Matt “Kroc” Kroczaleski. Maybe you know the name from powerlifting, where he became a world champion and world record holder. Or maybe you’ve heard of him from his bodybuilding career and saw him featured in supplement ads and magazines.
Ever done the Kroc row? Same guy. And if you’re a regular reader of T Nation, you’ve probably been inspired by the former Marine’s hard-hitting training articles.
That’s why when the rumors started flying we largely disregarded them. Sure, we’d heard them too, years ago. “Matt likes to dress as a woman,” some people whispered. The dad, the pharmacist, the cancer survivor, and the guy who once worked security for Bill Clinton, wanted to become a female.
The rumors, it turns out, were true. In fact, the “secret” wasn’t much of a secret. But then a gotcha-style YouTube video emerged, went viral, and the rest is history. Fans of Matt Kroc, say hello to Janae.
T Nation: When the video outing you was posted, was it something you were prepared for?
Janae Kroc: Everything was overwhelming at first. Literally, in a couple of hours everything changed. It was a Monday morning when the video was posted, and a couple of hours later I was getting phone calls from TMZ and Inside Edition. It was crazy.
It’s not like I was trying super hard to hide. I’d had a Facebook page for five years as Janae. I even had a Myspace page back when Myspace was around, so this is something that’s been online for a long time. That was just me being me and trying to live my life. I was so open about it with the lifting community that I knew at anytime there was the possibility that somebody could try to out me.
But the potential for being outed was something me and my three sons talked about over the years many times. We were prepared for it even though the timing wasn’t what we wanted. Ideally, I either would’ve done a big interview or made a video myself for YouTube, but after all my boys were done with high school.
And to be honest, it’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise. My youngest won’t graduate high school for another five years and it was becoming more and more difficult to keep putting this off. So, yeah, it was really shitty for the YouTube guy to out anyone. That’s a horrible thing to do. But for me, the point I’m at in my life, it was almost good timing.
Muscletech already knew and basically already said they were going to drop me. So it definitely could’ve been worse timing. It would’ve been a lot worse if it had been five or six years ago when the boys were a little younger and I was still in the prime of competing. I was pretty much ready to retire from the sport anyway. I had felt for the last year or two that my life was kinda on hold, so this allows me to move forward.
I’ve been very open about this with the lifting community for a long time, close to a decade. I had told Dave Tate and Jim Wendler back in 2006. At the elite level of powerlifting, it was very well known. It wasn’t something I tried to hide, but at the same time I wasn’t 100 percent out about it. And that was mainly because of my boys.
It’s one thing to be out in the lifting community. It’s another for them, like at their school. That was my main concern. I just didn’t want them to have to deal with anything from teachers, coaches, or their classmates. That was really the only thing keeping me from coming out completely. There was a little bit about “How will this affect my lifting career? How will it affect my marketability? What’s Muscletech gonna say?”
I had started and stopped transitioning five or six times in the last 10 years, but I never really got that far with it. A year ago, I started hormones for about a week and then changed my mind again, for a lot of reasons. I was walking away from a lot of stuff I had worked really hard for. That was difficult. And just being who I am with the lifting, being big, muscular, and strong, that was a big part of my identity and it wasn’t an easy thing to just give up.
Every time I would start, I would come back to, “I just can’t put the boys through this.” Even though they were all 100 percent supportive. They’ve known everything since they were very little. I told them when they were two, four, and six years old. So to them, it was just no big deal.
We heard some of the other parents had said some nasty things, but that’s expected. I think it’ll be more talking behind my back more than anything. I don’t see anybody confronting me to my face.
T Nation: Now, we have to ask, what about your wife?
Janae Kroc: The girl most people recognize as my wife is Lauren. She’s not the mother of my children, that was Patty, and Patty and I split up 10 years ago. Lauren was the girl I was with at the peak of my career.
I was head over heels in love with Lauren and still am to this day. We had an amazing relationship; we were together for four years. The reason we split up was because of me being transgender. It got to a point where we both knew it wouldn’t work because Lauren was 100 percent straight and she was attracted to Matt. She understood Janae and was very supportive, but at the same time, Janae is not who she was attracted to.
The longer we were together, the more she saw Janae. That’s who I really was. I had acknowledged I was transgender, but I didn’t really think I would ever transition. I was so in love with Lauren and I was trying to suppress Janae to be with her. She told me early on that she knew I would transition eventually. It was very hard on both of us when we split up. But I feel fortunate to know what true love is like and I hope to experience it again.
