VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Transgender Weightlifter Janae Marie Kroczaleski On Documentary ‘Transformer,’ Being #1 Powerlifter
Weightlifter Janae Marie Kroczaleski has quite a fascinating story to tell, to say the least.
Born Matt Kroczaleski, she is a decorated former U.S. Marine who was publicly outed in 2015 as being transgender. Despite an impressive resume that included being a member of former President Bill Clinton‘s security detail, she was shunned by her community — including her own parents — lost sponsors and was ultimately stopped competing.
Now, she has become one of the world’s top LGBTQ powerlifters. The 45-year-old’s story is described in the new M Films documentary Transformer, which is written and directed by Michael Del Monte and was released on Oct. 19.
The 5-foot-9, 240-pound Kroczaleski, who was previously referred to by some as “Kroc,” sat down with uInterview to discuss her journey to become a powerlifter, as well as her struggles in becoming accepted by her community and the sports world.
“I grew up your typical jock athlete, played sports year-round and was always very much into sports and strength training,” she said. “From the time I was a small child, anytime I saw someone big and strong I was like ‘oh my god, that’s how I want to be!'”
She continued: “But at the same time, the whole time I felt like I was supposed to be female, so I had these two seemingly contradictory forces driving me my whole life and tearing me apart through adolescence and even in my early adulthood. So on the outside I appeared to be this total super-Jack: I played baseball, football, wrestled, then went in the Marines, and [after that] ended up in presidential security under President Clinton and I excelled in those environments.”
Kroczaleski described herself as “hyper-competitive,” especially when it came to athletics like weightlifting, which she said she began participating in at the age of 9. Kroczaleski was involved in lifting competitions in high school, in the Marine Corps and afterwards as well. She went on to ultimately win world championship titles and earn the all-time world record for her weight class (220 pound-class for male lifters) in 2009 with an amazing 2,551 pounds.
Kroczaleski also recalled what it felt like to be outed publicly without her consent in 2015, which is a moment Transformer focuses on.
“I was already outed to family and friends, fortunately, and my own children had known: I told them when they were very young, so they had known their whole lives,” she revealed of her three sons. “The good thing is, I told [my kids] when they were 2, 4 and 6.”
Kroczaleski then fondly recounted her oldest child’s reaction to seeing her dressed as a woman for the first time.
“I get all done, my oldest walks up to me, looks at me and says: ‘Wow, you look like a girl! A really really big girl!’ I bust out laughing and they just went back to playing and didn’t think anything of it,” she explained. “It was before they learned prejudice and hate and discrimination, so to them it was just like, ‘ok, that’s just one way people are different.”
Does Kroczaleski have any regrets of coming out to her kids as transgender when they were this young? None whatsoever. She said she believes doing this has helped them become more “secure,” “open-minded” and “accepting of other’s differences.” The powerlifter also said this allowed her and her children to develop a stronger relationship based on virtually unconditional trust and honesty.
Kroczaleski also admitted she often felt like she did grow up in a world that ascribed to traditional gender norms and conventions: that boys and men were told and expected to be “tough,” “masculine” and not show too much emotion, while girls were often judged solely on the basis of looks and told to be “careful.” Nevertheless, she was determined to defy those stereotypes and show that it is acceptable for women to also show strength and courage.
“It wasn’t until I got close to the women in the strength training community that I realized they struggled with the same thing [as men]: they want to get bigger and stronger, and yet everyone around them [keeps telling them], ‘oh, you look like a man, you look gross, why would you want to do that?” said Kroczaleski. “But they find it very empowering and love doing it,” she added.
What does this prove? Kroczaleski put it in very straightforward yet powerful terms: “Strength has no gender, and courage has no gender.”
Kroczaleski continued by saying she is aware she “stands out” but that she has learned to ignore and tune out all the disparaging comments people make about her, whether in person or via social media.
The powerlifter also revealed that she does not identify exclusively as “transgender:” she also describes herself as “gender-fluid” and “non-binary,” which are words she frequently uses in her social media posts and profiles.
“Gender-fluid,” Kroczaleski explained, simply means that she feels she transcends gender: some days, she feels more masculine, whereas other days she exhibits more feminine behavior.
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Here is the trailer for Transformer:
From white trash kid to world record power-lifter, Matt “Kroc” faces his most challenging feat of strength: becoming a woman.
— CBC Docs (@cbcdocs) November 18, 2018
Transformer is now available on VOD and in select theaters.