Jenny McDonnell: Growing up trans in the suburbs


Matt Brady

ECC student Jennifer McDonnell smiles in front of the transgender flag on May 3, 2023.

Indie Wilson, Digital Editor

“When I was a child, my parents didn’t speak very highly of trans people,” recalled ECC first-year student Jenny McDonnell. 

Family conversations were littered with belittling remarks and demeaning comments about McDonnell’s cousin’s fiancé. When looking into the mirror, McDonnell felt different inside than her outward appearance. She worried about how her parents would react if she verbalized these feelings. The negative thoughts almost became overwhelming. 

At a family dinner one evening, McDonnell came out. Sobbing through her words, she mustered up the courage to announce to her family that she was transgender and wanted to be called Jenny. 

Quickly, silence fell over the table. Looking through her tears, she looked up at her parents to see her mom’s reassuring smile while her dad got up and walked to the other end of the kitchen. 

“My dad turned around and said, ‘I’m never going to accept this.’ And walked away. I didn’t talk to him for two months,” McDonnell said. 

As time continued, so did the tension. McDonnell and her father would walk right past one another in the halls of their house.

“It was like I was a ghost,” McDonnell said. “‘Are you ever gonna be okay with this?’ I’d say. And again he’d walk past without saying a word.” 

The tension with her father and the emotions were numbing, according to McDonnell. She feared that her father was so set in his ways that their relationship would remain stagnant. 

“I kind of got to a point of detachment where I didn’t care what he thought anymore,” McDonnell said. “Definitely had a bit of hatred also. Like, how dare you be the person who brought me into this world and not be able to accept me for who I am.”

In the midst of the storm, McDonnell’s girlfriend was able to part the clouds and shine some light onto her.

“When I told her, she wasn’t all that surprised,” McDonnell said. “I had started to shave my legs and present more femininely and she was like ‘Okay. I still love you and this won’t change anything about us.’”

At the start of puberty, Jenny’s questioning began. Around 12 or 13, looks in the mirror provoked thoughts that she wasn’t sure of. Growing up, Jenny’s household didn’t speak fondly of transgender people and viewed mental health issues as myths.

“It was foreign to me because it was engraved into my brain that wasn’t okay,” McDonnell said. 

It was not until age 19 she labeled it. 

“In terms of coming out to myself it was more of finding the right words for it and accepting it wasn’t a phase,” McDonnell said. “It took me until 24 to come out to my friends and family.”

Jenny’s mom suggested therapy as an outlet to navigate with the hardships that were presented to her after her coming out.

“My therapist helped me tons with processing different emotions especially because I found someone who specializes in transgender issues,” McDonnell said.

Around the same time as starting therapy, McDonnell started hormones. 

“On March 31, 2022, I started taking Estradiol, which is an estrogen pill,” McDonnell said. “Also spironolactone, which is a testosterone blocker, and recently I started taking Progesterone, just another feminine hormone.”

McDonnell said she immediately noticed changes in emotion; she was a lot less angry and more emotional. 

“An effect of me knowing I started to take these pills was a calmness of ‘wow, I’m finally going in the right direction,’” McDonnell said. “Through puberty and my whole life, I felt like I was going the wrong way and backwards from where I wanted to go, and then I took that first pill and felt like those worries were stopped and I was now going the right way,” McDonnell said.  

One day, McDonnell heard her name called from the other room. 


The voice of the call belonging to Jenny’s father.

“After us not talking for months, that was the first time he used my name,” McDonnell said. “He still messes up but he’s at a point where he will call me Jenny and refer to me as her, but we are talking again.

“My coming out has definitely made me think about who I’m around and my own safety. My area, Algonquin, isn’t super accepting. I haven’t met anybody who is openly opposed to me being who I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see people driving around with stuff on their car that makes me question ‘would you want to hurt me?’”

A local pastry shop in Lake in the Hills, UpRising Bakery, had announced a drag show in July 2022. Soon after the announcement, the confectionery’s windows were smashed in with slurs smeared on all sides of the store in spray paint. The community came together to help the owner with damages, boarding up windows with supportive messages in colorful sharpies to erase the hate that once haunted the building’s brick walls. Long lines soon wrapped around the store in protest to those who tried to tear it down. 

“That was really awesome for me to see in a really vulnerable time because this terrible thing happened but so many people were there for this queer coded event,” McDonnell said.  

McDonnell’s admiration drove her to counter protest against those with hateful signs, as she proudly carried the blue pink and white of the transgender flag. 

“I then applied and got a callback and have been working there since October,” McDonnell said. 

After waiting years, McDonnell has no regrets about coming out.

“After coming out, there’s been so much support that it’s almost been whiplash,” McDonnell said. “It made me see that I can really open up to people, and it gave me a nice perspective that the negative situations I’ve experienced are not how things are.”