Damien Leonhardt is no stranger to online harassment. The non-binary trans person grew up on the internet and has changed drastically over time as they discovered their true identity.
Back in 2010, Damien went by the name ‘Jessi Slaughter.’ One may remember Jessi Slaughter from viral videos, such as this one featuring their father. Both before and after this video went viral, Jessi Slaughter was taunted online.
‘I was harassed for quite a bit after the videos, people sent me random stuff in the mail, ordered pizzas to my house, sent prostitutes, it was ridiculous,’ Damien recalls. ‘Someone even hid in the bushes outside my bedroom window. I kind of just dealt with it until it went away.’
‘Looking back it seems like that wasn’t even the biggest thing happening in my life at the time, there was a lot of family stuff going on and I was dealing with undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses, the “Jessi Slaughter” stuff made that worse but it seems tiny in comparison,’ they explain.
Damien initially came out as trans at age 13.
‘I’ve always been very gender-bendy. As a kid, I loved to look androgynous and I loved when strangers couldn’t tell if I was a boy or a girl, I never strongly identified as any gender. When I entered middle school, I started to present very feminine because I wanted to be accepted and be liked, but secretly I wanted to look like all those pretty MySpace emo boys,’ they tell GSN.
‘I came out as female to male transgender when I was 13. I cut off all my hair, chose a new name, and dressed as masculine as I could but it still didn’t feel right. Identifying as male felt just as wrong as identifying as female, so I got really depressed and thought I wasn’t really trans.’
‘I still love makeup and skirts but I wanted to look more masculine and have a deeper voice (and then there’s the overwhelming body dysphoria), I felt stuck,’ they say.
‘Then I found out what nonbinary is and it just felt right. I don’t even really see myself in the “Jessi Slaughter” thing anymore, it feels like someone else was wearing my skin and living in my brain. I’m a whole different person and there’s no doubt my gender shift has something to do with that.’
Since age 13, Damien was considering hormone treatment. But because of family issues, financial problems, and a lack of support resources, they were unable to start their transition back then. But now, they’re finally able to start medically transitioning.
‘There’s a lack of resources for young people who want to medically transition and it’s extremely sad,’ Damien says. ‘I have pretty bad voice dysphoria and genital dysphoria so hopefully HRT can help that, I also need to be on HRT at least 2 years before I can get bottom surgery, which I really want. I’ve recently been seeing a doctor to get me on HRT and hopefully that’ll go well and I’ll be doing that soon.’
One of Damien’s favorite hobbies is cosplaying.
‘I’ve always loved costumes and dressing up. As a kid I made almost all of my Halloween costumes myself, so I was just naturally attracted to cosplaying,’ they say.
‘It’s fun to be someone else for a while and when I’m in cosplay nobody cares about my gender, nobody cares about the “Jessi Slaughter” stuff, I’m just that character for the day.’
When looking back on their time as a viral video subject, Damien says, ‘I think the most important thing is that tough circumstances aren’t the defining thing in someone’s life, and I’m proof of that. Situations are nuanced, people are nuanced, so be understanding.’
In terms of advice for young, queer kids being harassed online, Damien says the following:
‘Find good friends and a good community to confide in and find a hobby to get your mind off whatever’s going on. Therapy is amazing but I understand not everyone has access to it so just try to find someone you can tell anything to. And turn off anonymous messages, being anonymous brings out the worst in people.’