Jaimie Wilson, 21, is rambling along in his custom Jeep Wrangler 4×4, headed for a gig to perform his beloved country music in his adopted home state of Florida.
Shirtless, tanned, fit, and blond-haired, he looks like most every other young man his age who is entering adulthood trying to figure out where his path will take him.
As the Jeep rolls down the freeway, his guitar and overnight bag perched in the back seat, windows rolled down, he sings along to the radio, the oversize off-road tires humming as the miles fly by.
But life wasn’t always like this for his handsome young man. In fact, getting to this point was actually pretty difficult for Jaimie. He grew up the youngest of four children in rural Livingston County, Michigan, near its county seat of Howell. This is an area of Michigan that is deeply red, religious, and conservative. He and his three older brothers lived on their family’s horse farm.
It was there that and Jaimie kept a secret which he knew he couldn’t share with his closest friends or family. He knew, from as early as age five, that he wanted to be a boy! Jaimie, you see, was born a girl.
He described growing up as difficult, hardly permitted to be a tomboy by his deeply religious and conservative family, who were opposed to anything related to the LGBT community, to the point there was never, ever, any mention of LGBT people.
Jaimie waited until the second semester of his senior year of high school to come out, knowing that his family was hardly affirming. February 4, 2015, though, became Jaimie’s red letter day.
“When I realized that I was “different,” I decided I would never come out. It just wasn’t an option for me because I knew how my family would react. It was something I was just going to have to bury deep and deal with. But I woke up one morning and decided I was done living a lie. A few days earlier I had watched a viral video by Ruby Rose entitled Break Free and it was like a lightbulb went off. I needed to break free! So I called a nearby salon and made the earliest appointment I could. I cut my long-flowing locks. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it. I just came home that day with short hair and dressed in men’s clothing.”
Jaimie had spent countless hours searching YouTube and other internet portals trying to find others like him, trying to find himself. He describes grabbing hand-me-downs from his older brothers, without their knowledge, to wear when he was alone. He related that he’d tuck his long flowing hair up under a baseball cap, throw a pair of jeans and a shirt and transform himself, at least for the moment, into his ‘real self’.
That winter day when he decided that he needed to live as his true and authentic self was traumatic.
“My mom and dad did not react well. There was a lot of crying and confusion. A lot of ridicule. They made it impossible for me to stay with them. Still in high school, I was forced to move out and fend for myself. One of my brothers initially was supportive but his opinion changed shortly after I came out. My family (mom, dad and brothers) have progressively just gotten worse about my transition and we no longer have a relationship.”
Jaimie’s anchor in what had become a tumultuous and oft-times drama-filled life was his love of music. He had started playing piano at around the age of five and picked up playing guitar when he was 16. His mother had an old guitar she was getting ready to throw out and she offered it to him first. Music, he says, became his escape.
One of the primary outlets for his musical creativity became YouTube. In a video posted on October 15, 2013 prior to his transition, Jaimie wanted to raise awareness regarding suicide among LGBT youth with an original song he’d written.
“My hopes for this song is not to make you sad…but to inspire you to reach out to others, because a friend, can sometimes be a life-saver. Every single person is important, and if anyone ever needs a friend or someone to talk to I’m here.”
Music, he explains, is much more than just a personal passion: it is a way to contribute, to give back.
“Being transgender, I have always struggled with trying to make others happy but I want to show that it’s okay to break free. I’m hoping with these words I can bring the community together and encourage others in similar situations to be true to themselves.”
It was the realization that his family was going to remain unsupportive and unyielding in their opposition to his decision to live his life authentically that crystallised his decision to move away from the confines of his Michigan hometown.
“I like sun and water and warm places, so moving to South Florida made sense,” he said.
Jaimie knew now he had to be open about himself. He documented his journey in countless pictorial posts on social media as he made his transition to help fellow female-to-male trans people like himself.
