An interview with Jennifer Elia

 
 

AE: I know that in the documentary you said you were afraid that you wouldn’t be sober for the transition. Was that the most difficult part of the transition?

JE:
In the beginning, I definitely had a lot of anticipation and anticipatory fear. A lot of it had to do with how the world would perceive Chaz and then perceive me as a result of that. I wondered what my family would think, what our neighbors would think, and I imagined negative reactions. There was a lot of fear in that and we went through counseling and that definitely helped. I knew this was a very big thing for a couple to go through, and I used that as an excuse for me to drink, as only someone with a drinking problem would do. You know, I used it as a crutch. There were definitely difficult times in the transition and I used it as a crutch to fall back on. I was also in grad school, which was tough.

AE: Did you seek support from the trans community and partners of other trans people?

JE:
I actually didn’t. I think that would have been a good idea but we didn’t. Well, we do know one couple that is transgender, a woman with a transgender partner and I did talk to her actually.

AE: Was that helpful?

JE:
Yes, it was helpful. It was.

AE: Did the transition affect your feelings of belonging in the queer community?

JE:
I identify myself as an individual, and I haven’t been very active within our community. I never identified as a lesbian, and I never identified as straight. My social life is a very mixed bag, and I’ve never really identified with just one community so I haven’t really felt any difference.

AE: Did your interactions with people in the queer community change as Chaz transitioned?

JE:
I think by the nature of the documentary coming out, that being a public entity and having it on TV and being at Sundance, I have received a lot more emails and Facebook messages from partners of transgender people and trans people, and I have responded. I formed more of a community after the documentary.

AE: So you’ve heard from people who were touched by your story and wanted to reach out to you as opposed to Chaz?

JE:
I don’t know if they reached out to him as well but I have received emails from people, especially partners of trans men and women who identified with what they saw in the film, and we’ve corresponded and it’s been nice.

AE: That’s great. I know that Chaz said in his interview with Rosie O’Donnell that you being a part of the story has provided people an “every man’s” way into understanding the transition.

JE:
Yeah, I appreciate that. I’ve heard that as well so that’s good.

AE: What do you feel has been the best thing about Chaz transitioning?

JE:
Because he’s more comfortable with his body and his identity and his outsides match his insides, he’s a much happier person. He’s been motivated and he’s been living his life much more so than the period before that where he was depressed. Being with a partner who is happy definitely helps a relationship a lot. Him being at his best and feeling like he belongs has made our relationship a lot better.

AE: That’s great. I know you talked about Chaz’s new masculine energy in the relationship. That you never saw the relationship as female/female from the beginning and at the same time you talked about the idea of dating his male twin. I’m just wondering how you reconciled those two ideas.

JE:
It was a process and, as you can tell in the film, I had a moment where I hit a wall with it. I hadn’t admitted to myself that I was actually going through my own mourning process, mourning the loss of the woman I was with. Once I admitted that in our counseling we seemed to take a turn for the better. I do make the analogy that I have dated both men and women, I just never dated both within the same person. [Laughs] It’s been good.

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