Josie Totah’s gender: She was misidentified as a gay man

Josie Totah stars as Lexi in the Peacock remake of the beloved series Saved by the Bell. Lexi, like Totah, is a transgender woman, and Josie’s been heavily involved in crafting her storyline. Josie told Variety that the writers’ room needed a transgender voice to give authenticity to Lexi’s story. 

“If we were going to explore her gender identity, there had to be If we were going to explore her gender identity, there had to be,” she said, “because I didn’t feel comfortable doing a show that explored my character’s gender identity if representation didn’t exist.”

During her Glee days, Josie looked way different than she is right now and went by J.J. Totah. This piece looks at Josie’s liberating embrace of her gender.

Josie’s always felt like a girl and identifies as a transgender woman

When Landon Peoples of Refinery29 asked Josie when she knew she was a girl, Josie said: “I literally cannot remember the day that I told my mom that I was a girl.” Josie added that by the time she was three, her family knew – Totah never had to ‘come out.’

Totah wrote on Time that years before she understood the meaning of the word gender, she wished she was a girl. Josie explained:

“This is not a choice that I made. When I was five, long before I understood what the word gender meant, I would always tell my mother that I wished I were a girl. Since I could speak in full sentences, I was like, “Give me a dress!” I always knew on some level that I was female.”

Growing up, Josie had a closet for the clothes she wore and another for clothes she wished she could wear. The latter had dresses, heels, and skirts, but Totah couldn’t wear them outside her closet. Inside there, she was the fashionista she always wanted to be. “I couldn’t see myself outside my closet,” she said. 

Totah would change into boys’ clothes when she left her room, or a guest arrived. Her mother advised her to wear girls’ clothes in public, but she declined, claiming it wouldn’t feel real. “I don’t want that,” Totah would tell her mom. “I don’t want people to think that of me because that’s not who I am. I’m a girl. I want people to identify me as that.”

Josie decided to embrace her true gender identity after watching Jazz Jennings, a transgender girl, undergo her transition on TLC. “My mother, who is immensely supportive and gracious, said, ‘Okay, let’s do it,’” Josie wrote on Time

Totah allowed people to identify her as a gay man but struggled inside with the misrepresentation

Totah started her transformation right before male puberty kicked in, preventing her voice from breaking and a beard from forming. “I wasn’t waking up every day and panicking. “Is there hair on my face? Is my voice getting deeper?” Josie wrote. “I didn’t have to be afraid of that anymore.”

However, she didn’t come out as a transgender female, meaning people – especially journalists – kept misidentifying her as gay. She continued:

“I was even introduced that way before receiving an award from an LGBTQ+ rights organization. I understand that they didn’t really know better. I almost felt like I owed it to everybody to be that gay boy. But that has never been the way I think of myself.”

The misrepresentation hurt Totah, but in some ways, she encouraged it: Totah failed to correct people and played young, gay characters, reinforcing the notion that Josie was a gay man. Josie told Refinery29 that she was living a lie:

“I couldn’t be angry. But it was so frustrating that I was living what I thought was my best life and getting to experience these incredibly amazing things but I wasn’t being myself. It felt like a lie. It felt like I wasn’t being true to what everyone wanted me to be.”

Josie knew trans people whose journey involved first coming out as gay, but that wasn’t her journey. Through her Time article, Josie came out to the world as a transgender female. She wrote:

“So, listen up y’all: You can jump on or jump off. Either way this is where I’m heading. My pronouns are she, her and hers. I identify as female, specifically as a transgender female. And my name is Josie Totah.”

By changing her name, Josie embraced her true identity. She doesn’t feel trapped in the wrong body and believes that she was always meant to be a transgender woman. Josie continued:

“When my friends and family call me Josie, it feels like I’m being seen. I have come to believe that God made me transgender. I don’t feel like I was put in the wrong body. I don’t feel like there was a mistake made. I believe that I am transgender to help people understand differences.”

Totah looks forward to portraying characters who identify as her

Josie wrote on Time that during her time on Glee, she fought the urge to join other girls in wearing dresses and singing their hearts out. Having pigeonholed herself as a ‘young and gay’ actor, she fought similar feelings on other projects. 

“It’s a feeling I’ve experienced in nearly every project I’ve worked on,” she said. By coming out, Totah freed herself to play characters she identified with. She concluded:

“I can only imagine how much more fun it’s going to be to play someone who shares my identity, rather than having to contort myself to play a boy. I’m going to gun for those roles, be it a transgender female or a cisgender female. Because it’s a clean slate — and a new world.”

Beyond being able to play roles reflecting who she is, Josie feels free to experience life as a transgender woman. Josie has conquered the struggle of ‘climbing a long, treacherous journey,’ and she’s now on a longer, more pleasant climb, she told Refinery29. Josie added:

“It’s a new mountain, an 80-mile mountain; it’s fresh, it’s cleaner, and it’s more of a stroll. There are stops to get water and food on the way up, the sun is on my side, and I’m ready to climb and continue the journey of my life.”

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