By Mikey Rox, December 2018 Issue.
You don’t mess with Janae Kroc. One look at her and you can see why.
Born Matthew Raymond Kroczaleski, Janae – the transgender subject of the award-winning documentary Transformer – is a former Marine who made a name for herself (as Matt) as a competitive powerlifter and bodybuilder. In 2009, she set the male world record in the 220-pound weight class with 2,551 pounds. And while she’s not as powerful as she used to be (in the physical sense at least), she can still squash you like a bug. For instance, last year while 18 months into her estrogen therapy, Janae lifted 210 pounds for 10 reps and deadlifted 605 pounds.
Recently, she has accelerated her transition from male to female, an evolution a decade-plus in the making, which has come with its own set of challenges.
Speaking with Janae, she opened up about the discrimination she has faced since coming out, including how the bodybuilding community has both shunned and embraced her. She also discussed raising three well-adjusted, supportive sons (she and their mother divorced as a result of her coming out), the long, costly road to gender-reassignment surgery, and how some burdens weigh more than any barbell she’s ever touched.
Echo: Janae – as Matt, you were a world champion powerlifter, badass bodybuilder, and a spokesperson for dietary supplement brand MuscleTech. You revealed in Transformer, which screened at Miami’s OUTshine Film Festival recently, that you lost the latter gig after coming out as transgender. How did that happen?
Kroc: MuscleTech actually found out that I was transgender several months before I was outed publicly. They had been sent some old pictures from my Facebook page, which was private at the time, and called me to ask if it was true. I immediately confirmed that I was in fact transgender and had been very open about it for years. They told me they were having a board meeting concerning this and would let me know their decision in a few days. When they contacted me again they were very clear that the reason they were letting me go was because of me being transgender. They immediately pulled all of my content from their websites and media advertising, cancelled all of my scheduled appearances for the remainder of the year, and informed me they would not be renewing my contract. They stated that while they were very happy with the job I had done for them over the previous eight years and really liked me as a person they felt that it would be very bad PR for them and it would hurt sales, especially overseas in the more conservative cultures.
Echo: What’s your take on this, and is there any recourse for what amounts to blatant discrimination?
Kroc: While this was clearly discrimination and I would have been protected under Canadian law had I chosen to pursue legal action (MuscleTech is based in Toronto), the job I was hired to do for them was very different than most. They had hired me solely to represent their products and to be one of the faces of their company. That was my job for them and what they were paying me to do. Even though I was shocked, and I felt they made a very poor decision, the way I saw this was that if they didn’t want their company represented by a transgender person then that was their prerogative. I do feel that they missed a huge opportunity to do the right thing and that this will come back to haunt them in the future, but I chose not to pursue legal action against them.
Echo: Do you feel like Matt is a separate person from Janae?
Kroc: I see Matt as simply a part of who I am. All of the traits I possessed as Matt that allowed me to achieve the things I did are still within me. Matt was simply a limited version of who I am; he was just a portion of who I am today. I will say that there are certainly differences between Matt and Janae, and my reactions to certain situations are markedly different now than they would have been in the past, but I still don’t view him as a separate person. I still lived through all of those experiences and they helped shape me into the person I am today. I see my current self as the evolution of who I am, and I am still evolving all the time.
Echo: You came out to your three boys 13 years ago when they were young, and they’re each very well adjusted to your transition. That, for me, was probably the best part of Transformer – seeing how they interact with and accept you as you are. But have they always been so accepting? Were there any times when they pushed back, and how did you overcome that?
Kroc: Everyone is always shocked to hear this, but it is the absolute truth: They have always been 100% supportive and accepting of who I am. Since I told them at such a young age, they had not yet been conditioned by society to view being transgender as a bad thing, so to them it was just another aspect of who I am. And since I never demonstrated any shame or gave them any reason to view it negatively, they have never had any reason to see it as something bad.
Echo: You revealed yourself as Janae to your mom for the first time in the documentary, and naturally she was anxious about it. I read on your Instagram, though, that she actually decided on your female name. I’m guessing you asked her to do that. Did that help her along her path to acceptance?
Kroc: The truth is my mom didn’t actually pick my name per se, but she did have a hand in helping me to decide on Janae. Janae was the name my mom had picked for me had I been born female. She told me that when I was a child and it always stuck with me. I thought it was a pretty name and unique, so when the time came to decide on a new name, Janae was the obvious choice for me.
Echo: You touched briefly on your sexual orientation in the film, expressing that you’re still attracted to women but open to dating a man. Can you explain that?
Kroc: Like my gender identity, my sexual orientation is somewhat blurry. I have always been very attracted to women and still am. I have never really found men attractive, but as a woman it does feel very natural to be in the feminine role with a man. I am open to dating whomever I feel a strong connection to, and it really has more to do with who they are as a person than their gender or genitals.
Echo: If I may be more personal, has your hormone regimen affected to which gender you’re more or less attracted?
Kroc: They did not have any effect on who I am attracted to, although my body and self-perception have changed; the idea of dating men has become a more realistic possibility. As a male I had no interest in men whatsoever but as a woman I am at least open to the idea.
Echo: In the film, you talked about how cost-prohibitive gender reassignment surgery is. Where are you at in the transition process?
Kroc: For the average adult trans woman to fully transition, it can often cost up to $100,000, and for trans men, even more. Personally, I have already spent $70,000 to $80,000, and I am still not finished. I am in the process of scheduling my bottom surgery right now and hope to get that done as soon as possible, but realistically it will probably be at least late this year or early next year before I am able to make that happen. Fortunately, more and more insurances in the United States are covering transgender surgeries and I really hope that trend continues.
As far as other procedures go, I am definitely going to look more into hair transplant surgery as not having to wear a wig would be huge for me. With my active lifestyle and love for the water, wigs just aren’t practical, and without one on it becomes very difficult for me to present as female with my very short and very thin hair. I am still very interested in breast augmentation surgery, but as long as I remain very muscular it is difficult to achieve a natural look so for now I am holding off on that.
Echo: Post-bodybuilding career, what are you goals now?
Kroc: As far as my training is concerned I still want to remain muscular and strong but lean and not quite as big as I was previously. I still waffle somewhat about whether or not to drop a significant amount of weight and transition into a more “athletic look” but for now that is on hold.
In regard to my overall life, I hope to continue speaking publicly about transgender and gender non-conforming people and the issues we face. I also hope to continue empowering women, especially those that are interested in pursuing strength sports, and do my best to promote equality as an intersectional feminist. Professionally, I hope to achieve enough financial independence to allow me to pursue those goals full time.