Photo Courtesy of Instagram

Janae Kroc

Chances are you have never heard of Janae Kroc who was born Matthew Raymond Kroczaleski, the transgender subject of the award-winning documentary Transformer. Janae is a former Marine who made a name for herself (as Matt) as a competitive powerlifter and bodybuilder. In 2009, she set the male world record in the 220-pound weight class with 2,551 pounds. And while she’s not as powerful as she used to be (in the physical sense at least), she can still squash you like a bug. For instance, in 2017 while 18 months into her estrogen therapy, Janae lifted 210 pounds for 10 reps and deadlifted 605 pounds.

Janae Kroc posing in workout clothes and a medal around her neck. Janae Kroc and her weightlifting medal

Recently, she has accelerated her transition from male to female, an evolution a decade-plus in the making, which has come with its own set of challenges.

Speaking with Janae, she opened up about the discrimination she has faced since coming out, including how the bodybuilding community has both shunned and embraced her. She also discussed raising three well-adjusted, supportive sons (she and their mother divorced as a result of her coming out), the long, costly road to gender-reassignment surgery, and how some burdens weigh more than any barbell she’s ever touched.

Janae – as Matt, you were a world champion powerlifter, badass bodybuilder, and a spokesperson for dietary supplement brand MuscleTech. You revealed in Transformer, which screened at Miami’s OUTshine Film Festival, that you lost the latter gig after coming out as transgender. How did that happen?

Kroc: MuscleTech actually found out that I was transgender several months before I was outed publicly. They had been sent some old pictures from my Facebook page, which was private at the time, and called me to ask if it was true. I immediately confirmed that I was in fact transgender and had been very open about it for years. They told me they were having a board meeting concerning this and would let me know their decision in a few days.

When they contacted me again they were very clear that the reason they were letting me go was because of my being transgender. They immediately pulled all of my content from their websites and media advertising, canceled all of my scheduled appearances for the remainder of the year, and informed me they would not be renewing my contract. They stated that while they were very happy with the job I had done for them over the previous eight years and really liked me as a person they felt that it would be very bad PR for them and it would hurt sales, especially overseas in the more conservative cultures.

What’s your take on this, and is there any recourse for what amounts to blatant discrimination?

Kroc: While this was clearly discrimination and I would have been protected under Canadian law had I chosen to pursue legal action (MuscleTech is based in Toronto), the job I was hired to do for them was very different than most. They had hired me solely to represent their products and to be one of the faces of their company. That was my job for them and what they were paying me to do. Even though I was shocked, and I felt they made a very poor decision, the way I saw this was that if they didn’t want their company represented by a transgender person then that was their prerogative. I do feel that they missed a huge opportunity to do the right thing and that this will come back to haunt them in the future, but I chose not to pursue legal action against them.


Do you feel like Matt is a separate person from Janae?

Kroc: I see Matt as simply a part of who I am. All of the traits I possessed as Matt that allowed me to achieve the things I did are still within me. Matt was simply a limited version of who I am; he was just a portion of who I am today. I will say that there are certainly differences between Matt and Janae, and my reactions to certain situations are markedly different now than they would have been in the past, but I still don’t view him as a separate person. I still lived through all of those experiences and they helped shape me into the person I am today. I see my current self as the evolution of who I am, and I am still evolving all the time.

You came out to your three boys when they were young, and they’re each very well adjusted to your transition. That, for me, was probably the best part of Transformer – seeing how they interact with and accept you as you are. But have they always been so accepting? Were there any times when they pushed back, and how did you overcome that?

Kroc: Everyone is always shocked to hear this, but it is the absolute truth: They have always been 100% supportive and accepting of who I am. Since I told them at such a young age, they had not yet been conditioned by society to view being transgender as a bad thing, so to them, it was just another aspect of who I am. And since I never demonstrated any shame or gave them any reason to view it negatively, they have never had any reason to see it as something bad.

You revealed yourself as Janae to your mom for the first time in the documentary, and naturally, she was anxious about it. I read on your Instagram, though, that she actually decided on your female name. I’m guessing you asked her to do that. Did that help her along her path to acceptance?

