In The Studio with Calamity Jane is a show highlighting the incredible people of Las Vegas!
This episode features Jane Heenan, with Gender Justice Nevada.
Jane is the director for Gender Justice Nevada and has been active in gender justice advocacy here in Nevada for several years. They are a fascinating person, and have an incredibly interesting perspective on most topics.
This was a great interview, but my favorite part was hearing their perspective on Heaven.
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Hello, welcome to another episode of In The Studio With Calamity Jane. My name is Jodi, also known as Calamity Jane.
Our purpose with this series is to take an amazing woman from Las Vegas and give them the spotlight for a moment.
Joining me today is Jane Heenan from Gender Justice Nevada, Welcome to the show Jane.
[Jane]: Thank you so much for having me, Jodi, and it's a great pleasure to meet you this morning.
Tell us a little bit about Gender Justice Nevada.
So the group of us that came together in 2011, maybe haphazardly and in different ways. Really a fierce and loving group of folks hoping to co-create change in the context of sex/gender in Nevada, and I would say in places beyond Nevada. And in areas of public policy and offering direct services.
It's a wonderful kind of combination of public policy and direct services work. It's very rare, actually, in the United States for a group such as ours to really exist in that kind of combined way.
We offer counseling, we offer a 24/7, hotline, we offer lots of groups. We are. engaged in school advocacy. We've played a primary role in supporting Clark County School District to make a change in the way that they are taking care of young persons in schools and also at the state level in the passage of a bill known as SB225 and 217 which mandates all Nevada school districts to have policy and training about sex/gender diverse students.
We do document changes, mostly for free. We are engaged in grad students organizing. We have as one of our primary goals, in the 2019 legislature, to end a horrific practice that I call intersex genital mutilation, where babies are subject to medically unnecessary surgeries because their genitalia don't fit cultural expectations of what should look right.
We're engaged in things like that, and hopefully continue to move towards.
How did you come to get started in the sex/gender diversity movement?
Yeah, I love the wonderfully broad question, right? I've called myself an "accidental activist" for a long time.
I self identify as a snowflake. My pronouns are they, them, their.
Actually if I could, kind of sideline for a moment, your introduction... You were saying, "this is a show for spotlighting women in Las Vegas" - and good for you to think about those things as you want, I guess. But I certainly am not self identifying as a woman. In my journey, in particular in sitting with persons in counseling, and I've had this privilege over almost 20 years to sit with thousands of persons in counseling....
[There is this] unconscious, reactionary belief in the sex/gender binary that everybody is born a boy or a girl. [A belief that] those labels are just neutral or objective, that they're honest and loving and that they don't have to do with cultural expectations, but rather having to do with something internal or inherent in a human being.
Those are really hurtful beliefs. I would even call it a lethal narrative that we're born into and so, even in sitting here it's kind of challenging to hear that language. I tell you that, and in answer, really, to your question also, how do I come to these things... I just started asking questions.
I started asking questions about myself. "Who am I?" in the context of sex/gender is not a question that most people are asking once they're five or six years old. But I persisted in asking that kind of questions about myself. I continued to grapple with increasingly complex forms of "how am I in the world" and "who do I want to be" and these sorts of things.
I came to understand for myself, but I think it's true for us all - I'm alive and so I'm growing and changing in all of these ways, including in the context of sex/gender. so to say that I am a static label like "woman" is not really accurate.
I did make changes in my life in the context of sex/gender 20 some odd years ago. There was a time in my life when I thought I was born in the wrong body, or that I was a woman, or these kinds of things, because I was labeled a boy at birth. But my experience over time in learning from others and engaging in the dialog that emerges in counseling and my practice, that those stories really are hurtful, that no one can be born in the wrong body.
I am my body, there's no way for me to be otherwise. And that's really a consequence of about 100 years of medical and psychological professionals requiring me to answer their question about why I exist, and that somehow I have to make myself plain or clear to those who would otherwise say, "well, you don't count".
So I'd have to sort of tell this story about being in the wrong body, because then people are, like, "well, that's kind of confusing, but I guess that kind of makes sense, so I'll give you a pass. You were born in the wrong body, now you're making changes in your body. Doesn't it feel good to be in the right body now?"
But rather, and as that story comes to be, I take on the weight of the cultural silence about these things. And a kind of violence that emerges out of that silence becomes mine internally to have to grapple with. And I blame myself for not being okay enough, for being a birth defect or being disordered, or there are other words like dysphoria that are more often being shared these days. And I refuse to submit to that kind of hurtful narrative and really that's directly connected to the things that are happening with Gender Justice Nevada.
