Jasmine Nicole Miller does not remember a time she was not insulted.
“I’ve been called every name under the sun,” the 41-year-old with fiery red locks said. “It went from sissy as a kid to fagot as a teenage to tranny (now).”
Miller overcame fear of hate and outing herself to the world when she took the stage recently at the Dayton Pride Festival.
She talked about the pain she faced being a transgender woman, the strength she draws from her parents and her journey to wholeness.
“I cannot and I will not hide in the shadows anymore,” she told the crowd.
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Instead of the hate she’s encountered in the past, Miller said she was embraced by the Courthouse Square crowd mostly made up of members of Dayton’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (queer) community and their allies.
COMING OUT OF THE SHADOWS
The cosmetologist at Salon J Ladner & Spa on St. Clair Street said most transgender people did everything they could to hide when she was coming of age and even long after she had the sex reassignment surgery at age 19 in Montreal, Canada in November 1996.
Due to social media and other societal shifts, Miller says it is nearly impossible for the transgender youth that come into her salon these days to hide — nor should they.
Recalling the December 2014 suicide on I-71 of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender Warren County girl, Miller said that in many ways today's transgender youth face more obstacles and fears of retaliation than she did in her youth.
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Miller said it is important that transgender adults share their journey, she said.
“(Local transgender youth) don’t really have a role model. I didn’t have a role model going into it,” she said. “I always felt like a hypocrite because I wasn’t sharing my story.”
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SURPRISING SOURCE OF BULLYING
Adopted and raised in Jackson Center, a Shelby County community with a population the U.S. Census Bureau estimated to be 1,464 in 2017, Miller said she was tormented throughout her childhood by adults and children.
Teachers and administrators were among her worst bullies, she said.
Miller recalled when one official told her she was the primary reason abortions existed.
“(A school counselor) told me I was an embarrassment to my family, and that I would never amount to anything,” she said.
Miller said she has learned to "clapback."
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Despite and because of it all, Miller said she had the love and support of her parents, Gerald and Shirley Miller.
“I was allowed to express myself without ridicule (from my parents),” Jasmine Miller said. “People need to hear my parents’ story. If you don’t have a supportive (parental) unit, (chances) are you are not going to make it.”
Jasmine Miller said sharing her story publicly is in part a way to honor her parents, who have dedicated chunks of their life to public service.
Now battling cancer, her dad was a sheriff’s deputy and a volunteer firefighter. Her mom was a paramedic.
Miller, who always looked feminine and wore her hair long as a youngster, remembered the day a junior high boy at McDonald’s flirted with her, thinking she was a genetic female.
Jasmine was a flattered school girl. Her mom freaked.
That wasn’t the first or last time Shirley Miller worried.
“My mom was always so worried that someone wanted to harm me,” Miller recalled.
“I AM GOING TO SAVE MY OWN”
Reached by phone, Shirley Miller said her only choice was to love her daughter.
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"We had adopted her in as our own. I am going to save my own," Miller said. "I didn't really care what people thought. This is my child. This is my child and I will raise her to be happy and safe and be around for a long time."
She said she is proud of her daughter and that she is telling the truth about herself.
Jasmine Miller’s story is the subject of a documentary being filmed by Dayton’s Indigo Life Media
Now 79 years old, Shirley said her daughter inherited her outspoken personality.
“Stand by your child. Don’t leave them,” the mother of two encouraged other parents of transgender children. “Love that child with all you can. They are very precious.”
THE FLEETING POWER OF ATTENTION
Miller said her parents made big sacrifices to pay for the surgery she feels corrected a “birth defect.”
She was relieved the moment she woke up after her sex reassignment surgery. But the road ahead was not easy and included abusive relationships, thoughts of suicide and sexual and physical assault.
Miller said she tried to live a quiet life after the surgery and went to cosmetology school for the first time.
That didn’t stick.
She became a stripper after going to a strip club for a waitress job.
The money was just too good, she said.
At first it was great, and Miller said she felt powerful.
“I loved it because all of these men who harassed me and belittled me were begging for my attention,” she said. “It was such an ego boost.”
She called the money great and said she performed in clubs here and around the country, including Miami and Los Angeles.
Back then, Miller, who had her birth certificate and high school diploma change to reflect her new name, said “you were supposed to be so passable that no one questioned you.”
She said no one did and only a handful of the men she dated in her life knew about her transformation.
About five or six years into her life as a stripper, Miller said the glam and feeling of power that came with the job wore off.
Yet she continued.
“At that point, you get too into the money and the freedom the money gives you,” she said.
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And after awhile, Miller said you get the feeling you can’t do anything else.
About eight years ago, Miller said she had enough and had reached the point where she could not do her job unless she was drunk.
She left the business behind, moved back to Ohio and went to cosmetology school again.
She has been working at Salon J Ladner for about three years where she says she gladly transforms the looks of men and women.
Joshua Ladner, the shop's co-owner with his husband, was one of Miller's background dancer during her appearance at the Dayton Pride festival earlier this month.
He said he was so moved by her speech that it was hard to get through the triumphant confetti-filled performance.
He said he is proud of Miller’s personal transformation and how she has embraced her truth.
“At the end of the day, I am happy with her being who she is — whether she changes one person or a million,” Ladner said.
Miller said haters are going to hate, but neither she nor anyone else has to accept their hate as truth.
Hiding is no longer a viable option.
“We have to promote a message to people that it will get better,” she said. “The community in general needs to have more people who are going to be outspoken.”
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