TikTok star and trans advocate AJ Clementine's 'constant battle'

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TikTok star AJ Clementine wearing a pink tulle dress. Photo: supplied.
TikTok star and LGBTQI+ advocate, AJ Clementine is sharing her story in a new book, Girl, Transcending. Photo: supplied.

AJ Clementine is a Filipino-Australian model, TikTok star and trans woman who's sharing her story with the world to inspire and educate others.

Even if you're not one of AJ's 1.6 million or so followers, it's hard to miss one of her videos on your 'For You Page' (that's TikTok's term for its newsfeed).

The clips are typically dreamy and colourful with a distinct Disney aesthetic — and then there's AJ herself, who looks like she's stepped out of a fairytale with her Rapunzel blonde hair and princess-inspired dresses.

But, as AJ recounts in her new book, Girl, Transcending, life isn't a fairytale. At 25, she's experienced the confusion, pain and terror that a lot of trans people go through before they're able to live their lives as the gender they know they truly are inside.


TikTok star AJ Clementine wearing a green slip dress. Photo: TikTok/ajclementine.
AJ boasts 1.6 million followers on TikTok. Photo: TikTok/ajclementine.

'I wasn't crazy'

AJ was born a boy, however, she always knew that what she looked like on the outside — or what she likes to call her 'magical shell' — didn't match how she felt on the inside. She knew she was a girl from a young age and having to grow up with this internal and external conflict saw AJ suffer anxiety and panic attacks.

She withdrew socially and at one point in primary school was misdiagnosed with a learning disability due to her lack of engagement in class.

At 18, a visit to an LGBTQI+-friendly GP changed AJ's life forever. She was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which is defined as a "clinically significant distress or impairment related to a strong desire to be of another gender".

Not all transgender or gender diverse people experience dysphoria, but for AJ it was an epiphany.

"I was just like, wow," she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "I just didn't realise, I mean, I knew that I had gender dysphoria but hearing it from someone else and knowing that I wasn't crazy was just so freeing."

TikTok star AJ Clementine in a video about trans women and periods. Photo: TikTok/ajclementine.
AJ speaks openly about life as a trans woman with her followers on TikTok. Photo: TikTok/ajclementine.

AJ was able to start hormone replacement therapy and later had gender confirmation surgery which helped relieve a 'huge chunk' of her gender dysphoria.

"Levels of dysphoria will be different for each trans person but for me, a lot of major dysphoria came from having the opposite genitalia so once I had gender reassignment surgery it was easier to navigate life again because before I felt like I was constantly holding my breath and I wasn't truly living," she explains.

AJ still, however, experiences gender dysphoria from time to time and she likens it to a 'constant battle'.

"I feel like people don't realise that gender dysphoria doesn't have a 'cure'. There isn't one pill that you take and then it's gone; it's an ongoing thing for many trans people, it's a constant battle and there will be days that are more difficult than others."

TikTok star AJ Clementine in a video responding to a follower's comment that she
She always has a sassy yet classy response to rude comments. Photo: TikTok/ajclementine.

'Why don't you say you're a girl?'

With equal parts sass and class, AJ frequently fields questions and comments from her TikTok audience about life as a trans woman, from having female anatomy but not having a period to her relationship with her boyfriend.

One of the most common questions is why she continues to refer to herself as trans after having had surgery. 'Why don't you just say you're a girl now?' she's asked.

"You know, it's not that easy," AJ says. "If I had the luxury of being born cis [gender] then, yeah, that would be my story, but I'm still trans at the end of the day and that will never change.

"Yes I've had gender confirmation surgery but the fact I still went through that is a part of who I am and that will never leave me [...] I will never get the exact same experience as a cis woman and that's just the reality of it all."

AJ is quick to clarify that she doesn't support arguments about who is 'more of a woman': cis or trans women.

"Trying to figure out who is more of a woman shouldn't ever be a discussion. We should share our experiences and realise that there is common ground but there will be very different aspects to our lives that have shaped us differently.

"It doesn't mean that we need to draw a line to put cis women here and trans women there. We're all women and we should realise that we're working together."

TikTok star AJ Clementine and her boyfriend, Ryan holding pink and blue trans flags. Photo: Instagram/ajclementine_.
AJ and her boyfriend, Ryan celebrating Pride month. Photo: Instagram/ajclementine_.

Overcoming internalised transphobia

The opportunity to have these types of necessary discussions with others is what draws AJ to social media, in particular, TikTok where she hopes to dispel trans stereotypes and inspire others from the LGBTQI+ community.

Because when AJ was growing up, she didn't have any role models to look up to let alone the resources or vocabulary to explore and define her gender.

At school, she recalls a brief class discussion on the lyrics of Lady Gaga's song, "Born This Way" (No matter gay, straight, or bi/Lesbian, transgendered life) but that was about it.

In the media, when trans people did appear at all, they were largely mocked, shamed or othered.

"I remember vividly in one of the Hangover movies there was a scene where one of the guys hooked up with a trans woman, and when he found out that they were trans he physically vomited," AJ recalls.

"It was like I was being told that the person that you are will result in people being disgusted by you."

AJ did manage to find an LGBTQI+ community on YouTube but Google searches seemed to result only in porn and other adult content. Slightly confronting for a young teen.

"I was literally trying to work with the scraps of finding out who I am and everything I see is so intense and negative and I just wanted to see someone who was trans and living their life and not being seen as a joke or a villain or sexualized."

AJ realised the extent of her own internalised transphobia when she completely shut down a school friend who asked if she might be trans.

"I was scared of people knowing and it was too confronting," she says. "The first thing I thought about was all those negative connotations that came with being trans."

It was only when a kind teacher slipped AJ a newspaper clipping about German pop star and trans woman Kim Petras that she began to see light at the end of the tunnel.

"[Kim Petras] had gender confirmation surgery at 16 and just that just blew my mind, I never thought that that was a possibility. I didn't know that there was someone out there who was transitioning and living their best life."

Nowadays, AJ hopes that through her TikTok and her new book she can be a Kim Petras-like figure to others who might be going through something similar.

"I didn't want anyone else to have that kind of [negative] perception that I did, or have that internalised transphobia.

"I guess I'm kind of at a point now where I can look back and think how much has changed and how much I know that my younger self would be proud."

Girl, Transcending by AJ Clementine is on sale now.

Mental health support for yourself or a loved one can be found by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 789 978, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.

Online support is available via Beyond Blue.

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