"I identify as female, specifically as a transgender female. And my name is Josie Totah," she wrote in an essay published Monday

By Natalie Stone
August 20, 2018 03:14 PM
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Evans Vestal Ward/NBC

J.J. Totah has come out as transgender.

In a personal essay published Monday on Time, 17-year-old Totah, who stars as Michael Patel on Mindy Kaling’s comedy Champions, revealed, “I identify as female, specifically as a transgender female” and also announced her new name: Josie.

Totah, a former Disney actor, shared that throughout her childhood, “people would just assume I was gay,” and when she entered into the entertainment industry, “people kept assuming my identity.”

“Numerous reporters have asked me in interviews how it feels to be a young gay man. I was even introduced that way before receiving an award from an LGBTQ+ rights organization. I understand that they didn’t really know better,” Totah wrote. “I almost felt like I owed it to everybody to be that gay boy. But that has never been the way I think of myself.”

Up until now, Totah hasn’t corrected people’s assumptions: “I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted, that I would be embarrassed, that the fans who knew me from the time when I acted in a Disney show would be confused.”

Now, Totah has chosen to be open after realizing “over the past few years that hiding my true self is not healthy.”

“My pronouns are she, her and hers. I identify as female, specifically as a transgender female. And my name is Josie Totah,” said Totah.

While Totah shares that she “always knew on some level that I was female” from the time of adolescence, “it crystallized about three years ago when I was a 14-year-old watching the show I Am Jazz with my mother.” (At the end of June, TLC star Jazz Jennings underwent gender confirmation surgery.)

RELATED VIDEO: Lawren from Lost In Transition Says Jazz Jennings’ Journey ‘Gives Us Hope’

Totah explained, “As I learned more information about hormone replacement therapy, I knew that this was what I had to do. I looked over at her in the middle of the show and said, ‘This is me. I’m transgender. And I need to go through this.’ ”

Her mother was immensely supportive, and Totah swiftly met with doctors and was put on a hormone blocker. “From that point on, I hit the ground running.”

“Like many trans people, I developed serious anxiety as I hid who I was. In some ways, I felt like I was lying by letting people believe I was that gay boy,” wrote Totah, who admitted to hiding girls clothes under sweats. But “once I got on the hormone blocker, which basically stopped my testosterone, that part changed. I wasn’t waking up every day and panicking. ‘Is there hair on my face? Is my voice getting deeper?’ ”

Now that Totah openly identifies as Josie, she said, “it feels like I’m being seen.”

“I have come to believe that God made me transgender. I don’t feel like I was put in the wrong body,” she wrote. “I don’t feel like there was a mistake made. I believe that I am transgender to help people understand differences. It allows me to gain perspective, to be more accepting of others, because I know what it feels like to know you’re not like everyone else.”

Kaling, 39, shared her support for Totah in a tweet, writing, “I love you, Josie. I’m so glad you’re able to speak your truth and live as your authentic self. You’re also so damn talented – I can’t wait to write for you again!”

Jennings also shared her support for Totah on Twitter: “Im so proud to see you living in your truth!! Keep being you.”

Earlier this year, Totah, who grew up in a small town in Northern California and goes off to college this week, told PEOPLE that she “stuck out like a sore thumb” during her childhood.

“There wasn’t a lot of diversity in all genres, whether it was race or ethnicity or the LGBTQ community. I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb. I came to the conclusion, I had to at such a young age, if no one was going to be like me than I just have to own it. If I can’t be like everyone else than I might as well just own who I am,” she said..

She added: “I felt like I was kind of forced to because I was so different I just had to stick with it. In a way, that helped me stay true to myself and honor myself. I was literally so different that I could not hide or be shy. At such a young age, I just stuck with that.”