I am obsessed with what it means to be a woman. Project Girl Crush started as a means to explore how women relate to themselves and each other – our views, our insecurities, our experiences—and Jocelyn Beresford Carnell and I couldn’t differ more regarding our experiences with our shared gender. And as our societal understanding of gender shifts—from archaic dichotomy to a more fluid spectrum between masculine and feminine—the way we see ourselves and each other has begun to shift as well. While my basis of understanding a person is often seeded in biological sex, Jocelyn’s perception offers a much less stereotypical view. “I think because gender doesn’t play an important role in my personal process, the comparative situation becomes more about the human condition,” says Jocelyn. Describing her personal gender identity as Masculine of Center (MOC), Jocelyn doesn't let biological sex skew her understanding of others. "I recently heard some song lyrics that basically said he's black, she's black, I'm black, you're black…over and over. After the sixth loop, I finally started to get it. Black is human. We're all human. Therefore, we're all black. The word "woman" without context makes me think of either straight female or gay femme, even though I understand women to be much more than that.”
But this fluid understanding of gender is something that Jocelyn hasn’t always identified with. Once upon a time, she understood herself as straight. She was a devout Evangelical who was not only active in her church, but was moving towards a position of leadership, with fistfuls of Emmys to validate her success. She knew something was amiss, but it was hard to understand what that something was. “I found myself taking on their mindsets and judged women from their perspectives. But I loved women. I respected and admired the strong women in my family and in the Organization. And I also battled feelings of attraction toward certain women. I was all fucked up.” So Jocelyn did what most people would do. She drank Fireball. A lot of it.
Jocelyn is now sober. She is no longer devoutly Evangelical. She is married to an incredible woman (who also happens to be a famous stripper named The One, The Only Inga). She lives what she loves every day, running the Vanilla Mustache, her own brand of performance art and theater. And Jocelyn, after years of figuring out who she is and how she identifies, is settled in a place that feels right for her. And because the way she understands herself is so different that how I understand myself (though we both fall under this umbrella of physical femaleness), Jocelyn has forced me to rethink how I understand others. Jocelyn calls for a broader and more fluid definition of what a ‘woman’ is. Within each individual’s ability to define themselves, there isn’t one definition that fits. “Women are extremely special. They are a vital part of our ecosystem, our human community and our daily life’s balance. A woman is to be cherished and respected as such. I’m a woman, you’re a woman, he’s a woman, she’s a woman. We’re all women. We’re all human. We are in this together.”
How did you come to be where you are today?
A series of fortunate and unfortunate events have led me up to this point. Performance and production have been my entire life, as my blood family is a crew of pastors and church leaders. Putting on church is just like putting on a show! My mother instilled a deep love for music in me, as she was a concert pianist and vocalist. After two decades of career (and continent) hopping, I landed in the music industry in Seattle managing Highway 99 Blues Club for several years. My subsequent involvement in burlesque and variety performance introduced me to live stage performance art production, an unexpected twist in my dreams. I have been extremely fortunate to have been granted the opportunities to work for both ZinZanni and Nectar. The dual role gives me a solid foot in the national and international music scene while giving me an “in" to world-class theatrical and performance art. I sometimes ask myself how I came to do what I do, but just end up shaking my head. It's been a crazy ride that I could never have anticipated.
Since landing in Seattle, I’ve also created a brand of production art (The Vanilla Mustache) that is generated from my style of creativity and production based in community effort. I pull out the Mustache Rides when I’m inspired to do a project or work with an artist and need a legitimate platform to do so.
Name one instance that made you feel vulnerable, unprepared, and/or scared:
Haha! Well…I’ve been in a number of scary situations. I’ve surfed with Great White sharks in False Bay. I’ve been in the middle of an alarmed, and armed, group of Egyptian solders during a bomb scare in the Cairo airport. I’ve been arrested. I’ve been a lost, alone, single-white-female at night in Kathmandu during heightened political turmoil. But I think my most vulnerable and unprepared moment was not too long ago at LoveCityLove. It was my first time attending and it took me a while to understand that it was completely improv. As I watched my friends (amazing singers) make up songs on the spot, an overwhelming tingling sensation came over me. My friend Celene Ramadan had previously challenged me to start writing songs, so I had one verse and a chorus that I sort of had a handle on. She pushed me toward the mic and there I was: in the spotlight alone with 40 people staring at me expectantly, and a band asking me for direction. I’m not a vocalist and I had never improvised a song before. But I wasn’t about to back down.
At what age did you feel most vulnerable, and why?
You know, I feel the most vulnerable now. When I was younger, my pride and ability to manipulate people made me feel a corrupt sense of confidence. I never shared my whole self with anyone. I’m in a position now where I am getting the hang of lowering my pride and seeing my mistakes as a celebration of being human. I’m more vulnerable and open with people now than I’ve ever been due to the amount of self-worth that I’ve been able to believe. I was never like that before. I used to always show people what I thought they wanted to see. Now I’m like “this is everything I am…it’s all I got…take it or leave it, and if you leave it, no worries.”
What advice would you share with that former self?
I would tell my former self to pull your head out of that rich white man’s ass and figure out who you really are. Nobody has the power to dictate your life or your happiness or your worth, except you. All you have are your choices, and those choices have the power to changes the lives of many. Wake up, kid! You only get one shot at this life, so stop living it for somebody else.
And also, you’re gay. Really really gay.