Identical twins who were born girls have become brothers after they both came out as transgender and transitioned to male.
Jack and Jace Grafe, 23, started life as Jaclyn and Jennifer in June 1995 and grew up in a conservative Christian home.
They cried themselves to sleep as children and prayed to wake up as boys despite not understanding what it meant to be transgender.
Jack and Jace, who grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, before moving to Monroe, Georgia, came out at the age of 18 and are now transitioning as a duo in a rare case.
The twins, who have the same DNA, have grown facial hair since they began taking testosterone in April 2017 and underwent chest surgery in August.
Now the criminal justice graduates, who both work in law enforcement, have shared their extraordinary story in a bid to inspire others.
Jack, a deputy sheriff’s officer, said: “As a kid I would cry and pray to God that I would wake up in a male body, not even understanding that being transgender was a thing.
“Now, I am the happiest with myself that I have been in my entire life. That uncomfortable feeling we had before has completely gone.
“When we came out, it was to our whole family – mum, dad and our older sister.
“Our parents had never seen anything like it. They have never experienced gay or transgender people and my dad is a pastor. We live in Georgia.
“At work I have had my fair share of people calling me a ‘shit’ – she, he, it. Usually they just don’t understand.
“People still refer to us as female. Whenever I hear ‘she’ or ‘her’ it is like a kick in the stomach.
“It hurts but I get it. At a young age, I was skeptical of it myself. For some people, it is a hard pill to swallow.
“There are times when I wish I was just born – and I don’t mean this in a negative way -but ‘normal’, and that I was biologically male.
“People say, ‘You will never be able to change your chromosomes, you can only change the outside.’
“There are still times when I come home and break down.”
Jace, who is also a deputy officer and just started in the police academy, added: “Honestly, the twin thing has helped.
“If I was to go back to when I was 15 or 16 I would never think in a million years that I would have got to this point.
“It was a fantasy and I always wished it was going to happy but I wasn’t brave enough. I didn’t have the guts.
“Being a twin means I don’t feel alone. Somebody else is experiencing the exact same things as I am going through and that made me stronger.”
Growing up, the Grafe girls wore boyish clothes, assumed the role of dad or brother when playing house and, as teenagers, had crushes on female classmates.
But they also attended a strict religious school and say they ran the risk of being thrown out if they also revealed their feelings so didn’t tell anyone – not even each other.
Then, at the age of 15, the twins began attending cosplay conventions where they dressed up as male characters – something they both say “felt natural”.
When they finished high school they hacked off their hair and they later came out to one another, firstly as gay aged 16 and two years later as transgender.
Five years on Jace, of Athens, Georgia, is dating Emory College student Jess Smith, 19, and Jack is engaged to bakery manager Maygon Arrington, 22, whom he lives with in nearby Monroe, Georgia.
Jack said: “It was even hard to tell each other that we liked girls, but when I told Jace and asked if he would have a different opinion of me he was like, ‘No, I feel the same way.’
“When he said ‘me too’ I felt relieved and not alone any more. It was scary. I was honestly terrified.”
Jace added: “I felt the same way about the whole thing. We talked to each other about everything but this was the one subject we were awkward about.
“We were raised in a really religious household and didn’t want to tell each other how we were feeling because we were scared the other would judge us.
“I was scared because I held my twin’s opinion higher than anybody else so if he didn’t accept me I would be devastated.
“At one point I even tried to date a guy to see if the feelings would go away but they didn’t.
“I found out Jack was transgender through a Facebook post on his profile, which was specifically for our cosplay friends and had no family.
“I was like, ‘If you feel like this why didn’t you tell me?’ He said it was awkward, that it was much more than saying, ‘Oh, I like girls.’
“I said, ‘Well, if you talked to me you would have known that that is how I feel as well.’
“After that we decided to refer to ourselves as brothers and asked our cosplay friends to refer to us as male.”
Despite not coming out until adulthood and keeping their gender identity secret from each other, both twins felt the same way – that they were male, not female.
Recent studies suggest identical twins are more likely to simultaneously experience gender dysphoria than non-identical twins.
Of 23 monozygotic or identical twins, 39 per cent were concordant for gender identity disorder, according to a literature review published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
None of the 21 dizygotic – non-identical – twins were concordant, suggesting a possible genetic or biological link with being transgender.
As well as identifying as men at work and home, the Grafe twins have been legally recognized as male by the state as of September 29.
They were permitted to change the gender marker on their driving licenses after undergoing chest surgery side by side on August 17 at Georgia Plastic Surgery.
Dr Sheldon Lincenberg removed their breast tissue and contoured their chests to make the area appear more masculine.
“Their identity is set inside themselves,” Dr. Lincenberg told Fox 5. “They’re not trying to change that. They just want the world to see them as they are.”
Jack added: “It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.
“The best way I can describe it is to imagine one of the biggest insecurities you’ve had for a long time and all of a sudden it’s just gone.
“My girlfriend asked me if it was weird that my body is different now. Honestly, it was more weird for them to be there than not.
“Now it feels natural.”