T Nation: Now that you’re in the public eye, how do you actually feel?
Janae Kroc: It really was a big weight lifted off my shoulders. I’m a very open and honest person, so it was difficult for me to not be 100 percent open about this. Initially it was difficult because there was a lot of anxiety and concern about how people were going to react. What are my friends going to say? What’s my family going to say? I’d grown up believing that if I told anyone, the reactions were going to be horrible, so I was terrified about what people would think and how I would be treated. But that was back in the ’70s and ’80s, and times have changed a lot.
Coming out isn’t the easiest thing, especially to the people closest to you. My family took it pretty hard. We’re close and there was never anything like they were going to disown me or never want to see me again, but it was a huge shock for them. When you’re hiding something this big your whole life (and I knew this when I was five years old) you have this fear that somehow people can just tell.
So when I told my brothers and my mom, I thought they were going to be like, “Well, we kinda wondered. We noticed some things.” With the way I live my life, the hardest thing about coming out was that I felt like I was letting everyone down. I came from a real poor background. So I was used to being looked down on and I had a chip on my shoulder. Between being transgender and growing up the way I did, I always felt less than everyone else.
I had this great need to prove everybody wrong and to beat everybody at everything, and to be better. That’s part of what drove me with my lifting. But because of the things I had done, guarding the President and breaking the world records, everyone in my family sort of looked up to me and I knew that. So it was really hard for me to come out because I felt like I was destroying this idea of who they thought I was. I felt like I was disappointing everyone.
I thought everyone expected me to be perfect. “Oh, Matt can do anything. He can overcome any obstacle.” And that made it really difficult. Everyone thought I was this amazing person and I thought, “You guys have no idea who I really am.” I grew up feeling like a freak. Like I was broken. Like I was unlovable.
I was doing all these great things yet had very poor self-esteem. I really hated myself. I felt a lot of guilt and shame for feeling different, and I didn’t know why I felt that way. I struggled with it the whole time growing up and at one point I considered suicide. No one had any idea I was dealing with any of this.
T Nation: You’ve talked about your past and the obstacles you’ve overcome in your T-Nation articles. Did you intend to drop any hints about what you’ve been going through?
Janae Kroc: Oh yeah. In the articles I wrote for T Nation and EliteFTS I’d refer to struggles without being specific. Obstacles I had overcome that were more difficult than the injuries and things I’d faced like cancer… I was always referring to being transgender.
The people who knew me knew what I was referring to. But yeah, that was always like an underlying theme. Struggling could be struggling with anything. It could be of a personal nature, it could be athletically, it could be a health problem, or psychological issues like addiction.
Any of the articles I wrote, even though they were aimed at athletes and lifters, it applies to all areas of life. Not just professionally, but relationships and things like that. Overcoming adversity, there’s just so many ways we do that in life.
A lot of my friends remarked how I didn’t treat cancer like it was a big deal. To me, out of all the struggles I had in life, it was nothing. It really didn’t compare. Being transgender and struggling with it, that was a much more difficult thing than anything else I faced.
T Nation: Is a full physical transition in your sights for the future?
Janae Kroc: I do plan to fully transition. I started hormones in August and I’ve been on them since. I’ve been dieting. I’m hoping to have breast augmentation and facial surgery. It’s one of those things you have to play a little bit by ear because everybody responds differently to hormones.
But I totally plan to transition 100 percent. The faster, the better. But it’s a lengthy process. The hormones can take up to two or three years to take full effect. Two years for I.O.C. is what they have for competing.
Editor’s Note: The International Olympic Committee rules state that male-to-female transgender athletes who’ve been on hormone replacement therapy for two years are eligible to compete in female competitions. New revisions being considered may reduce that to one year.
And then the surgeries are ridiculously expensive. Nothing’s covered by insurance. Start to finish, it’s going to cost me about $100,000. I already had a little bit of facial surgery last year for some minor stuff. I’m hoping and I’m saving as fast as I can, but my goal is by May to undergo breast augmentation, I want to get my jaw and forehead done, and then I also need voice surgery.
I’ve legally changed my name. All my documents – driver’s license, passport, everything – are changed over to Janae, even my bank records. I no longer go by Matt or identify by that anymore.
Obviously my body has to change a lot. I’ve got a lot of weight and a lot of muscle to lose. I was down 70 pounds and then I had what I call one of my strength relapses. It’s hard for me because I’m walking away from a lot of stuff I worked really hard for, and being “Matt Kroc” was a big part of who I am.
