Interviews

Transgender Powerlifter Janae Marie Kroc Shares Unbelievable Story

World champion powerlifter Matt Kroczaleski came out as a transgender woman and rocked the fitness world. M&F was granted unprecedented access for a revealing feature in our October issue.

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Photography by Per Bernal

She’s wearing a black Nike Dri-Fit tank top, leopard-print capri length tights, and a pair of purple and turquoise Air Max sneakers. She’s asking the makeup artist a question about where she bought her brushes. Her cat, Dawkins, a hairless Sphynx named after the famed atheist and author Richard Dawkins, darts around the kitchen, curious at the activity, protective of her owner. When the foundation and eyeliner have been applied, it’s time for the wig. Janae has several to choose from—curly wigs that would be better suited to glamour shots, and straight ones designed for everyday use. Janae chooses one of the latter, and the makeup artist puts it on. When everything is set, Janae walks into the bathroom to have a look and returns a few minutes later, somber. 

“It’s even better than I hoped,” she says, taking a deep breath. She hugs the makeup artist, fighting back tears. 

The makeup artist suggests that Janae try on a different outfit before the shoot begins, so they head upstairs with the photographer to review options. 

In her bedroom, Janae pulls a pile of workout clothes out of the dresser and goes to the bathroom to change. On top of her dresser, there are two stacks of books. The stack on the left is a collection of texts on rebuilding classic Camaros that Janae has been referencing for her latest project. She’s got a ’67 in her garage; it’s black with white racing stripes, and she’s about to install a 555-cubic-inch custom big block engine that will give it more than 700 horsepower. The stack of books on the right is more varied; there are a few graphic novels, including Marvel’s The Infinity Gauntlet, and on top, a medical text on facial feminization surgery. The last of these is weathered and shows signs of having been read several times. Janae recently underwent several such procedures: to narrow her nose and upturn the tip, make her cheekbones more pronounced, lift her eyebrows, and shorten the distance between her upper lip and nose. Next to this stack of books sit three sets of breathtakingly lifelike prosthetic breasts.

She has yet to take any measures to lighten her voice, but today it is noticeably more feminine than the way she spoke in years past, a natural, subconscious affectation, she says, of dressing as Janae. 

On a high shelf in the corner there is a collection of a dozen powerlifting trophies. Janae emerges with a more subtle, color-coordinated outfit and sees the photographer and makeup artist examining the hardware.

“This isn’t all of them,” she says. “There’s no room for all of them. “But this one is the most important one,” she adds, pulling up a wig to reveal a large statue of a man, rippling with muscle. “I got it when I set the world record.” A sparkling necklace hangs around its neck. 

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“I guess that is ironic,” Janae admits with a stifled laugh. “But I’m not covering these up. I honestly just don’t have enough wig heads.” 

There’s some debate with the photographer over what to shoot. He tells Janae he just wants her to be comfortable. “Well, I won’t be able to lift much,” Janae says. “I mean, I can, but I’ve tried to train as Janae before and it just didn’t feel right. I guess I could lift a little bit of light weight.” Light, of course, is still at least 315 pounds on any lift.

“I wish I had more time to diet for this,” she adds, echoing a common bodybuilder’s gripe. But she’s not talking about “dialing in” her diet to look more ripped. She’s talking about losing 80 pounds of muscle. 

It’s an unfathomable proposition for many of Matt’s fans.

Other champions in the world of strength sports might have had similar training stories, but Matt was the one guy in powerlifting whom men outside the sport idolized because they didn’t just want to be able to do the things he could do, they wanted to look like him, too. Unless you caught him in a bulking or “bloat” phase, the square-jawed brute had a default look that was 250 pounds of muscle with six-pack abs. At 5'9" he was built like a cinder block, exuding a textbook masculine ideal. When an athlete combines this many rare and coveted qualities, he’s placed on a pedestal propped up with endless superlatives, none used more frequently, or affectionately, than the term freak

Since coming out, the word freak has been used in Internet forums to describe Janae, though it is no longer a term of endearment. 

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In the media blitz that followed her admission, she answered a lot of the FAQs. Though she legally changed her name to Janae Marie Kroczaleski (it’s what her mother would have named her had she been born biologically female) in April of this year, she still lives as both Matt and Janae, hence the term gender fluid. Since she still lifts, she’ll meet with training partners as Matt, but she goes to work every day as a pharmacist in the Canton, MI, Walgreens as Janae. Yes, she thinks what Caitlyn Jenner is doing right now is wonderful, but no, it did not inspire her to come out. She had been waiting to come out—and has yet to undergo SRS, or sex reassignment surgery— until her boys, aged 13, 15, and 17, could graduate high school (it should be noted that it is not necessary for anyone to undergo SRS to be considered a transgender person; saying someone is a transgender man or woman simply refers to how a person identifies). She rightly feared that a full transition could make their social lives much more difficult. But since the choice to come out has now been taken from her, she might make the full transition soon. 

“I’ve worried a lot about how this would affect my boys, but if I postpone everything, what am I teaching them?” she asks. “That you should conform to society’s expectations? That you should suppress who you are to make everyone else happy? I think that’s the worst lesson I could teach them.”

With estrogen therapy, she expects to drop from 240 pounds down to 160. At 42 years old, that would mean saying goodbye to powerlifting and bodybuilding forever, though she says she won’t miss it. Once she’s lost the weight, she’d like to compete in triathlons or mountain biking. However, losing physical strength is a real, practical issue that has held her back. Janae has attempted five transitions in the past eight years. Each time, she underwent estrogen therapy, lost 40 to 50 pounds, then bailed on the process. She learned that when she’s not as massive, men stop deferring to her and she loses the peace of mind of being fully capable of protecting herself. Anti-transgender violence is alarmingly common and a major concern for Janae or any other transgender person. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 17 transgender people have been murdered in 2015 in the U.S. as of this writing. 

More than once, she’s feared physical violence when she was out at night dressed as Janae. 

“I was at a club a few months ago, and five guys followed me to my car,” she says. “They slowed down when they got close. The only thing that stopped them was how big I was.” 

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