How Jesse Became Jessica

One mans story of becoming a woman

Illustration by Isabelle Arsenault "I love everything about being a woman," Jessica gloats through a faint chuckle that sensually rumbles her heavy Spanish accent. She reaches for a pack of cigarettes, shakes her long dark hair out of her face and takes a drag as deep as that declaration. The ash end radiates, red-hot as her lipstick. She holds the smoke for a moment, then blows it out audibly and watches it stream like a visible whisper toward the ceiling. As it gathers in a gray cloud above her, Jessica leans back on her living room couch and smiles with satisfaction.

"Yes," she emphasizes. "Everything."

There is much to love. Jessica carries 200 or so pounds on a five-foot-11 frame, standing more than six feet tall in her favorite pair of wedge sandals. Her legs are long, and the calves that protrude from her blue denim pedal-pushers are as smooth as her very smooth cheeks. Her lips are full. Her breasts are, too, and they are proudly showcased in a sheer V-neck blouse that strategically exposes a couple of inches of firm cleavage. Jessica is a pretty sexy dresser. She might be an attractive woman—if she wasn't, very obviously, a man.

"Everybody can tell, I know," she acknowledges dismissively. "Look at me. I am very tall. I am big. Sure, I know I don't look like a woman—not 100 percent. What do you think—I am crazy?"

No, but whatever this reality check may confirm about Jessica's sanity, it also has to be a disappointment to her vanity. She has invested more than half of her life into her pursuit of womanliness. Yet there remains something unconvincing about the hard line of Jessica's jaw, the breadth of her back, the size of her hands and feet, the muscles in her arms, the cracks in her voice. They exude a masculinity that can't be subjugated by flowing tresses, sexy clothes, breast implants, makeup, plastic surgery or even the ingestion of female hormones.

"Of course I know this!" Jessica says, pretending to pitch a little hissy fit. "People see me, and I see them point at me. I hear what they say: 'Look over there! There is a transsexual!' I don't care!'"

It took Jesse six years of cosmetic, surgical and hormonal changes to become Jessica, although the transformation is still a work in progress. It probably always will be. "The process is a long time, and it is not easy," she confirms. "It is difficult, and it is too much money—for implants, for nose job, for hormones." Jessica breaks into a laugh. "And for toenail polish."

Actually, the transformation was less expensive in Mexico than it would have been in the United States. "Breast implants are $4,000 here, but they are $2,000 in Mexico," Jessica points out. "My nose job was half as much, too. And the hormones? They are almost free in Mexico, and you don't need a prescription."

Jessica also has silicone implants in her cheeks, but they did not turn out so well. The right side, especially, looks swollen and misshapen, as though she has been in a fight or has a toothache. "It's a bad joke," Jessica says disgustedly. "It cannot stay this way."

Before Jessica undertook any of those changes, however, she simply let her hair grow.

"That was the first step," she said. "After that, I got the hormones for the titties and so I would have no hair on the face, no hair on the chest—no hair on the body. Later, I bought the new clothes."

Perhaps surprisingly, the change to women's clothing was just as significant a step for Jessica as the changes to a womanly body. "For a long time, I had two sets of clothes," she says. "Some for dressing in the clothes of the woman at night, and some for dressing in the clothes of the man in the day."

At 29, Jessica's sexuality has always been a subject of others' scrutiny, judgment and commentary. For her first 13 years, she was a boy named Jesse—the third of six children, with four sisters and one brother—who was struggling to grow up gay amid the Mexican machismo of her home town of Veracruz.

"Back then, especially, the society in Mexico is no good for gays," she recounts. "Not just because of the pointing and the saying things. Because of the discrimination—not just of gays, but of blacks and the poor. And my family? It was too much problems. They say, 'You are gay? Oh, no!' But it was true. I was a gay boy."

Yet, for most of her life, that definition didn't quite fit, either. "I always like women—woman form, I mean," Jessica says. "I admire women, their shape and their style. I really enjoy these things. They seem comfortable to me. They make me happy. Then I understand: I feel feminine, too."

So shortly after Jessica became a teenager, she decided to become a woman.

"No, I don't want to be a woman!" Jessica corrects you huffily, and now her irritation is not faked. "I want to imitate a woman!"

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