Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Interview with Jessica Potak


Monika: Today I am talking to Jessica Potak, an American social media influencer from Long Island, NY, YouTube vlogger, and a transgender woman that documents her transition on social media. Hello Jessica!
Jessica: Hayy Monika!!! Thank you so much for having me on and giving me a chance to share my story!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Jessica: Well, I'm an almost 40-year-old post-op transgender woman from Long Island New York. I'm a single mother and have custody of my wonderful 13-year-old daughter Leah, who is one of my biggest supporters! I'm a visual artist, rock guitarist, model, and earth angel. I use social media as a way to outreach to the trans community and connect with the people that need a friend or mentor.
My goals are to bring myself into the public eye to do my small part to help normalize transgenderism in society. I began my transition just about three years ago in Sept 2018. On January 21, 2021, I had my bottom surgery with Rachel Bluebond at NYU, and then in May, I had a breast augmentation. Now that I’m healed I’m really happy to be in a place where I don’t feel like I need to focus on transitioning and now I can just focus on living.
Monika: Why did you choose Jessica for your name?
Jessica: It’s actually pretty funny I chose the name in a split second. Before I accepted myself as trans again I was dabbling in crossdressing a lot. I found a community of crossdressers on Reddit and I wanted to join in on the fun. I needed an alias to post as and Jessica came right to mind. I didn't even think... it just popped up. Now I see it as a sign of things meant to be. So when I finally came out as trans and I had to pick a name I couldn't unhear Jessica. It just felt right. When I first thought of my name I also coined my cutejessli handle that I use on all my social media! I love how they both started as a deep secret and became something that I loudly show to the world daily!
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Jessica: As I was mentioning with my name, I started posting pictures of myself when I was crossdressing, and it helped me boost my confidence and gave me some validation inside. So from the very beginning, I was sharing myself online And it was very comforting to know there was a community supporting me. After my egg broke and I decided to transition I continued to post pictures online to show my progress and to feel like an accepted part of the community. As time went on and I got past the really awkward initial part of transitioning and started to pass decently (which was about 9 months).

"When I finally came out as trans and I had to
pick a name I couldn't unhear Jessica. It just felt right."

