Jordan Wieleba on stealing a copy of War of the Worlds and coming out transgender
Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a bi-weekly feature celebrating the books that inspire Denver artists.
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Jordan Wieleba is a comedian, musician, illustrator, GLBTQ advocate, cornerstone of Denver's comedy community and Best of Denver winner. Recently seen gracing the cover of Out Front Colorado, she also provided the illustrations for the book Sharing the Good News: A Positive Model for Coming Out as Transgender. Westword recently caught up with Wieleba to discuss helpful books for people struggling with gender identity, prescient sci-fi authors and her beloved stolen copy of War of the Worlds.
Westword: So, you recently did the illustrations for a children's book? What's it called and how did that come together?
Jordan Wieleba: The book is called Sharing the Good News: A Positive Model for Coming Out as Transgender. I do volunteer work at the Gender Identity Center of Colorado and I met the director, Karen Scarpella, who's a licensed psychologist who specializes in gender dysphoria and other issues, and she's been wanting to write this book for a long time. She finally did, and she knew that I did graphics and illustrations, so she asked me to do some cute little cartoons for the book and essentially format the whole thing. It's available on Amazon now, but she also gave it to a bunch of clinicians across the country.
So it's meant for all ages, but approachable for a kid?
It's meant to a be a light read. It's only fifty pages, written in a way where anyone can read it and really understand it. Essentially, the book is for anyone who might be struggling with gender-identity issues or thinks that they might want to come out as transgender. Like the title says, the book offers a good model for coming out, for telling your friends and family that this is the path you're going to go down.
I think that's important. A lot of people don't get it. There's not many resources available to transgender people. It seems like even more liberal, understanding parents are still reinforcing binary gender norms to their kids.
People are socialized into following patterns of behavior even if they don't feel right.
Absolutely! When I was a kid -- I was assigned male, that's what we call it because I didn't get to choose -- and growing up in the early '80s, the stereotypes were all enforced. My parents wanted me to play sports, do your stereotypical boy stuff and I resisted all the way. Thankfully, I had younger sisters and when they came around, I could play with their toys and stuff.
Actually, when I came out, my mom told me that she already knew, that she was just waiting for me to say something. It's been such a taboo subject for so long that people don't understand how young you are when you start having these feelings. It started from birth. I always knew, I just didn't know that there was anything I could do about it until I was a teenager.
I started doing comedy a little late, so I didn't realize that you'd gone through your transition publicly. You were already doing comedy and playing in bands. I imagine you got to hear everyone's input, whether you wanted it or not.
Yeah, I had been doing comedy for five years before I came out, and I almost quit because I was petrified of what people would think. It's not like I had this great reputation to begin with, and the reason I was in the closet for so long is because I was afraid of what people would think. When you're surrounded by comedians all the time, it's a little intimidating. In the end, though, I couldn't get away from the stage. I couldn't quit.
It seems like it's informed your comedy a lot, too.
Sure. It helped me define who I was, which has been a big part of my life in the last few years. I didn't really feel any connection to my material before I came out. When I finally was able to be myself, I learned how to be myself onstage and it really translated into my act.
I think that self-actualization is important for anybody, and it can be a struggle even without these huge obstacles of socialization and gender panic. Also, some comics can be real dicks. Overcoming that is a huge deal.
Absolutely, it's a performance of self. It took me a very long time to learn. I remember when I was a little kid in school, we used to have this program where kids got the chance to write a book for this little in-school publishing house. I did it every year, kindergarten through fifth grade. I remember that it had a little author bio in the back of every book. They asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and every year I said, "comedian." And it happened. I got to be what I wanted to be when I grow up. I wanted to be a girl and a comedian, and I got to be both.
That's awesome. So, to pivot more towards books: have you been reading anything lately?
Keep reading for more from Jordan Wieleba.