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