Did you watch Showtime’s L Word Mississippi: Hate The Sin when it aired in 2014? The docu-series cast a light on what it’s really like to be a lesbian in the South, and needless to say, it’s a far cry from lesbian life as depicted on The L Word or even The Real L Word. AfterEllen followed the series closely when it first aired, and we spoke with the cast members including Jana Haynes, who also wrote this guest post for us on the realities of being a southern lesbian.
I caught up with Jana this past week and had the chance to chat with her about what life has been like since L Word Mississippi, her thoughts on lesbian representation in the media, and her new book The Closet Chronicles.
AfterEllen.com: Will you share with us what you’ve been up to since L Word Mississippi? How has coming out affected your life and family dynamic since the show?
Jana Haynes: Oh wow! So much. Since L Word Mississippi, which still happens to be airing, by the way, life has changed a great deal. Dannika and I were only 11 months in during filming and now we are headed to the 5-year mark, so we have definitely grown tremendously as individuals and as a unit. I am 100% out to my family and there was no backlash. I mean, quite literally, my mother and I had about a 45-minute conversation and the rest was just history. She assured me that although it may not be a life she understands or agrees with, that she will always and forever be my mother and she accepts and treats Danni and Kasen as family. It honestly couldn’t’ have gone better. We have been fortunate enough to travel the world for appearances from Dinah to Plezzure Island and Austin Pride to right here in our hometown. For those who have seen the show, you know I was not out to my mother and family prior to filming. Coming out – fully coming out – changed my life drastically. It catapulted me into my direction of purpose and my ability, through my words, to shed light on the perspectives people often miss. I’ve spent a great deal of my time writing since the show.
AE: I understand that you just finished writing a book?
JH: I started writing The Closet Chronicles a few months before L Word Mississippi aired, which was in 2014, so it’s three years in the making. In between the time of getting picked up by a publishing house and finishing the book I have written two stage plays, one of which was an adaptation of Selma The Musical that I wrote, directed and debuted in Selma, Alabama at the Selma Jubilee, which is the largest civil rights festival in the world.
The other production is still in the development stages. I also am fortunate enough to have founded Infecting Change Productions, LLC. We are a company simply striving to affect a change in thought and in action, through the power of the arts and the power of purpose on an entire generation. Additionally, I have been writing a great deal of poetry and performing spoken word and various stages across the country as well. So, in a nutshell, writing! Lots of writing since the show.
AE: What influences your writing?
JH: My writing is influenced a great deal by what is happening around me. In the book, you will find the story of DJ Spencer, a lost soul who has all the pieces to be this remarkable human being, but always seems to self-sabotage because of the secrets she’s carrying and her past hurts and failures. I see people around me struggle so mightily with coming out and accepting who they are. Forget other people accepting them; they don’t accept themselves. I see it not only with people finding their way out of the closet, but with people finding themselves period, whether gay or straight.
We live in a social media era and it has drastically altered the way we approach life, love, relationships and basic human interaction. Our nation is racially, socially and politically divided and you will find many allusions to these issues plaguing our country in my spoken word. You will find a few of them in the book as well. I’d like to think my writing is very current. It focuses on the here and now. As far as other influences go, I am influenced by hip-hop artists, motivational speakers, TV writers, poets and authors and I think my writing is a reflection of a combination of those things. If you put Shonda Rhimes, J.K. Rowling, Oprah, Maya Angelou and Ilene Chaiken in a blender, you’d come out with me.
AE: Lesbian visibility has been an issue in the media, historically, as television and film will, more frequently than not, insert a male character into the plot. It seems that novels are a form of media more reliable for a lesbian audience, when we know the work was written by a lesbian and doesn’t rely on producer input or advertisers or other influences. What are your thoughts on that?
JH: Well, I believe two things are happening. I believe it’s the idea that women, lesbian or otherwise, need men to sustain us. It’s the archaic mindset that’s ingrained in men and women that many people don’t even realize exists. The world view, that is rapidly changing, might I add, is that we as women need men as protectors. They build things, they fix things, they provide, they are the alpha of life in the grand scheme of society and we women “need” them. So, I believe consciously or subconsciously that’s what happening, but also its just as you said, they have no real input from lesbians. Literally, it’s like going into an operating room (sorry, I’m currently on a Grey’s binge), with no surgeons and no one with real knowledge of how to perform the procedure. You would never allow someone with doctor friends to operate on you just because they’ve been exposed to doctors. Why do we trust the media with the plight of the lesbian when they have no idea what the true story is, even if they’ve experienced it second hand? So, when you couple the idea, however asinine and misogynistic it may be, that we as women need men to sustain us with male writers on heterosexual female writers, therein lies the disconnect.
