Jane Hash is a podcaster, blogger, and political activist from Ohio. She has Osteogenesis Imperfecta, commonly known as ‘Brittle Bone Disease.’ Her documentary Plain Jane: A Shockumentary recently debuted at Peterborough’s ReFrame Film Festival. I interviewed her via Skype shortly after watching the film.
You chose to call your film a shockumentary—can you say why that is?
I enjoy watching documentaries, but most of the time I don’t find them particularly entertaining. They’re very informative and I enjoy that but when we were editing this documentary, it just didn’t seem like it fit in the documentary category.
It’s fun, there’s ups and downs and it just seemed way more entertaining … and shocking because, even though there are movies about transgender people, disabled people, sex is a common theme, and alternative religions … [but] I haven’t seen anything that puts all of these together in one movie, so the word shockumentary just came to mind.
Who is Tom Trainer, the director of your documentary? How did you meet him?
I was auditioning videographers – I had no idea about what I was doing, I just had this idea of a documentary about my life, but I didn’t have a story-board, or even an outline, I just had this idea. So I talked to several videographers about it, and there were quite a few that wanted to do it; but I just didn’t feel that they were going to do it the way I wanted it done. They had their own agendas … and Tom Trainer did not.
He was very apprehensive about it. I kind of had to talk him into it, because, as you’ve seen, [in the film] it could, in the wrong hands, have been done in a very exploitative fashion, and [with Tom Trainer] this is not the case.
It’s one hundred percent me and my life from beginning to end.
What was your intent in making this film? What did you hope it would accomplish?
My goal was to just inspire anyone to overcome a perceived obstacle. Swear on my life … strangers, friends, family have always told me that I inspired them to do something that they otherwise wouldn’t have, even though they wanted to.
So, what I got out of that was, most people’s unhappiness stems from being too afraid to do or to try things that they want to do. And I do all kinds of crazy things as you’ve seen.
Some things I only do once, if I don’t like it, but if I can inspire people just one person to try what they want or what they think might make them happy – that’s my goal.
Your mother, early in the film, says that when you were growing up she never told you that you were different or called you any of those names [associated with your condition]. Can you recall when you first started to become aware of your difference, and how you comprehended it as a child?
I didn’t really get it until I went to kindergarten. I grew up with my brothers, I was their little sister, and I don’t why I thought this. I knew my mother was female, but I guess single parents kind of lose their sense of gender to their kids.
I thought all boys could walk and girls couldn’t. And so that was a big shock my first day of kindergarten! The children were so accepting, they don’t judge, I don’t mess with their prejudices [as with some adults]. It was never a big deal, I never got picked on at school. I was instantly accepted and there were never any issues.
In the film you allude briefly to some domestic violence that occurred with your brother … was it just one brother or multiple brothers?
It was just one.
Do you feel that any of that violence was related to the fact that you were disabled in this particular way?
Yes, absolutely. I think whatever his condition is was already there and he would have had issues regardless of if I was born or not, but my existence did trigger further issues for him.
How long was that brother in your domestic situation and when did that come to a head? Where is he now?
Until I moved away when I was twenty-six years old … yeah.
You can ask whatever you want – if I don’t like it I can just [not answer]…
Right, you can always reject the premise of course. Well that’s actually a good segway into the question of how you got into the business of interviewing other amazing people with disabilities about their stories…
It’s something that I never saw coming. I’ve always been an activist; it’s a survival technique. I was on the street, protesting something that was going on in Ohio, and I had Tom Trainer [with me]. He comes by and I said ‘Hey, why don’t you video this for me?’ And we put it on YouTube, and within days I got a phone call from a radio station, KYSF as you saw, and based upon that clip they offered me my own show!
Even though I’m not with them now, I have an excellent relationship with them. They helped me find my voice, and I now have an independent podcast and it’s very successful. I try to focus on things that nobody else is focusing on.
You seem like a pretty iconoclastic person. Do you feel like the way that we usually talk around issues of disability is, I don’t know, maybe too polite? Is there something that we’re leaving out in usual discussions?
I’m a bad person to ask that of because I get scolded by other disabled people constantly, because I think we get way too hung up on the language. And you’ll notice in doing my shockumentary, I didn’t use any of those words like … you can see me, it’s in your face that I am queer, but just like those ‘politically correct’ words I just don’t put forth the effort to keep up on today’s ‘acceptable’ words.
And that’s a big part of why people like my podcast so much. When I interview another person with a disability I can get away with a bit more than others might. One of my first interviews, an amazing artist—it’s very sad, we lost her recently—she had lost all of her limbs but she’s an amazing performance artist.
We were promoting an upcoming show of hers, and—this was a podcast, so you don’t see her, they’re just hearing it—and I wanted to make sure we got any distracting information out of the way so we could focus on her show. So one of my first questions to her was ‘Where’s your hands and feet? Let’s talk about this so we can get to the good stuff.’ And she laughed and that was great, and that’s when I really started getting a following.
Something you focused on a bit in the documentary and that really resonated with me and my situation as a disabled student, was the way that the rules around disability supports are set up. They’re kind of back-asswards so that they end up discouraging people from trying to start their own businesses or to work while still receiving benefits. Would you like to elaborate on that?
There’s still a lot of work to be done. There is a huge gap people fall into, and I have not found a way around it yet … you either have to be at poverty level or be a millionaire!
They’ll give you an opportunity to ease out of poverty level. For example, there was a new program implemented in Ohio, that was supposed to help, you know, disabled people get employed. And I wanted to get into the program. I expected that whatever money I made would be deducted from my benefits, I was not upset about that. I was upset that they took twice as much!
So I called them up, I thought it had to be a mistake. And the worker screamed at me as if I was stealing money out of her pocket. I tried to explain, ‘Listen, I’m not trying to get out of anything, I just want to know why you’re taking twice as much as I’m making?’
In the end I had to stop working, it just wasn’t feasible … it made no sense. It’s a good thing I’m not really big and I don’t eat much—that would have been even more difficult to work through!
Five years is a long time to be working on a project. How do you feel about the finished product?
I love it. It turned out more fantastic than either of us imagined. At first I was kind of like ‘oh my god,’ I can’t believe it took us five years! But in doing documentaries that’s not uncommon. Some documentaries take up to 10 years. So I’m not holding myself up over that.
I love the way it turned out: it’s my story as I intended it and it’s done in an artistic and entertaining fashion I think.
You can find her podcast ‘Hash It Out With Jane’ via iTunes or the Internet at hashitoutwithjane.podomatic.com.