Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer
She. He. Her. Him.
Jody Cofer Randall, director of LGBT Programming, said every day she is asked what pronoun she prefers to be referred to by, sometimes two to three times a day.
“I’ve accepted that, in many ways, I’ll be coming out for the rest of my life,” Cofer Randall said. “People ask me either why I’m doing this or how they should address me and I say ‘well, let’s sit down, let’s have that conversation.’”
Cofer Randall is a transsexual, someone who not only identifies as the opposite sex as they were born, but someone who has begun taking the medical steps necessary to reverse their gender.
Cofer Randall is a she.
For Cofer Randall, this journey began one and a half years ago when she began taking hormone replacement supplements and seeing a doctor in Chicago who specializes in this type of gender transition.
Yet ever since she was a child, she has wanted to be a woman.
“When you’re a boy you’re taught you need to like He-Man, you need to like masculine toys,” Cofer Randall said. “But when I was little, running around in the yard playing, I always wanted to be She-Ra. It wasn’t an attraction to women. I think I was born in the wrong body.”
For almost 33 years, Cofer Randall lived as a man: a bi-sexual man, self-described as being “gender ambiguous.” For the past 14 years she has worked at Murray State, counseling lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and helping them to come to terms with their own identity.
Cofer Randall said it was a graduating transgender student she had counseled who inspired her to begin her own transition after coming to her office one day to thank her for her support.
“It was all very sweet, very warm, very heartfelt and then she said, ‘but you’ve really let me down,’” Cofer Randall said. “‘What are you doing, Jody? What are you doing with your identity?’ That hit me in a way like I’d just gotten slapped.”
After that, Cofer Randall and her partner, Morgan Randall, began to discuss when they’d like to move forward with her gender transition, strategically planning it so that even if the community response to her decision was negative that they’d be OK. Cofer Randall said they wanted to have a house, be married and for her to have a cemented position in her career before making any move.
Fortunately, she said, the response she has received from those she chose to tell both before the physical changes in her body became noticeable and after has been overwhelmingly positive. But not everyone in the Murray community has been accepting.
“I’ve gotten threats, death threats, over the years and that was before I was even doing this,” Cofer Randall said. “A lot of cisgender individuals never even think ‘Don’t sit with your back to the door at McDonald’s.’ Well, I do. I think about that. I would be naive if I said I didn’t have an awareness of my own personal safety when I’m out and about.”
Cisgender is a term for those who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth – essentially, a person who is not transgender or transsexual.
Cofer Randall said even her close cisgender friends at Murray State have struggled with her decision to pursue what she feels is her true gender identity, either choosing to ignore that part of her life or leaving her life altogether.
“I’ve lost people,” she said. “There are people who I’ve been close to for years, who, for 12-13 years, you’d see us at lunch together and now we rarely speak. It’s hard to see that loss and to see those people in the community and have to walk away from those relationships.”
“A lot of people go into this knowing that you’re going to lose some people. You’re going to lose some friends, you’re probably going to lose some family and it hurts,” she said.
Two things above all have helped her through her many trials, she said: her partner and her Christian faith.
Cofer Randall said religion has always been an important part of her life from growing up in Alabama to moving to Kentucky.
The former church she attended in Marshall County was not accepting of her transsexuality, this conflict eventually prompted her to leave the congregation and drove her from organized religion altogether.
Two years ago, jaded and resentful, she said, she did not expect to ever be a member of a mainstream church like the First Presbyterian Church of Murray which she currently attends. A church, she said, that is so supportive of her and her partner.
“It always hits me and I always smile a little bit when we’re doing ‘The Lord’s Supper’ and that standard line gets said,” Cofer Randall said. “Our pastor always builds into that script that this is not a table which prohibits transgender people. Finding this church in Murray shocked me.”
Cofer Randall will continue her work as director of LGBT Programming next semester. Since she began taking her hormone replacement supplements, she said she has noticed an increased amount student traffic to her office.
This semester, she said she has had more students come speak to her about their identity than during her entire tenure at Murray State. She said she hopes this is due to a combination of both students feeling more comfortable reaching out to her and the continual improving of the University’s climate toward LGBT-identifying students.
Cofer Randall said now, after being on hormone supplements for a year and a half, she has begun to talk with surgeons about her surgical options. A step she said, which many transsexual people choose not to take, but one which she is investigating.
“It’s not an easy journey,” Randall said. “It’s not a quick journey and it’s a journey filled with stigmas and stereotypes, hardships, financial burdens, but it’s what I’m doing.”
Despite those hardship, Cofer Randall said the change is worth it more with each passing day.
“In the last year I see myself more in the mirror and in pictures,” she said. “For many years I wouldn’t look in a mirror because I didn’t see myself. Every day, I got up and shaved and got ready and it was like ‘I don’t know who the hell you are. I’m standing here getting you ready.’ But now when I walk into a restaurant, every time I go to open that door and see myself in the reflection, I kind of grin because it’s good to see me.”