Losing It: The physical transformation from Matt to Janae

By Janae Marie Kroczaleski with Lenville O’Donnell

When I was known as Matt, I was a world champion, record-setting world powerlifter and a professional bodybuilder. I was known for my intense training regimen and a high tolerance for pain. I weighed over 250 pounds, and it was almost all muscle. I was a married father of three, an alpha male. But on the inside, I was a woman. The story of my transition is told in the CBC documentary Transformer.

My initial plan was to lose more than 100 pounds so I would more closely resemble the women I saw in magazines and on TV. So many aspects of our gender identity are visual and related to our body image, I thought I had to fit into that mold to be accepted as a woman.

I wanted to look less muscular and slimmer, and I wanted to see a different reflection in the mirror. I thought 100 pounds less of me was the woman I wanted to be. Five foot nine, 125 pounds — a classically proportioned, fit, svelte female.

My gender identity is female, but I have always had an innate desire to be “big”-- muscular, powerful and strong. I didn’t know how to reconcile my lifelong quest for extravagant muscularity with my desire to appear feminine. I attacked the problem the way I always did: relentlessly. Time to get skinny!

I lost more than 70 pounds in the first four months and loved the way I was starting to look. Instead of my usual regimen of intense, heavy weight work in the gym, I did more aerobic exercise, changed my diet, and tried to burn more calories than I would ingest so my body would have to use muscle mass as an energy source for long runs and bike rides.

Losing weight … and missing my muscles

Then confusion set in. I liked the changes I was seeing, but I was torn and frustrated by losing the muscle mass and strength that I had worked so hard for so long to develop and maintain. I had been conditioned to believe that strength and muscularity were exclusive to men and that if I wanted to transition successfully, I would have to give them up. I tried, but I wasn’t happy.

After six months of keeping my weight down, I stopped dieting and returned to training hard the way I always had. Since then my weight has fluctuated as I have tried to find the weight and shape that makes me feel comfortable and happy.

Lessons from women powerlifters

I finally realized that neither the amount of muscle I carry nor how much strength I possess has anything to do with whether or not I am a woman. I did not figure that out by myself. The women of the strength-training world taught me one of the most important lessons of my life. We all shared the same challenge: how to balance our passion for strength and muscularity and our femininity. I was not alone.

They were women who struggled to come to grips with their affinity for strength and muscularity, traits our society has historically restricted to men. They taught me how to be happy and comfortable with my body. If I have to put rebar in my stilettos, so be it: when I go out, I’m wearing high heels.

I have finally come to grips with my body image. I’m pretty, I’m strong, and I’m big. There are millions of women who can say the same thing. I’m in great company.

Hair, face, voice: other steps on the road to becoming a woman

The other challenges I faced in transitioning were more complicated. My facial features, my voice, and my reproductive organs did not reflect my gender identity. These were things I could not change with makeup, clothing or dieting. I needed to undo some things that nature had bestowed on me. I knew the process would be long, challenging, and expensive, but I was determined to make these changes. I had to.

So far I have undergone surgery to feminize my face and vocal cords. I have undergone hormone replacement therapy and had an orchiectomy (I survived testicular cancer and had them surgically removed). I have had laser hair removal from my body and my face for many years. These have all made a huge difference in making me feel more comfortable.

I still think about breast augmentation, but having chosen to remain muscular, for now, I have decided to put that on hold.

Find Me Some Body to Love
“Trans-Parenting:” Raising a transgender child

Hair loss is another struggle. I had a hair transplant years ago, but it didn’t allow me to grow my hair out. I wear wigs, which are easy and convenient and give me lots of options – blonde or brunette; short or long. They’re difficult during the summer because I love the beach and watersports. Wearing wigs also often feels more like a costume instead of just a natural extension of who I am. There are more extensive transplant options available, but, like many of these other surgeries, they are very expensive.

Bottom Surgery

There is only one more major surgical procedure remaining for my full gender confirmation, what is colloquially called “bottom surgery.” Contrary to what people might think, nothing is “cut off.” My male genitalia will be converted into female. My penis will be inverted and become a vagina. All my nerve endings will be preserved, and my rearranged genitalia will be functional.

I will not be losing anything — I will be gaining the final, crucial aspect of the gender identity I have always wanted. I will hopefully undergo full gender confirmation surgery within a year, and I couldn’t be more excited to complete that step of my transition.

Watch Transformer.

Produced with additional funding from: