The Closet Chronicles
An interview with author J.P. Haynes.
J.P. (Jana) Haynes was born in Amory, Mississippi and studied Communications and Mass Media at Mississippi College. Naturally, her first love is writing. In 2014 Jana and her family were featured cast members in Showtime’s award-winning L Word Mississippi. J.P. and her partner of four years, Dannika, currently reside in Hattiesburg, Miss. where they are raising their son, Kasen. We caught up with the busy J.P. to discuss all things writing-related and beyond.
We're here because of your upcoming book release, The Closet Chronicles. But there's more to you than this book. For those who don’t know you, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
Well, I suppose for those who don’t know me, my introduction is two-fold. I was one of the featured cast members on the most recent addition to the L Word franchise on Showtime, L Word Mississippi. I am also an author, playwright and spoken word artist. L Word Mississippi: Hate The Sin, chronicles the lives of five different couples and a former lesbian living, loving and attempting to survive in the bible belt of South Mississippi. It was quite a different lens for the L Word and Real L Word family. I literally came out on national television and I never could have imagined how abruptly my life would change. If Showtime were to do a follow-up, you’d find at least two very different women. We’re no longer the people everyone met 3 years ago, and there is far more to me than what you saw on a 90-minute film. I can’t wait to re-introduce myself to all of you, starting with my debut fiction novel, The Closet Chronicles.
What inspired you to write, The Closet Chronicles and how much of J.P. Haynes is in the main character, DJ Spencer?
I was inspired by various encounters with numerous people, but mostly I craved something more for myself, my inner circle and the women I stumble upon daily who are struggling to stand in their truth. I saw a void and it was my desire to create work that filled it, and I believe I’ve done so. It’s definitely a coincidence that DJ and I both use two initials Honestly, I think we all have a tiny bit of DJ Spencer inside us. DJ is a compilation of several people, honestly (names were changed to protect the innocent). She is complex yet predictable, and if you’re not careful, prima facie, you will be convinced you have her pegged as the “typical lesbian” by the end of chapter one, but just keep reading, because you couldn’t be more wrong. DJ is bi-racial, which is one of the many roots of her turmoil. She is attempting to maneuver through a career path which forces her to reevaluate her moral compass daily while maintaining a fun-loving group of friends, an affluent yet disconnected family and a tumultuous personal life. She is irresponsible, unreliable and uncertain. She is funny, bold and fearful. She is the life of the party, attractive, intelligent and on the brink of imploding. She is easy to hate, easier to love and if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself vacillating between the two emotions. Employed as a writer for a major magazine in Austin, TX, DJ lives in a bubble of secrets and deception and makes failing attempts at stuffing her closet full of undisclosed thoughts and adventures. Little does she know, her closet and the secrets that lie within, could be the least of her worries.
Pat Parker, Audre Lorde and Jewelle Gomez are lesbians of color that have brought some extraordinary literature to our community. Who has inspired you to write and what books by other lesbians of color have impacted your life?
Oh wow! Now you’re speaking my language. What amazing examples of extraordinary literature by women, by lesbians, and by lesbians of color. The trifecta! I am just humbled to even think of the possibilities of my works ever being mentioned in the breaths of these greats. As a writer, I am inspired by virtually everything. Sometimes, I must shut my brain off because I am continuously thinking, “that could be a great pilot concept, a riveting book or an impactful poem.” Honestly, my inspiration for writing is drawn from a longing to empower those who feel they just cannot empower themselves. I am inspired by the forgotten ones. It is impossible for me to list just one. I would be remised if I mentioned Maya Angelou and did not also allude to Toni Morrison or Audre Lorde; Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Terry McMillan and Lorraine Hansberry. Oh man, don’t get me started, I could go on and on. I’m standing on their shoulders, reaping the fruits of their labor, enjoying the harvest of their hard work and benefiting from their bravery. I would be utterly neglectful of me if I didn’t acknowledge the countless roads they paved and the unmatched inspiration they’ve provided. Books by lesbians of color by which I’ve been impacted would have to be, Loving Her by Ann Allen Shockely; it is simply divine, and of course, Zami, A New Spelling of My Name, by Audre Lorde. This work is necessary.
