Jack and Jace Grafe both had secrets, but neither of the twins were willing to divulge what they were hiding until they were 18 years old. Then, one day, they came out to each other, unaware that their sibling had also always felt like a boy. And the twins would go on to make a huge decision: they’d embark on the path to gender confirmation together.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) defines the word “transgender” – often shortened to “trans” – as being “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned to us at birth.” As such, the community is comprised of a diverse group of individuals.
The HRC explains, for example, that “some transgender people identify as male or female, and some… as genderqueer, nonbinary, agender or somewhere else on or outside of the spectrum of what we understand gender to be. Some choose to openly identify as transgender, while others simply identify as men or women.”
And celebrities such as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Caitlyn Jenner have increased awareness of the transgender community. An HRC-commissioned survey also found in 2016 that 35 percent of potential voters consulted in the U.S. “personally know or work with someone who is transgender.” That figure is in marked contrast to one from two years earlier, when only 17 percent of respondents had said that they knew a trans person.
But despite increased awareness of the transgender community, those within it still face inequalities and prejudice. For instance, the law in some U.S. states currently provides few protections for gender identity, thus leaving many transgender individuals vulnerable to housing and employment discrimination.
And research has suggested that the transgender community struggles more with mental health issues than the general population. A 2018 survey by the Emory School of Public Health found, for example, that trans teenagers are more prone to experiencing suicidal ideation and considering self-harm than their peers whose gender identities tally with the sex they were assigned at birth.
And no one could know the struggle more intimately than those who have gone through it before. “Having a secret like this feels like having a 100-pound backpack strapped to your back for your entire life,” Jace Grafe – once known as Jennifer – told Good Morning America in October 2018.
Both Jace and his brother Jack – whose name was originally Jaclyn – came into the world in June 1995. And the twins were born into a conservative Christian family in Baltimore, Maryland – although, by Jace and Jack’s accounts, they never quite fit into the lives they had once had.
Instead, Jace and Jack gravitated toward boys’ clothes and found themselves attracted to girls in school. Neither of them ever felt as though they were female, either, with both twins knowing deep down that they were actually boys.
Jace and Jack had to keep all of these feelings inside, though, not even telling each other. After all, they were growing up in a religious family. And of his experiences as a child, Jack would tell FOX 5 Atlanta in October 2018, “It’s like being in prison, except it’s in your own body.”
Jack has also explained that he had dreamed things could be different. “As a kid, I would cry and pray to God that I would wake up in a male body,” he has said, according to an October 2018 report in The Independent. And as time went on, the struggle only got worse.
“The older I got, the harder it was to swallow [that I was seen as a girl]. And I was like, ‘[I] can’t do this for the rest of my life. I just can’t do it,’” Jack told FOX 5 Atlanta. His twin Jace felt the same way, too, although neither felt safe to say anything. In particular, the pair worried that they could face repercussions for such an admission at their religious school.
But that all changed when Jack and Jace were 15. That year, they prepared to head to a cosplay convention, which sees attendees sport homemade costumes to embody fantasy characters. For the occasion, the twins chose to dress up as male personalities.
And wearing men’s clothes “felt natural,” The Independent quotes the twins as saying. Eventually, too, the pair gathered the courage to come out to each other as gay.
Jack recalled to the Daily Mail in October 2018, “It was even hard to tell each other that we liked girls. But when I told Jace and asked if he would have a different opinion of me, he was like, ‘No, I feel the same way.’ When he said, ‘Me too,’ I felt relieved and not alone anymore,” the twin admitted.
For Jace, hearing the words come out of his twin’s mouth meant so much in that moment. “I was scared because I held my twin’s opinion higher than anybody else. So, if he didn’t accept me, I would be devastated,” he added.
And Jack had a simple reason to explain why it had taken them so long to confide in each other. He told FOX 5 Atlanta that they were both just afraid. “Fear is like the biggest thing to keep you away from anything. That’s what kept me in my box,” he said.
Speaking to FOX 5 Atlanta, Jace and Jack also recalled their upbringing in a small town and their experiences of going to a Christian school. They remembered, too, that they had only heard the word “transgender” when they were 14 years old and that they didn’t identify themselves as being trans until they were 18.
Jack became the first twin to make the declaration, surprising Jace with a somewhat public admission. Jace recalled to the Daily Mail, “I found out Jack was transgender through a Facebook post on his profile, which was specifically for our cosplay friends and had no family [included].”
Jace had then asked his twin why he hadn’t been the first to know that Jack was trans. He added to the Daily Mail, “I was like, ‘If you feel like this, why didn’t you tell me?’ [Jack] said it was awkward, that it was much more than saying, ‘Oh, I like girls.’” Jace had a revelation of his own to make, though.
