What are your pronouns?
“They,” or “he,” or “she.” I go by “they” mainly, but I don’t enforce it. I let people kind of come to it. But I think it would be neat if people alternated between “he” and “she,” because that more accurately represents my inner feelings around it. But that’s also kind of an impractical thing to expect of people in our current attitude toward gender. So that’s the complicated answer to that question.
Where do you work?
I’m a stand-up comedian and an entertainer. That’s my career that I’m trying to build. But I also have a day job. I work as a college admissions consultant. And I do market research where I sit out in front of stores and I count how many people walk out of the store. [laughs] It’s really boring.
Do you have any hobbies or special interests? What do you do for fun?
Well I really like to read, a lot. I’m a big reader. But I don’t always find time to do it. I’m trying to set aside more time. Just little books and novels and different things. I’ve been really getting into news. I feel like I’m turning into a boring adult. I like Instagram. I like stories. I weaned myself away from Facebook. I need it for the comedy and stuff, I need Facebook for that, but since I cleared out my newsfeed, now it’s just Instagram. I really like A.I. stuff. I’m not a super nerd around it, like I don’t know all the science behind it, but I’ll read pop articles about what the current trend in A.I. is. I think that’s really interesting. I like Black Mirror.
How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?
So I kind of mentioned it – I let people come to, I guess, their own pronoun. I don’t find it necessary for me to enforce it or bring it up. It’s not really a topic of conversation I want to have when I’m just trying to go about my day-to-day life and be in the company of strangers or mixed company. If it’s a very queer space or a very gender-progressive space, and that’s how people are interacting, I’ll [tell people I go by “they/them”]. But yeah I don’t enforce it. I usually am called “she” most of the time. Sometimes if I present really masculine I’ll be called “he” by strangers and things like that, and I just kind of take it in. It’s actually very nice when I am dressing masculine to be called “he,” because I identify as bi-gender, so I dress according to I guess where my mind is in the moment. Which is what gender fucking is all about, so I like that. So when people call me “he” and I’m dressed very masculine, that feels really good.
What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?
Disabled. Human. Queer. White. Those are the main ones. I’m just a person. I’m a millennial. [laughs]
Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?
Yeah. It is something I’ve definitely thought about for a long time. Maybe this is just something that I’ve noticed, but sometimes my voice will change depending on where my kind of gender-of-center or whatever you want to call it is in my head, so I’ll notice in different recordings of myself, it’ll sound almost like two different people. But it’s not like two different people, it’s not two different personalities, it’s just like two different…masks. And then as far as dressing, too, sometimes I’ll dress very feminine, and sometimes I’ll dress very masculine, or I’ll mix it.
How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?
I was probably…maybe 8, or 7. First it was odd because I would be in a store, or – it was a video rental store, I remember, back when you used to rent VHS’s. And the guy who worked at the counter would always ask my parents, “Oh how is your son? How is your son doing? Oh, he’s growing up so fast,” and here I was, with long hair, in the hallway, not really understanding why he thought I was a boy. And then every Halloween after that, no matter what costume I was wearing, I was always a boy. “What does he want? Does he want candy?” Then I also had a friend I grew up with in middle school who turned out to be a total dyke lesbian, and so she was trying to look like a boy too, and so we would have a game and see who would get mistaken for a boy more often. At first maybe I was a little hurt, because I was socialized as a girl, I would always wonder whether I would be gay growing up or just not be into only men, or even be trans. I thought that. Because I heard about “these people,” you know, but I was a young child, so I didn’t know really what it was.
My parents would always tell me, “Oh, you love men, Jade,” because I guess I was boy-crazy growing up, “You’ll never be gay.” And they say that about my brother too, because he’s very young right now, he’s 8 years old, they’ll say, “He’s crazy for girls. He’ll never be gay.” And they don’t have a problem with gay people, they’re pretty standard liberals, but they have this [idea of], “Oh but not my family, not my teen.” So I guess I noticed that I was maybe diverging, because if you think about it, it makes sense. Since gender is something that society gives somebody more so than [something] you’re born with. You’re not born with gender, you’re born with a biological sex, but you’re not born with a gender, you’re ascribed a gender. So with the world telling me that I wasn’t a girl – I think a lot of that is wrapped up in ableism, and disability, and de-sexualization – I’m not talking about as a child, but I’m talking about just through life, you know. So I think that that kind of contributed also. So that’s why I say that my gender’s kind of off-kilter, because society’s tried to set that up for me in that way. As it does with everyone’s gender.
Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?
I mean, I grew up in a pretty open-minded family, so I never felt necessarily afraid – of at least being a little gay or something. No one’s a little gay. [laughs] We’re all a little gay. You know what I mean. I guess I felt safe to experiment and things like that. But I think the gender identity stuff was a little more complicated because I didn’t start seriously thinking about my gender until I was faced with – I don’t want to say the option, but the possibility and the language to talk about it. There was a summer I was working for a disability advocacy youth summer program thing, and they started asking people what their pronouns were. So then I remembered that I was getting asked my pronouns at gay pride; we were marching, [everyone] had badges, and I remember I put “he/she” [on mine] and my friend [said], “Don’t do that. That’s insulting.” That’s what she said. “Don’t joke around like that, Jade.” Because I’m a joker, you know. And I [said], “What? I’ve thought about this.” I mean I know where she’s coming from, because there’s always that attitude of “Oh, gay is a trend.” And I have my own opinions about that, but I wasn’t faking it. I wasn’t just trying to be goofy about it. So then, at that summer program a couple months later when I was faced again with what my pronoun was, that’s when I really started to get emotional about it. I would take a walk around campus and be like, “What is it?” But that’s when I really started thinking about it, and really talking to my other friends about it. I felt more – defined when I identified as fluid, or something like that. I never told my parents that I wanted to go by “they,” but I did tell them that I was gender-neutral, or genderfluid, and they kind of brushed it off. I’m still their daughter. It’s fine. They’re my parents. I have enough drama with my parents, I don’t want to add that.
Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?
Recently – this is a funny one – I was hanging out with a friend of mine, and I told her that I’d been kind of passively thinking about taking testosterone. It’s not something I’d seriously gotten into, but it was something I might want to try, or fiddle around with in my head. And she [said], “Oh, really? Are you a man? Are you a trans man?” And I was like, “Oh no, I think I’m genderqueer, I’m not a trans man.” And she [goes], “But you’re thinking of taking testosterone.” We didn’t really talk in-depth about it, we kind of just laughed it off and moved on, but that’s one. The misconception that if you take hormones, that means that you’re trying to be the complete opposite of the gender that you were assigned. Another one – I think it’s not so much misconceptions, it’s just more people not taking it seriously. I hang out with a lot of comedians who are straight cis guys who don’t get it and joke around, and I’m pretty thick-skinned, I don’t get offended easily. So I just kind of laugh it off with them, and I don’t really make a big deal about it, but they’ll joke around and [say things] like, “Don’t assume my gender,” or make really dumb jokes. They all treat me as a woman, as a female person, and that’s fine. If they ask, I tell them, I’m very open about it. [I’ll say], “Yeah, I’m actually bi-gender, genderfluid.” They know.
And some of them make fun of it. Sometimes [they’ll have conversations about it]. Not all the time. It’s more subtlety broached, and then they don’t want to talk about it. Like the last guy I was dating, he [told me], “Yeah, when I met you I didn’t even know if you were a guy or a girl.” But that’s the point. That’s the idea. I like the andro look.
I mean, I think the important thing to remember in all this is that gender is a performance. Just like the clothes that we wear. When we wear clothing, they serve a practical purpose, they keep us warm, but they serve a purpose of a performance, of a mask, just like how we talk is a performance. Everything that we say, everything that we are. And sex, biological sex, that’s just – the most primal of anatomy. It has nothing to do with what you’re wearing. So if you change parts of yourself – that’s why it’s okay that I identify as genderfluid, or gender-neutral, and that’s not a weird phase, that’s not a mental disorder. It’s because society is moving in a progressive direction that is attempting to separate gender from sex. Which I think is ultimately a very healthy ideology for a bunch of reasons.
In your own words, how would you explain the differences and/or similarities between gender identity and sexual orientation?
