Werk! Completely Fearless – Jari Jones

Savanna Reudy
Matthew Mazur
Alfredo Mineo

“I came here to work” were the first words that greeted me with a smile when I met Jari Jones in Brooklyn for our interview and photoshoot. No stranger to work, Jones had come directly from Baltimore, where she had been working on a film.  A multi-hyphenated and multi-talented performer and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, in 2019, she was the first black transgender woman producer to compete at the Cannes Film Festival, and last year, won a spot on Calvin Klein’s coveted Houston Street Billboard in New York – breaking a glass ceiling for transgendered models. During our several hours together, we walked through a range of timely topics and personal insights, derived from her struggles, personal growth, and bevy of achievements and accolades. One thing is clear from our conversation – she is someone who will not shy away from ruffling feathers to advance the causes she believes in.

Area bodysuit, Erickson Jackson jewellery, Marc Jacobs glove

Area earrings, Moschino dress

Full look Marc Jacobs, Erickson Beamon necklace, Roxanne Assouline earrings

Alfredo Mineo: Social media is a critical platform for your continued growth, but it comes with risks. Do you ever feel pressure to edit yourself? Do you ever hesitate before pressing ‘share?’
Jari Jones: I try not to. I think about the impact of what I say and the message I’m trying to convey. Will it be beneficial to the communities that I am representing and the people who are new to our communities? I never censor myself, but I will adjust so that the audience will have clearer understanding.
AM: As a trans person of colour, you have likely been subjected to bullying and other forms of hostility based on identity. How do handle that?
There comes a point where you just have to block it out. As a trans woman – as a black trans woman, especially – gaining the tools of self-love and being selective have been my saving grace. To know and believe I’m worth more – worthy of respect or worthy of joy – cannot be penetrated by anyone. People’s opinions, good or bad, become mere options  – things that I can choose to entertain, or not.
AM: Many queer and trans people of colour have endured not being accepted by their families. During the shoot, as you were preparing for the next look, you were FaceTiming with your mother. Can you tell me about your relationship with her?
JJ: My mother is my rock, my foundation, my safe place. But other than being my mother, she’s my friend, my confidant, my voice of reason. What an absolute blessing to be nurtured and supported by someone you look up to in their entirety, someone who you watched navigate the world with such resilience and grace. How wonderful to be taught and loved in the same space.
AM: Speaking of mothers, many urban youth in LGBTQI+ community who have been rejected by their birth families have gained sanctuary in ‘houses,’ in which they can choose a substitute family and are nurtured by ‘mothers.’ You have taken on the mantle of serving as mother to a number of youth. Can you tell us about your children? 
JJ: My children are the light of lives. They carefree children of colour who have decided that their minds, their art, their beings, are worth showing to the world and they are persistent in showcasing it. They inspire every inch of my being: just as much as I teach them life lessons, I am learning from them every day. 

AM: On the set we had an amazing playlist curated by Matthew Mazur. You came alive whenever Whitney Houston or Celine Dion were played. What song best personifies you?
JJ: It’s the lyrics for me! I was raised ‘village style’ so my great aunt and uncle brought the house up in oldies, house, and icons. Whitney was a definite in the house: every album, every remix was on some CD or record. The song ‘Step by Step,’ by Whitney Houston, really captures my heart and is the outline to my whole self. She speaks of the journey of transitioning, the path to becoming your best self, and though you may be hurting and the path is rocky, you will get there … ‘Step by Step!’

AM: You’re in a polyamorous relationship. Most people have challenges handling a relationship with just one other person at a time. Any advice on how you’re making it work? What are the common misconceptions of polyamorous relationships?
JJ: Communication and honesty in its entirety. Being willing to talk about the mess-ups and jealously and misunderstandings just as much as the great and exciting times. A common misconception of polyamorous relationships is that they are all about sex, when in actuality, it’s more about connection and decolonizing the ideas of love and how, as humans, can make love expand. The SEX is a bonus (*wink ).

Wiederhoeft Feather accessory, Hana Quist corset, Christian Siriano skirt, Mateo NY necklace

Area bodysuit, Erickson Jackson jewellery, Marc Jacobs glove

AM: We are slowly emerging from a period of unprecedented disruption. How has this past year been for you? Did you learn anything from it? Did you learn anything about yourself?
JJ: I learned that glass ceilings only exist when you are afraid of creating destruction. I’ve dedicated my career to the destruction of the status quo, making moves that will inspire, anger and excite people. This past year I’ve learned that I have the capability to change society, to be disruptive, while also catching the attention. I’ve learned that standing in your power can be possible for someone like me.
AM: You have spent much of your life fighting – fighting to be who you are and fighting for others. Are you now in a place where you feel like you are no longer struggling – where you can just be you and finally relax?
JJ: I think as long as I’m black, fat and trans, there will always be a struggle, especially in this world. That’s why I continue to use my platform to break down the barriers for those who are coming after me. Being a model is beautiful. It has its beauty, but I don’t want to be in it for long – there is other things I have to do, but I want to make a deep enough path for people who are passionate and in love with this industry to not struggle or fight to be seen or heard.

AM: Complete this sentence: ‘By the end of 2021 I would like to be…’
JJ: Completely fearless.
Photography: Savanna Ruedy 
Styling: Matthew Mazur at the Jeffries Agency
Interview: Alfredo Mineo
Set design: Natalia Janul 
Production: Alfredo Mineo 
Hair: Matthew Sosnowski
Make-up artist: Laramie Glen 
Photography assistants: Mia Paden & Erica Maclean
Video BTS: Travis Chantar
Tailoring: Emily Omesi
Stylinst’s assistant: Angelica Asimakopoulos
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