After decades as a “rock ‘n’ roll guy,” Jami Gee re-launches her musical career as a woman

By : Michelle Rinaca
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Sarasota – When you meet Jami Gee it isn’t hard to pick her out of the crowd. Wearing a short pink mini skirt you can’t help but notice her long legs and high heels. She embodies femininity. She nervously bites her polished lips while thinking, and when she talks about men she leans in close, like a teenage girl about to share some juicy gossip.

This is only surprising because up until recently, she was known as Jimi.

Known for more than three decades around Sarasota as a rock ‘n’ roll guy, it is sGirlInterruptedCapurprising to some people that this hip married man is really a transgender woman. As a man, she has taught hundreds of people over the years to play guitar and probably performed four times that many musical gigs across the country.

So the real question becomes, why didn’t the 58-year-old come out sooner? The simplest answer: risk.

And just as she imagined, when she finally got the courage to become Jami, it came at a cost.

“I lost jobs,” says Gee, who is a senior instructor and performer at The Guitar Center. “The fact that Guitar Center gives me this chance to play is amazing. They even have a gender neutral bathroom that has a picture of a man and a woman and we all joke that it was made for me.”

The impetus for Jimi to take the leap of faith to finally become Jami was unexpected. It came from a group of students. While Gee encourages everyone just to be themselves, the students turned the tables, asking Gee why she didn’t effectively put her money where his mouth is and just be herself.

Once they opened the door, Gee sauntered through it, coming to class in make-up and eventually, dresses. It may be hard to fathom but this younger, more accepting generation of students became the teachers.

Growing up, she always knew she was different. She can recall memories back to her childhood when her late father told her, “Don’t sit like a girl,” or “You run like a girl”. She never really understood why it was wrong because she was just being herself. Even as young as seven, she can remember trying on her sister’s clothes and feeling pretty.

As Gee grew older, she would be stereotyped in school and pegged as “gay.” Ridiculed and mocked by teachers, she just assumed that it was the title that fit best. But it never felt quite right either.

“You grow up and you think, maybe you’re just a queer,” says Gee. “And then you try that and you think, this really sucks because I’m into girls.”

It is confusing, especially for Gee. Jimi is still legally a man who is married to a woman. She feels like a woman who wants to be with a man but she likes women, too. She doesn’t feel she is bisexual or gay, and can’t necessarily relate on those levels either.

She attributes the confusion to Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Her definition of GID means that she was born a girl with a male body. She believes that when she was in utero, the testosterone that made her a boy never fully reached her brain. So inside, she feels like Jami was always there, just trapped in a man’s body.

“It’s like I have always been two people,” says Gee. “And now Jami just gets pissed off when people call her Jimi.”

She blushes when someone refers to her as a woman without question, giddy from the recognition.

“My heart stops,” says Gee. “I’ve waited 45 years to hear that. I’m soaring. It’s magical. I feel so pretty.”

While Gee greatly enjoys the new-found attention, she candidly admits that this transition has been hardest on her family. She has been married for 36 years to Donna, who doesn’t like to talk publicly about the transition. It has clearly strained their relationship.

“She gets a lot of grief professionally,” says Gee. “So we don’t bring work home and I don’t go with her to work functions. It isn’t because she is embarrassed, but more because she doesn’t deserve the ridicule.”

Gee did reiterate that Donna has been supportive over the years. She believes that Donna didn’t exactly sign on to have a wife, and while they remain married, they are more like best friends than partners these days. Gee attributes much of that to the use of female hormones, causing a decrease in her libido.

Gee has actually been married twice and has two children, both boys, one from each marriage. Both sons know about her transition and fully accept and support her. They even jokingly refer to her as “m2″ or “mom squared.”

Gee feels the transition has propelled her career. Musically she is driven to become better. She continues to teach but also takes lessons, and she can be seen weekly playing various clubs throughout Tampa Bay.

Those who knew and loved her before aren’t changing their tune. Gwen Fogts has known Gee for more than 20 years. As the owner of Fogts Music Center in Sarasota, where Gee once worked, Fogts said she feels that Gee has always tried harder to be a better musician because of all of the personal obstacles she has had to overcome.

“I knew Jimi when only little pieces [of Jami] were on display,” said Fogts. “Am I surprised? Yes and no. She has always made it work for her. Now that she is embracing it, I don’t think it’s hurting her at all. I think her audience admires her musical ability. That has trumped all that other stuff and music has been her bridge.”

While most people are accepting, Gee claims there are two groups of people who really show hatred towards her. The first are people whom she believes wish they could come out and be open like her. The second are musicians who don’t like that she is transgender and different, yet such a good musician.

She has also had a fair share of death threats tossed her way. One harassing individual went as far as posting a picture of Gee’s home online with slurs about being a “pervert,” “faggot” and “child molester.”

Gee credits her friends and family for coming to his defense.

“I just want to live my life without people snickering or saying things,” says Gee.

So what is next? Gee hopes that young people especially will begin to look to her as an advocate. She wants to bring awareness to transgender individuals. Gee feels that drag queens and transgender people get mixed up. She clarifies that she feels that drag queens are those who are gay and are seeking attention, but that she and other transgender indivduals are often looking to just blend in.

She supports ALSO Out Youth in Sarasota, a non-profit organization that is a safe place for teens and adults who need help and resources about GID.

Gee is currently working on a new album called Infinity on Parallel Lines. It will be the first under the name Jami Gee. It is being produced by Blue Rock Bakery Digital Recording Studios in Sarasota. She anticipates a late-October release date..

Gee’s turbulent journey to acceptance came to a climax when she performed at St. Pete Pride this past June. Overcome by emotion due to the realization she was in a sea of like-minded individuals, her pointedly selected song choice all but summed it up, Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.”

After all, isn’t that what we all want?

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