Is Philly the New Transgender Capital of the World?

With specialized surgeons, counselors and support services in the City of Brotherly Love, many who feel trapped in the wrong body are coming here to find their true identities.

Life, the birthdays and celebrations, the fights and family meals, the games and the endless procession of days, delivered a singular message: “I always knew I was weird.”

He never liked playing sports.

He watched girls, felt drawn to them—not from a sense of otherness, but similarity. His name, he understood, was “Shane,” which means “God is gracious.” But he was skeptical that God existed at all.

He hated the clothes he wore. He hated being a boy. As he grew, he got to make choices. He favored big jeans and baggy sweatshirts, clothes that billowed about him like a dress and hid the form from which he felt so disconnected. He stayed mostly silent. His mother, Patrice, called him shy. Maybe he was hiding, scared he might be discovered, this girl in the boy’s body.

Video games helped, rendered him a new body, an avatar on a screen.

Trips to the bathroom hurt. He didn’t recognize the boy. His penis seemed useless. He looked at other people, so content by comparison, and wondered how they could look at him and not see a girl.

He didn’t know that anyone else like him existed. He simply suffered, alone, until he was 13 years old.

It was 11 o’clock on a school night, and he sat in his bedroom, flipping channels. He stopped at South Park, an episode titled, “Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina.” And his life changed.

The opening scene depicted Mr. Garrison, a teacher, undergoing an operation to become Mrs. Garrison, because he is “transgender.”

There it was. The word he needed.

He wasn’t crazy or alone. His sense of self was real, had a name.

He got a little bolder then. Crept into his sister’s room, taking underwear, blouses, skinny jeans. He filled little plastic bags with water and stuck them inside his shirt, like breasts. And he looked in the mirror to see the girl on the inside finally reflected on the outside. Wearing his sister’s clothes calmed him. It felt natural. But life remained anxious, expressed in monosyllables, until the day his mother called him upstairs.

Do you feel trapped?

Initially, he thought his mother knowing the truth might be enough. But after a few weeks, after watching the girls at school—the way they moved, airy as butterflies, the way they spoke and dressed—he knew he needed to go all the way. He needed to live as a girl.

He let his mother do the research; he wanted only the result. And to let his mother choose a new name. That was how, in a single word from her mother’s lips, Jill began.