You will never be able to understand a transgender person and their community until you get to know a transgender person. In Andrea Meyerson’s documentary, This Is Jessica, we are introduced to transgender activist Jessica Bair.
From her earliest days, Jessica Bair was raised as a boy named Jonathan in an incredibly conservative Mormon family. From an early age, Jessica knew that she was a girl and the boy everyone (including herself) saw was not her true self. However, when Jessica admitted to her mother that she was transgender, her mother shut down any thought of such heresy then and there in fear of ex-communication and losing her eternal soul.
From this single event, Jessica would live her life as Jonathan for the sake of her family’s good standing in the church and her faith. After high school, Jonathan would do as Mormons do and become a missionary. He then got married and started a family. Soon after, Jonathan enlisted in the army as a military policeman while hiding his true self under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. The more Jonathan suppressed his true self, the more he became despondent, forcing Jessica to re-emerge.
Two significant aspects of being Jessica Bair are explored in This Is Jessica. The first has to do with Jessica’s faith juxtaposed against the policies and beliefs of the Mormon church. When Jessica finally decided to cast Jonathan aside, her marriage immediately dissolved, and that was just the start. She was forced to leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even though she continued to hold firmly to her beliefs. This created a chasm between Jessica and her parents and, ultimately, Jessica and her children. She made attempts to rejoin the church as Jessica, but she was denied at every turn. But Jessica’s fight had a profound impact on her children.
“…Jessica would live her life as Jonathan for the sake of her family’s good standing in the church and her faith.”
The second half of the film focuses on the person Jessica is today, including her life with her girlfriend and her political aspirations. Jessica’s fight to be her true self translated into a battle for other transgender men and women in America. As a result, she became not only became an activist for trans rights but for different causes like Black Lives Matter and the campaign against California’s Proposition 8 in 2008.
Where This Is Jessica succeeds is in understanding the individual, when much of the time, we focus on political movements. Director Meyerson weaves together a fascinating and engaging plot centered on Jessica Bair. The scope is comprehensive, with photos to document the subject’s life. We hear from Jessica and her four children, friends from high school, and other LGBT activists. What comes across in Jessica’s story is that one doesn’t become trans for the hell of it because the struggle is not worth it, though sometimes it is.
We all know that Trans rights have been a political hotbed over the last several months. Whether or not you agree with an issue, information is always the key to finding the right solution. If you’ve not known a trans person personally, Jessica’s story, though unique to her, is not uncommon in terms of her struggle for self-acceptance, the persecution she received from her community, church, and family, and the challenges she faces today living as transgender.
It’s still as easy today as it’s ever been to cast someone aside because you disagree with their lifestyle. This Is Jessica is a documentary that will quickly broaden your world and hopefully lower that barrier between them and us.
For screening information, visit the This Is Jessica official website.
"…as easy today as it's ever been to cast someone aside because you disagree with their lifestyle."