People started taking note of my progress and began to look up to my transition and found inspiration in my journey. People began to ask questions and confide in me about their own journey and I was always more than happy to help. I've always known myself as a healer and empath (and recently understood myself as an earth angel) and I found it was a wonderful way to connect to others and give back in a way I've never been able to do before. 
My perspective soon shifted and became less geared towards my own validation but more towards outreach. I decided that since I was getting a good response on Reddit I could reach more people if I added other platforms. That's when I started on Instagram and it ramped surprisingly quickly. I was truly getting an understanding of how powerful imagery was to send a positive message, inspire others, and get people to open up about their own lives, feelings, and journey. The biggest plus was that I was making oodles of trans friends all across the US and the world!
Now that I'm at the point where I've gone through my bottom and top surgery and I feel like my medical transition is in a comfortable place I feel like it's important to show that there can be a happy life waiting after focusing on transitioning for so long... a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. There are so many unknowns when starting to transition that people get very overwhelmed and decide they cant do it. Success stories foster inspiration and hope and the more positive role models that our community has the better.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Jessica: Since I have an open-arms policy for our community where I encourage people to ask me questions, so I get quite a few haha. Lots of people approach me wanting to know how to understand their feelings inside. Before even coming to grips with being transgender there are so many layers of feelings and emotions from an entire lifetime where things are off that people need guidance on how to process it all and what it means. I find it intriguing how so many of our stories share such commonalities and that the trans experience has aspects that are universal. I do get every question in the book though haha.
People ask for guidance on how to begin transitioning, understanding their own sexuality, how to find practitioners, coming out to family members, what to do with family and friends that aren't supportive, how to dress, do makeup, workout, fitness, and diet routines, how HRT would affect them, HRT dosages, types of medicine, questions about my surgeries and how I knew they were right for me, how I chose doctors, etc!
Some people also have nobody to talk to at all and they are just lost and have so much bound up that they don't know where to turn. I'm really good at creating an intimate space and making people feel safe and allowing them to open up. I frequently meet people that haven't expressed their feelings to another soul and emotionally outpour. I feel so honored that I'm able to be there for my sisters in a critical part of their lives.
"I'm really good at creating an intimate
space and making people feel safe
and allowing them to open up."
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Jessica: Honestly in regards to transitioning I was very lucky. Most of my friends, family, and workplace were very accepting. I did however pay the price in love. Before accepting again that I was transgender I fell in love with a woman named Jen. I’ve never felt like that about anybody in my entire life. By the second date, I knew eventually that I wanted to marry her. We were together for a few years and eventually moved in together. 
Unfortunately, the relationship took a slow ramp down which lead to lots of turmoil. She became very depressed and while we actively tried to work on the relationship... it kept slipping away.
One day I came home from work and found her packing her things and my life shattered. I hit bottom. I tried to build myself back up being the best "man" I could but I realized I was building on a mushy foundation. I soon started down the road to accepting that I was transgender and made a plan to transition, I had a good direction! Just at that time I randomly bumped into Jen at a concert again and we started talking. It didn't take long for our smoldering feelings to catch ablaze once again. Soon things were better than they were in years... but the problem was now I knew that I was a woman inside and I had to tell her. I played the scenario out in my head and I knew by telling her that it would spell doom for the relationship eventually.
Jen was the second person I came out to and she was so supportive! She dressed me and taught me about makeup and took me shopping for the first few times but as soon as I went on HRT about 3 months later... the relationship finally died as I figured it would. As hard as it was, it was the best for us both.
Monika: How do you get on with Jen now?
Jessica: Well, after the romantic relationship faded we still kept a good friendship going. We still hung out every few weeks and chatted about our dating lives and strategized about how to deal with men haha. Eventually, she found a wonderful man and after we worked through the initial speedbumps and things got serious her life focus turned to her relationship. Between that and the insanity of COVID and her being a front-line nurse, we drifted further apart. There's no bad blood or animosity and we still see each other and talk once in a while! 
I still care about her and it makes me really happy that she found a wonderful husband that treats her right and makes her happy. We are soulmates in the truest sense (people who come into each other's lives to bring change) and I wouldn't be the person here today or made such a difference without meeting her and setting my life into a new trajectory. 
Monika: You mentioned your daughter Leah. When we transition, most of us are concerned about the reactions of our children. In most of my interviews, and in my own case, the reactions were very positive. I do not know why but somehow children are more liberal than adults. Do you have the same feeling?
Jessica: Oh yeah, I was petrified about her reaction to my coming out. She's my everything and I've been her rock forever. I didn't want to cause her mental anguish, cause trauma, feel slighted or destroy our close relationship. Coming out to her was honestly the hardest part of my entire transition.
I spoke to 4 psychologists, so many friends, and fretted over it for months. When I finally came out to my daughter Leah who was 10 at the time, she was instantly accepting and understanding. She just wanted me to be happy! I've known her emotional intelligence to be good historically but I was blown away at how well she took it. She asked smart questions too about how other people felt about it and how I was going to change. So she was so excited about the news she ended up telling all her friends the next day at school who also thought it was really cool... which did end up making me come out to the school and the friends' moms a lot faster than I wanted to haha.
