In his latest single, pop-folk artist Jaimie Wilson sings a duet with a female vocalist: "Love has broken me / love has broken you / now everything is new." More than a reflection on love lost and love gained, the song brings to a close the 23-year-old's journey from small-town church singer to activist and opening act for names like P!nk and The Chainsmokers.
"I started singing in church with my mom when I was a little kid and teaching myself how to play the piano at age 5," he told Boise Weekly. "I got my first guitar at 16, and that's when I started writing my own music. Growing up, my dad would never let us change the radio station from country, so that's what my music sounded like."
When Wilson moved to New York, his style and influences evolved, and his music took on more alternative and pop sounds. "You go into Brooklyn and there are so many artists around you creating that you feel inspired. And just like I transitioned, so did my sound."
The female vocalist featured on his latest single isn't an up-and-coming soloist. It's Wilson's own voice, recorded years ago, before he came out in 2015 and transitioned from a female into the man he'd only previously identified as in private.
"A year ago, I was going through my emails, and the recording came up in a message to my old producer," he said. "It was just a guitar, vocals and a harmonica. But I listened to the lyrics and was like, 'Wow, I'm talking to my future self.' When I recorded the song five years ago, I thought it was a love song."
Hearing the song again years later, it was clear: "Everything Is New" wasn't just any love song. Wilson shared the recording with his girlfriend, who encouraged him to share the idea of a duet with their friends and people he'd worked with in music. Everyone was on board. More than just a "therapeutic, magical" experience, Wilson said hearing his old self talk to him brought back a piece of another time.
"I don't know that I would call the song closure, because I think I lived an amazing life then and now, and I'm the same person," he said. "But I don't get to sing with my mom anymore—she's not accepting of the life that I chose. So singing with myself was similar to singing with my mom. I can touch that part of my life again. 'Everything Is New' opened the door and released me to do all the other kinds of music I want to do."
Wilson's sound has changed, but what he writes about—love lost and gained from a male perspective—hasn't. Today, more than ever, he feels free to share his songs with the world.
"I don't feel like I have boundaries with music anymore," he said. "I can just create music and not care what people think or if it will fit into a genre. I'm more open and creative because I'm able to be myself."
Since transitioning, his opportunities to be his true self—and help others do the same—have only grown. Understanding the financial toll a transition can take, Wilson started TransExchange in his hometown of Howell, Michigan. Using the feminine clothes he didn't want, Wilson gave trans men and trans women a place to swap items for pieces they're more comfortable wearing.
Leveraging his Instagram following, Wilson has also sold T Is for Trans bracelets and donated proceeds to trans men in need of chest binders. Most recently, he's been an activist for the Born This Way Foundation, supporting mental health care for LGBTQ youth. This summer, Wilson and his girlfriend will launch their Love Is Love clothing brand to continue raising funds for social causes, share their "modern love story," and spread the message that "there's no wrong way to love yourself or others."
On Friday, June 14, Wilson will make his Boise Pridefest debut, performing new music and opening for Australian singer/songwriter Betty Who on the Wells Fargo Main Stage. And though it may not be his biggest performance to date, Wilson said there are few things better than playing for a Pride crowd.
"Prides are my favorite because there's so much love there," he said. "I did Pride in London and smaller Prides in Indiana and festivals in Staten Island, and the love is there. It doesn't matter if there are 10 people or a million people, everyone's there to show love and express themselves."
For Wilson, a man who's learned to love and accept himself—past and present—nothing could be more amazing.