One of the most powerful Jenny Jimenez memories I have is the first time she danced on my lap. Note that I say the first time. It was at a karaoke party she hosted at the Rock Box, and she wore not one, not two, not three, but four leotards, ducking out of the private room to make her changes. They had splashes of color, glitter, and they kept switching every thirty minutes like some spandex karaoke mood ring. But that wasn’t what everyone was looking at when they were watching Jenny. We were watching her burn down that motherfucker like it was her job – tackling every song with moves that would make Jagger weep and a voice like a punk rock angel. Her now-husband Jay looked on with eyes made of cartoon hearts. Well, most of us were.
Maybe that helps explain why, for the first three years I knew her, I was absolutely convinced that Jenny Jimenez was fearless. That she was somehow born without that niggling voice in the back of her head telling her she should calm down, hold back, work harder, do more, do less, be more, not like that, try again, you’re the worst, ugh shut up.
The thing is, it’s not that Jenny ever pretended to be fearless. I put that on her. When I first met her at a friend’s party in Pioneer Square, she was going through a divorce. She had never met me, but we stood outside the apartment building and she told me about it. She made me laugh but didn’t betray how real her feelings were. She made me feel at ease without coddling me. I left with a tiny (huge) crush. The next time I met her she was shooting a friend’s wedding, and she was the first one on the dance floor. She grabbed my hand as I passed by and swung me under the lights. If anyone else did that, I’d freeze up with anxiety. I didn’t – I danced.
Jenny Jimenez is the type of woman who has done so much, is good at seemingly everything (her photos are some of the best I’ve ever seen and she tears up a bass so hard it’ll make your eyelashes shake), can do the splits with a head cold, and has the skin of Zeus’ prettiest baby. She puts people at ease, she makes people laugh, she gives people permission not to laugh, and to be sad, she dances wherever she pleases. God dammit. That should make me so mad. But it doesn’t. Because if Jenny has taught me anything it’s that kindness, energy, and self-confidence do not come from the absence of heartache- they come from the acceptance of it. And Jenny Jimenez has accepted hers, let it transform her, without letting it claim her. And we are all damn lucky to see who she has become, who she is, watching her dance, cartoon hearts in our eyes.
Words by: Kathleen Tarrant
In less than 250 words, tell me your life story:
I was born in New Paltz, NY to a foreign language teaching Irish/Danish mother and college administrating Puerto Rican father. Moved to Middletown, NY when I was three, and my younger sister was a newborn. I was a jock, playing two sports a season, with jazz and tap classes on the weekend. We moved to Fresno, CA just before I started high school and spent most of our time there navigating the cultural shock of leaving NY. Two days after my 1993 high school graduation I moved back to play volleyball and study Spanish and Psychology at SUNY New Paltz.
When it was time to dive into the workforce I wasn’t financially or emotionally ready for NYC. We had family on my father’s side living in Washington at the time, and they convinced me to visit Seattle. I believe the quote from my cousin Gene was, “There will be no shortage of jobs here for the next ten years!”, referring to the emerging tech boom. I bought a two-way ticket to Seattle but never left after falling in love with the city’s mix of rural & urban environments, progressive politics, and the prolific music community. I slept on couches and floors for a few months until I could afford a room of my own. I found jobs working in the Executive Response Center for AT&T Wireless, then as a Customer Service QA Manager for Speakeasy Network until the boom hit its first bust in 2003.
Talk about your foray into photography:
I took photography & darkroom classes in high school but didn’t have any resources in college to put it to use. When I arrived in Seattle I was spending a ton of time by myself exploring the city and going to shows. I’d leave a concert full of inspiration but I didn’t have anyone to process the evening with, so I bought a camera to bring with me. I rented darkroom space at Black Lab Gallery in Ballard to develop the film, which gave me a way to share what I saw and felt, opening a door to talk to others about music. I fell in love with another music photographer and we started covering the local clubs and collaborating on promo shoots for various bands, eventually combining our work and launching photojj.com in spring of 2002. When we split two years later I kept the website but stepped away from the work. The breakup wasn’t amicable, and to get the upper hand he told people the only success I had was because of him.
