Transgender Wigan prison officer says returning to work saved his life after coming out

A Wigan prison officer says returning to work saved his life after coming out as transgender despite the tough environment.

Friday, 12th November 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Friday, 12th November 2021, 1:39 pm

Over the last few years Jaxon Feeley, 28, who also served in the military for four years, began to question his identity but admits looking back it’s something he’s felt since being a child.

He says returning to work was a scarier prospect than being on a plane flying to Iraq, but was something he needed to do for his wellbeing.

He said: “I was ready to take my own life, so every decision I have made in the last year has been ‘do this or I die.’ I have to do what scares me or I won’t be here.

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Jaxon has said going back to work has allowed him to be himself

“I have been in the prison service for about four and a half years now, but last October I went off sick because I felt I couldn’t do the job anymore because I was getting angrier and angrier.

“I made a YouTube video and came out as transgender, which was my way of telling everyone in one go. I certainly didn’t think I would be able to go back to the prison service, you have to put that mask on and can’t be bothered by anything because it is a hostile environment.

“I thought I’d have to pick my career or pick my life, but after three months of being away from everyone I realised I needed that support system around me, and the friends I had in there would do anything for me.

“Going back is the most terrifying thing I have ever done but the best decision I’ve made. After being Jess for four years and then going back as Jaxon was, and still is, the scariest thing I have ever experienced, but it saved my life.

Jaxon Feeley works as a prison officer

“Things were a blur, I didn’t realise that once I came out it had to get a hell of a lot worse before it got better.”

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Jaxon says the structure of being in the working environment is something that has really helped him and keep in touch with who he is.

“I work in a small unit with complex prisoners alongside my best friends who I had been with prior.

Jaxon Feeley says going back to work saved his life

“After doing the video, as much as it was a massive weight off, I felt that I had just got rid of Jess’ identity, losing everything I loved about her, and I didn’t know who Jax was. I was in this middle bit of being this nothing person.

“I needed to go back to remind myself who I was, and see if I could still be the same person, same officer, same relationships. Would I still be seen as human? Would it be a world of abuse from prisoners and gossip from staff?

“I never wanted Jess to be gone or dead, I wanted to bring her with me, but she couldn’t be at the forefront anymore. At the time I couldn’t function if I wasn’t in uniform being a prison officer.

“Although it is the most difficult place to transition, I’m so happy I’m doing it.”

Jaxon is leading an event on the November 19 to educate people

Despite being nervous about how people would react, Jaxon has been pleased with the impact it has had within his workplace, even if some have accepted quicker than others.

This encouraged him to set up an event for the staff at the prison on the last day of Trans Awareness Week, which takes place between November 13 and 19.

Jaxon said: “The response I have received has been incredible, and with a lot of people, we are changing their mindset. We are going to use the event to raise so much more awareness because it will save lives.

“We want to do something to help people understand a bit more about what someone goes through. In the prison service it is an old school mindset, lots of people will admit they are stuck, but seeing me go on this journey has changed them.

“Some of them have become my biggest cheerleaders and understand so much more, which can give people hope. By doing little things like this event, sitting down the lads educating them about pronouns, gender and sex, is leading to change.

“At the moment the event is just for staff, but hopefully it will educate. We’ve got guest speakers coming to share different points of view. I am also making a 12 months on video.

“A lot of staff, as brilliant as they’ve been, are still very scared to make a mistake or ask questions. It’s a big mess in people’s minds, so I want this whole subject to be broken free.

“As scary as it is to be vulnerable in front of prisoners, the positives that can come out of it outweigh any sort of negatives I’ll have to deal with. It’s bigger than me, I feel like I’ve got a duty to be visible.

“Someone who has been inside for 15 years read my blog and had tears in his eyes. He said he was ‘proud’ of me and that he would be a different person when he gets out because he can see the world is now different.”

It has been a long journey for Jaxon to get to this point, with it taking years to understand why he felt the way he did.

He said: “It’s taken me 28 years to get here and for a long time I didn’t know what was wrong. I’ve suffered with my mental health or anxiety, and constantly trying to fill a void.

“I would hold up a front all day at work and be a different person by the time I got home, exhausted and miserable, but now it’s just natural happiness.

“From being a child the signs were there. I used to do little prayers in my head telling myself that I loved being a girl and hoping everything would be okay. I always wanted to start again and run away.

“It hit me over the last two years and I just started to deteriorate. I was stunted as Jess, I didn’t want any future or to achieve anything as her.”

Jaxon says it has been a difficult thing for his parents to come to terms with, but they have given their support and come to terms with the decision.

“It has been a big shock to my family and a lot to take in for them, because they’ve had a daughter for 28 years, bringing that person into the world and choosing that name. It’s a hard thing to adapt to but I hope they can see I’m happier than I’ve ever been and can see a future now.

“I’ve tried to be my most understanding for them because you don’t realise you have to grieve a person even though they are not dead. I’m nearly 12 months in and it is difficult, but they try their best and have been nothing but supportive.

“I feel a lot of guilt for making a decision that would cause so much pain but if I had stayed as Jess they wouldn’t have had a child anymore.”

Jaxon says he has no regrets over coming out via a YouTube video, because it can help people to understand and reassure others in a similar position.

“People were just sharing it all over the place, and I said someone will watch and not kill themselves. It took me so long to get the words out because I made the decision to be as open as I can with this whole thing.

“I did the same at work, to reassure everyone it is alright to make mistakes. It is hard to adapt, the person who is transitioning just wants you to say something and be normal, and just have a laugh with me.

“I had to open myself up to let people come on this journey with me. At first I didn’t want anyone to see me at the stage, but I had to let people in. Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing, I just stop and go ‘****ing hell, I’m going through a lot.

“Being open makes everyone feel comfortable. People are interested, so if no one is willing to have those conversations then no one will learn anything. I want people to see that you can change your life and feel so much better in your skin.

“If I hadn’t seen people in the media that made me feel like my life was worth it then I would’ve given up because it’s terrifying.

“We need to get it out there and change how people see it, because they might just automatically think ‘man in drag.’ Trans is an umbrella term where people can be what they want to be, seen as a person and not a gender. It will propel the world into change.”

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