Jamie was on a business trip in Omaha, Nebraska when a video that would change her life exploded onto her Facebook feed.
In the video, a man she’d barely heard of was standing onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland and calling for the removal of trans people like her from public life.
“For the good of society... transgenderism [sic] must be eradicated from public life entirely—the whole preposterous ideology, at every level,” said Michael Knowles, a columnist at the far-right online publication The Daily Wire. At a base level, she felt the need to flee.
The man himself didn’t scare her–Knowles’s profile pales in comparison to other Daily Wire columnists, such as Ben Shapiro or Matt Walsh–it was that the audience met his statement with light applause.
“It sent alarm bells up my spine,” she said.
In the days that followed his speech, Knowles argued that eradicating “transgenderism” was not the same as eradicating transgender people. But for many transgender people, transition is what makes the happiness and success in their lives possible.
Going back into the closet was unthinkable for Jamie. The video sent her spiraling into a deep depression that took months to claw out from.
She cried on the flight home from her business trip. Out the window, the sun dipped below the horizon, backlighting the skyline with reds and oranges. From her airplane seat, the city looked like it was on fire. In some ways, it actually felt that way. This year, Missouri legislators introduced a record 43 anti-trans bills.
Two months later, Jamie was changing her life.
The day she first spoke to The Stranger in May, a significant story arc in a three-year-long Pathfinder campaign had reached a bittersweet conclusion. (The fantasy role-playing game is similar to Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s set in another world with different rules.)
The party had discovered the missing parents that caused Jamie’s character, Sansa, an elf ranger and aspiring bard, to take up a bow and head out on the adventure in the first place–a quest that resonated with a central struggle in her own life. Along their journey to the otherworldly realm of the Fae, the party, which also included the gunslinger Enra, the alchemist Lenn, the dark elf rogue Senna, and the half-orc Ignoda who yearned to be a mage, uncovered a plot to end the world.
Behind the fictional characters were real-life friends who first met through a trans support group in St. Louis. With the exception of Lenn, who moved to Colorado after one of the anti-trans laws this year threatened his trans health care, they all still live in St. Louis.
The resolution of the story brought Jamie’s character a sense of peace she’d long sought after. In an effort to extend that peace to herself, Jamie is planning a move to Seattle next year.
She asked for a job transfer ahead of an upcoming promotion as an IT auditor at her company, a big accounting firm you’ve heard of. Like any good auditor, Jamie is detail-oriented.
A year ahead of time, she’d already picked a neighborhood and selected the building she’ll apply for. She calculated her budget well into the next year. To afford the $4,200 deposit for her apartment and an estimated $4,800 for movers and a truck, she’s saving between $400 and $800 a month. If she were not trans, she said she could be putting down this money on a house instead of resettling in Seattle.
Jamie makes $93,000 a year, but she still has to make big lifestyle adjustments to account for the move. She’s eating out less and limiting her travel to a minimum. In a pragmatic cost-benefit analysis of money to joy, she cut “silly stuff” and her nerdiest interests first.
“I have a crippling, much like other trans women, a crippling Magic: The Gathering addiction,” she said. “I do Friday night Magic at my local games store, and I’m just going to start weaning myself off the proverbial nectar of Wizards of the Coast–I don’t know, it’s just life. We’ve all got things that come up and we have to make sacrifices for.”
Jamie felt any sacrifices were worth the move to Washington, which has state-level protections for trans people and shares a border with Canada. If things "go sideways," Jamie doesn’t want to be in Missouri, perpetually fighting state laws with no protection from Republicans in D.C. And things could very well go sideways. Right now, Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who passed some of the most severe anti-trans legislation in the country, lead the Republican presidential nomination race. The House just elected a Speaker with a long track-record of anti-LGBTQ policy positions, and he's only two heartbeats from power. Seattle sounds like a far more hopeful proposition, a safer city where she can focus on her true passion for songwriting. She can envision herself writing away in a coffee shop.
“I've always known that I want to live in a city that has a lot of nature like St. Louis,” she said. “Some place like New York City, with my work culture, would be too toxic–because all I would be doing is the grind for work. A lot of prolific songwriters go through [Seattle]; I looked at a lot of writers who live there, who get a lot of inspiration from that city. That's something that kind of draws me to it.”
A few years ago, Jamie’s move to Seattle would’ve been financially inconceivable, and she shivered at the thought of being trapped in her home state.
