AURORA, Colo. — As a self-proclaimed theater nerd who loves choir, Jameson Johnson can be found honing their craft through homework after school.
“School has definitely helped me find who I am. But it's also hindered me so much, in the way that I can't evolve. And I'm stuck in this one area of my self identity journey," Johnson said from their kitchen table.
Johnson, who identifies as gender fluid, uses they/them pronouns, but said it was easier to let people use he/him throughout high school.
“It does suck trying to do things that are easier for other people, just to kind of appease them. But I understand why I have to do it, and it's because of the lack of education," Johnson said. “I'd rather be the person who's able to educate them and say, hey, this is actually what it is. It's a normal thing. I am gender fluid. So, my pronouns change, as well as my gender identity, and all of those things.”
It is a conversation Johnson has had over and over again and will continue to have to try to help others understand.
“It does get exhausting, and there are a lot of days where I'm just like, 'oh my God, I don't want to have the conversation about what gender fluid is again,' and 'I don't want to do this, because it's just who I am,'" Johnson said. "Why should I have to explain myself to someone constantly just because they choose not to understand it? It's tiring to constantly have to affirm myself so that other people can accept it.”
Johnson took the time to explain what being gender fluid means to them.
“I identify as gender fluid because I have many masculine traits, and I have many feminine traits. And what makes me feel affirmed is being able to pick and choose from them," Johnson said. “When I was 6 years old, I had princess parties and tea parties with my older sister, and I would dress up in her princess gowns, and we would have fashion shows. And my mom just never taught me that boys wear this, girls wear this, and boys like blue and girls like pink. She's just taught me to be myself.”
That message Johnson's mother instilled in them at a young age has stuck throughout all of the challenges faced while figuring out who they are.
"That doesn't mean it was easy to discover I was gender fluid. There were definitely a lot of incidents where I didn't know what I was, and I kind of felt like an imposter as Jameson," said Johnson.
Johnson was first told by a teacher about gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl's clams that students are identifying as cats in Colorado classrooms. Denver7 reached out to a handful of Colorado school districts about the assertion, and received the following responses:
- "All Jeffco Public Schools maintain an environment that promote learning and are free of distraction. Our principals work with their staff to follow district policy around appropriate dress code. If clothing is disruptive, district policy gives the principal power to place restrictions on it, this would include students dressing in costume. We do not have litter boxes in schools. We are focused on delivering on our mission to provide a world-class education that prepares all Jeffco students for bright and successful futures as local and global citizens."
- "Colorado Springs School District 11 has not encountered this issue. We really don’t wish to comment any further on a political issue."
- "While Denver Public Schools does have a few students who chose to wear a headband that has animal ears on it and occasionally a tail connected to their waist, we have not had any issues with these students being a distraction to learning."
- "This is a non-issue for Cherry Creek Schools and no, we do not offer 'litter boxes.'"
- "The concerns being generated by the Republican gubernatorial candidate about the Boulder Valley School District are without merit. There haven't been any reported issues in our district related to students wearing cat costumes or any other costumes, and there are no litter boxes inside of our buildings. Students are permitted to wear whatever they would like, as long as it abides by Board Policy JRDC."
- Douglas County School District did not provide a statement at this time.
Johnson was not shocked that the school districts denied the claims, but they were shocked that a gubernatorial candidate would spread them.
“I know exactly where she got this claim because I saw it, and it was on an anti-LGBTQ post on Reddit. And I saw this post, and I was like, 'oh my God, this is the stupidest thing ever,'" Johnson said, after showing several similar posts on the website. “I am honestly at a loss for words because she's using something that is fake, and she's twisting what reality is so that she can target LGBTQ kids.”
Johnson called the assertions misinformation, and said they attack the legitimacy of children who identify as LGBTQ+.
"It's targeting my community because they're spreading lies about us and making us unsafe, and that's frightening to me," Johnson said. “We are already so discriminated against, we’re questioned on a daily basis just by identifying as who we are, and to not be safe in that is life-threatening.”
Johnson said they are sharing their story, hoping to help others who may not feel comfortable being who they authentically are.
“For me to identify as gender fluid saved me because I realized that I wasn't an imposter in my own skin," Johnson said. “Queer youth are everywhere, and we are not weird. We are not wrong for wanting to identify as who we are because that is just that: It is who we are. We cannot change that.”
A 2022 national survey from The Trevor Project shows more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. The Trevor Project has trained counselors ready to help with the challenges LGBTQ youth face, who can be reached by calling 866-488-7386 or texting "start" to 678-678.
The Trans Lifeline has trans peer support ready to help as well, who can be reached by calling 877-565-8860.