Hi, my name is Jessica Soukup. I’m from Austin, Texas.
I currently work at Texas State University. I’ve been here now for 11 years. About five years ago, I came to a revelation. I realized that I was transgender. But tied to that was a recognition of the potential consequences of that revelation. I could lose my family. I could lose my wife of 35 years. I could lose my job. I could lose everything. I nevertheless felt I had to move forward with my transition.
I spent about 18 months finding myself, how I wanted to present to the world, learning who I was. But eventually I had to come out at work. I thought about my boss, the person I was working for at the time and I wanted to give him a chance to think about his response. I didn’t want him to have to respond in the moment to some information that he wasn’t expecting. So I wrote a letter.
I told him what I wanted and who I was. I said I’m transgender. And I want you to call me Jessica. I want you to use she/her pronouns. I want to conform to the women’s dress code and I want to use the women’s restroom.
I sealed it – the letter in an envelope, and I waited until my annual review. Now, I’m pretty good at my job as a systems analyst. And so I was pretty confident that I would get a good review. And so when the day came along that I was… I was sitting in his office around a round table, as we did each year for our – for my review. He sitting to the right of me. I had the letter sitting in front of me on the table. We went through the review and as expected, I did very well.
I had been doing some work, some trans-related, some LGBTQIA activism. I’d been helping out my friend, Brandon with some presentations on campus. Now my supervisor knew that and at the end of his – at the end of the review, he felt it necessary to say, “Well, we’re not a very diverse group, but we try really hard.”
Well, I thought as I passed him my… I slid my envelope across the table, I thought, “Let me help you with that diversity problem.”
And then I went on vacation for nine days. I wanted to make sure he had plenty of time to think about what was included in the letter. Before I got on the airplane to get out of town, he got a message to me and he said, “Jessica, it’s going to be okay.”
Fast-forward three months. I gave him plenty of time to adapt or do whatever it needed to do. I had shared the base – basically the same letter via email with a dozen or so people I worked with in the office just a few weeks before.
So I came to August 26, 2016. I put on an orchid dress and I showed up at the office. I had the morning hellos and the coffee conversations that seem to always happen. And everyone – well, obviously mistakes were made, but everyone was trying hard and I felt… I felt really pretty good about that.
Two days later, we had the student affairs kickoff. 550 people who work for student affairs piled into the ballroom in LBJ student center. As a divisional employee, they introduce me as well as my coworkers to the whole division so that they can find us if they need something. I showed up that day wearing a bright fuchsia suit. I wasn’t hiding.
Towards the end of the presentation when they were going through our introductions for the first time in the 11 years that I had worked – or at that point, the five years I had worked there, they displayed my image on the screen and this time I was presenting feminine, I was wearing that orchid suit from two days before, and they used the name, Jessica, instead of the name I’ve been using for all of those years.
Immediately following the program, the LGBTIA people, the friends that I knew, the people who I was actually out to, came up and congratulated me and cheered me on. I went back to my office and was typing code into the… into the computer. And the vice president for student affairs came into my office and said, “Okay, Jessica, who’s given you a hard time?” Well, I was very happy to be able to say that no one had given me a hard time. I’d received only positive feedback and encouragement.
I’d been scheduled to give another presentation… diversity presentation on supporting transgender and nonbinary people in higher education. And like every previous time, I was planning on just standing at the front of the room and cycling through a PowerPoint as Brandon told… gave the presentation.
This time, though, they called me because Brandon was sick. And they said, “Jessica, do you want to cancel this presentation?” I thought to myself, I just came out. This… this presentation needs to happen.
So I said, “Let’s… let’s go ahead with it. I will… I will give their presentation. I’ve heard it enough. I should be able to do this. I have the slides.” And I did manage to get through the presentation. Do I think it was the best presentation ever? No, I’m sure that it wasn’t. But I made it.
But that wasn’t what was really special. Normally when we gave these presentations, there were 20 or so people in the professional development room. This time, the room was full. The room was full and overflowing with people from student affairs who had come to support me. All of these people showed up to support me.
I sometimes look back on my life, pre-transition and I see a different person. The untold number of photos I have from those decades don’t show the person I am today. My life will be defined by the decisions I make today and the actions I take tomorrow. I choose to live a life of purpose and seek the simple joy, found a living true to myself. And I choose to build upon the work done by trans activists who came before me. And I choose to work to build a world where LGBTQIA people can live out and proud and honestly.
I love my life and I loved the people in it. I’ve never been so happy. I hope others find the joy I have found.