While I was suppressing a lot of things for a lot of years, doing powerlifting and strength sports for years, I did enjoy them. I did love to compete and I liked being big and strong. It was always kind of what I describe as a civil war. I always had these two sides fighting against each other.
I felt like two different people sharing the same body, but I realized just because I liked being big and strong doesn’t mean that I’m not really a woman. There’s a lot of women who like being big and strong too. Without realizing it, I was buying into those same pressures from society that most women do.
I look at my life and all the things I’ve done. I was known for my intensity, my aggression, my toughness. And you think, “Well, how can I really be a woman if I’m all these things?” Well, women are just as tough. And I’ve gotten a lot of support from the lifting community in general, but I’ve become very good friends with some of the female lifers.
These were girls I knew a little bit from all the meets. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Gracie V, she’s a female powerlifter who’s pretty good and she’s done a lot of Westside stuff. Her and I have become really good friends, and it’s cool because she’s a tough girl who trains really hard. It’s funny, we’ll get on Skype and do our makeup together in the morning and talk.
The thing is just struggling with that idea of finding strength in femininity, and I talk to other girls who struggle with the same things.
T Nation: Do you have a specific target physique?
Janae Kroc: I was around 255-260 when I was outed, and then I started dieting really hard and started hormones. I got down to 200 pounds and things were getting more difficult.
Dieting for a show is one thing when you have a goal and a timeframe, but this is for life. I did some stupid things I shouldn’t have done. I went to one of the old gyms I used to train at. Going there while weighing 205 made me feel like shit. It’s hard to go from being really good at something to being mediocre at it. That was definitely a mistake.
I still have a couple of training partners who are competing, so it’s hard. They were both doing a heavy deadlift workout prepping and we were reminiscing about old lifting stories. By the time that workout was done, watching them pull heavy and talking about old lifting stuff, I basically said, “Fuck this, I’m going to be 275 by Christmas.”
So then, and this is totally me, I went from 200 to 230 in 10 days. And then I got into the mid-230s and realized, “What am I doing? All this does is make it harder on myself.” Now I gotta work back off that extra 35 pounds.
The thing is, I don’t care about what society says a woman should look like or what anyone says I should look like. But I know how it makes me feel, and I struggle. Even though I’ve been living my life in both genders for quite a while now, I’ve greatly struggled with being as big and muscular as I am.
It’s just not how I, as a woman, want to look. I want to be comfortable. I want to be able to go to the beach in a bikini. That’s a huge thing for me. I want to be able to wear a mini-strap dress and feel comfortable in it and feel attractive. That’s something that’s important to me. I think that’s around 170 pounds or so. I know some figure girls that weigh around that in the offseason.
I still want to have a very athletic physique. The kind of body I have in mind is like the high-level CrossFit girls. Somewhat muscular, but lean and athletic. I have no interest in looking like a Victoria’s Secret model or anything like that. I want to be well-rounded. I want to still be strong for my size, but have great endurance.
T Nation: You’re getting more involved in endurance sports like mountain biking and triathlons. Do you think that type of training appeals to you because, like lifting, it still requires a strong mental attitude and a high tolerance for pain?
Janae Kroc: I do. It’s totally a challenge for me. I’ve always thrived on the idea that the harder something is to achieve, the more rewarding it is. So there’s a few reasons. One, coming from a strength background, this has to be probably the hardest thing for me to be good at as an athlete.
And then two, it actually works well for my transition. This is a good way to help me lose the weight and get my body to where I want it. And three, I always did love endurance sports. I was kind of a natural runner when I was young. The only reason I quit doing that stuff was because of my lifting career. When I was in the Marines, I actually ran an 18-flat 3-mile. I won’t say I enjoy suffering more than anyone else, but I enjoy the challenge of it.
When I’m out there, I’m hurting just as much as anyone else, but the idea of suffering that bad and overcoming it is very rewarding. At the same time, it’s about improvement. Being better each time you go out and pushing yourself harder. Because right now the running and the swimming is just totally kicking my butt, but everyday I’m getting a little bit better and I’m really enjoying it. The goal is to be ready to do a triathlon by the end of next summer.
T Nation: Will you ever compete in strength sports as a woman?
Janae Kroc: No, I will never do that. I think it’d bring a lot of negativity towards transgender athletes and to the powerlifting community, and that’s not something I ever want to do.
