NEW HOPE, Texas -- Jess Herbst, formally Jeff Herbst, told more than 500 residents of New Hope in a letter on the town's website that he is transgender.
“It is something I had to tell the citizens of New Hope. I could not be their mayor without being honest with them,” said Jess Herbst, formally Jeff Herbst, seated in the library of her home in the small town of New Hope, east of McKinney in Collin County.
And in the process told the entire world -- within hours the coming out of “Jess” Herbst as the first openly transgender mayor in Texas was on websites around the world.
“As your Mayor I must tell you about something that has been with me since my earliest memories. I am Transgender,” he said in the letter to New Hope residents. “Two years ago, with the support of my wife, daughters and son-in-law, I began Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). At the time, I did not imagine I would hold the Mayors position, but here I am.”
“I picked the date. 2017 seemed to be a good clean start, so here we are,” Herbst told News 8.
Appointed mayor May of last year, the self-employed IT professional had served as an alderman, road commissioner and mayor pro-tem. But to most of his fellow citizens, his life-long struggle was unknown.
Herbst says he doesn’t care which pronoun people choose to use. Both are still used in conversations with her own family.
“Since birth,” Herbst said of gender identity awareness. “I’ve known I was transgender since the day I was born.”
At 12 years old, Herbst’s parents found girl’s clothes in his closet. They immediately sought professional help.
“They sought help from a psychiatrist, whose advice was just to ‘man up,'" Herbst said.
But after more than 50 years of manning up, and with the blessing of his wife of 36 years, Herbst decided to go public with the letter to New Hope and an online blog about life as a woman.
“And now people can actually see who I am. And it just feels great,” Herbst said of the freedom she now feels dressed as a woman.
But will it feel great to the people of a tiny north Texas town?
“It’s gonna be a big hoo-hah. Somebody’s gonna make a big stink about it,” said neighbor Virginia Labrecque, who says she wrote a letter of support to the mayor.
“I think that’s a wonderful thing, I really do,” she said of the mayor’s bravery, while admitting others in New Hope might not be so tolerant.
“I have a homosexual brother, and I just don’t think that. Now my husband does. My husband thinks they’re all gonna burn in hell. But I don’t think that,” she said with a laugh. “I feel that if we’re all made by one maker, then we’re all made by one maker.”
“It’s about gender identity, not sexual orientation,” said Herbst. “I’m attracted to women. I’m not attracted to men. There’s no reason for me to do anything other than what I’m doing now.”
Jess Herbst is taking hormone replacement therapy and says there are no plans for surgery. And she says her marriage remains strong.
“Without tearing up, I’m just very proud of the whole thing, It’s just been great,” said Herbst’s youngest daughter Alexandria Hull. The 28-year-old says she and her older sister found out 8-years ago and that suddenly “it all made sense.” It was always their father who helped with their clothing and makeup and whose feminine tendencies never seemed unusual to them.
“Just to see her continue to chase her happiness, it’s just great,” Hull said.
“I feel fantastic. This is who I am, and it’s so difficult to hide this, that it is just a freeing experience to let everybody know this is always who I have been underneath,” Herbst said. “I’ve always been here. You just haven’t seen it.”
“I’m me, I’m just going to be me. I live my life, I am not going to hurt you. Don’t hurt me. I’m just here to do the best I can for my town and to live my life as honestly as I can," Herbst said.