“I DECIDE WHO I AM.”
Interview: Paul Hofman
Subtly rolling in her wheelchair, Sherry Jae enters the lounge of the hotel. Out of the six ambassadors, she is one of the most outstanding. At the end of the sixties she ended up in The Netherlands. Back then she was just a baby, but came from Biafra, who were going through a civil war. Sherry Jae (53) had to fight against numerous prejudices: She was someone of color and had polio. Eight years ago, she found out she is transgender. “I’m a survivor. Period.”
She quietly tells us about the first years of her life. “As a baby I was extremely malnourished. At that time there wasn’t a vaccine against polio. I met my foster family in Arnhem. They took me to Naarden, where I had a fantastic childhood.” She smiles when she mentions all the mischief she used to get up to. Sherry Jae is a curious child that meets the world with an open mind. Her disability never holds her back, she says. “My parents were strict and encouraged me to do things on my own. Especially my dad said: If you want something, you got to work for it.”
That was something they didn’t have to tell her twice. She started delivering newspapers. Even though it made Sherry Jae to who she is, she admits that her Dad was a little too hard on her. “It could have been a little less sometimes.”
School is something she’s wasn’t a big a fan of, she’d rather play. “Hatching mischief was more my thing.” After she graduated high school she started to work. She was 21 when she moved out of her parents’ home. “I wanted to go to the big city, to just be independent.” She started to live in the South-East of Amsterdam, which is a district with more than 170 nationalities. “I had then, and still have a good time here. Even though I sometimes feel that the toleration level is very low.” Unsafe is something she has never felt, but she did see some awful things happening around her. She is silent for a while.
What are her plans?
Her eyes twinkle when she enthusiastically tells us that she is going to be a Pride ambassador and use that position to fight for the visibility of trans people, trans migrants and people with a disability. “When it comes to the LGBTQ+ community we might be strangers in our midst, but I want to show that we are here. For a lot of people that’s still unknown. I want to change that.” As an ambassador she can make a difference.
When Sherry Jae was asked to take this position, she didn’t have to think twice. “I really had a wow-moment. It’s such an honor to do this. You will see me everywhere and nowhere during Pride and I will put all my effort into making us visible.”
The compassionate activist is currently working at Trans United Europe where she is the linchpin at the office in Amsterdam. “I am the jack-off-all-trades.” Trans people are welcome to go to them with all their questions. “Here you can talk with other bicultural trans people and find a listening ear.” She emphasizes that as trans you can find yourself in very vulnerable and difficult situations. “That’s why our effort is priceless.”
Her color, her disability and gender identity make her unique. “I’ve never met a person like me before.” In 2005 she said farewell to her crutches for good. She is happy that from that moment on she’ll be in a wheelchair. “The quality of my life went up. That’s when I won back my independence.” That she was in charge of her own life again, meant a lot to her. What is her life motto? Without a doubt: “Don’t keep things to yourself but just speak openly. And never let anyone treat you as trash.” Fighting against injustice is something she’s born for. “What you see is what you get.”
When she turns forty, she notices that she is ‘different’. “It hit me like a bolt from the blue. It was confirmation about the feelings that I had: I am a woman.”
TAKE PRIDE IN US
Not long after her discovery she started her transition. It’s a long process, but she knows it’s all worth it. “I feel okay this way.” She emphasizes that she is proud of herself. The theme of Pride this year, Take Pride in us totally fits her and the trans community. “My dream to be 100% happy came true. That is something I did. I went my own way and had to win a lot of battles. But it was more than worth it.” A better representative for the interests of trans people isn’t possible. She can’t wait to start as ambassador. She acknowledges that it’s a lot to take in, but she is more than ready. “Inclusivity above everything. That’s what I am fighting for. We matter.” Sherry Jae Ebere can no longer be neglected.
Pride Ambassador since 2021.