Jill Wuyts, an operations specialist for Sanofi, shares her story of becoming the person she always wanted to be
BY MYGWORK, IMAGES BY JILL WUYTZ
Jill lives and grew up in Belgium, where she has always had a passion for aviation and her hobbies include going to airshows, watching aviation documentaries, and learning about different aircraft. This is one of the things that makes her who she is and also gives her a unique way of starting to tell me her story.
During her childhood, being assigned male at birth, Jill felt that something was really wrong. “I would think to myself this is not right. As I grew up obviously, I turned out to be a male and I kept looking at the other women surrounding me thinking why don’t I look like that, that’s what my body should look like.” Jill says that she understood that she was a woman in a male’s body and thought that she could live with it. After years of trying to live with that, she realised that she wanted to take the step toward transitioning in her thirties.
“You realise that no, you can’t live like that. I describe it as having two people in a cockpit. For me there was my male body and female body – both had always been there together. For me, the female had always been the co-pilot, letting the male [give] the instructions and lead. Things had always gone this way with the plane sometimes shaking, sometimes experiencing turbulence, and then the female saw that the plane was crashing. That was me recognising that my life was a lie.” From that point, Jill grasped that there was no going back; it was change or let the plane crash.
“So then there was the moment where the female took over from the male, and the male finally got it: I’m not the captain, she is. It took almost until the plane crashed for the female to take over and the male to take the back seat. Now the female has the control, that’s me, Jill has taken the stick and the plane can carry on gliding safely.”
This was not something that happened overnight. Jill grew up in the 1990s when the term transgender was far less common than it is nowadays. From 2000–2005, Jill knew that something was not quite right but found it really hard to define what it was. There were two different moments that she distinctly remembers being key to her journey.
One of these was hanging out with her housemates and getting a new nickname. “Before I had even realized that I wanted to transition and was living as my old self, I always talked about the weather… telling people the forecast, what to expect and that sort of thing. There’s a famous weather broadcaster here in Belgium called Jill and people would start to call me that as a joke. Naturally, more and more started to call me Jill because of my weather predictions. It was scary how much I liked it, it was not my male name, although it is a unisex name where I live. I thought, what is this?”
The name Jill chose her. It came naturally and people began to call her Jill and her original name disappeared after a few years. This was in the period when Jill was herself at home, changing clothes there after work, and only being her true self with a very few select people.
“Then, in 2019, my sister told me something that helped me a lot. She said that you can’t live as a female unless you say goodbye to your male personality. I knew she was right and from then on it was all Jill. Jill took over, in the plane scenario she said to my old self, look, I’ve got control now, just like they do in Boeing cockpits. Then I understood that transition is what I really needed.”
At this point Jill knew that it was the right time for her and that she was strong enough to take control of the plane and save it from crashing. “You reach a moment when you can no longer hide it, you are living a lie. Everyone knew at home so I needed to tell people at work.” She came out as transgender at Sanofi and started taking hormones and preparing for surgery. Aside from this part of the process, there were very minor changes at work to support her. These included helping her transition from using the male to female changing rooms, as well as practical things like having two email addresses for a small period until she could replace the old one.
It is interesting how things pan out and one of the reasons Jill wants to share her story is to demonstrate that there can be very positive transitioning and coming out stories. “You know after 3 years of total nightmare, me continually fretting about how people would react, it turned out to be a story of 2 minutes. Well not even that – maybe 20 seconds! I said, ‘I’m going to be a female,’ and my colleagues said, ‘Okay.’ That was it.”
Jill’s colleagues, family, and friends were all incredibly supportive. Her family was slightly anxious as to whether she would keep her lifelong friends and whether she would experience any personal loss. As soon as they realized that nothing bad would happen and Jill was experiencing no negative, they were extremely supportive.
“We told everyone and did not want to shock anyone. I wanted to pay respect to the people around me and help them to get used to it. I have had 30 years to get used to it. I believe that me respecting others helps me to receive respect.”
Jill is always thinking of others and says that does not want to deny her past in any way, she remains friends with all of the same people. “I lived as a male for 30 years, I made friends and grew up in a different body and that is part of who I am. You don’t have to start thinking I’m going to lose a lot of things – it is very possible to have a positive story.”
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