shape, fat distribution, hair growth, eye shape and allows you to grow breasts. For me the mental effects were an absolute blessing. Within 2 days of being on HRT I felt an intense sense of calm. The dysphoria that I mentioned that had been banging on my door quieted. My low lying depression, my feeling of wrong and my anxiety that had been lingering so long also basically vanished. To top it off it also reduced my ADD...HRT has been a miracle for me. The happiness Ive found I didnt even know existed. Almost everyone noticed that too. I had many people say Ive never seen you smile so much. My daughter also says she likes me better as a woman. Its helped me in big ways to understand what she is feeling while starting puberty..especially since I wasnt far ahead of her. There are few parents that can say they went through puberty with their daughter.
Even though I was on HRT I was still not out to the entire world. Even though I wanted to live as my true self so badly. I wasnt comfortable enough with myself, still had lots of people to come out to and I didnt think that I would be passable enough to go into the world in an everyday situation. I was able to celebrate Christmas and New Years with close family as myself and I was just over the moon.
Officially Coming Out To The World
Come early march I felt comfortable enough to come out fully at work. Luckily people noticed I had been slowly changing my appearance and it didnt come as a huge surprise at that point. Except for one person everyone was very accepting...again I was lucky and this is usually not the norm.
Feb 18th 2019 I made it official and I announced on facebook that I was transgender. That was it, Ive come out to the world and I began my new life
The next few years became a rebirth. As my body and mind slowly changed I began to come out of the shadows and find my place in the world. I was always very to myself because I never felt right but now I began to feel good about myself and build up Love for myself. I became proud of who I was and the process of Transitioning and being in public gave me a strength to ignore the people who would shoot me down. I realized it doesnt matter what people think of you as long as you love yourself. I began to post more On social media and started an instagram account to document my journey. My hope was that I could reach people that needed the positivity. It was my way of giving back to the community that helped me find myself. I was surprised at how fast I grew. Due to my inner strength many looked up to me and people started contacting me in droves for help with their own situation. I quickly realized that I had a very good way with people. I could guide people That had nowhere to turn to and change the course of their lives. I was able to empower people to be the best version of themselves And that in turn gave me such a deep satisfaction and purpose that I never knew before. As I grew, More and More looked up to me as a role model and more and more came to me for help. After Covid began and I left the marketing industry which I worked in for 20 years to be with my daughter I put a bigger emphasis on my online presence.
The volume of people that were attracted by my light was almost unreal. I never took this lightly at all I was very happy to give up things like television or other recreational activities to keep my arms outstretched. I learned the power that one person can make in the world and I realized that the potential of every person is much greater then they can ever imagine.
In this time I also began working on my last stage of transition which was my bottom surgery. Its a absolutely massive surgery and requires many steps and approvals. In this time I was sought out online by people in the media and modeling industry. I began conversations with modeling companies, was offered an audition for a tv show, given an opportunity to walk runway and asked to compete in a modeling competition. This was not the time for it but it made me realize I had something big to offer eventually. My life was on hold and my main focus was finishing my transition.
January 21, 2021 I went to NYU And under the skilled hands of Dr. Rachel bluebond I had my bottom surgery. I woke up and while I was in a tremendous amount of pain a massive weight was lifted. I was finally complete. When I finally got to my room I burst out in tears of happiness. I spent the next five days in the hospital and then came home for the next trial of life. Recovery was tough and felt like it would never end. It was two months of very uncomfortable living And the third that I was slowly able to get back on my feet. This time was not wasted though. I continued to help other people in the community and spent a great amount of time sorting myself out and doing inner work. I harbored many ill feeling towards the life I was given and people that had hurt me. I learned the value of forgiveness for the hardships in my life and negativity that was projected towards myself. Letting go of that negativity and replacing it with love and positivity brought me to an incredible place where my mind and soul were in harmony.
After the 3 months I went in for my next surgery.. my breast augmentation which was a cakewalk compared to my last surgery. I bounced back quickly and started getting my broken body back together. After 3 weeks postop I reunited with the gym after 4 months from being away. It had been such a hard road with my bottom surgery with months where it was hard to even walk so this was a great accomplishment. I worked diligently to get my body back and within a month I was in full swing. At this point in my life I felt better than I ever did. My mind body and soul were in alignment, my daughter Leah was progressing and I was so proud and I was on the other side of the toughest experiences in my life. I considered my transition finished and I was thriving.
I set a goal to achieve my seemingly impossible dreams of doing, modeling, acting and creating art at the end of the summer. Long gone were the days of me wanting to hide myself. I found an inner glow that I needed to share with the world. Everywhere I went people commented about how I shine and inspired them to live their own lifes to the fullest. I found a love of being in front of the camera and putting the best foot forward for the transgender community. My goals are now to be as visible as possible so that I can create more awareness of the transgender community and so that I can do my part to normalize transgenderism in our society. There’s much work to do as acceptance isnt so widespread yet. Luckily the media and corporate america are catching up and now actively starting to spread inclusivity through media. The last 3 months have been a whirlwind for me as I hit the ground running and gaining traction very quickly and being cast for roles specifically because Im transgender. I just learned last thursday that I will be part of a year long media campaign with Target, it all feels like a dream. In two days im flying to detin florida and competing in Miss Fashion Global Modeling Competition with a second competition following in December. Im proud to represent the community and make a statement that just because youre trans doesnt make you any less of a person and we are deserving of human rights of dignity, children, healthcare, and equal opportunities just like everyone else.
I have so much to say but I will need to cap this off. Living your authentic self is important for the LGBT community but not strictly a transgender narrative. Settling because it’s easy will never bring a life that’s rich with the things that are most important to you. We all have dreams and aspirations and we all have the power to chase those dreams. The best things in life definitely arent easy. The bigget secret of the universe is love and acceptance. We are all one big family and we all need to hold hands together to support and uplift each other. Be grateful for everything you have. Start every day and be grateful for the ones we love, our friends, our lives, our country, our opportunities and the beautiful world that god has given us.