“In 36 years, I hugged like four people. But I love hugs now. High heels, hugs and handwritten notes, that’s what is important to me,” said 42-year-old Jodi Allen as she gave the keynote speech at the Transgender Day of Empowerment at Affirmations.
Allen shared words of wisdom that have helped her in the transitioning process, focusing not on the struggle but on the power of finding one’s own empowerment within themselves.
She told the story of Victor Frankl who lost his entire family to the Holocaust. Frankl famously said, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This lesson came up in Allen’s mind as she wondered what to say to the room full of people in various stages of transition, and allies who were there to learn more about transgender people. The topic assigned was that of explaining empowerment, trying to decide what is empowering.
“It is hard to define,” she said. “It’s like pornography. It’s hard to define and different for everyone, but we know it when we see it.”
One way to understand power is to understand labels. “We invest power in labels. Getting surgery. Super high heels. The ability to vote. What if these things are taken away? What if someone takes away your makeup or your heels? What about your right to vote?
“We spend how much time on our presentation, but how much time do we spend thinking about our own thoughts,” she said. “If we have the power to make things important, you know what, we also have the power to make ourselves important.”
Allen’s mental transformation came in two major stages. The first was six years ago when, still living as Bill, she made the decision to get sober. “The greatest gift I’ve ever been given is being an alcoholic. The second is being trans,” she said. “If you met me as Bill I was smart, educated, good at my job, but closed off, difficult. When I drank I didn’t have healthy relationships, even with myself. When I drank, I knew everything. I knew I was more awesome than you. And if you were awesome I put you down, I didn’t share anything with you because then you might be more awesome than me. I had this attitude of scarcity. I was hoarding awesomeness.
“Getting sober taught me total honesty. I was sharing things I didn’t share with people.It’s like a key that finally works after you’ve been out in the rain for ten minutes fumbling with it.”
She took on the attitude of being “truthful, talkative and transparent.” And for a while she was happy. But in time another truth emerged. She closed up again. People at work thought she was drinking again. She discovered Jodi, and had to begin another process to set her free.
Committing to a positive mental attitude and joining a transgender support group at Affirmations helped her work through the challenging steps of understanding what a transition would mean. By coming up with a plan, and using positivity, Jodi Allen found more love in the world than she ever expected.
“People like my mom were kind and poured goodness into me,” she said. “My office has been nothing short of inspiring. Somebody wrote me a little note saying ‘sometimes people will surprise.’
“People poured love into me. It made my world better and I want to pour it into other things. When I meet people I like I let them know how I feel. That’s why handwritten notes are so important to me. When someone takes the time to do that, it really means something.”
Allen is still in the process of transitioning at work, but will do so full time in the coming months. As a custom men’s fashion expert, she’s got over 800 clients to come out to. So far most have been accepting. When people aren’t, she figures it is their problem. But she also knows that in order to foster relationships instead of burning bridges, she must continuously practice openness, patience and love.
“I had to allow these feelings that other people have, good or bad, to be in a safe space. Sometimes people are wrong and I have to not attack it. I have to be patient and let them talk through it,” she said.
In addition to the transgender support group and the ladies at Gigi’s who helped her express her beauty, Allen credits her mother with giving her love and support. Victoria beamed with pride as her daughter spoke to the large group at the Day of Empowerment. Afterwards she told Between The Lines, “As Bill all those years it was like you’re hiding a secret and you can’t let people in. He was negative, no hugs and kisses. Whenever he’d come over I was so relieved when he left. I always wanted a loving relationship, but I thought, okay we are just one of those families. But as soon as he told me he was transitioning, we had a better relationship.”
Now they have heart-to-heart talks and share clothes. “It wasn’t always easy. When Bill came out to me I was surprised to say the least. It wasn’t easy for me because I didn’t realize that I was being judgmental of other people,” she said. “I don’t want people to judge poorly. Transgender people aren’t people hanging out in the bathrooms waiting to snatch up your children like the stereotype that is out there. That is so hurtful, and I didn’t realize it.”
Victoria introduces Jodi to her friends, and has other transgender people over to dinner. “I feel bad for those who don’t have the relationship we have,” she said.
Allen’s father, who lives in Florida, is not nearly as accepting. “My dad never wanted to talk about it. Dad was dedicated to the notion of this celebrated son,” Allen said. “He won’t even see me.”
The positive attitude Allen cultivated in herself helps her deal with those disappointments. In breaking it down to, “what happens when people take things away and all that is left is yourself and the freedom to choose your outlook,” Allen said it is fundamental. “When the world doesn’t love you, you better love yourself or you’re fucked.”
Allen and her mother came to the Affirmations Spring Bash two years ago, where they painted part of a large collage together as part of the DIA-centered event. That evening is when Arlene Kish invited Allen to join the board of directors for the LGBT community center.
“I knew I wanted to give back. All that love, I wanted to pour it into others. When Arlene asked me to be on the board, it was an opportunity that changed my life. It helps me keep pouring the love because I know that when I’m out at events or reaching out to people, I may be the first transgender person they’ve ever met. So I feel obligated to be as awesome as I can be, so people walk away thinking, ‘wow, that is a transgender person. She is awesome. Transgender people are awesome.'”