This badass woman has a special gift and ability to create a brave space for people to feel more at ease, to become the best version of themselves, and to spread that feeling within and among others. She does that by being the best, most authentic version of herself!
Meet Jenni White. Jenni is living her most badassery life as the founding executive director of Trinity Haven, Indiana’s first and only home for LGBTQ youth who are experiencing homelessness and housing instability. Jenni herself is a member of the LGBTQ community and has vast experience working with transitional housing and homelessness. “All parts of my career have led me to this place, and it’s everything I never knew I’d always wanted.”
Jenni hasn’t always been a part of the LGBTQ community. She grew up in Logansport, Indiana, the oldest of two girls. She played sports through middle school then went into the performing arts in high school, later majoring in theatre at the University of Indianapolis. She got married in 1999.
Jenni shared with me how she and her husband tried for several years to get pregnant. After invasive tests, troublesome medications, meticulous charting and precise counting, she was told her ovaries didn’t function properly and that there was no reason to keep trying. Essentially, she was told she was infertile. “I was depleted; bereft; grieving something I never had; insanely jealous of my friends who had so easily become pregnant. I was desperate for a distraction and found it in the theatre.”
In the winter of 2002, Jenni auditioned for The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. The show was part of a movement to end violence against women, but Jenni wasn’t trying to make a statement – she was just interested in performing, to distract herself from the overwhelming sadness she felt about being unable to conceive. She auditioned for the role most commonly known as ‘the moaner’ and got the part: “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy.”
Jenni also shared that miraculously, her son was conceived on opening night of her first production of The Vagina Monologues. Years of infertility and trying and giving up, and that night, with the power of 42 women on stage with her and the power of the stories of over 200 women in the words of the script, something happened and as she says: “my body opened up and allowed life to begin.” Her son, Zion, was born November 24, 2003.
“Little did I know how many times this show would change my life,” shared Jenni. “It helped me develop my sense of self…my courage…my independence…and helped me decide to leave my husband in 2006, and ultimately come out as a lesbian in 2009. I directed my last production of The Vagina Monologues in 2011 and performed in my last production in 2012.”
“What’s so fantastic and almost unbelievable to me, is that this show—this distraction I found back in 2002, not only changed my life by opening up my body to conceive my son, but also showed me that motherhood comes in many forms. That choosing to be a biological mother to someone is a gift, but it does not have to define who you are. For me, what it really means to be a woman: to discover the inherent power within each of us to give birth to and nurture any-fucking-thing we want. Maybe that’s another human. But it could be an idea. A piece of art. A song. A battle cry. A desire to effect change in the world. All of the above and everything in between.”
As of March 2020, Jenni will have performed in and/or directed The Vagina Monologues 29 times in the past 17 years. And as long as she is breathing, she plans on performing. She plans to use her power as a woman to elevate the voices of others, and by producing this show, bringing together the exact right women who need to be lifted, held, showcased, and loved. According to Jenni, this show is a vehicle that brings us together, experiencing the journey of discovering, creating and flourishing in all that it means to be a woman.
With that in mind, I asked Jenni what it means to be a woman and participate in this thing called life. Her response was pretty powerful. “To stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. To use the privilege you have to elevate those who have none. To allow…no…to demand those with privilege make space for you. To embrace the parts of you that society has trained you to be ashamed of, and hopefully, learn to love them (the parts, and society). To open your heart to others and know that vulnerability is not a bad thing, but the most powerful tool we have in connecting with ourselves and others. To encourage and support and lean into and unpack and laugh—really laugh out loud. Until it hurts. To cry as much as you need to. Until it doesn’t hurt. To listen. To ask for help. To offer it, too. To be open to new ideas and changing old habits. To make space. To take up space. To take risks. To know there are other women just as scared to take those risks, but that together, we can leap, support each other and hold each other up. To say no. And mean it. To say YES! To be kind.”
Those who know Jenni may describe her as confident, driven, and inspirational. She describes herself as shy, self-conscious, and anxious. I describe her as a badass woman who will use her life experiences, her beliefs, compassion and passion to do remarkable things for the youth served by Trinity Haven.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, Trinity Haven is Indiana’s first and only safe, welcoming and affirming transitional home for LGBTQ youth ages 16-21. When it opens in 2020, Trinity Haven will have the capacity to serve up to 10 youth at a time.
The need for Trinity Haven is significant. It is estimated that between 40 and 65 young people arrive each month at Indiana Youth Group (IYG) without a safe place to live. Many end up sleeping outside on park benches, in their cars, or under other unsafe conditions.
You can support Trinity Haven AND see Jenni perform in one (or both) of the upcoming performances:
- The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler: Feb. 13-15, 8 p.m. at The Church Within, benefiting Trinity Haven (Auditions are Dec. 14-15. Click here for info)
- Raise the Vibration: Feb. 27-29, 8 p.m. at The Church Within, benefiting Trinity Haven; a new curated event for local artists and performers and poets and dancers to shine and RAISE the VIBRATION of consciousness, social justice and awareness of what’s actually going on in the world – to effect change! Artist submissions are due by Dec. 20th per the link above. Click here for more information.