As I was in grad school at UNLV in the late 1990s, in marriage and family therapy, I had the privilege of starting to facilitate group space for what I would call back then transgender persons. I learned along the way that, my stories, my experiences of violence, of being violated were everybody's stories. And while I sort of knew that intellectually, it was totally different to encounter that viscerally each week in that group and then in the sessions that I would sit with individuals and couples and families... and I was not willing to just sort of, like, say, "oh, okay, we're all sharing these stories. Isn't it great that we can just talk about these stories?"... I wanted to act. I believe that each of us has power.
I think we all have responsibilities to engage together in trying to co-create healthy change. So we started a little group back then and tried this and that thing. But it was many years later in 2011, when at the state level we got passed protections that included the language gender identity or expression in basic civil rights laws, employment, public accommodations and housing. I went up for the bill signing in Carson City, and Governor Sandoval was very generous in inviting us to come and share that space. Afterwards, while I was sipping a martini in Carson at a little bar, somebody said "Well, you know, Jane, that's just words on a page, you know that we need to do more. We should start a nonprofit." And I was, like, eh, okay, I mean, I wasn't intending that.
Actually, I thought that with the passage of these bills, that over a decade of the services that I had offered was coming to a close, and my partner and I were going to move out of state. But I knew immediately that something had shifted in me. And while I had thought about that, I hadn't considered it in a way that that person was provoking me to reflect on it. A few days later, I talked to my partner and I was like, you know, we're gonna move and all of that stuff, but can we stick around? I maybe want to start something in this sort of way.
It's been a long journey from 2011 to now, and I'm really proud of who we are. I think that the honesty and the integrity with which we carry ourselves is kind of rare. Maybe there's some arrogance in that, and excuse me if there is, but I really think that who we are together is different than many groups like ours. My vision, our vision, is not to be exclusionary; is not to say, "we serve these kind of people and not those kind of people"; in that the language, sex/gender diverse families and communities, is an outgrowth of that kind of consciousness.
And that phrasing for me is inclusive of what people would call these days the LGBT community. Or if persons are particularly well informed, they might say LGBTQ or LGBTQ+ or LGBTQIA. I don't know, I don't think it's definable, but to try and define that group of persons. But all of us who are in non dominant positions under the sex gender binary, and that's a larger group, really.
That's really our mission, so we offer groups for sex workers, we are consciously inclusive of kinky people and people in BDSM relationships, of polyamorous persons and persons in consensual nonmonogamous kinds of relationships. Love is okay and healthy as long as it's consensual, and it's beautiful for us to come together in these kinds of ways. The energy that is emerging as a result of this kind of openness, and the directions we're organically moving into really are beautiful.
What do you feel makes you successful?
Wow, what a great question, huh? Everybody wants to be successful, right?
I've been chewing on that question maybe for a long time. When I was younger, it filled me with fear because somehow I was supposed to achieve, somehow I was supposed to make my way and make a name for myself and, I had no idea what that meant.
I was in school and it seemed like school was supposed to be the kind of gateway to these things, I would tell you, these days in my life and probably for a long time, maybe even for... I don't know, over 20 years... I'm trying not to be successful, I don't want to achieve in the ways that serve the machine or service the machine.
I want to have honest relationships. And while maybe some people would say oh, that's like successful or whatever, it's much different than making money, or being well known, or doing things that seem to make a difference in other people's lives. I'm kind of selfish. I want to have a healthy relationship, a reciprocal love and trust and respect, and honesty, and taking good risks together.
And I want to unlearn... I want to remember. I think for myself, a lot of the ways that I was socialized to understand the so called real world really are not healthy. I don't recognize myself in a lot of the ways that other people are engaged in their lives, are going about kind of making their way. And I respect that. I'm not trying to call anybody out, but for me... I want to remember that Mother Earth is generous and it's not like a circumstance in which I am in a struggle for scarce resources and some kind of competition. I hate hierarchies and other forms that privilege some at the expense of many. In various ways, maybe, I'm not wanting to be successful,
I have a healthy relationship that has existed over 27 years with my partner, which is quite a story in and of itself. We share space with doggies and in various kinds of packs over the years. I'm really grateful to have a practice in psychotherapy which is central in my life in so many ways. It is an amazing privilege to sit with people, who are in various ways exploring their experiences, and the opportunity to be invited into different families, and to meet young people and older people.