"Coming out to my daughter was honestly
the hardest part of my entire transition."
It all worked out for the best though... and her best friend's mom and I became really close! So yes I agree with you that children are more open! The reasoning has to be that they have had less time to be socialized to the generally perceived norms of society. We are all products of our environment and unless kids are specifically taught by friends or family to be not accepting there's less time to be influenced from everyday living, media, and religion to tell them it's wrong.
Monika: Were your parents surprised by your transition? Did they accept it easily?
Jessica: My father caught me dressing at 12 years old told me that it was wrong and demanded that I never do it again. I was terrified. At that point, I had somehow figured myself out and knew I was a woman inside and had a loose plan to transition when I got older. Once we had that "conversation" I stuffed my female side down really deep and tried my best to ignore it. 25 years later I figured out I was transgender... again.
Once my egg cracked I felt really relieved for a few days but then the dysphoria that was stored up for my life began erupting like a volcano. It was so overwhelming I was having trouble making it through the days. I felt alone and scared and petrified that if I told anyone I might lose them. I knew I had to tell someone though and my mom is one of the most beautiful and understanding people I've ever known so I figured if anyone would be accepting it would be her. It was the hardest conversation I've ever had but she was very loving and understanding. It was the biggest relief ever especially since holding the weight of dysphoria by myself was getting heavy. Now even though she was supportive it took her time to process the change.
For the first month when I talked to her... it felt like she was ignoring it and not saying much. She never had any negativity per se but wasn't overly positive about the situation and wasn't rah rah cheering me on, but I was OK with that. I fully realize that as a mother she raised me and watched me grow. She spent her life nurturing me to be the best person I could be. She built in her mind expectations of my life. She had hopes and dreams for me, for my future, and had a vision of what that would look like one day. Shaking that all up abruptly is such a massive change I knew it would take time for her to process it all. I was processing it all myself and it wasn't easy to deal with. By the time I started my hormone therapy 3 months later she sorted out a good chunk of her feelings and was fully able to embrace me as her daughter.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Jessica: That would be an understatement! OK so within 24 hours of me starting my hormone replacement therapy a good deal of my massive depression, anxiety and a good chunk of dysphoria just seemed to vanish. It didn't seem real... almost like a placebo effect but the changes didn't go away... they were permanent. It's amazing what happens when your body is running on the right fuel.
Testosterone was bad for my body. It caused me to be way too sensitive and I had frequent panic attacks from things like coffee, strong scents, antibiotics, steroids, and later marijuana. That all just disappeared after starting HRT. My mind was much more at ease and I didn't get angry like I used to. Mentally I feel a calm that I never felt before. Physically I'm just floored about how much HRT feminized my face, I couldn't be happier with the natural changes that came to make my exterior match with my inside.
Monika: You are very slim. I am jealous! (smiling). How do you keep your weight under control?
Jessica: Hahaha, well the short answer is dedication and consistently making smart decisions! After I decided to transition I knew I had to morph a strong male body to appear more feminine and I began on a new fitness journey which has taught me how to operate my body and change it however I see fit.
I work out most days at least once and focus on building my glutes, legs, and hips with toning of my core. I do a gym workout and lift really heavy about 2 days a week. I do intermittent fasting with a 16 hour fast and 8-hour eating window and I eat very low carbs. I also spent a lot of time measuring my food intake with a scale so I have a grip on my macros and understand exactly what I'm taking in, I am doing that less now that I have a very good grip on portion size.
"After I decided to transition I knew
I had to morph a strong male body
to appear more feminine..."
Depending on if I'm trying to lose fat or gain muscle I will adjust my intake accordingly. I have a very good relationship with food. I don't binge, I don't eat much-processed junk, don't consume lots of alcohol, I focus on high protein, lean meats, healthy fats, and vegetables and I make a majority of my food myself. I prep about 5 lbs of grilled chicken at the beginning of the week and that keeps my lunches which are usually a super tasty salad full of protein.
Due to my Virgo perfectionism lol I'm obsessed with making extremely good food. I feel like a proper meal should always taste good but be balanced so your body gets what it needs to grow and run at full efficiency. My meals are a celebration of my body and the love I have for myself. I've noticed that after breaking the bond of sugar, simple carbs (which are basically the same thing), and fatty foods are very addicting. Our society is built in a way so that most of the foods that are pushed on us contain little real nutrition and end up making us tired, lazy, obese, and addicted to having more and then we end up using junk food as a coping mechanism for when we have issues. 
Now with that all said, I do love to scarf down some pizza or chocolate chip cookies but I make sure I don't go overboard. With my diet, I leave wiggle room to enjoy life a little but just make sure to get back on track the next day. Life is about balance! As a result of my efforts though I have an incredible body, can run circles around most people, have immense energy at 40, stay youthful-looking and just feel great! When I eat worse I can easily tell, my body doesn't work as well and I don't feel as energetic. As a model, I feel like my body is a piece of artwork that is ever-changing but for me in general I constantly focus on being the very best version of me that I can be for no other reason than pure love of myself.

END OF PART 1

 
All the photos: courtesy of Jessica Potak.
© 2022 - Monika Kowalska

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