Jorden Blosser walked across the stage at Pass Christian High and made history when he receieved his diploma.
Not because Jorden graduated at 16. Not because he is an honor graduate. Not because he got accepted into a prestigious private college in Kentucky.
Jorden is the first out transgender student to receive a diploma from Pass High, which has a total student body of less than 600 students.
"Overall, the student body has been really lovely and supportive," Jorden said of his classmates. "It's been a very welcoming community, but, yes, there are people there who don't like what I'm doing and think it's wrong but you're going to get that anywhere — the support I've received at Pass High has been amazing."
Although Jorden speaks highly of his his school and its staff and students for supporting his decision to live as a man, things weren't always so easy.
"Growing up, my mom tried to make sure I was always being true to myself, and then I hit eighth grade and I just kept lying to myself," Jorden said during an interview for "Out Here in America," a podcast by the Sun Herald and McClatchy that explores what it's like being LGBTQ in the Deep South and in other areas of America's heartland.
Jorden said that he became "unhappy with the body I was in" when he was a freshman at Gulfport High School. He said he became depressed and stopped eating.
"I would feel really guilty if I ate more than 300 calories," he said. "I thought if I lost weight, I would look more masculine." His mother, Suzi Blosser, watched her child suffer.
"Jorden was battling anorexia, depression, and suicidal thoughts in the ninth grade as he was figuring out who he was," she said. "He did not finish ninth grade."
He said his depression was so severe that while he did not contemplate suicide, he had lost his will to live.
"It was a very hard time for me because I was struggling internally as I was coming to terms as who I as a person," Jorden said. "I had
known the people I was going to school with for years before I knew who I was so coming out to them was really hard."
Gulfport High also has a much larger student population compared to Pass High. Jorden said there were far more LGBTQ students at Gulfport, but there was also a much larger group of students who were not supportive of them.
"While I had relatively more support, I had double the amount of fate, but it was not fun," Jorden said on "Out Here in America."
His family decided home school was the best option for Jorden for the remainder of freshman year. The next year he transferred to Pass Christian High. Although he was out to his friends, he was not out to everyone else and presented as female.
The depression and eating disorder took a toll on Jorden and he eventually came out to his parents.
"The scariest part was watching him suffer because I really thought I might lose my child," Suzi Blosser said. "People don't realize that when it comes to transgender children, the risk of losing them to suicide or depression is very high. and I wasn't willing to take that risk and not be supportive — when you have a child, you are supposed to do what's necessary to help them be happy, healthy and successful and you have to deal with the child you are given and not the one you thought you had."
She said Jorden's transition took some getting used to for his family.
"I wish I could sit here and tell you we were immediately accepting but that’s not how it went," Suzi Blosser said. "But once we realized it wasn't a phase or something that was brought on by puberty, then we wanted to know as much about transgender children as we could."
The Blosser family attended a gender non-conforming conference in New Orleans.
"We all went, even his brother, who had the worst reaction to it of any of us," she said. "But, if you really love someone, you make the effort and by the end of the day, his brother was calling Jorden his brother."
Jorden came out to his classmates as a male at the beginning of his junior year.
"It was a lot easier coming out at a new school instead of an old school," he said. He also started a Pass High chapter of the Gender and Sexualities Alliance Network and became the group's president.
Suzi Blosser said she loved to watch her son flourish, especially during his senior year.
Jorden became an activist and he was asked by people in the community to be on a public panel to discuss transgender issues — he did one at USM and he did one that was organized by the ACLU that also had representatives from the DOJ there," she said. "He brought up his GPA to a 3.5. and he achieved a score of 32 on the ACT."
Jorden will attend Berea College in Kentucky in the fall.. The college was the first in the South to become co-educational and racially integrated. The college, which is just outside of Lexington, provides students with full-tuition scholarships.
It only accepts about 33 percent of its applicants.
"I'm excited to be taking the next step in my life but I'm also nervous because I'm taking the next step in my life," he said. The college is also LGBT-friendly.
While Jorden will miss the beach, he sad he's very excited that there is a Waffle House, one of his favorite hangout spots, about 20 minutes from campus.
Berea's student handbook says the following regarding personal conduct: "In light of its mission in the tradition of impartial love and social equality, Berea College welcomes all peoples of the earth to learn and work here. This means that the College welcomes all students and staff who seek to live and to learn at Berea in the context of our mission as expressed in the Great Commitments; but this does not mean that all behavior is considered acceptable. Given Berea’s inclusive welcome to all peoples of the earth, the College will not tolerate speech and acts that are harassing to anyone regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other such distinguishing characteristics."
"One thing I noticed about Berea is that many of its restrooms are gender neutral," Suzi Blosser said. "They had already put these things in place for transgender kids and that was one of the things I was looking for as a mom because I certainly don't want him to have to deal with those types of things as well as dealing with college because college is hard enough."
But the college is also 13 hours away, meaning Jorden is another young person that will be leaving Mississippi.
"I didn’t want to go into debt for the rest of my life and I also wanted to go somewhere where I will be accepted," he said. "But the college I'm going to is very much like Pass High where I will be accepted and allowed to succeed — I'll be placed in a dorm with another trans man and I'll eventually be placed into transgender housing."
Jorden plans to become a lawyer.
"I want to become a civil rights lawyer and help other people," he said. "It makes sense."