Lesbians will undoubtedly watch and support the work for the mere fact that a lesbian character is being featured, and we long for that representation, but often times it leaves a great deal to be desired. Fortunately for us, I’m working on a TV pilot that features, of course, a lesbian lead. Its daunting and exciting, but hopefully the finished product will be phenomenal. And even more exciting, as we all know, because lesbians near and far erupted in one giant applause, is the revival of The L Word. We need shows like this. They are essential to the plight of the lesbian. We need the true representation and the hope of The L Word. We need the Shanes, the Alices, the Bette & Kit Porters and even the Jennys of the world. By the way, who killed Jenny?
AE: What do you think lesbian readers and especially black and women of color lesbian readers will enjoy about your new book, The Closet Chronicles?
JH: I believe this book appeals to so many different women. It’s difficult at times to take on the task of representing an entire group. Someone in that group will always undoubtedly be displeased with your depiction. Whether it be lesbians or women of color, I feel a tremendous responsibility to be transparent, but also offer the perspective of the other side. I’m a writer, and my writing requires truth. If my goal is to open the dialogue and address the issues that plague the lesbian community, that will ultimately lead to change, I feel I must also present the side of the opposition. I don’t always want to do that, to present the perspective of someone I disagree with, but as an honest writer, I owe it to my audience, and I owe it to my craft.
AE: Can you share a little bit more about the book?
JH: Sure. DJ is a bi-racial woman, which is another cause for her distress. Her closest friends are Tegan and Haven; one Black, the other White. I was strategic in painting that picture because DJ is able to represent both worlds, but struggles to do so. She has a difficult time finding her footing on areas that Tegan and Haven are steady because of the grey area in which she exists from her vantage point. For DJ, she’s not sure she has a place in a very millennial, very Black and White world. I explore the perspectives of all three as women, as lesbians, and as a representation of their race. It would be irresponsible to offer the perspective of the White female, considering I am not one, as I just used the doctor analogy earlier, but I spoke with numerous White counterparts, specifically lesbians and I believe I well-represented their perspective. I think women of color will really relate to DJ’s mother. She is, by all accounts a strong Black woman, and growing up in a household with an African American mother can at times be confusing, but there is always an end goal, it just usually takes the children a while to see that. DJ is struggling to figure out the “why” of her life, her childhood, her present and her future. I can only say I hope I did women of color, lesbians and women of all walks of life justice in my writing.
AE: Ok, now I really want to read this book! When is The Closet Chronicles going to be available, and where can I get my hands on a copy?
JH: The e-book is currently available for pre-order on sapphirebooks.com and www.amazon.com. Just type “The Closet Chronicles” into the search engine and you should locate it with no problem. The print version will be available in stores on September 15, 2017. It will be available through Amazon, Ingram, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords and other retailers. Of course, I am currently working on a book tour which will include cities such as Hattiesburg & Jackson, MS and I’m working out details to visit Henrietta Hudson in New York, as well as other cities in Texas, and other areas such as Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami. We’re still working out all the details, but you will definitely be able to locate that information on each of my social media accounts once everything is finalized.
AE: You’ve certainly been busy since L Word Mississippi. You mentioned earlier that besides your book, you are working on some other projects?
JH: I’m focusing a great deal on my book release and getting this book in stores nationwide and into the hands of every woman, and every lesbian high and low. But in addition to this book I am also working on two separate TV pilots, as I mentioned earlier. Also, my Selma The Musical team is working on a tour for that production as well. I am writing and performing spoken word every week and I may or may not be working on a book two for The Closet Chronicles. And trust me, once you read book one, you will be dying for a book two!
AE: Well, I for one am already excited!
JH: I truly believe in this work. It will absolutely make you double over in laughter, break your heart and force you to re-evaluate your perspective of a host of the issues we see today in the LGBTQ communities. It opens our eyes to the realities of the modern lesbian while addressing everything from LGBTQ history, to present day struggles. It addresses social and political issues and offers varied lesbian perspectives on a myriad of topics. My friends say it is a mashup of Sex and the City and The L Word, so I’ll take that. Secrets, deception, love, family, friends, social issues and self-evaluation are all areas addressed in this book. And just as a teaser, when you reach the ending, it will leave you speechless!
AE: Thank you so much for catching us up on your life, and I look forward to reading The Closet Chronicles!
JH: Thank you! I’d also like to say thank you to Sapphire Books and my inner circle (you know who you are) for this amazing opportunity, and thank you to everyone who followed my journey on AfterEllen. Lastly, thank you to Showtime for sharing my story with the world and providing me with a platform to effect change on someone else’s life. I hope you enjoy it because I put my raw emotions, feelings and effort into this project. Thank you all for your support!