Half Her Size! A Transgender Woman Overcomes Lifelong Struggle with Weight – And Finally Feels Comfortable In Her Own Body

01/05/2016 at 01:10 PM ET

Jo Avelyn Grey
Allison Michael Orenstein

Jo Avelyn Grey knew from an early age that she was different from other kids. Growing up in Boynton Beach, Florida, she was socially awkward (she would later be diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome), and was also struggling with a secret.

Born a male named Joseph David Weaver, “I was 7 or 8, about the age you realize that girls and boys are different, when I realized something’s not quite right here,” Grey, now 27 and a computer engineer in Redwood City, California, tells PEOPLE. “I knew I was a woman and born in the wrong body.” By age 11 she felt brave enough to tell her conservative parents; her mother broke the news to Grey’s father. “That obviously didn’t go over very well, and I would say my weight problems started shortly thereafter,” she says.

After years at bullying at school, Grey’s weight climbed to 305 lbs. by age 22. “I ate more for comfort and because I thought, ‘Nothing I can do is going to make my body female,’” she says. Grey says for breakfast she would sometimes have two bowls of cereal. She would snack on chips, candy, chocolate and ice cream and drink lots of soda throughout the day. Lunch would be a big meal at a local fast- food chain, and she would have take-out food for dinner.

The emotional trauma from the bullying and her self-imposed isolation as she struggled to come to grips with being a transgender woman “left deep scars in my psyche,” she says. “It continues to impact my life to this day; however, things have improved over the years!”

Shortly after her weight peaked, Grey finally became determined to turn her life around. “It was on my 23rd birthday that I decided, ‘This is not okay. I’m unhealthy. I’m the wrong gender. It’s time for a change.’ ” Already in therapy for her gender issues, Grey decided to go on hormone treatments to start her transition as well as improve her health by changing her eating habits. The hormones slowed her weight loss, but she followed a strict high-protein, low-carb diet to meet her goals. “I taught myself how to cook, and I also started riding a bicycle,” she says.

Last summer Grey, who is 5’11”, reached 152 lbs., and since then she’s put on 8 lbs. of muscle, adding the combat sport Muay Thai to her regimen. The results have boosted her confidence. “I used to wear plain, loose-fitting, sloppy and unflattering clothing,” she says. “Now I wear tighter-fitting pants and tapered shirts. I like clothes that make me look attractive but also make me appear ready to handle whatever comes my way.”

After undergoing electrolysis and four years of hormone treatments at a cost of $20,000, Grey underwent her first successful sex-reassignment sur­gery in late Decem­ber. “The first part is the vaginoplasty, where they make the structural changes,” she explains. “The surgery went beautifully and I am recovering quickly.” After a three-month healing period, she will have a labiaplasty to make cosmetic changes.

Grey has also turned to crowd-sourcing to raise money for feminization and skin-removal surgery, neither of which are covered by her insur­ance. “I have a loose sheet of skin around my stomach [because of the weight loss]—it looks like someone grabbed it and pulled really hard,” says Grey. “There’s no exercise that will make that go away. It’s very frustrating.”

Go here to contribute to Grey’s fund­-raising efforts.

Once she has hit all her goals, she is also open to new career opportunities and a boost in her love life. “For me, transition is a time of great joy and self-actualization,” she says. “I am looking forward to meeting someone who can love and appreciate the person I have become.”
– Antoinette Y. Coulton @diamondtennis

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Showing 13 comments

trullesandblog on

she’s a beauty! ❤️

arabrabbra on

What a beautiful story! I catch myself feeling sorry for myself for being so fat but it is all my doing. So many people have such harder journeys and make it…I know I can to! YOU GO GIRL!!!

sas on

Good for her. She’s living her truth.

mer on

Good for her! Whatever feels good and right!

Kathy on

I am happy for her, but please stop with the go fund me pages. People are no longer taking them seriously because they are so overdone.

Anonymous on

Congrats on the weight loss. Males lose weight more easily than females due to having a higher muscle mass.

F on

Well done, be who you want to be! It’s never too late, start today! Be strong and the rest will follow.

Jo Grey on

Hello everyone this is Jo! Thank you so much for the kind words of encouragement! If weight loss is your goal I promise you that you can do it!! For any transgender folks who may be considering transition I want you to know that you can do that too!

A couple quick notes. Kathy I understand your disdain for GoFundMe pages but they are really helpful for collecting funds for people who do not have many resources. I do not make a lot of money and have a lot of student loans, the only way I can hope to pay for these surgeries is if people help me out, so yes I started a GoFundMe page. GoFundMe is a great company run by great people and I hope business continues to boom for them.

To the anonymous person. It may be true that weight loss is easier for males because of increased muscle mass. However when you are as big as I was, my body fat percentage was significantly higher than the average for both men and women so that is really a mute point. Also I have been on female hormones for almost 4 years which means my metabolism is entirely female, I am definitely not a male anymore.

Anyway you are all wonderful folks and I hope my story can inspire you or anyone else who is facing monumental challenges. Life is something that has to be seized by the horns and wrangled into the direction you want… but you have that power, I promise you!

cloeyny2mn on

So happy for the goals reached! What courage and perseverance! I’m really inspired. Don’t let any negative comments get to you. You do you!

Princess on

Wow. I wouldnt have guess she was a male. She looks really good.

Dahlia on

I eat two bowls of cereal for breakfast all the time., sometimes 3!

DaGuest on

So happy to see all of the supportive comments here. We should all be champions of individuals striving to be their own personal best!

my explanation on

Hi colleagues, its wonderful paragraph concerning tutoringand entirely explained, keep it up all the time.|

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