So that’s actually a good segue. So the truth comes out with sexual orientation – I do have a thing for straight men. The mask comes off! I mean, I think that [gender identity and sexual orientation] can be mutually exclusive. I guess when I think about the words of it, sexual orientation: you could say I’m female-at-birth, and obviously when I say “sex,” that’s not to exclude intersex people or people who might not be male or female, or a mix of both, it’s just body chemistry. I’m female-at-birth. Historically I have dated or had intimacy with people who were male-at-birth, and straight, and cis – but I’ve also been with women, and I’ve also been with trans women and trans men. So I’m not strictly straight. I can’t say I’m straight, because I’m not straight right now, at this moment in time. But I guess I’ve been straight in the past. So I don’t know. Gender identity and sexual orientation are both always fluid, so I guess the word for being straight sometimes and not straight other times is “bi,” but then people don’t like “bi.” There’s a lot of bi erasure out there. And then the problem with the word “bi” is that it has the word “bi” in it, which is binary, but I would date a genderfluid person if I liked them.
Ultimately I think I am attracted to a certain type of person who falls under a certain type of demographic more often. It’s hard to dissect yourself. You just like who you like, and you meet who you meet. I don’t know how to relate it any differently. It is a very complicated interrelationship. I think “queer” is a very umbrella [term], I like it a lot. Because if you cut a cake into so many triangles, you’re going to lose your triangles, you know? And that’s kind of what’s happening with all the language surrounding identities and stuff. So I like “queer.” It scoops it all into a bowl.
"Disabled people, we face a lot of well-meaning euphemisms that are actually more insulting than the insult. So I’d much rather be called a cripple or a gimp or a freak than “differently abled” or “challenged” or “special.”"
It’s like reclaiming words. Like disabled people, a lot of us call each other “cripples,” or some people even say “freaks.” But to some disabled people, those words are really steeped in a lot of trauma, because they were actually called that as insults growing up. And it’s all generational. So you just gotta call people by what they want to be called, or if you don’t want to call them that, find something equally respectful. I don’t really care [what people call me], I mean I call myself a cripple, a gimp, you know. Disabled people, we face a lot of well-meaning euphemisms that are actually more insulting than the insult. So I’d much rather be called a cripple or a gimp or a freak than “differently abled” or “challenged” or “special.” Those are sickening, because they’re steeped in so much ignorance surrounding where those words come from and what they actually mean. I think more disabled people are more offended by those words than the actual insulting-sounding words. I always just tell people, if you don’t know, just say “disabled.”
How do you feel represented in media and society at large?
Under. I’m sure you’ve gotten that answer. I am very interested in acting, pursuing some video work or something, and I would like to play dynamic roles, but I feel like I will always be cast as a cripple. There’s only so many cripple tropes out there. There’s the villain, there’s the inspiration, there’s the lame sidekick, you know. But every minority or group experiences that. But yeah, I’m very underrepresented. Genderfluid people are obviously underrepresented. I can’t think of one example that’s not like a robot or an alien or something. I think one of the biggest portrayals that are underrepresented are disabled people in dynamic roles that don’t rely on the disability to make the role. What about a journalist who’s following a superhero and happens to be disabled and in a wheelchair, but that’s just a coincidence. The last example that came close to doing that was Breaking Bad with RJ Mitte. It’s a pretty good show. It’s pretty violent and intense, but one of the characters, his son is disabled, he’s got crutches, and the actor is also disabled. So it’s authentic casting, giving opportunities to disabled actors (for the first fucking time) – and his disability is not really part of the plot, at all. He’s just disabled, and he’s his son. And he’s also one of the most boring characters, which is a little bit of a drawback, but he does all the normal teenage things.
He gets his own car, he’s got a job, you know, he does things that aren’t dependent on his physical characteristics. That’s the kind of roles that we need to see more of, and more dynamic types and things like that. Bryan Cranston, he’s in a new movie with Kevin Hart, and Kevin Hart plays his personal assistant, and Bryan Cranston plays a quadriplegic. And the story is just about two friends, where one works for the other guy. It’s like, okay, so you’re basically just telling my day. I get up in the morning, and I hire people to help me, and okay, I guess people don’t know that story, but – we’ve had that story told in enough movies. And it’s too easy of a concept for me to get behind. Lazy filmmakers.
What improvements would you like to see happen inside your communities, and in society at large?
Oh, god. Well let’s start with the government opening up again. Yeah. We’ll just say that.
Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.
That’s very broad. …I did mushrooms by myself when I went to the Berkeley Botanical Gardens, and I remember it was a really muddy kind of rainy day, and my wheelchair kept sliding – like if I wasn’t careful I could’ve fallen into a ditch, and no one would find me. But I didn’t. And the earth had me, and I made out with a willow tree, and I tripped, and it was very nice. It was just very nice, very pleasant. I felt very in control.
Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?
I trust and depend on a carefully curated network of people in my geographical location. [laughs] That’s a very non-emotional answer. I have a lot of friends, and I have a lot of support in living my life and making my art, and doing those things. I don’t put anyone on a pedestal. I don’t have someone that I just bow down to, but I have certain levels of trust with everyone around particular things. I love my friends. I really do. I have two very close friends in the comedy community right now that are really solid pals. And my roommate. I trust him too.
How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
I guess the one that’s been most influential is my disabled identity. I have had and do have a lot of very fulfilling friendships and platonic relationships. I have had sexual relationships as well, intimate relationships. They’ve been tougher, because the disability comes with a lot of misconception and body politics, and – I think people who watch a lot of porn have this idea of beauty that is unrealistic, and set their standards high. A lot of people want trophy partners too. I’ve actually had more luck with intimate relationships with people who are very attractive physically, and my theory is because people who aren’t as physically attractive maybe have some sort of inferiority complex, and they want the super-hot “10” model with big tits to make up for [it[. And when I say physical attractiveness, a lot of that is self-esteem too, “you’re as sexy as you feel” type of thing.
But I guess what I was trying to say is, the disability has made it very complicated. I’ve slowly learned how to kind of separate sexual desires versus romantic desires versus friendship versus all these different factors that go into a relationship. And every person you encounter, you’re going to have different levels of each one in different ways. So learning to not think of it as, “Oh I want this one package, sex, love, and friendship all in one, the perfect three.” If you have that in your head as your goal you’re never going to get that. So I think being able to keep myself knowing what I need and where I need it has helped me navigate through my identity and other people’s biases. Because also if you’re in a committed relationship with someone, disability does make it hard. It makes it way more complicated. If someone wants to be with me in a monogamous or serious [way], they’re going to also be disabled. You know? It’s like, welcome to my world. This is my world. And it’s not a bad world, it’s just different. So finding that is – niche, I guess.
Are you able to find adequate medical care?
I mean, I guess generally, over my lifetime, it’s been as good as it could be, by American standards. I don’t think I’ve been much respected. I’ve had good doctors and I’ve had bad doctors. The best doctors I’ve had were women, with the exception of this one doctor, the weirdest experience of my life. Usually doctors who know me, who grew up with me, I’m good with them, but this wasn’t my normal doctor. I go in, I was having a problem down there and I asked her if I should do an STD test, and she [says], “Oh, you don’t need that unless you’re sexually active.” And I’m sitting there like, “AHEM, so could I get that STD test please?” And she [says], “Are you sexually active?” And I told her I had been, I wasn’t a virgin, and she [said], “With a man? With a penis?” She started pressing. It was really awful. I was like, “Can you just schedule the appointment?” And I had brought an assistant in case I needed to be transferred, but she was waiting in the lobby because I wanted to have my private doctor’s appointment. And the doctor says, “Okay let’s schedule an appointment. Do you know your schedule? Should I go ask your assistant in the lobby?” No, I know my life. I’m an adult. And then the most ironic thing, I walk out of there, they give me a pronoun button. It was the most mind-fucking experience.
I’ve been to the E.R. a few times, and I almost starved to death because they wouldn’t give me the liquid food that I needed because of red tape. And so I almost died in the hospital because they wouldn’t feed me. That was great. That was a few years ago. I had a bad experience with a spinal tap, because – this is a weird thing – they cured my disability this year with a drug that’s supposed to replenish the missing DNA or whatever, and it’s only effective if you go through a spinal tap. But because I have hardware in my spine, which most people with my condition do, they can’t do it. I don’t like doctors. I’ve had horrible experiences.
According to the agency that I use to pay the people who help me, I’m not allowed to have them with me in the hospital – or I can only pay for a limited amount of hours. Because they’re in-home care, they’re not in-hospital care. But what they don’t understand is that if I’m coughing and throwing up, I can’t move myself, so I need someone there every second. Usually I’m in the hospital because I have a respiratory problem, and I need clearing out like every five minutes. But if I don’t have an assistant there, there’s no one to do that. So they don’t understand that I need someone. And they’re not going to put a nurse in there 24/7. Nurses are busy. So there’s a lot of neglect. Hospitals are more likely to injure disabled people than help them a lot of the time. If there’s not someone there to advocate for you, especially when you’re sick and can’t communicate, then you’re in trouble. But as far as the gender stuff, it’s more related to disability for me. That’s one of the reasons I’ve not wanted to look at hormone therapy or anything, because I just don’t even want to deal with doctors. I’m good.
