Visibili-T is dedicated to transgender members of our community in Central Florida and Tampa Bay, some you know and many you don’t. It is designed to amplify their voices and detail their experiences in life.
This issue, we check in with aspiring author Jeff Colins. We met Colins through his husband Kyler Mills, who worked as a Watermark creative designer for two years.
Originally from outside of Atlanta, Georgia, Colins went to college in Knoxville, Tennessee, before heading back to Atlanta to finish his degree.
“I have an English education degree but I work in IT,” Colins says. “Which you wouldn’t guess looking at me.”
Colins was in his last semester of college, and he and Mills — who was living in Orlando — had been dating long distance for several months, when the COVID pandemic hit.
“I was working at a store in the mall that got shut down during COVID, and then we all got furloughed on a giant group call,” Colins recalls. “I had no job so I had to turn to Ky, who I had only been dating for four months and say, ‘What if we moved in together?’”
Mills was opened to it and Colins moved his life down to The City Beautiful to start their life together. Colins’ first impression of Orlando was “it is very flat.”
“There are no seasons and all of the neighborhoods are so uncanny valley because they look exactly the same,” he says. “But I was pleasantly surprised by Orlando’s queer community. It was a bigger community than I expected and it was also very normal in the sense that I could walk around and be like, ‘oh yeah, I have a husband’ and no one would give me side eye.”
While Atlanta has a large, vibrant LGBTQ+ population, Colins says that all but disappears once you get outside of the city, and that’s where he grew up.
“Once you leave Atlanta you are very much in the Deep South,” he says. “I’ve grown up my whole life being told that ‘being gay is not what God wants for you’ and ‘maybe you should just not talk about things like that when your deacon grandfather comes over.’”
Colins’ understanding of being transgender in that environment was essentially nonexistent. He says that as early as age 14 he knew he was different but didn’t know what it was. Then he met his first trans person.
“It was my friend’s mom who transitioned,” he recalls. “At the time I was identifying as a lesbian and I asked my friend ‘So does that mean your moms have to get divorced now because gay marriage isn’t legal in Georgia yet?’ Had no issue with this is a man who’s now a woman, I just knew gay marriage wasn’t legal.”
Around age 17, Colins started to experiment with different identities to try and find where he fit.
“I started thinking I don’t feel like a girl. I don’t feel like a woman, I don’t know what I am,” he says. “Let’s try on different names, let’s try performing hyper femininity on purpose, let’s try performing hyper masculinity on purpose, let’s see what fits and for most of my junior year of high school I was just trying different things because I didn’t know who I was. I thought, ‘let me try on different hats and see what fits.’”
It was in Colins’ senior year of high school that he heard the tragic story of Leelah Alcorn, an American transgender girl who died by suicide and posted her suicide note on Tumblr.
“That was kind of the moment where it was like, I see myself in this situation because I am a guy with parents who would never let me be that. Parents who would rather me be dead than a boy,” Colins says.
When Colins moved to Orlando, he wrote a letter to his parents telling them that he is a man and that they would need to “deal with it.”
“By the time I got here I was already on testosterone and I was already out as much as I could be,” he says. “I know who I am so I don’t need to be validated by anyone.”
When he isn’t working his IT job, Colins loves to write.
“I’m very much this introverted writer type,” he says. “I write queer fiction all the time and I’ve been published a couple of times. I currently have two stories that I’m working on right now, both that I would like to get published.”
Colins has this dream future in his mind for him and Mills that he hopes one day will become a reality.
“We own a queer coffee shop and art gallery where I get to bake and make coffee all day and Ky can hang all his art on the walls,” he says. “While it didn’t pay great, when I worked at Starbucks I genuinely enjoyed working as a barista, and our shop would have all these signs of our queer life, and while it wouldn’t be a gay-only space, it would definitely be focused on the girls, gays and theys.”
Interested in being featured in Visibili-T? Email Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Williams in Central Florida or Managing Editor Ryan Williams-Jent in Tampa Bay.