By Eline de Bruijn
As the mayor of a tiny McKinney suburb, Jess Herbst imagined the worst after she came out as a transgender woman at this week's council meeting.
Instead her town lived up to its name, and the residents of New Hope have been nothing short of "amazing."
"I was hoping for tolerance, and what I've gotten is overwhelming support," Herbst said Wednesday, two days after the meeting and two weeks after she wrote an open letter to residents online.
Herbst was thrust into her role as mayor last May when her predecessor died of a heart attack. At the time she was an alderman and went by the name Jeff.
Her unanimous appointment by fellow council members inspired her to be "as honest to them as possible" with who she is -- the state's first publicly transgender mayor.
"I live my life as a female now," her letter reads, "and I will be performing my duties to the town as such."
Herbst expected some snide comments and negative rhetoric online but hasn't seen much of that. Instead she's received encouraging emails and support from those she has seen in day-to-day life.
"I think that it's a lot harder to be negative towards people when they are directly in front of you. It puts a face on it," she said.
Herbst decided to pen the letter to control the narrative because she knew people would find out eventually, and she invites anyone to read about her experiences at her blog, JessHerbst.com.
"Most people don't have to be this upfront," she said, "but this is where I landed."
A native of Greenville, Herbst graduated in 1977 and moved with her wife, Debbie, to Debbie's hometown of New Hope in 1999. Herbst joined the town council in 2003 and has been an alderman, road commissioner and mayor pro tem for the town.
She came out to her family and close friends eight years ago. Her wife of 36 years knew the truth early on in their relationship.
While some may believe that transgender people are gay, Herbst said she's attracted to women. Herbst began hormone replacement therapy two years ago "for my gender identity and not for sexual orientation," she said.
Herbst was inspired when Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner came out as transgender in early 2015 and identified as Caitlyn Jenner. At that time, Herbst was a few months into her hormone replacement therapy and said Jenner "brought the word 'transgender' to public attention."
Early last fall, after she was appointed mayor, Herbst came out as transgender at Town Hall and to her customers as a self-employed computer technician.
She was surprised when they supported her.
"You have to be honest if you're going to be in a place in public office," she said. "It's your responsibility to the people."
Among the numerous supportive emails she's received are messages from other public officials in the area saying they're also transgender, she said. She said she'll be meeting with them to talk about how she's handled her identity.
"There are way more of us than most people understand," Herbst said. "The more people are honest, the easier it's going to become for the rest of us to come out and be public about who we really are."
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