Kroc: The truth is my mom didn’t actually pick my name per se, but she did have a hand in helping me to decide on Janae. Janae was the name my mom had picked for me had I been born female. She told me that when I was a child and it always stuck with me. I thought it was a pretty name and unique, so when the time came to decide on a new name, Janae was the obvious choice for me.

Janae Marie Kroc holding a 1st place weightlifting medal. Janae Kroc and her WPO 1st Place medal

You touched briefly on your sexual orientation in the film, expressing that you’re still attracted to women but open to dating a man. Can you explain that?

Kroc: Like my gender identity, my sexual orientation is somewhat blurry. I have always been very attracted to women and still am. I have never really found men attractive, but as a woman, it does feel very natural to be in the feminine role with a man. I am open to dating whomever I feel a strong connection to, and it really has more to do with who they are as a person than their gender or genitals.

If I may be more personal, has your hormone regimen affected to which gender you’re more or less attracted?

Kroc: They did not have any effect on who I am attracted to, although my body and self-perception have changed; the idea of dating men has become a more realistic possibility. As a male, I had no interest in men whatsoever but as a woman, I am at least open to the idea.

In the film, you talked about how cost-prohibitive gender reassignment surgery is. Where are you at in the transition process?

Kroc: For the average adult trans woman to fully transition, it can often cost up to $100,000, and for trans men, even more. Personally, I have already spent $70,000 to $80,000, and I am still not finished. I am in the process of scheduling my bottom surgery right now and hope to get that done as soon as possible, but realistically it will probably be at least late this year or early next year before I am able to make that happen. Fortunately, more and more insurances in the United States are covering transgender surgeries and I really hope that trend continues.

As far as other procedures go, I am definitely going to look more into hair transplant surgery as not having to wear a wig would be huge for me. With my active lifestyle and love for the water, wigs just aren’t practical, and without one on it becomes very difficult for me to present as female with my very short and very thin hair. I am still very interested in breast augmentation surgery, but as long as I remain very muscular it is difficult to achieve a natural look so for now I am holding off on that.

Post-bodybuilding career, what are your goals now?

Kroc: As far as my training is concerned I still want to remain muscular and strong but lean and not quite as big as I was previously. I still waffle somewhat about whether or not to drop a significant amount of weight and transition into a more “athletic look” but for now that is on hold.

In regard to my overall life, I hope to continue speaking publicly about transgender and gender non-conforming people and the issues we face. I also hope to continue empowering women, especially those that are interested in pursuing strength sports and do my best to promote equality as an intersectional feminist. Professionally, I hope to achieve enough financial independence to allow me to pursue those goals full-time.

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Mjolnir

Like many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films, LGBTQ+ fans awaited the release of Thor: Love and Thunder in open anticipation of the inclusivity that both Marvel and Disney had promised. However, the fans were only setting themselves up for disappointment when the film was finally released.

Despite passionate assurances from studio heads to key actors, Thor: Love and Thunder was NOT spectacularly gay. It wasn’t even that good…

Premiere Night Promises

A bolt of lightning cuts across a rainbow on a dark and stormy night.

Lightning bold across the sky

Photo by Bill D.

Standing on the red carpet at the London Premiere of the film, director and actor Taika Waititi and fellow cast members Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson were offered up the inevitable question: “How gay is the film?

Amidst some laughter from the crowds, Waititi gestured towards Portman to respond. The actress (who plays Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, throughout the franchise) raised the microphone to her lips and thought for a moment, before delivering a quiet yet fateful: “So gay!

Barely a moment had passed before the gathered fans went wild and Taika Waititi gave his own verdict: “Super gay!”. Tessa Thompson made no statement on the ‘gayness’ of the film, instead opting to swing her microphone around suggestively. As more cheers erupted, a second round of “super gay” slipped out of Waititi’s mouth, before he urged the fans to enjoy the film.

Thor: Love and Thunder’s LGBTQ+ Potential

Thor’s movie-goers were definitely hyped up for a gay extravaganza and they had a specific character in mind. The fan-favorite Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, stumbled her way into the MCU during Thor’s third film, Ragnarok. The Asgardian warrior won many people over with her wit, sarcasm, and pure badassery.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame *spoilers*, Thor Odinson gives up his claim to the throne of Asgard and names Valkyrie as king in his stead. This left many fans excited to see what would become of the character, especially after certain revelations were made at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con:

“As a new king, she has to find her queen. So that’ll be her first order of business.”

