After opening up about his transition, he’s received overwhelming support — and newfound confidence.
This is part of a story series about the lives of transgender people. Read the introduction here.
Landen Anthony Davis has always known, deep down, exactly who he is. He has expressed it ever since he can remember — even before he began presenting as male or going by the name “AJ.”
One early expression of his true self is practically legend in his family, he says.
When I was two-and-a-half years old, it was Christmas Eve and my mom had to put me on the ground with a foot on top of me to pull a dress on me. I fought her so hard. She still talks about it to this day. My great-grandma, she even knew back then who I was. My gift from her was a pair of Army pajamas. She saw how unhappy I was in that dress, arms folded and I wouldn’t talk to anybody or do anything. I took that dress off in front of everybody, put the PJs on and I was fine.
Landen’s feelings about who he really was — a boy, not a girl — didn’t change with the passing years. He cut off all his hair and announced that when he turned 18 he was going to California for a “sex change” operation, the only way he knew how to describe what he was feeling as a kid. But Landen says the decision was made for him already: He knew who he was, and it didn’t sync up with the female gender he was assigned at birth.
Still, like so many transgender people, Landen struggled at first. He was going to start transitioning when he was 23, but he lost his job and his health insurance. Then he was in a relationship with a woman and helping to raise her two children for nearly seven years.
“Your own stuff gets put aside, so I put it off,” Landen says. “But people just assumed I was male. The boys called me ‘Dad’ and when people called me ‘Sir’ I never corrected them.”
Landen was presenting as male, but never really talked about it to anyone. He didn’t consider himself part of the LGBTQ community — he just thought of himself as being the person he is, and that person is male.
But last summer, depressed over the end of his relationship and temporarily estranged from the boys he’d helped raise, Landen was stunned and initially angry about a conversation with one of his oldest friends, Mark Kirkland, who referred to AJ’s given name: Alyssa J. Davis.
Mark called me out and said, ‘You hate who Alyssa Davis is. Why don’t you own up to that?’
I was mad at him for weeks, but when I thought about it, I realized I really hate that name and person. What I associate with Alyssa was a woman. I wasn’t respected as the boy’s dad, an uncle, a son. I didn’t feel like a sister or aunt or mom.
Transitioning had always been in the back of my head. But sometimes — and Mark knows me well — you need a kick in the ass to wake up. That’s what he did: He told me to be honest with myself.
After he got over being angry, Landen started therapy and hormone replacement. Because people knew him as “AJ” and he had been presenting as male, a lot of people didn’t even realize anything had changed. But Landen knew, as did the people close to him who he told.
“A lot of people who didn’t know just thought I had an ongoing cold because of my voice,” he says with a laugh.
But when Donald Trump tweeted in July that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces — a statement the military contradicted almost immediately — Landen reached another moment of truth.
“I saw a lot of friends and family start dogging people who are transgender. I got really upset and let it out,” he says of a post he put on his Facebook page, which was the first time he spoke publicly about his transition.
The post said, in part:
In light of all the hate and discrimination this morning … I figured today sounded like the perfect day to weed out some of my so called “friends” or even “family.” Growing up I was always so scared to be judged or not liked, for what? What makes you better than me? At least when people speak of me, they will remember I was always kind and would give you the shirt off my back. … I do not and never have been a person who shoves my beliefs down someone’s throat, especially about LGBT’s issues. … I’m just AJ well actually as of 7/20/2017 make that legally Landen Anthony Davis but feel free to call me AJ. … The best way I can put it, the only way I know how to be… just me. … I’ve finally become true and honest with myself leaving me to be honest with the world.
Landen says the post generated more than 300 comments — most of them positive and affirming, including from people who surprised him with their support.
Since opening up about who he is, Landen hosted what he called “The Death of Alyssa J. Davis Party” — a celebration to acknowledge that he’s letting go of that person he hated.*
Being honest about who he is — to himself and the people in his life — has boosted Landen’s confidence. He’s also made a career change, ditching an office job that didn’t suit him to pursue his real dream: being a barber.
“Every day I get more and more comfortable,” he says. “I get to be creative and meet new people. And Mark and I are going into a partnership to open a barbershop that’s coming soon.”
Having just turned 32, Landen has his whole life ahead of him. He’s re-established the connection with his ex and her sons, playing a significant role in the boys’ lives.
“My oldest boy wants to be a barber, too,” Landen says. “He always wants to cut my hair or shave my face. He says, ‘You’ve got more hair than I do’ because he’s not in puberty yet. Then he says, ‘We’re going to go through puberty together!’ It’s an ongoing joke.”
Landen, who lives in Detroit, says he is finally comfortable in his own skin and doesn’t really care what anyone else thinks of him. But it is important to him that people understand what it means to be transgender, or to simply live life on your own terms — especially in these times of ongoing persecution of transgender people.
Just because I am who I am doesn’t make me any different from anybody else. I still bleed the same, laugh and cry the same. I’m not following a trend. This dates back to when I was a little kid and a lot of people go through this.
Landen emphasizes that transgender people don’t want anyone to treat them differently. They just want to be accepted for who they are.
“Just be open to realize that not everybody is the same way as each other,” he says. “It’s important for everybody to open their eyes and accept people for who they are, and not what a piece of paper says they should be.”
* Many transgender people don’t like using their given names, but I did so here with Landen’s permission.
Read all the stories in this series HERE.
[Photo credit: Andrew Langland, Patched Miracle Photography.]