She lost her religious family after coming out, and she endured serious poverty after losing her support system and her housing with her brother during college. At her lowest, she tried to commit suicide twice in a barren apartment.
She was working in IT at a religious company, a dead-end job with lower pay and no room for advancement because of her identity, when a friend in the Pathfinder group helped her get an interview in the IT department where they worked. With a new income, she stepped as far as a trans woman could step into a new social class.
Her new job offers excellent trans health coverage, but she knows that access could vanish overnight if layoffs hit the company. One of the laws passed this year prohibits the use of state Medicaid funds for gender-affirming care of any kind.
“If something happened to me with my job, I would be kind of fucked,” she said. “I would be at great risk of not receiving care anymore. I don’t have an accepting family–it’s just me against the world.”
While the Knowles speech prompted Jamie to move, she jumped at the chance for a life in Seattle because the concerning political situation for trans people in Missouri had only worsened since her March business trip.
On April 13, State Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued an emergency order that imposed strict new rules on trans care for both children and adults in Missouri.
Intended as a stop-gap measure before the Legislature could pass laws to restrict care, the order would have required doctors to misinform their patients on the safety and effectiveness of trans care and to ensure they cleared benchmarks that lie outside of the scope of the international guidelines for transgender health care before providing care.
For example, doctors would be required to determine that trans youth were not addicted to social media, and that their gender identity was not socially influenced, provisions that stem from a flawed theory of “transgender contagion” that originated in online anti-trans parent groups. Doctors would also be required to treat and resolve “any psychiatric symptoms” from existing mental health diagnoses and test patients for autism.
The order sent Jamie into “full panic mode” and solidified her plans to move out of the state.
Trying to work while not knowing if the order would upend her life was surreal.
“I’m expected to act like a cis person, I’m expected to not let all this shit stress me out to the point I have a mental breakdown while I’m working during busy season,” she said. “I’ve been fed the line by people I work with–‘Oh my God, everyone has stuff going on in their lives and I’m like, ‘Is everyone planning on fleeing their fucking state?’”
Bailey terminated the order in May after a court temporarily blocked it from going into effect. He also closed a tip-line for “questionable” gender care after LGBTQ advocates flooded it with fake reports and complaints.
The attorney general is still using the power of his office to go after an affirming school district. In September, he filed a lawsuit against the Wentzville School District for allegedly violating the open meetings law in discussing a transgender bathroom policy behind closed doors.
The Republican-controlled Missouri Legislature introduced 43 anti-trans bills. Two passed, including a bill limiting participation in sports and a statewide ban on gender-affirming care for minors. The latter law, called the Missouri Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, remains in effect after a judge ruled against a lawsuit from the ACLU and Lambda Legal’s that sought to block it. The case will go to trial, but a date has not been set.
Children who received gender-affirming care before the law was passed can still get care, but that does not mean they have access. Their options are winnowing because of new liability provisions in the law, according to Tony Rothert, director of integrated advocacy with the ACLU of Missouri.
Under Missouri law, plaintiffs typically must file medical malpractice claims against their doctors within two years of an alleged act of neglect, and doctors are protected by a 10-year statute of repose. But under this law, patients could sue physicians who offer trans care to minors up to 15 years after the treatment for the effects of hormone therapy.
“That was a compromise that was supposed to lessen the effect of the law, proponents said, to not force detransitioning, but, in fact, it has. Trans care for youth is very scarce in Missouri,” said Rothert. “It's really affecting not only the poor, but rural folk. People who are close to Illinois can receive treatment in Illinois, but people spread out across the state have fewer options.”
This August, University of Missouri Health Care stopped offering hormones and puberty blockers to existing minor patients. St. Louis Children’s Hospital did the same.
Earlier that year, that hospital faced claims from a former employee that its gender clinic did not appropriately evaluate children before providing care. Evan Urqhart at Assigned Media, a daily news site covering anti-trans propaganda, found that the 69 claims made about Washington University’s clinic were not even partially confirmed.
“It was really those complaints that became the impetus to move the anti-trans legislation forward this year, " Rothert said. “It wasn’t the first year they had been introduced, but this is the first year they got traction.”
As a result of the laws, the adult trans life Jamie built in St. Louis is evaporating.
Every shop and corner in her neighborhood reminded her of the absence of the friends she transitioned with seven years ago. The first dates and long talks in those early, hard years seemed more distant than ever. Gone were the late nights at MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse and the Pride celebrations at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Most of those friends have since moved to blue states that recently passed laws protecting trans health care.
