We caught up with the epically cool and inspirational Tara Jepsen, a queer comedian, actor, skateboarder, novelist, and *iconic* model in our recent Piss Off campaign. From borrowing her dad’s minivan to tour the country in feminist performance group Sister Spit, to learning how to skateboard at age 36 and cofounding a queer skate deck company, to recently becoming a published novelist (!!!), Tara’s life is a series of inspiring creative accomplishments. While Tara made her morning coffee and watered her plants, we talked about creative pursuits, pride, pelvic floor dysfunction, and all the little bits ‘n’ drips in between.
Icon: You recently wrote a novel! First off, congratulations! Is writing a book something you always wanted to do, or has it been a surprise?
TJ: Oh, I knew I would be writing books since I was little. It was one of my first awarenesses of myself, from when I was writing stories in third grade and my best friend and I would compete to write the funniest stories possible in our class. I feel like dancers always say that, like oh yes, I danced out of my mother’s womb. But for me the truth is I’ve always known that I was a writer, and I thought I was just going to grow up and write books. Then, over the course of my life, authors became less and less appreciated and well-paid. Now I’m going to write books because I love them, and that’s a good reason to do it.
Icon: You’ve done so many different things, personally and professionally. Of all your life experiences – work and otherwise – what are you most proud of?
TJ: I’m really proud of my novel. And I’m proud that – I’m trying to think of how to say this – that I haven’t sort of dissolved into any kind of complacency. I feel very alive, and I feel like my life takes a lot of turns that I didn’t expect, in a great way. I’m glad about that. There’s this joke I think about constantly that I saw once in a Patton Oswalt stand-up set. He goes “it used to be when people turned 50 your family would, like, put you in a chair and set you to die, and they’d be like we’re done here.” I feel like I’m just getting rolling. [Patton] was like we get the chance to stay active now for so much longer. I feel like that is the life that I have. I’m active and doing things and feeling so engaged in the world in a way that I feel very proud of.
Tara, at home with a cold, sipped her coffee while we talked about the potentially manic-depressive nature of drinking too much caffeine, and about her participation in our campaign and her personal connection to Icon.
Icon: What message do you want to share with women who are dealing with pelvic floor dysfunction?
TJ: I strongly believe in – and one of my core values is – being honest about the experience you’re having with your body. Shame doesn’t serve any of us. To me, your body is truth. Your body is subconscious made in physical form. So, if you’re experiencing something with your body, like pelvic floor dysfunction, that shouldn’t be something you need to keep a secret. Tons of women are experiencing it. Tons! I’ve had plenty of experiences of my own, and they are haunting, painful, isolating, scary and just not spoken about enough in the world. Probably one of the most important things [I want to say to women] is: you’re not alone and you get to live a huge, vibrant, fun life even if you don’t know how to get there yet.
Tara recalled her own experience with vulvodynia, a chronic, unexplained pain in the vulva that has only recently been recognized as a real pain syndrome, though it affects upwards of 200,000 women in the U.S.
…It was so scary, and so full of physical pain, I can’t believe I’m getting emotional over this. It was truly awful, and it took me a couple years to find help and relief, but I did. And I just think that people who are struggling now need to know there are tons of resources out there […] You have to relentlessly advocate for yourself, and for some people that’s not their personality, but you do really have to push to get the help you need. God damnit I wish I hadn’t answered this so seriously. Do you want to ask it again? I’ll say something glib.
Icon: No! Honesty with this subject is important, because there’s so much shame and reluctance to speak about women’s health issues. Hearing you say it’s important to be open and pursue help aggressively if necessary is a really powerful message.
TJ: [Women] do these crucial roles in our culture and society, and then they’re told they’re repulsive for the way that impacts them physically and emotionally. Always I feel like we’re constantly having to claim our space, rather than just getting to exist.
Icon: And that’s like an act of labor, clearing space to live freely. People don’t realize that it takes energy, and there’s a toll sometimes. When you were going through your health issues, did you tell your friends?
TJ: Yeah! But I’m weird that way. I’m definitely the person who told my parents every time I did acid, or whatever. I don’t think [how candid I was about my health issues] was normal. And it was really embarrassing. It wasn’t easy or comfortable to tell my friends, but I really felt so strongly that you can’t hide these kinds of things, because then people never know that you’re going through this. And women are kept in the shadows in that way.
In 60 seconds or less...
Best advice you’ve ever gotten?
DON'T QUIT BEFORE THE MIRACLE!!!!!!!
Grab the first thing that comes.
Person (real or imaginary) you’ve always identified with?
Author Cookie Mueller.
An endless pit of despair
I'm great at doing hair. LADY TIME!!
You can bring one thing with you to the deserted island…
My skateboard, duh
In addition to championing women’s voices, Tara is currently working on several TV and film projects, new stand-up material, and skating whenever she can. You can learn more about Tara on her website, grab a copy of her debut novel, and follow her (hilarious) twitter account.