I internalized that and suffered from anxiety and self-doubt. If losing photography was the price I had to pay to get out of the relationship, so be it. I just wanted to move on. I stopped shooting for a year. Then one night Carly Nicklaus and Shane Berry cornered me, confused as to why I hadn’t been bringing my camera to shows. They gave me a little pep talk that made a huge impact and I started taking pictures again. My first recurring assignment was covering the weekly Club Directory column for the Stranger (thank you, Hannah Levin!), which led to more work with them, including the first couple issues of Worn Out, their annual street fashion issue.
Tell me about that one time you learned to play bass in 2 months:
Enter Carly again. The bass player of The Catch was leaving and she asked if I’d be interested in joining her band. I questioned why she wanted to risk bringing on someone who had never played bass before, and she said it was more important that the new member was a personality match than a musical one. Still emboldened after attending Ladyfest Olympia, I so badly wanted to be in a band with these rad ladies I believed I could do anything I set my mind to. “I’m in! Give me two months.”
Of course, they then booked a show at the Croc two months out. I put my head down and got to work, with the help of our close-knit music community. Jimmy from The Divorce gave me his old red Danelectro bass and a Peavy amp head, someone from The Lashes lent me a cabinet, and Gabe from The Pale sat down and showed me some notes. Two months later I was onstage, albeit head down the whole time to make sure my sweaty fingers didn’t slip off the fretboard.
How did that change the way you look at yourself?
The Catch were a band of four women who owned the stage with an unapologetic presence. They did it without compromising their femininity, which was something I had struggled to accept in myself in the past. I often rejected the feminine, looking for strength by solely embracing the masculine. I knew I had the ability to find power in my feminine, but the sexual attention I received in response often led to abuse. Playing music with Carly, Alissa, and Amy helped me embrace both sides of myself, bringing the masculine and feminine into coexistence. Singing about having crushes on boys didn’t make us subservient to them. Caring about clothes and wearing makeup didn’t make us weak. It was a new, liberating form of expression. I went from wearing a daily uniform of Chuck Taylors, Levis, old t-shirts and a black hoodie…
…to a purple leather mini skirt wearing bleached blonde. For the first time in my life, I felt beautiful both inside and out. People began to notice me, my peers treated me with more respect. The Stranger named me Sexiest Band Girl and I still felt in control.
Tell the story of that experience you had when you first moved to Fresno...
Ah yes. I made two new friends during pre-season training for volleyball and one invited me over to play. At one point her mother pulled her away and said that if she ever wanted to have me over the house again, I’d have to learn to not laugh so loud.
How did that change your relationship with femininity?
It was a confusing message. Does she not want me to have fun? My mom later explained, “she’s telling you that properly behaved women are quiet. That’s a bunch of BS.” But that sentiment was echoed everywhere I looked in NE Fresno. Women were seen but rarely heard, and they put a lot of time and effort into their appearance. The message was that this loud-mouthed, East Coast straight-talker would have to change to fit in. But I had moved west with an intention to regain agency of myself and my body following years of sexual and verbal abuse in NY. Giving over control again was not an option. So I began to slowly rebel against the feminine, not realizing that bulldozing in the other direction wasn’t the straightest or healthiest path to finding myself.
How has your understanding of what it means to be a woman changed over the years?
At 12, I learned that being a woman meant bleeding through your favorite terry cloth shorts a half hour before swim time at sports camp. In middle school, I learned that women were judged differently than men for the same behavior. Why was the girl called a slut yet the boy a stud when they both kissed each other on the bus home from Skateland during Truth or Dare? I started a petition to “let girls wrestle!” after someone told me I couldn’t try out for the wrestling team. I didn’t want to, but I was pissed that it wasn’t an option for girls that would. Through high school, I continued my attempt to be a woman by pushing for the right to behave as a man. I even went to my high school winter formal in drag as a way of telling everyone to fuck off. My U-turn back to center began in college when I joined a sorority. Yeah, I didn’t see it coming either, but I loved hanging out with other women, and in a sorority you get to do that all the time. My liberal arts SUNY school had the tiniest Greek system. Being a part of it was an act of rebellion on its own. I developed strong relationships with ladies who taught me about friendship and loyalty, and that we could get more accomplished working together than alone. In the early aughts, I experimented with sexuality and expression, just trying to figure out what it meant to be ME. I began to accept that there could be strength in a softer approach and paid more attention to my natural intuition, which has become pretty damn accurate.
