Transgender matriarch Jheri Jones on the 'long, hard road' that led her to achieving body-mind balance

Jheri talks about the resources and options that transgender individuals have today as opposed to her hay days where she felt like she was 'dancing in the dark'


                            Transgender matriarch Jheri Jones on the 'long, hard road' that led her to achieving body-mind balance

Every family has a story to tell, and The Joneses have a story like nothing you have heard before. Jheri Jones, the matriarch of a warm trailer park home in Mississippi, is the star of this story. Her story is that of immense bravery, inspiring perseverance and a whole lot of love and forgiveness. She started her journey after many years of marriage and some more of fatherhood. Embarking on this forced her to stray away from her family for a long period and having no contact with her loving sons. Now, however, her sons have found their way back to her, with two of them even living with Jheri.

In a beautiful documentary that captures the love and simplicity of the Joneses family, director Moby Longinotto simply wants to highlight her exceptional life. He hopes 'The Joneses' would inspire young LGBTQ+ members to embrace who they are wholeheartedly, and their families to be open-minded and sensitive to their journeys. Jheri is a larger-than-life woman, whose charm and love for her family makes it all the more easy to fall in love with her. She spoke with Meaww about her life, challenges, hopes and her expectations from the documentary 'The Joneses.'



 

 

Here are the edited excerpts from our interview with Jheri:

What do you hope the viewers – especially the younger members of the LGBT+ community  - learn from your story?

I was hoping when we started this film project that I would be able to explain a lot in the film itself about my own transition, what I went through and what someone that was contemplating this could expect. The film focuses on my relationship with my children, and our differences and struggles to understand each other and cope with each other. I suppose a transgender person watching this would take away something positive about it.

Did you ever think you would be the subject of a documentary?

I never thought of anything like that. I was approached by my friend John Howard in England, who knew Moby and about the idea and I just… I wasn’t too keen on it because of the privacy issue, I just didn’t want to expose myself, and I was trying to keep a low profile like most transgender people— it’s a self-defense strategy to avoid a lot of persecution or rejection.

And then… Moby came to town here, in 2008, during the presidential election in 2008. We talked about it, and he did some filming. I wouldn’t say ‘yae’ or ‘nae’ but he went ahead and filmed us and talked to people and so forth, and then he went back to England. About a year later, I decided that we would go ahead and proceed. He came back every year for five years and they would film a little here and a little there.



 

 

Being in the time and the place you were in, it could not have been easy to find someone who is “like you” or encourage you to be who you are. What were the risks that you knew you were inviting by coming out as transgender? 

Oh, the dread.

All transgender people know and understand even as a small child - from the time they were born – that there’s something going on here. As they get older, the problem coalesces into something much bigger– it’s much clearer to them, to each person as they get older, and they get a better take on it as they get older.

I grew up in the fifties. And for a long time, I felt more like a girl. But, at that time, the word transgender had not been used. It was "transsexual" and even then, you couldn’t find any information. The first time I ever heard about it was Kristen Jorgensen, who went over to Denmark in her early twenties and had this so-called sex change. And it created a sensation in the media and she became a hero to me - I identified with her so strongly. And then of course in the eighties, there was Renee Richards, the tennis player.  So, it was just here and there, you know, you pick information.

[This journey] took me a long time. I went to a psychiatrist and had psychological testing, I had to go out and beg and plead for information, but it was as difficult then as it is easy now. We have the internet. You can find the people you need to talk to, but it took me a long time to do that. So I went through a hellacious amount of struggle there for a long time. And it just came together, little by little by little. Facing my wife and the hurt I knew it was going to cause her, and the dread of having to face my family members, it was just… I don’t know how I got through it, I really don’t, somehow I did. So it was a long hard struggle.

I had difficulty finding a doctor to administer hormone therapy. I finally did and only because he was gay, he was sympathetic. That lead to another doctor and another doctor and today, the doctor that’s taking care of me now. I’m postoperative but I go to him about once a year for a complete health check-up and I get my hormones through him. I ’m healthy, I’m in good shape and I came through the surgery with no problems.

It was like dancing in the dark, I really had a tough time. It was a long, hard road. I started when I was in my late thirties, didn’t get my surgery until I was sixty years old, mostly because of the marriage and the divorce and having to help raise my four sons, and I had to put them ahead of everything else so I had to put it off for a long time. It’s a good time for someone just starting out with the transition because they have a lot of different resources and answers— they can find the people and the resources they need to help them.

Jheri Jones (The Joneses)
Jheri Jones (The Joneses)

What advice do you have for someone struggling to leave the closet?

Be very sure that this is the correct move, the correct way for you to proceed. Be very sure that this is a gender problem, that this is a true, classic transgender situation. Seek out professional psychological testing, screening and be sure. And by all means, proceed if you have a medical opinion on your side and you’re convinced in your own mind.

This is something transgender people have to do if they’re going to have any chance at happiness or peace of mind, and being able to be a whole, complete, integrated human being. Their personality is like they’re splintered. They’re damaged. And they can’t– until they get this gender situation, you know, make the changes to the body that need to conform to the image of the gender that they embrace, until all of that is in balance– and mine is, now, my body is in balance with my mind, everything is in balance so I’m at peace and I’m fine.

When most people are born, their gender and biological sex are in balance, there’s no problem, there’s no struggle. All this talk about ‘there’s two genders, male and female’... yes there is, but there’s also transgender and we need special legal protection and recognition as there are people that have this unique situation. Biologically,  I’ll always be male - I mean my chromosomes are male. They always will be, they can’t be changed. But emotionally, psychologically and in every other way, I’m female. See, but no one sees your chromosomes, do they? So those are of no consequence, really.

Jheri Jones (The Joneses)
Jheri Jones (The Joneses)

As you say at the beginning of the film, “not bad for 74." In fact, spectacular for 74. Tell us about your beauty regimen.

I had severe acne when I was a teenager, it took me years to overcome it and it just wrecked me emotionally. And then on top of all that, the gender problem... I don’t know how I survived any of it. I can’t afford plastic surgery so I just try to do everything else I can do short of that. I create the facade of being attractive through makeup and just taking care of myself. 

I put more attention than the average person would devote to something like that. But that comes from insecurity, from the acne when I was a teenager and all the emotional damage. Everything else is just trying to make up for such a miserable youth, I guess. I’m trying in my old age to go to the gym. I work out and just take very good care of myself.  I’ve been told this by many people that I look much, much younger than my true age, so you know, maybe that’s paying off.