“I said [to Jack], ‘Well, if you talked to me, you would have known that that is how I feel as well,’” Jace told the Daily Mail. “After that, we decided to refer to ourselves as brothers and asked our cosplay friends to refer to us as male.”
Eventually, Jack and Jace were finally ready to reveal the truth to their family, too. “When we came out, it was to our whole family – mom, dad and older sister,” Jack said, according to The Independent.
“Our parents had never seen anything like it. They have never experienced gay or transgender people, and my dad is a pastor,” Jack went on. But he and Jace were ready for change, and they’d go through it all together. It’s worth noting, though, that it’s not unknown for a pair of twins to both experience gender dysphoria.
Indeed, a 2012-published study by the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that, when compared to sets of non-identical twins, identical twins are more prone to simultaneously experience gender identity disorder. Furthermore, nearly 40 percent of the identical twins studied both had gender dysphoria; none of the non-identical siblings surveyed, on the other hand, shared that link. This points to a potential biological cause for gender identity disorder.
Meanwhile, for Jack and Jace, having each other to rely on as they both came out and transitioned meant a lot. Jace explained to the Daily Mail, “Honestly, the twin thing has helped. Being a twin means I don’t feel alone. Somebody is experiencing the exact same things as I am going through, and that made me stronger.”
The twins began their journey to transition in April 2017, when they started taking testosterone. The hormone injections deepened their voices and gave them more masculine features.
Then, in the summer of 2018 Jack and Jace enlisted the help of Dr. Sheldon Lincenberg – a plastic surgeon who would take charge of their top surgery. The procedure for those transitioning to male is intended to re-shape the chest so that it is flatter and more masculine-looking.
For Jace and Jack, top surgery was the last step in their transformation. And they finished their journey practically side by side, too, as they both underwent the procedure on the same day in August 2018. Dr. Lincenberg told FOX 5 Atlanta that the surgery would further confirm the twins’ gender identities by “[helping] them look the way they feel.”
Dr. Lincenberg continued, “[Jack and Jace’s] identity is set inside themselves. They’re not trying to change that. They just want the world to see them as they are.” In that respect, top surgery would give the twins legal confirmation of their gender, too.
That’s because in the state of Georgia, where Jack and Jace now live and work, top surgery gives them the ability to legally change their state IDs to reflect their gender. And, of course, that was a significant step for the twins. “It’s real now. It’s official,” Jack told FOX 5 Atlanta.
Furthermore, two months after the surgery, the twins were very happy with the change. Jack described his procedure as “the biggest relief you could ever feel.” Jace added, meanwhile, “[The results of the surgery are] perfect to me. I’m finally perfect to me.”
Now, not only did Jack and Jace finally physically embody their genders, but they had also settled into their new lives. In October 2018 Jace lived in Athens, Georgia, and had a girlfriend named Jess Smith. Jack, who had made his home in Monroe in the same state, had found love, too, having become engaged to 22-year-old Maygon Arrington.
But although both Jack and Jace have plenty of support from their respective significant others, the twins still faced backlash and insensitive comments from the outside world. For instance, both brothers had become deputy sheriff’s officers; their work environments weren’t always welcoming, however.
Jack explained, according to The Independent, “At work, I have had my fair share of people calling me a ‘s**t’ – she, he, it. Usually, they just don’t understand.” On top of that, both he and Jace have dealt with others who have misgendered them.
“People still refer to us as female. Whenever I hear ‘she’ or ‘her,’ it is like a kick in the stomach. It hurts, but I get it. At a young age, I was skeptical of it myself. For some people, it is a hard pill to swallow,” the British newspaper reports Jack as saying.
And that kind of insensitivity – whether accidental or on purpose – has had an impact on Jack. “People say, ‘You will never be able to change your chromosomes. You can only change the outside.’ There are still times when I come home and break down,” he added.
Nevertheless, Jack told Good Morning America that life was still better on the other side of his transition. He revealed, “The best word to describe how I feel now is ‘free.’ I feel free from most of those anxious fears I’ve had for the majority of my life.”
And although Jack admitted that he “will always wish [he had been] born biologically male,” he also felt that there was a reason why he had begun life as a girl. “Maybe it was meant to humble me. Maybe it will help answer the grand question of whether being transgender is genetical,” Jack told the show.
Most importantly, though, Jack felt that his story had given him the opportunity to help others in similar positions. He and Jace could not only relate to transgender children, after all, but they could also provide support for their families. The twins want to involve themselves in transgender-related research, too.
“Coming from a Christian home, we understand what kind of struggle it is with both the transgender child and the parents as well,” Jack told Good Morning America. “We hope [our story] will create more of an understanding and inform people that it is a real situation, and it is a real battle both personally and with other people.”