Meeting Jordan, by Christie Buchele
I've known Jordan Wieleba the comedian, LGBTQ activist and musician for seven years and I feel very undeserving of the task of sharing her amazing story, and I am not sure I am capable introducing her to the people who never had the honor of meeting her. I will do my best to not make her death about me, but the truth is, aside from the amazing transformation she went through, it is possible that her biggest impact is the revolution she created in the hearts of the people around her, myself included.
I officially met Jordan at an open mic on South Broadway in 2010. At that time Jordan was identifying as a man and had been married to a woman for several years. If I am being honest, I didn't like Jordan when we first met. He was drunk, angry, cocky and more loud than funny. (She would admit, years later, that her impression of a white-male-comedian was awful.) At that time I took note of who Jordan was and just assumed we would never be friends. We would see each other at shows and that would be that. Besides my first impression the only other fact I knew about Jordan in those early years was that if you booked him on a show, he would pack the audience with plenty of friends. He kept getting booked, he was always around, but I never really knew him.
Then a couple years later, through the grapevine, the word spread that Jordan had left his wife, and come out as a woman. At this time I was so ignorant to transgender people and that community. I can admit now that I used the fact that I did not like Jordan the man as excuse to keep myself away from the Jordan the woman and the gender identity that scared me. However, this was early in the game and Jordan, just by being herself would become undeniable.
After the news of Jordan's transition spread through the comedy community she did not come around for several months. I am fairly certain she did not know if she would return to comedy, but she was a bad ass, so she did. When I first met Jordan as a woman she was still figuring out her hair and makeup. It reminded me of a girl going through adolescence, and she had all the confidence of a 14-year-old girl, which is to say, she had none. But again, she was a badass, so despite the fear, she did it anyway.
In my opinion, the best comics aren't only funny, but they have a way of letting the audience peek behind the curtain and show you who they really are while onstage. If someone did not believe Jordan when she said she was a woman, it would be hard not to believe her once you heard her jokes. She was no longer loud and angry. She was gentle, thoughtful and funny. When I heard Jordan the woman that first night it was abundantly clear to me and everyone else that knew her before her transition that she was finally the Jordan she wanted to be. She was herself.
That night, listening to her set, just watching her be her, was of the biggest eye-openers of my entire life. She had the power to help me understand gender identity, even my own, on a level I don't think I would have found without her. This was the night I truly met Jordan Wieleba.
I wish I could say that her journey was all up from there. I wish people saw her act and put their biases and fear aside and everything was just kittens and rock shows from there on out. But of course it wasn't. It even took me several years to drop my fear and stop holding Jordan to my own idea of who she was. She had to throw out five years of jokes that no longer matched her identity and start all over. Jordan stopped working with the comedy group she had, and the packed audiences went away, and I am sure the booking slowed down too.
Most comedians I know would hit these roadblocks and just quit. Without an overabundance of validation comedians tend to wither pretty quickly. Comedians are essentially kindergartners clamoring for gold stars. We are not strong. But, she was a bad ass, so she kept going. She kept getting onstage and kept getting funnier. She made new friends and fans, and kept the old ones that mattered. She released an album, she became an activist in the community and she did it with or without the validation. She was amazing.
Jordan would say that when she was young, all she wanted to be when she grew up was a comedian and girl, and she got to be both. It would be easy to tell myself that she created the life she wanted and have that be enough, to use that thought to help quell the ache in my chest. Jordan was amazing, she knew herself better than anyone I know, and she was able to use that to open the hearts of thousands of people.
But just as Jordan could not be contained in a box that made every other person comfortable, life and death cannot be organized in a way that makes sense either. She had more work to do, and more jokes to tell. She had more people to meet and hearts to change. I am so sad, I am so mad, and this is so dumb.
My only comfort is that the message she shared will continue. The friends she made, and the community she built will talk about her, share her jokes, and share her journey and make sure people continue to meet Jordan. The next time a new comedian makes a tranny joke they will meet Jordan. If a Denver comedian comes across bigot on the road, they will meet Jordan. Next time Dave Chappelle comes through Denver with a hot take on Caitlyn Jenner, even he will meet Jordan. There are so many ways to share her journey, whether you listen to an interview, a podcast, read her blog or just scroll her twitter. I plan to share her album because no one can speak for Jordan and change hearts quite like she can. She was, after all, a bad ass.
I am so grateful I met Jordan. She found her true self and she could have stopped there. But she took it upon herself to teach others. She not only taught people about transgender issues but she taught everyone to find themselves and shout it from the rooftops without apology. I cannot think of anything more incredible, selfless and beautiful. Jordan once wrote "It took divorce to learn love, a major life change to learn identity, a scare to learn brevity, & humor to learn passion." Thankfully, through watching her, thousands of other people learned these lessons too.
I am glad I met you once.
I am forever changed because I met you twice.
And I look forward to when we meet again.
You are so loved, my friend.