Jordan Davis was recently in an IKEA when a woman approached her. “You’re the girl in the paper,” the woman said. “Well, fair play to you. But no offense, love: The photos don’t do you justice. You look much better in person.” On the phone from her home in Coventry, England, Davis laughs. “All my life I wanted to be famous, but now I don’t like it.”
Well, she may have to get used to an extended 15 minutes. Davis, 17, is only the second declared transgender contestant to have taken part in the Miss England pageant. In 2012, the first, Jackie Green, reached the final of the national competition; Davis is in final 15 of her regional Coventry heat. If she wins that, she goes through to the national finals as Green did. Davis’s story has been featured in the local and national press.
When she first had sent pictures to Diane Slater, organizer of the Miss Coventry competition, the two women met up, but Davis felt she couldn’t tell Slater about being transgender, so she revealed all later via a Facebook message. She recalls Slater saying: “I would never have guessed in a million years.” Davis laughs. “She was very supportive and checked the rules and regulations: There was nothing in them to say contestants had to be born female or be biologically female.”
Slater didn’t divulge Davis’s sexual identity when she appeared in front of the judges at the audition for the Miss Coventry contest. “I walked into the room equal to the rest of the girls,” Davis says. There, she and the other women were judged on how they spoke and posed and for their elegance. “I passed with flying colors,” Davis says proudly. Out of 300 women, she was one of 15 chosen. She then came out about being transgendered, and heard that the response of one of the Miss England organizers was: “No way, she’s so pretty.”
“I got a bit irritated and thought they meant you can’t be attractive if you’re transgender,” Davis says,”but they didn’t mean it in a malicious way. I’m very flattered. They’ve been very supportive. The other contestants have been very kind, very understanding too. There hasn’t been any bitchiness.”
On social media, people have been either supportive, Davis says, or extremely homophobic and transphobic. “I’ve been told that I wasn’t really a woman; that I shouldn’t be allowed to enter the competition; that the only reason I got through was because I was transgender; that I was fat and ugly and looked like a man in a dress; some people said, ‘If I put on a dress would I get through?’” She has also received death threats.
These messages were mainly from men, she says, but some “from jealous girls too, who didn’t have the balls—excuse the pun—to enter the pageant. I think people thought I’d entered because I thought I was so pretty, but I didn’t. I entered as a platform for my advocacy. We’re told to look and be a certain way. I think we should define our own beauty and be confident in our own appearance and who we are.”
Davis declines to discuss the medical aspect of her “transition,” although she says in England she cannot begin hormone therapy until she is 18. Whatever money she makes from the flurry of interest in her, she plans to put toward her medical treatment. “Emotionally I have felt like a woman all my life,” she says. “Ever since the age of 6, I’ve felt different. Playing when younger always meant playing Mummy, cooking food, and shoving a pretend-baby up my shirt to ‘be pregnant.’”
Davis was raised with two younger brothers. Her parents did their best, she says, but her background was troubled. Her mother has mental-health problems, and physical-health problems, which deteriorated after a hit-and-run accident. Her father was “all right about it all from the beginning,” but her mother found it difficult. “She had given birth to a son,” says Davis simply. “It’s a struggle for anyone, and even more so if you have mental-health issues. There was a lot of tension and arguing.” Davis is enjoying living away from home for the first time.
As a young child, “I used to tell people my mum had wanted a girl, that I had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. At school I said I was gay because it was just easier—at least people knew which box to put you in to be pissed off with. I was bullied all the time.” She was suspended from school after hitting one of her tormentors. “I gave her what was coming to her,” she says. “I found girls a lot more manipulative than boys.”
As she grew older, she grew her hair and “had my eyebrows done. It was easier to pass because I have a feminine figure. It’s almost like God up there wanted me to be a woman.”
Now at college, where she is studying for A-levels in travel and tourism, Davis feels she has “a clean slate.” She has been dressing as a woman for almost a year. “I’m very androgynous: People don’t know whether I’m a very flat-chested girl or a very pretty boy.” She has been inspired by Lauren, her 21-year-old transgender cousin, who is “further along the process,” and also Green, who, as a Miss England finalist, made Davis think, “That’s who I want to be one day.”
She is single, though gets “a lot of male attention, although men see transgender women as a bit of a plaything, not relationship material. I’m quite traditional in all senses and want, eventually, to have a traditional relationship.” One man, flirting with Davis in a pub recently, was informed by her friend she was born a boy, said, “You’re still pretty fit [British for ‘good-looking’], I’m not going to lie.” Then he planted a full kiss on her lips.
Davis’s attitude toward all the publicity and attention she is receiving wavers between enjoyment and fear. It has made her anxious, even if much of the face-to-face attention has been positive. She has also received many emails and messages of support, and thanks from other transgendered people, from all over the world. “I’m making a stand for people to be who they want to be,” she says. “What I’m saying is, ‘Be yourself.’”