It's just really quite extraordinary. The whole experience of being invited to participate in cocreating a nonprofit - that's about as close to trying to be successful as I've ever gotten. And that's really been very scary for me. I think in the main thing, honestly, Jodi, that my presence has guided us, because I tend to have some influence over things for better or worse. But my influence had guided us to... Both be healthier - I was saying some of this earlier, about I think we do things differently in many ways, in many ways that have to do with aliveness - but it's also caused us a lot of troubles in terms of like fundraising and structure and following the rules. And, we have some real world problems that a nonprofit has to deal with because of the law and other aspects of how we are together as civilized people, so yeah.
What one piece of advice would you give to somebody who is maybe grappling with issues with sex/gender identity?
So I would say fundamentally to trust yourself. And recognize that the stories that are around you, and are by you, that invite you into different possible futures in some or many ways are not so healthy. Challenge those stories. Come together with others, to talk about how to challenge those stories.
For instance - You're not bad or broken. You're not an abomination unto the Lord. You're not born into the wrong body. You're not disordered.
The power and the pressure of others to cause us to conform in the context of sex/gender is profound. Everybody is struggling with sex/gender identity, so you're not alone. Even if most people don't seem to acknowledge their struggle with it, and they tend to conform more often or more seemingly more easily than you do.
I would say that you have gifts to offer and that you are a prophet, it's a word that I offer, with consciousness and thoughtfulness. Your message is a message of hope and a challenge to change, so that we can come together in healthier ways. It is, I think maybe eternally true, at least as I understand the ways that we tell history - that prophets are maybe not so well respected in their time, but are, upon reflection, recognized as having the kind of power to lead others in healthier directions.
And that your presence in the world is indeed a gift to us all.
And now, the famous questionnaire that was asked for 26 years by the great Bernard Pivot and made famous on In The Actors Studio:
What is your favorite word?
Fuck. You know, those people who know me would tell you that that's the word that more often than any other is coming out of me.
What is your least favorite word?
Can I have three? So here are my three least favorite words: Violence, guns, money.
What turns you on creatively, emotionally, or spiritually?
Diversity, difference, like... I don't know, when I'm listening to music, like, I can't listen to the same, there are all these genres of music, right, and you just listen to country or you listen to this, like, I need that kind of, like, that playful sort of... Difference and diversity and challenge.
What turns you off?
.Violence., violence, violence. Which is another way of saying a lot of things that wouldn't be understood as violence - labeling babies, forcing people to conform, judgment in a way that is meant to control. Yeah.
There are two things that are meaningful for me in terms of guiding my journey: Violence is bad, love is good. That's it.
What is your favorite curse word?
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! That's my favorite curse word.
What sound or noise do you love?
Many! I don't know that there's a sound that I don't love, really... What comes to me right now is the sound of water in motion. Maybe people would say waves, but even like the passing of a river or the trundling of a stream. Water in motion.
What sound or noise do you hate?
The sound of no. The judgmental, shaming, "no".
What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?
That's a curious question for me. I am trying to unlearn as I was saying earlier. And professions and all of that other structure is not really what I am seeking. I could answer, oh, archaeology... or maybe, like, theoretical physicist or something like that, or philosopher, I think we're all philosophers, but really, I want to be a generalist.
I believe that life well lived is in that kind of 'jack of all trades'. Just not knowing everything as if there was a concrete kind of knowing, but more like having a sense of playful confidence and engaging in everything.
What profession would you not like to do, like ever?
There are a lot. Maybe I would not want to do any profession, really. Like I'm saying, I don't know how they gave me a license to practice marriage and family therapy, I thought a long time ago that the only way I could do that was to get a license and to be formally educated, have a degree, pass a test, all of that stuff. That's not true.
People come and sit with me because they want to come and sit with me. It has nothing to do with my license. People come back to sit with me because they want to come back and sit with me. And it has nothing to do with me being a professional. I really want to be the anti professional.
So that's how I would say, although there are many kinds of professions that I think are really revolting to me, and if you want me to say more about that I will, but, yeah.
If Heaven exists what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
I hope that whatever that would be, would sound something like "Go to hell."
In the end, for me, if that story as I understand it - being raised Catholic - is true... That heaven is eternal and hell is eternal... There's no difference.
Because an eternity is an awfully long time. And what seems pleasurable for a while soon turns to be something that is hellish. And whatever seems painful, over time, there are gifts that are found there. And so it makes no difference to me.
[Jodi]: Thanks for being on the show today, Jane
[Jane]: You know, I can't thank you enough for this opportunity. I really appreciate the engaged dialog and I'm very excited about what may be to come in our relationship
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