The journey to becoming Miss Trans Michigan USA 2023 has been a long and winding road for Jamie Ashby. The 38-year-old HR professional from Holt, a small town just south of Lansing, has faced more than her fair share of challenges along the way. But like the Nina Simone classic says: It’s a new day and a new life for Ashby, and she’s feeling good.
Ashby, who grew up in Lansing and later lived in Grand Rapids, was no more than 4 years old when she was diagnosed with what was then called gender identity disorder. While pregnant, Ashby’s mother believed she was carrying a girl. And though she ended up with a baby boy, it was no surprise to the young mother when her child began expressing that she felt like a girl inside.
Ashby’s mother was supportive. She began sending Ashby to preschool dressed as a girl. But authorities there did not understand how to deal with such a situation at that time.
“They got child protective services involved,” Ashby told Pride Source. “I was put into foster care and eventually adopted at 6 years of age.”
Things in her new home were not exactly hunky dory, though. “I complained that the dolls I played with had breasts and I didn’t. And I was confused as to when that was going to happen to me.”
But Ashby’s new family had no more experience with gender identity issues than her former preschool did. They forced her to wear boy clothes and Ashby did not feel she was seen by her family for who she really was. “I don’t think they really understood that I was transgender, because I didn’t either,” said Ashby of her formative years. “I just thought I was a feminine boy who happened to be attracted to other boys. … I’ve always had a very feminine spirit.”
Admittedly, Ashby said she was a hard child to raise. “I was a very difficult child,” she said, listing losing her bio mom and her new family’s lack of understanding of what she was going through as reasons. “I just had this sense of abandonment. … My family didn’t understand who I was or how to help me.”
Ashby parted ways with her adoptive family when she was just 14. She was forced to fend for herself and experienced bouts of homelessness. Eventually, she found her footing. “I met another queen and we became best friends,” she said. “Through her, I met other girls and I became a part of a pack of girls. We were all living in a house together.”
She started presenting as a female in 2006 and then, two years later, she started performing as a showgirl at her friends’ insistence. “I had so much stage fright,” she recalled. “But I got out there. And it opened up a can of worms.”
Ashby would continue performing for a few years. She also got involved with pageants, winning eight during her showgirl career, including Miss Michigan Pride in 2010.
By the following year, Ashby had decided to retire from the stage and concentrate, instead, on her transition. “The amount of money that I was spending on my wardrobe was astronomical,” she said. “I thought, ‘How can I be putting this money into my drag instead of doing what I wanted to do?’ I wanted to medically transition, and that is expensive.”
Over time, Ashby managed to raise the funds and put enough money together to do as she wished. Then, in 2019, she got involved with the pageant world again. “I had always been a lover of pageants. I love the camaraderie you get from competing in them and the experience of meeting other people.”
Ashby said she started watching cis gender pageants from about the age of 7. “I would study those girls because I wanted to emulate their aesthetic. It was the ultimate in feminine beauty.”
Earlier this year, Ashby was chosen to be Miss Trans Michigan USA. She will compete for the national title next September in Milwaukee. Until then, Ashby will keep on living what she calls a somewhat quiet life. “I’m in a good mental space to put my all into this,” she said.
In her spare time, Ashby enjoys going out for brunch, hosting game nights and trying new foods. “I’m also a fragrance junkie,” she said. “I’m always looking for a new fragrance that is strong and nobody else is wearing.”
Ashby also enjoys travel. “I will tell you that if I feel like just getting out; I will be on the next plane,” she said. “Nothing really holds me down when I have my mind made up.” At work, Ashby continues to climb the corporate ladder. Currently, she is an HR executive with a major insurance company.
“I’ve always had an interest in HR and just wanted to be under that umbrella,” she said, remembering the days she struggled to get gainful employment without ID that matched her presentation. “As a trans woman in corporate America … I have an opportunity to make a difference.”
Ashby has been with the same company for seven years. “If I’m able to share my experiences as an openly trans woman that will hopefully change any mindsets the leaders may have and tenderize their hearts as to what it means to be trans.”
Already preparing for next year’s national pageant, Ashby said she supports the Miss Trans USA platform because it allows trans women and those who identify as non-binary to come together. “It allows you to advocate throughout your year and to just be a role model to the trans and non-binary communities."
“I think the beautiful thing about the pageant is that it’s not about being a particular size or having a particular body shape,” she continued. “It’s about being your authentic self. The values the pageant has coincides with everything I believe in.”