When do you feel the most yourself?
Laughing, dancing, stretching, and expressing emotion. Whenever I am present in my body and in the moment.
When do you feel the least yourself?
Whenever I’ve taken a job because I needed the money instead of being genuinely excited about the experience.
What do you love about yourself?
I’m proud of the person I’ve become and the lifestyle I’ve made for myself. I’ve created a business that allows me to travel and work with interesting people and companies. My life choices are made based on an internal compass of what feels right and ethical, not by how society expects me to behave. I’ve made humor, candor, self-acceptance, and self-expression core values.
What don’t you love about yourself?
When I ignore self-care cues and push too far by taking on too much. I’m at my worst when over-stressed and sleep deprived. A controlling and overly critical side with a perfectionist streak emerges. Not my best self.
Talk about an instance in your life that made you feel the most vulnerable.
I easily share personal information with people I haven’t known very long. “Hi, I’m Jenny. I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, currently on my second marriage, have an auto-immune disease, and I’m infertile. Nice to meet you!”
It doesn’t happen upon introduction, but if any of those topics come up in conversation I don’t hold back. We have this great opportunity to learn from each other, developing empathy and compassion by broadening our understanding of the human experience. That doesn’t happen when we shut down, keep secrets, and treat certain topics as taboo. But not everyone is comfortable hearing someone else's story or sharing their own, and I can leave a conversation feeling vulnerable and questioning whether that person will unfairly judge me or use the information to hurt me.
When is the last time you remember feeling incompetent?
Every month I’ve gotten my period for the past three years. I’ve accomplished every other goal I’ve set my mind to, but despite eating healthy, taking a bazillion supplements, going to acupuncture, routine abdominal massage, meditating and baby-altaring, I’m incapable of getting pregnant. My AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone – an indicator of ovarian quality and reserve) is now zero. That said, I’m grateful I live in an era where there are multiple paths to creating a family.
Name one of your girl crushes, and why you’re crushing on her?
I crush on women that defy society’s expectation of how they’re supposed to behave, and in that act can redefine what society’s parameters for expected or acceptable behavior are. Like my friend Alissa, a progressive, feminist Episcopal priest that can tear up a drum kit, Amelia Bonow, who turned candid, no-shame abortion talk into a movement, and Katlin Jackson Svik, who left a comfortable career in real estate to create a social enterprise that employs Haitian women in danger of losing their children by teaching them how to knit and crochet artisan hats and blankets. Oops, that’s more than one.
When was the last time you were guilty of judging a woman too quickly?
I’ve misread introversion as snotty behavior. I was trying to say hello to a woman from across the room at a crowded party. I was certain she saw me but chose to ignore my wave. I took it personally and assumed she thought I wasn’t cool enough to talk to. The second time I saw her I made an effort to initiate conversation, and we ended up talking at length about social anxiety. She admitted to being so affected by it that she’ll find a place to hide at parties just so she doesn’t have to talk to everyone. I have been guilty of doing the same! It’s a good remember that we’re all just trying to keep our shit together, and being wrapped up in only one perspective (your own) can cloud your judgment.
What frustrates you about the way women treat each other?
I don’t like the stereotypes, and I’m hesitant to make generalizations here for all women, but what I can say is that the women in my life who deceived or mistreated me did so out of their own insecurity, not because they were bad people. I’m also aware that I’ve treated other women unfairly, born of my own insecurities. I know that once I shut down the voice inside my head that told me I had to be a size 2 and 5’7” to be worthy of love, I received love. I turned 40 last year and the past decade has been my most confident. Everything else was hard as fuck to get through in one piece. Our society needs to do more to instill confidence in young women.
What do you love about the way women treat each other?
Women are more likely to build each other up than tear each other down. For example, studies in microfinancing have shown that women invest more money and resources back into their families and communities than men. I love the way we support and take care of each other as if we’re all extended family.