Jolena Hansbarger, also known by her roller derby name “Mojo JoJo”, shares her life as a lesbian, and how it shaped her throughout her teenage years and beyond.
Jo is a very thoughtful and deliberate person, and she was kind enough to give written responses that go more in depth than what we covered in the interview:
You identify as a lesbian. What does that identity mean to you?
To me it means that I love women on all levels. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually and sexually.
You also identify as female, but say your gender expression is lesbian, because that’s what defines your femininity. What do you mean by that?
I say gender expression as lesbian not because I am confused about the difference between gender and sexuality but because when I go into my closet in the morning to get dressed I occasionally think about how I want to present my self as a gay woman, not just any woman. I sometimes want it to be apparent that I am gay and that I am out and proud. Usually this expression of gender involves pretty normal clothes, but I think it’s how you wear them that really gives your sexuality a way. Or maybe that look you give someone when you know they’re gay too. Such as when I wear a vest that used to be a jacket that I cut the sleeves off of or whenever I wear a flannel I feel more like a signal to other lesbians and maybe that’s because my hair is short and it becomes more apparent to me that I’m looking more and more like a dyke. I tend to walk with more of a swag too.
You shared the unique experiences you two have had that you haven’t been able to share with women in other, shorter relationships. You also said, “The one thing that gets me about monogamy with the preference of an ideally polyamorous relationship is that we do not at the moment know how to traverse becoming romantically involved with a sexual partner while staying monogamous with each other. That’s a boundary we’ve never explored as of yet and maybe in the future there will be more models to go off of in popular culture and representations in the media.” Can you expand on that?
I think it’s funny that my girlfriend and I both put down for the question “what would your ideal sexual relationship be” our answer was polyamorous. It’s funny because we did not talk about this prior and we also both chose Monogamous as an answer to our ideal romantic relationship. So I guess what I’ve been wondering is what is holding us back towards polyamory. I think it’s because we are afraid of falling in love with other people or maybe that we’re afraid of falling out of love with each other because we’ll find other love interests or for whatever reason we have convinced ourselves that we are only capable of loving one person at a time, which could be heternormativity playing itself out in our lives in the form of love being linear instead of fluid and bountiful, which I’m sure is true.
And now I’m not sure if this fear is legitimate or just a product of the culture we have grown up in that tells us to fall in love with the opposite sex, get married and stay together forever. And one contributing factor towards these fears I believe is the fact that we do not see enough examples of polyamorous relationships in popular culture let alone these relationships actually working out because they’re demonized and queer. Queer as in different from the normative. And I think our relationship is already very queer with our age gap and us being women, but I have never felt more comfortable with a person like her, so I think it’s worth exploring in the future when the time feels right or it just happens organically.
How have your sexuality, gender, and relationship orientation affected you socially?
Socially my sexuality effected how I started interacting with people by the time I hit puberty. In terms of gender expression I didn’t blatantly try to express my gender in a feminine way. I tried to establish my own style without looking too gay because I was afraid people would find out. When I turned 18 I finely cut my hair and that was pretty much my way of coming out at 18. If anyone asked which they pretty much never did I would tell them I was a lesbian.
How have your sexuality, gender, and relationship orientation affected you legally?
Legally I’ve worried about my gender expression and sexual orientation making me “firable.” I’m from Indiana and even here in Ohio I still fear that I might get hired and then fired legally by a homophobic person. Could be a higher up whatever, but it’s still legal here and that makes me feel wary of coming out again and again wherever I go. Including different countries where I might want to travel except that it is legal for me to be imprisoned for “sexual misconduct.” For instance, you can go to prison for life in Uganda just for being gay.
How have your sexuality, gender, and relationship orientation affected you medically?
Medically I feel like being a lesbian is awesome because one I don’t ever have to worry about getting pregnant and two I don’t have to take contraception.
How have your sexuality, gender, and relationship orientation affected you professionally?
Professionally I think being an artist gives me a lot of leeway. On the other hand I plan on going to business school next semester so that one-day I can own my own business. The idea is that I will be my own boss and I will have control over my expression and my workers expression, which will be whatever they want for as long as I own and operate the business whatever that may be.
How have your sexuality, gender, and relationship orientation affected you spiritually?
Finally coming out of the closet at 17-18 I also came out of Christianity. The religion was unhealthy for me and I know that’s not the situation for everyone, but the way Christianity was shoved down my throat at an early age made me feel that whatever I did had to be for this god who was a man who I could never live up to the standards he “supposedly” set forth in the Bible, which he did not write. The exclusivity of women from the bible is where I started to doubt the legitimacy of those words that were written and translated multiple times. The inconsistencies of the Bible for example since we are on this topic Leviticus 20:13 I believe it is says that men shouldn’t lie with men, but then it says to kill them. Now I’m sure you know the Ten Commandments Mike “Thou shalt not kill” oh but wait he’s gay. So it wasn’t so much that the Bible was inconsistent as much as it’s followers were also very inconsistent and disappointing. Disappointing because no one can live up to the standards written in the bible and so we would judge each other and strangers all the time based off of all these things we thought were sins including thought processes that are very natural. Like how I lusted naturally at this woman when I was 11 once I hit puberty I felt great shame afterwards, and there was absolutely no need for that. I did no harm to anyone but myself for regretting a feeling that you cannot control. And this again goes back to having self-control in your mind as a disciplining act in Christianity. Somehow mind control would make me not gay, which is completely false, so religiously I feel liberated and at home with atheism. I love evolution and science and nature and human relationships. I think our relationship with all other life on this planet is the most important thing there is.
How have your sexuality, gender, and relationship orientation affected you in your families?
It has been very acceptable in my immediate family. My mother was not surprised and my twin brother was surprised. And my little brother and sister don’t give a shit. My father also doesn’t care. AND my grandma who is pretty much the matriarch on my mother’s side of my over 87 cousins with their parents and their children she loves my girlfriend and is happy for us. We take her on vacation too. We drive her all the way to Maine to see my aunt, uncle and niece who are also amazing and loving people. And outside of those family members my aunt on my father’s side is super rad and she doesn’t care, I’m also not sure if my grandma knows on that side, but maybe this is how she’ll find out and I’m OK with that.
Are there other areas of your life that have been affected by your have your sexuality, gender, and relationship orientation?
The only other thing that has affected my gender expression was roller derby. Once I joined the Athens Ohio Roller Derby team I was no longer ashamed of body hair. I started to wear skirts and fish nets and this might sound strange, but whenever I wear a skirt I feel like I am queer because most of the time I wear a skirt if feels like I am bending my own gender expression.