He picked an Instagram handle that was his bench mark, the date of his medical transition, June 15, 2015. His selected screen name? Tboy61915.
“I started my medical transition on June 19, 2015 and [had my] top surgery in September 2015. It was important to me to get top surgery because I didn’t identify with having a female chest,” he said adding, “it was an amazing day and a weight off my shoulders!”
“I started my Instagram account June of 2015, a few days before starting hormone therapy. I started the page to document my transition and changes. In the early stages of realizing I was transgender, I would look at FTM guys on Instagram and look at their progress and top surgery and voice changes. It was extremely helpful and inspiring. I wanted to make sure I had a place to document my journey as well so I started an Instagram for that.”
“My motive for being a trans activist is spreading awareness. I am in a position to be able to help others and be visible, so I do what I can. I had no support from family or friends so I know how helpful it can be to have someone give out binders, donate to their GoFundMe campaigns, speak for them when they don’t have the voice. It’s very important to me,” he said.
As he continues to rack up thousands of views on his YouTube videos and has built an audience of nearly 200,000 followers on Instagram, he pursues his musical career, interweaving his music with an unabashed commitment to his trans advocacy.
On the subject of music and genre he explained, “I grew up listening to country music so that’s really my roots and what I enjoy to write and sing. I love all genres of music and get a lot of requests for pop covers as well. Recently I’ve gotten more into the production of music. I used to have my songs recorded at a studio but now I’ve been doing all the production, recording, mixing and mastering myself. I’m looking forward to working with more people in helping them take their ideas and make them a reality.”
One recent song, “Soldier,” posted to his YouTube channel last month, talks about his take on personal battles people face daily, but also his conflicts as a trans man.
“I wrote the song to speak to everyone because, whether they show it or not, every single person is going through struggles in their life. We are all soldiers fighting our own battles. In the song I express that although life is difficult, love can help you overcome anything.
For me personally, the song “Soldier” was about living my own truth while battling against hurtful words and actions. Even though coming out was very hard for me and I endured a lot of pain, I did my best and do my best to keep love by my side. Again, love can help you overcome anything.”
He also DJ’s around Florida and performs at gay bars, Pride events, and charity events.
When asked why he wasn’t living in either Nashville, home to Country Western or even Memphis, he was direct and blunt: “Nashville and Memphis are not trans-inclusive as far as the country scene goes. Country music does not have very much LGBT representation. I would really like to break that barrier.”
Is there room for a transgender country music star? Jamie is convinced there is.
“Absolutely. I think doing so would really help make trans visible. I am a country singer who happens to be trans. For me it is very important to be open about being transgender, I take it as a opportunity to spread awareness.”
He sees fellow musician Steve Grand as someone to follow. Grand is a singer and songwriter who’s been acclaimed by some to be the first openly gay male country performer and the first to attract mainstream attention after building a massive following on social media and the Internet. But Jaimie is dedicated to continuing his work building his own following and his own fan base. He continues to also remain dedicated to his advocacy work as a vital component of who he is as a person, and as a performer.
“Music is something I do to make myself feel complete; I would still be writing and singing even if no one wanted to hear. I don’t write with a specific audience in mind. I never want to limit myself or listening audience. I just sing and write what comes naturally to me, and I’m very grateful for anyone who enjoys!”
Asked if he would consider auditioning for one of the popular talent shows such as The Voice, the X-Factor, or America’s Got Talent, he was coy but didn’t rule out those possibilities .
“I do gigs around Florida, but I’m not limited to Florida. I have a 10-state tour and two international stops coming up this year.”
For now at least, he’ll continue to pursue his dream, working hard on building his fan base, writing and performing his songs, dee-jaying gigs, and strumming his guitar to his own unique tune.
Brody Levesque is journalist and currently the chief political correspondent for The New Civil Rights Movement Web Magazine and the former Washington Bureau Chief for LGBTQ Nation magazine.
Photograph courtesy of Jaimie Wilson