How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?
I’ve gotten more even-tempered. I definitely had anger issues growing up, and I think a lot of that was just growing up in a little bit of volatility. But honestly I’m more diplomatic, I’m more organized. I have more of a handle on my own affairs. Just as with any adult. I still think I’m creative. I think I was more creative as a kid. I think a lot of my creativity was squeezed out by capitalism. [laughs] It was there so vividly, but it’s hard to get back to that. I think that’s what theater and film and the arts tries to do, is bring it back, because it’s all just play. Comedy is play. It’s play, but we want to make it into something good and valuable, so that’s why you strive to make a career out of it.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I guess I would tell myself to wait. I was very angry a lot, so I would have a short fuse, and I would say things and do things and act in ways that – I would do it out of emotion and passion, but then would regret it later. Like throwing things away, or saying mean things to people that I was mad at. I guess I would tell my younger self to just pause more, and slow down, and not feel like such a failure. But I’m telling that to myself right now, so, we’re always learning.
What are your concerns for the future?
I’m concerned that I will have a hard time getting out of the Bay. I’d like to get out of the Bay. It’s a little cold for me here, and I would like to go down South to pursue some dreams. So I guess I just have a fear of being successful and being able to handle everything. I also feel like I’m getting old. It’s not getting easier to do physical things. So that’s kind of stressing me out a little bit. The weird flip side of that is there’s a lot of science and technology and medicine that is only like a year out that could really kind of change my whole game. But, the problem is, it’s always going to be a year out. You know what I mean? It’s like the cherry on the end of the stick phenomenon. So I don’t want to live like, “Oh, in a year,” you know. I gotta keep moving. My life is only getting busier and I’m getting more tired. So I guess that’s a concern for the future. So we’ll see how it goes. Just keep doing it. I don’t have a base down [in L.A.], I don’t have family down there, so that’s why I’m a little nervous about it. But that’s the goal.
What do you look forward to in the future?
I’m looking forward to summer. I’m going to be on Sketchfest in a couple weeks. It’s a big festival in San Francisco, a big comedy festival. So a lot of big names are going to be there. [You can find my stuff online at] www.jadetheriault.com. Or on Facebook at Just Another Disabled Entertainer. I’m looking forward to that. And I’m trying to get a van. That’s a goal of mine. Been working on some business cards. Just doing the thing.
What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?
Frustrations – school is pretty frustrating. I think that getting through college was just kind of like ripping toenails. But I did it, and I got through it, so that was also an important success. Because now I can have a little bit of job security. A job is also an important frustration. I do need to keep income rolling in. But it does also keep me grounded, I think. Because when I didn’t have a job I think I had a lot of fear built up about not feeling adequate or worthy about pursuing what I wanted to pursue because I wasn’t working. And I also didn’t have any money, so there was that on top of it.
Important successes – I graduated. Getting on stage, breaking into comedy, was a huge success for me. I knew I was going to pursue some sort of art form in my life, but I didn’t know what it was going to be, and when I found that, it was like, “Oh, okay. That makes sense.” I started in high school. I did a talent show, and it went well. I was interested in comedy because my friend and I would watch comedy in the band room at lunch and just have ridiculous business venture ideas, like, “Oh we should write a pilot,” “Oh you should do stand-up.” And I did it a little bit in college, but it was hard to do because I wasn’t 21 yet and I was very busy with college. So when I graduated, I just started to do it way more. Not as much as I want to be doing it, but… In the winter I’m very not busy because I can’t leave the house very well, but in the summer I’ll be booked 3 or 4 times a month at least. Then I go to open mics to practice. It’s a network, so everyone knows each other, and people know each other, and people meet each other, and you find stuff online. It’s pretty connected to the main scene. I go to San Francisco and Oakland and Berkeley and Concord. San Jose has a big scene. Santa Cruz. And then all these people will know each other around the whole Bay area. Santa Rosa’s got a big scene. It’s pretty cool.
Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?
Do good. Don’t do bad. That’s what my dad always tells me. Just keep working hard. All the clichés. Just don’t let anyone define you. All those true-isms.
Learn more at www.jadetheriault.com