Meanwhile, cis friends and acquaintances she considered open-minded now repeat arguments they read online, comparing age restrictions on medical transition to tattoos or drinking.
During an emergency room visit for a potential post-surgical complication, four doctors assessed her vagina, all reaching the same non-threatening conclusion. On the exam table, she felt like “a sideshow freak” and believed doctors were using this stressful visit as an opportunity to gawk. Afterward, she called a patient advocate specialist at her insurance company, who told her that the doctors’ behavior was abnormal and to call if it happened again.
“It’s like this place is just in my soul and it’s rejecting me,” she said.
Jamie grew up in small towns in Missouri and Illinois, bouncing back and forth between the homes of her parents, who divorced when she was young.
When she came out, her father wrote her a letter saying she’d burn in hell. Her stepmother threatened to come after her if she defamed the family name. They told her youngest sister lies about her, saying that Jamie hated her and had changed her middle name to match the name of a middle school friend her sister had a falling-out with. The siblings are close today, but her sister still pretends not to have a relationship with Jamie to avoid a fight with her parents.
“That was the hardest thing to deal with,” she said. “She was a minor when I came out and they made those threats against me, so I couldn’t have a relationship with her. She would reach out to me, but I kept it very superficial. I just told her that I loved her.”
Around the time of her suicide attempts, Jamie drank to offset lingering feelings of familial rejection. She threw her body into another numbing agent, the rush and physical pain of roller derby. At bars, she hoped to find someone to save her. After a few years, she came to the conclusion that nobody would. She’d need to save herself. So she constructed a chosen family of trans people from a peer support group.
“I would say the first time I looked around and felt stable was when I realized I had furniture in my room,” she said.
Her aggressive saving plan and the departure of her friends made life smaller than it used to be.
She’s trying to see the intervening months like a residency, an intentional period of artistic growth. She writes on the weekends and during lunch breaks. She read Pat Pattinson’s Writing Better Lyrics and signed up for a songwriting class. She’s taking notes “like crazy.”
Her vision for life in Seattle is as studious and detailed as her plan to get here in the first place. She’ll spend a year strengthening her singing voice and working up a few songs for an album or EP. Next year, she’ll start playing shows with an acoustic guitar. Her anger is helpful writing material in a “weird, messed up sort of dark way.” She writes mostly about her family and St. Louis.
She’d started working on one song about her Dad, a carpenter and scaffold builder. When she was a kid, he helped build the now vacant Millennium Hotel, an ovular tower in downtown St. Louis. As that building fell apart, so did her relationship with her dad. She wrote another song called “El Flannigans,” which is about the last time they spoke in person. She’s working on a finger-picked tune but doesn’t yet know what it’s about.
Her approach to music matches her analytical style. She synthesizes a library of melodic and lyrical ideas on her computer, takes notes on what she needs to learn and which albums she wants to draw from, and assembles a library of virtual tools to achieve the sound she desires.
“I knew that’s exactly what would get me through this next year,” she said. “Sometimes it helps distract my mind, right? It’s a lot nicer than putting out a distressing message on Facebook.”
When I called in November, Jamie was at a noisy restaurant on another business trip in Omaha. The songwriting class had finished, and she said she emerged with a stronger idea of how to write songs.
Next paycheck, she’ll set aside a little money to purchase Ableton, a music production software, and she'll bust out the pedal board she used with her brother’s band before it fell apart. She wants to affix a rubberized bridge on a cheap guitar, part of the muted guitar sound Phoebe Bridgers achieved on the 2020 album Punisher, she explained. The next step involves concocting her “secret sauce,” she said.
I asked Jamie if she was happy. Yes, she said, but she wished she didn’t have to leave home. She’s adjusted her timeline somewhat–choosing to move next fall to avoid inflated moving costs in the summer–and the reality of leaving St. Louis is starting to settle in. It’s hard, really hard, she said.
When she recently visited the Berkshires in western Massachusetts to see a girlfriend, now an amicable ex, she was struck by all the Pride flags in the country. She’d grown used to rural areas and small towns in Missouri, like the ones she grew up in, being unsafe.
“It made me realize that there are places in this country that aren’t suffocating,” she said. “I know Seattle is not perfect, but I'm excited to be surrounded by people and the areas that are more open.”