But as far as triathlons or endurance sports go, I’m totally comfortable competing there as a woman. If anything, my background makes it more difficult. So yeah, I do plan to compete as a woman and my coach is looking into the requirements. I don’t know if I’ll be ready. We’re looking at the Chicago triathlon. I still have a lot of work to do. I’m getting better everyday, but right now, I would drown on the swim. I couldn’t make the distance.
I can’t do anything just to be mediocre at it. I’m already looking at the records for my age group and thinking what I need to do to be competitive. The records are pretty amazing. I’m nowhere near that but, for my age group at least, I can be competitive.
A lot of that’s going to be contingent on getting my bodyweight down to where it needs to be. Even if I was at 170, I’d still be significantly larger than the women I’d be competing against. Most of them are between 110 and 130. Actually, anything over 160 is considered what they call “Athena” which is basically a super-heavyweight. So I would still be a very large triathlete.
The thing that surprised me so far is how difficult it is for me to lose the muscle, even with getting on estrogen and cutting my lifting way, way back. I do a little bit here and there but I realized I had to cut it back to lose the mass, even with dieting and everything.
I’ve been built this way for two decades and that’s my set-point. The muscle doesn’t go away that easy. It’s gonna take some time and it’s gonna take a lot of work. And the tricky part is, I could crash diet down to where I want to be relatively quickly, but you diet yourself into a corner and that isn’t healthy. If I cut my calories down to 1,000 a day to get there, then where do I go? I need to have a diet that’s sustainable, so that I’m not miserable and I’m not starving every day for the rest of my life. It’s going to take some more patience.
I honestly expected it to come off easier than it is. I dropped the first 40 pounds really fast, but then it’s really gotten difficult even with all the training. A lot of days, I’m training twice a day. I’m doing the triathlete stuff and then going to the gym and doing more work. But it’ll happen.
The sooner I can get there, the better it’ll be for me. The most difficult part is where I’m at right now. It’s this middle ground where I’m too small and too weak to be comfortable as a male and I’m too big and too muscular to be comfortable as a female. Once I can get to the point where I’m just small enough to be comfortable living as Janae full time, things will get a lot better. I just have to keep my head down and keep moving forward.
T Nation: What have you heard about the idea being passed around that “steroids cause transgenderism” – sometimes using Caitlyn Jenner as an example. Did gear do this to you?
Janae Kroc: No, no, no. The funny thing is, I’ve had people tell me over the years, especially people outside the lifting community that don’t understand it, “All you need to do is put in more male hormones and that’ll ‘cure’ you.” And I’m thinking, “Trust me, I’ve tried plenty of that and it didn’t help.”
There’s absolutely no correlation whatsoever with androgen use. It’s funny to me that anyone would even think that male hormones would make you want to be a woman. But, no, this is something, like most transgender people, you know at a very young age.
There’s evidence that it’s genetic. There’ve been studies where they found differences in the brains of transgender people versus what they refer to as cis-gender – people who are comfortable with their gender and their identity matches.
In one study they found that the androgen receptor density in the hypothalamus was significantly less in transgender women than it was in genetic males, and it actually correlated very strongly with genetic females.
This is something that people like me know from a very young age. It’s innate. I couldn’t tell you how hard I tried not to be this way and not to feel the way I do. It’s just really about people understanding. No matter how much evidence there is, and if you’re able to say definitively “This is 100% genetic,” there are still going to be people that do the whole “God says…” or whatever their reasons are. Just like racism still exists. You’re never going to be able to eradicate it.
Another funny thing is, I competed a really long time drug-free. I actually qualified for the Arnold without ever having touched anything. I was squatting 900, I benched mid-500s, and I pulled over 700 before I ever touched anything. I pushed my weight as high as 269, but I was a very bulky 269 at 5’9″.
Ironically enough, what finally made me make the decision to crossover was having cancer. I found out I had testicular cancer three weeks before the Arnold in 2004 and, with hormone replacement after that, I could no longer compete drug-free. Up to that point, I was competing in both tested and non-tested meets. I really didn’t care, I just went where the competition was.
And here’s an interesting thing I found out when I had cancer. I actually found out that all my hormone levels, naturally, were in-between male and female. My estrogen levels were high. My prolactin levels were three times what a normal male’s were supposed to be. My pituitary gland is unusually small for a male’s. My body was kind of in-between both genders.
I had assumed, because of how well I’d done in lifting, that I probably had a naturally high testosterone level. But then I had my levels drawn before surgery and it turned out I was actually below normal even beforehand.