You mention that writing is your first love and still remains that way. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was young, I began performing Maya Angelou poems. That’s when I knew. I could feel the words, the cadence, the impact. I could see how her words made others feel, I could feel what they felt and I could feel what she felt when she wrote it. That was it. I knew I had a gift and my affinity for words and writing was born. More about me? Well, my friends would tell you I’m honest to a fault. Dannika would say I’m stubborn, my Mom would say I’m bossy, and my brother would say I’m moody. Glowing reviews, right? Well I believe they would also tell you that I am loyal, honest and kind. I think they would say I love unapologetically and that I am always, and I do mean always searching for growth and probing for ways to be impactful, most specifically through my writing. Passionate. They would say I am passionate, about everything that I do, and I believe, I just always believe that provision is just on the other side of failure. I believe that it always gets better. I believe that God puts way more on us than we can bear so that we realize that we can’t bear it alone. I believe when a situation seems entirely impossible, that’s when possibilities are being created. I believe that we were all created with purpose and some of us were created to help others birth that purpose, and I just believe that “our primary purpose in life is to help others, and if we can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” – Dalai Lama XIV
How do you feel about the message: ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’? Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
Well, I believe we’ve got this whole Christianity thing all wrong. Love. That’s it. That’s all we’re supposed to do. We weren’t called to criticize, to point fingers or to judge. We weren’t created to project our own self-loathing ideas on to others. We were not created to prevent others from experiencing the love of God. He gave us His only son, and that son literally hung out with prostitutes and murders. Like, spent time with thieves and adulterers. We unquestionably have this Christianity thing all wrong, and I believe social media has exposed a dark side of Christianity, or should I say faux Christianity. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with hating sin, but the truth is that we don’t hate sin, we enjoy casting aspersions on others. We love judging others. We love comparing our “lesser” sin to the “greater” sins of others because it helps us continue to keep our own closet of secrets tucked away. How can you hate the sin in my life, but ignore the sin in yours?
I heard a phenomenal quote yesterday from another amazing woman in writing, Shonda Rhimes. In an episode of one her wildly popular series, Grey’s Anatomy, there is a scene when Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) is talking with her father about being a lesbian, and she says, “Jesus is my savior, daddy, not you. And Jesus would be so disappointed.” That perfectly portrays how I feel about faux Christians, and those who are misrepresenting how Jesus views us; all of us. Writing is indeed spiritual for me. Sometimes, I’m somewhere else. I just ascend into a place of spirituality where I don’t know where my words come from, how they are formed or how I was even able to write what I wrote. I always attempt to use my words for healing, perspective and growth. I try to impart light in an incredibly dark world. So, yes, for me, it is undoubtedly a spiritual practice, but it’s also a calling. For me, it’s necessary.
What was life like for you before and after you appeared on The L Word Mississippi?
So different! Coming out on national television will change your life for sure. There was quite a change in my social portfolio if you will. People began inviting us as guests to special events such as Pride, panel discussions, etc. My inbox has never been so full! On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it was nuts! Even going in public, people recognize us even now. All those things are fun and exciting, however the maturation process and the personal growth tell the real story. I had no idea, but the empowered place being a part of the show led me to is the true before and after. Before I was afraid of what people might think of me, I wouldn’t dare share my writing, or if I did, I disguised it as someone else’s. Before, I lived inside a closet of lies, deceit and self-doubt. Before, I was just going through the motions, I was pretending. But after, well, just look at me now. I am brazenly zealous and unpolluted in my words and action. I believe. I believe in people, I believe in change. That is what my after looks like. Showtime and L Word Mississippi: Hate the Sin restored my bravery, dismantled my perceptions and crushed my fear. It catapulted me towards purpose and at the time, I had absolutely no idea.
If you could give young women, or any woman for that matter, advice on coming out, what would it be?
It will be the single most liberating thing you will do. It will change the course of your life as you know it. It will save lives you had no idea you had the ability to touch. If you’re scared that’s ok, but remember it’s not for you. It’s never for you. It’s for the little girl 2,000 miles away or the adult woman 2 miles away who needs to see someone like you courageous enough to stand in your truth. And no matter what it looks like, not matter what it feels like, not matter how dark it may seem or insurmountable it may appear, it gets better. It always gets better.
What does the future look like for J.P. Haynes?
Writing, writing and more writing! I am always working on a new poem or spoken word piece. I am wrapping up the final script for my second stage play, and working on another outing of my first stage play, Selma The Musical: The Untold Stories, which is an adaptation of the original production of Selma The Musical. There are two television pilots in the works and after you read The Closet Chronicles, I have no doubt you’ll be clamoring for a sequel, so I may be pondering that possibility as well. So, my future is exciting and promising and full words! I hope you will join me on this journey.