At 27 years old, I’d never felt so immediately accepted by anyone. Any insecurity I had over a first impression, over being able to ‘perform’ as a photographer, over being able to make the right kind and the right amount of small talk, disappeared the moment I met her.

Jazzmun: tall, confident, glamorous. Unfathomably kind.

We met while I was doing a fashion photography project for art school. I wanted to photograph a different kind of model than my peers had chosen. I wanted to photograph someone who, at the time, wasn’t sought out for fashion photography.

It turns out that Jazzmun was already familiar with the workings of a photo shoot, being both an accomplished actress and singer. When we met, she was embarking on a passion project producing a play about the transgender experience, Lovely Bouquet of Flowers. For the past 20 years, she has been helping young trans people navigate the same winding roads that she’d traveled years before.

“If the family that is gifted to you at birth can’t love you the way that you want to be loved, you have to go out and find another family. You can have more than one family — you can have multitudes of family.”

Today, when thinking about family, the first thing that comes to mind is that of her Lovely Bouquet of Flowers cast. Produced with writing partner David Gaddas, the play is a kaleidoscopic view of the trans experience told through a stage production. The actors, each a “flower” in the bouquet, share unique and often poetic vignettes of what it means to be trans, ranging from the euphoria of finally coming out to the agony of discrimination.

“Sometimes we want certain people to validate us a certain way,” Jazzmun said, “but they just don’t know how.” “You can’t expect everything from any one person,” she continued, “or even one group of people. So you find the ones who fit—your tribe— the people who will become another family.”

 

While I can’t personally identify with the trans experience, I think we can all relate to the fear of not knowing exactly where we fit into the grand scheme of things, and the fear of not being accepted as our true selves.

At the time, I was in art school — a radically different place than the conservative non-profit world I’d been immersed in just a year before. And, I was embarking on a career that (I thought) required me to immediately define who I was and what I stood for because my “vision” was the product I was selling.

While Jazzmun sees herself as a guide to young trans individuals, I doubt she realized that her trust and unconditional acceptance of me would so profoundly affect me as well.

When speaking with her recently, though, it seems that she did know, even if it wasn’t a conscious act.

After all, this is her autopilot— using compassion to navigate a world filled simultaneously with intolerance and discrimination, and possibility and love.

This is how Jazzmun created the incredible bonds between the actors and crew in Lovely Bouquet of Flowers. There is accountability to each other, trust, and a shared sense of protecting and growing the community — the family. I’m grateful that she accepted me, a relative outsider, as part of her family, too.

“The more you can be open to other people’s experiences,” Jazzmun said, “the bigger your family gets. You see how much you actually have in common. We really all just want the basic things. We want to be clothed and sheltered. We want to be cared for. We want to be understood. We want ears that will listen and hearts that will accept. Everyone — absolutely everyone — wants that.”