Evans Vestal Ward/NBC
August 20, 2018 at 02:22 PM EDT

Josie Totah, the young star of Mindy Kaling’s NBC sitcom Champions, has written an emotional essay for Time in which she reveals she’s transgender.

Totah, formerly known as J.J., reveals that she has hidden her true self for years out of fear.

“In the past, I’ve halfway corrected people by telling them I identify as LGBTQ,” writes Totah, 17. “I wasn’t ready to be more specific. I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted, that I would be embarrassed, that the fans who knew me from the time when I acted in a Disney show would be confused. But I realized over the past few years that hiding my true self is not healthy. I know now, more than ever, that I’m finally ready to take this step toward becoming myself. I’m ready to be free. So, listen up y’all: You can jump on or jump off. Either way this is where I’m heading.”

“My pronouns are sheher and hers. I identify as female, specifically as a transgender female. And my name is Josie Totah,” she continues.

While Champions was cancelled by NBC after one season, Totah says she’s beginning college this week and wants to continue to act.

“I plan to play roles I haven’t had the opportunity to play,” she writes. “And I can only imagine how much more fun it’s going to be to play someone who shares my identity, rather than having to contort myself to play a boy. I’m going to gun for those roles, be it a transgender female or a cisgender female. Because it’s a clean slate — and a new world.”

Following the publication of Totah’s essay at Time on Monday, Kaling praised her costar: “I love you, Josie. I’m so glad you’re able to speak your truth and live as your authentic self. You’re also so damn talented – I can’t wait to write for you again!”

Read Totah’s full essay at Time.

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