Catching Up with … Ames Simmons

If you go to the “About Me” section of Ames Simmons’ Facebook page, you’ll find two brief sentences: “For 40+ years I identified as woman named Molly. In 2016 I became a trans man named Ames.”

The Atlanta native and corporate attorney, who serves on the national board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign and recently joined the national steering committee for Trans United for Hillary, sat down with Georgia Voice to tell the story beyond those two sentences.

Ames, when did you decide that it was time to transition?

I would say that I became aware of the possibility of gender transition almost a decade ago. There was a lot of behind the scenes non-public work that I was doing around just dealing with my own internalized transphobia and what transition might mean in a state like Georgia as far as my prospects for continued employment and what it would mean interpersonally in the intimate relationships that I was having, as well as my family relationships.

It just took a number of years and a very gradual approach to it until I felt comfortable with the more public steps that I started taking about a year ago. I started more publicly identifying as genderqueer and asked people socially to refer to me by the name “Mol” which I guess I’m now thinking of as an interim name that was sort of a bridge between the identity of Molly and the gender identity of Ames.

Having said that, Ames is a family name and I hadn’t ever considered any other name. It just took me awhile to get comfortable with claiming that name and that identity.

Was that bridge with using the name Mol more of a bridge for other people to become more comfortable with this, or just for you, or both?

I think that it was primarily for me, but it’s really difficult for me to pull my own process around transition out of the context of the life that I’m in. So intellectually, I believe that we need to make society safe for trans people to come to whatever conclusions are right for that person, for it to be safe to decide whatever it is that feels right to them about their gender without having to worry so much about what ripple effects it’s going to have on their life. But that’s almost impossible. It’s a huge life decision for any person to make so there’s no way that you can really enter into a decision like that without taking into account the social environment that you’re in.

So while I don’t think that folks ought to stay in an unhealthy gender identity for the sake of their family, for example, that’s right for many people and that’s what they feel the need to do. I just want to try to be the strongest advocate that I am so that it’s easier, that there’s more acceptance and knowledge of transgender folks in the world so that it’s not so difficult for people to worry about how their family’s going to receive them, or their job, or the clerk at Publix.

How has the name change gone? Are people being respectful?

Socially it’s gone really well. People have taken to it readily and I think part of that is I was very careful and thoughtful about laying the foundation for how I talked about it. The legal process is a whole other ball of wax. That’s still in process and will be for a month at least. It’s not a simple undertaking in Georgia because of the state law that we have, but it could be worse.

And you decided to have the surgery, which you’ve talked about on social media. How has that experience been?

It’s been very positive. I had one of the best surgeons in the country and he did a really good job. The recovery has gone exactly the way that I thought that it would. It’s a process over time. I had to self-fund it but I was prepared for that and that was part of the gradual process of accumulating enough savings to be able to finance that on my own.

How do you feel now at this point in your transition? What’s your mindset?

On the whole I find a huge sense of relief that I’m not having to pretend to be something that I’m not. That has really made me a much happier and better adjusted person.

For me personally, a big part of that sense of relief and well-being comes from being on testosterone. I think that’s an integral part of what’s helped to make the transition come together. I was nervous about starting testosterone so I did it at a low dose and without telling many people what I was doing because I wanted to be able to stop if at any point I felt uncomfortable or that it wasn’t the right thing for me. But without question it was the right thing to do and has helped me to feel so much calmer and just more of a sense of agency about the direction that my life is taking.

I don’t know that transition will ever “be done” and certainly it wouldn’t be a fair impression to leave with readers that this is something I rolled out in mid-January and now it’s mid-March so over the course of two months I’ve become a totally different person and everything’s great. I’m still the same person and I still have all the same interpersonal factors and context in my life that I had before, but I’m better able to deal with it because I’m more able to bring a whole self to that context.