With these words, Tessa Thompson threw her LGBTQ+ fans into a frenzy, with heavy expectations for the then-upcoming fourth installment of the Thor films. Indeed, in an interview with the LA Times, shortly before the film's release, Tessa Thompson was asked to comment on the sexuality of her character. She responded with several promising remarks, including “there’s a lot of folks that are righteously very hungry for that representation to exist in these movies, as am I”.

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

So, How Gay Was Thor 4?

To put it simply: not gay at all. Not only did Valkyrie end up without a fabulous new queen, her non-heteronormative sexuality only got the barest mention (a brief line about a previous, now dead, girlfriend). Valkyrie may have made bedroom eyes at some pretty ladies before an action scene spoils the moment, but that’s about as much as we get.

The film does get some credit for introducing a trans character in a minor yet significant role. Thor returns to his people (after a brief stint as a Guardian of the Galaxy) only to find out that the daughter of one of his closest (and deceased) friends is now a boy. The issue is, whether due to personal prejudice or some alien inability to grasp the concept of being transgender, it does take Thor a frustrating few moments to come to terms with the change. And to stop deadnaming.

In fact, the only concession to the queer community was Taika Waititi’s extraterrestrial character Korg finding a husband in one of the closing scenes. This heartfelt moment was somewhat underscored by the revelation that Korg’s entire species is male, meaning he had no other choice but to be ‘gay’.

This Is Not Marvel’s First Queerbaiting Attempt

Close up of an eye reflecting an unknown scene as a rainbow crosses the image.

Photo by Harry Q.

This is, by far, not the first time that LGBTQ+ fans have been sorely disappointed by the workings of Marvel and Disney. In fact, people across many social media platforms have been chiding expectant viewers for once again falling for classic queerbaiting tactics. “Being queerbaited by the MCU is like being a golden retriever with a human who always pretends to throw the ball”, one Tumblr user declared.

Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, was the perfect moment for the MCU to introduce its first lesbian lead. Larson’s character seemed to have an intense relationship with another woman, going so far as to help raise her child (before Larson’s Carol Danvers disappeared from Earth for 6 years). Despite leaning into several romantic tropes, the status of their relationship was never fully fleshed out. However, it was also the franchise’s first female-led superhero movie, so maybe they thought that introducing her as a lesbian would make the film too awesome.

The heavily anticipated Avengers: Endgame was also slated to introduce the MCU’s ‘first gay character'. While many fans were excited, particularly as this would be the second of Larson’s appearances on screen, the big gay build-up was a massive letdown. The film’s director Joe Russo made a cameo as a blip survivor mourning the loss of his husband. A five-second throw-away scene that had no impact on the outcome of the film. Big whoop...

Even when we did see a film with a gay lead, The Eternals, there were also ten other straight leads. At that point, it just seemed more like basic probability than an attempt at pushing LGBT+ superheroes into the spotlight.

Why Can’t Disney Let Marvel Be Gay?

The big problem with allowing a few characters to be anything other than cishet is that there are still many countries in the world that outlaw homosexuality. As much as we like to think that the MCU is being made for comic book fans, we all know the purpose of the films is to make money for Disney. And without certain markets in Asia and the Middle East, Disney wouldn’t be raking in up to (and over) one billion dollars per theatrical release.

Is There Any Hope For LGBTQ+ Fans In The MCU’s Future?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the second in the much-loved Black Panther arc, will be released in cinemas this November. The studio has confirmed that the film will contain a queer character. Actress Michaela Coel will play Aneka, a warrior, and trainer of the king’s guard. Whether or not her diversity will stand out in the film (let alone endure for more than a 10-second scene that can be easily cut) remains to be seen.


Next year’s The Marvels film, starring Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, and Lashana Lynch may offer the MCU a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of its LGBT+ fans. The studios may feel it’s finally time to offer us the heartwarming lesbian relationship between Larson’s Carol Danvers and Lynch’s Maria Rambeau that seemed to be teased in the first Captain Marvel. Don’t raise your hopes too high, though, as you may yet end up as a stubborn golden retriever waiting for a cinematic universe to finally throw that rainbow ball.