So I took about six months and thought about everything, and I made the decision to cross over to “the dark side”. It was one of those things, like a love-hate relationship. I liked what it did for my performance, but I hated the secondary masculine characteristics and it made my body more male in those ways.
It made me hairier all over. I was never someone who had a lot of chest hair, but that stuff really bothered me. It made me very uncomfortable. I started getting whole body laser hair removal years ago. The facial hair really bothered me. Then I started losing the hair on my head.
I really didn’t like that, but it was part of the sacrifice to achieve the goals I wanted to achieve. If I had it to do all over again, I can’t say that I would make a different choice. I don’t have any regrets in that arena. To accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, it had to be.
T Nation: When you were training hard for powerlifting, was it ever Janae powerlifting or was it Matt? Has Janae ever done a Kroc row?
Janae Kroc: To be honest, no. I trained as Matt and when I was competing in powerlifting, not that I couldn’t do that as a woman and train with that same kind of intensity, but it’s just a different aspect of my personality. Totally different goals.
That was definitely my masculine side, and even now I struggle with that. I can’t go in the gym and train like that without wanting to get bigger and stronger. So I’ve had to stop doing that and really just focus on the endurance stuff. I do plan to resume the training just as hard once I’ve crossed that point where now I’m training as Janae with different goals in mind.
But right now I’m still far too big and muscular to be training as Janae. I just have too much size to lose and right now it’d be counterproductive. It’s funny because initially there was a big strength drop with the estrogen. Between the dieting and the estrogen, my strength dropped a ton, but now, it’s kind of leveled off. I’ve lost a couple hundred pounds off my raw bench. I could still probably bench 315, but it wouldn’t be that easy.
At one point, after a month or two of being on the estrogen and really dieting hard, it was like every time I went in the gym I was weaker. It was crazy. So now I’ve kinda stabilized. And because I want to drop another 50 pounds or so, I’m sure when I get down around 170 I’m going to be quite a bit weaker still.
T Nation: Are you still training clients or are you writing more?
Janae Kroc: I’m still doing some training and diet work, but I have cut back on it just because I’m so busy with what I’m still doing, the interviews and everything about all the transgender stuff.
I’ve already spoken to my publisher and they’re very interested in me writing a book about all this, but I haven’t really started it yet. I kinda feel we need to see where this journey goes. I feel like I can’t really complete the book until I fully transition, because that would leave part of the story untold. I’m working with a company right now that’s making a documentary about me and my life.
I’m also getting more involved in activism. The transgender murder rate is ridiculous and so is the suicide rate. About 41% of all transgender people attempt suicide. That’s far greater than any other group that exists. It’s a tough experience and a lot of people don’t do well with it. The biggest thing is that people have supportive people in their life. So my life right now revolves around transition, training for the triathlon stuff, and activism.
T Nation: Is there anything you haven’t had a chance to say yet?
Janae Kroc: I’ve had some people message me and say that I “destroyed their hero”. For me, it’s just like, nothing’s changed, now you just know more. That’s all. I am who I am and I’ve always been this person. It’s just that I suppressed a big part of who I was all my life.
I won’t say that Matt was a fake person, like I was faking it, but it was a limited part of who I was. Matt was the part of myself I was comfortable sharing with the world. Matt was the person that I was trying to be, that I thought I was “supposed to” be, and that everyone else wanted me to be. I tried very hard to be that person for a really long time.
Especially with relationships. While I could be comfortable in male circles as far as athletics and competition was concerned, I always struggled playing the male in the relationship. Even though I was attracted to women, it was something very foreign to me. It was very uncomfortable and it always felt like acting.
To be honest, one of the things I’m most looking forward to is dating as a woman. That’s something I feel I missed out on. I feel like I never got to experience that. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a relationship and just be able to be yourself.
So yeah, the whole dating as a woman is something I’m very, very much looking forward to, just to finally be myself. Especially where intimacy is concerned. That, more than anything, was the hardest thing for me. I never felt like I was in the right body. It was always very awkward. I mean, I learned how to fake it. You figure things out. I’m not going to say I never had fun or didn’t enjoy it.
T Nation: Yeah, you have three kids, so…
Janae Kroc: Exactly. I made it work. There were some good times there, but still, it was always faking. Not faking, that’s the wrong word. More like acting. I was playing a role that didn’t come naturally. So it will be nice for once in my life to be intimate and not have to be acting and be playing a role, and just be able to be myself because honestly I don’t know what that’s like. I have no idea what that’s like.