I’m meeting Justin Jedlica, the man that US current affairs show 20/20 labeled "The Human Ken Doll", in West Hollywood. Recently divorced and relocated to the neighbourhood from Chicago, Jedlica chooses PUMP – the restaurant owned by The House Wives of Beverly Hills favourite Lisa Vanderpump.
“I really should be one of them!” Justin exclaims as we order our first cocktails. Jedlica realised very early that there was a more luxurious lifestyle to be lived than the one he shared with his mum and dad of Slovak heritage, two younger brothers and sister near Fishkill in Dutchess County, New York. “We lived in a little house with a dirt driveway, we had a free standing stove with coal, you shovel the coal and take the ash bin out and that’s how we heated the house. I was extremely envious of people who had a lot – one of my favourite TV shows was Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous – I always wanted to be like those people.”
It was also how the rich and famous looked that captivated him. “Michael Jackson was a huge inspiration – he was someone who totally remade himself in his vision of what he seemingly thought was beautiful, contrary to whatever anyone else said. Dolly Parton and Joan Rivers were people I aspired to and they had these kind of plastic looks and it seemed to me a way that I could elevate myself out of my social status.”
Jedlica paid for his first nose job when he was 17 and, although his parents wouldn’t let him have the surgery then, he had it as soon as he turned 18. “I always hated my nose.” $35,000 and five nose jobs later, he says "It’s cute now". He has had 320 procedures including 28 surgeries where multiple procedures have been performed at the same time. He points out his bicep and tricep implants and I’m fascinated to feel them. “You can push – I’m not gonna pop”, he encourages. I can feel the edge and it feels surprisingly natural “…these I custom designed” he tells me with great pride.
Jedlica's parents were very involved with the Catholic Church - “I was baptised four times” - and he said that religion played a part in his feeling that his homosexual tendencies would pass. They didn’t. He came out at 18 when his father moved out of their home in Cary, North Carolina and his parents decided to divorce. “After that I started having sex with girls – maybe because the pressure was alleviated. I’d meet these girls at gay bars so they knew my predisposition to being attracted to men. I’m an attention whore and people who are persistent usually get my attention. I dated a lesbian for four months because she was persistent.”
He created his drag persona, Jezebelle, in response to feeling alienated for being effeminate. “Drag made me feel like I fit in better – I didn’t wait in line, I got treated well and after a while I started dressing up even when I wasn’t performing. It got to the point where I couldn’t wait to get home each day and get ready to go out. I was able to go out and be somebody else. By then a lot of people were talking to me about transitioning.”
Jedlica loves the art form of transformation. “It’s not that different to what I’m doing now with my surgery. That doesn’t meant that I disliked my penis – I never wanted a vagina but with everybody reinforcing that for a really long period I talked to my Mum about it and considered getting breasts. I started getting silicone work and injections in my ass to an extent where it was passable as a guy but still helpful as a chick. I was hooking up with lots of straight guys – almost all of my longer term relationships had been with men who would socialise themselves as straight. My ex would say I’m not gay – I just fell in love with you.”
He describes his lovers referring to him as a "stepping stone" and that being with him was “like having the best of both worlds”.
“It’s never been a disadvantage for me to be kind of androgynous."
Jedlica describes this time in his life as feeling "gender fluid"; that his interests, behaviour and expression can change day-to-day or even within the day where you may feel more female or male at any given time. Some people who define their gender identity as fluid, do so because they don’t feel that either male or female accurately describes them.
“I don’t think I was born in the wrong body, but I felt really powerful when I dressed as a woman and very sexual more than I ever felt as a boy. That’s just the way I felt because I wasn’t inherently as masculine. I will continue to change.”
We’re on our second cocktail so, of course, at this point I ask if he has had any procedures "down there". He responds, “I always tell people that I’m very knowledgeable about that…” I don’t get a definitive answer.
We pause to order a smart snack of the heirloom tomatoes with creamy burrata, rock shrimp tempura and fresh papaya with shrimp and the conversation shifts from sex to love.
“I don’t believe in falling in love. I believe that you become enamoured and in lust with someone and those things are great and they’re fun. But you have a choice as to whether you elongate that relationship. It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man, as it is a poor man. People are people through and through.”
"I don’t believe in falling in love. I believe that you become enamoured and in lust with someone and those things are great and they’re fun. But you have a choice as to whether you elongate that relationship. It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man, as it is a poor man."
He then suggests that in our society, masculinity is defined by sex.
“Go online and see how many male prostitutes there are, how many female prostitutes there are and how many transsexual prostitutes there are. Who is hiring them? Not women! Because women internalise sex different. Women are built to procreate and so they want to have security and stability and an emotional connection with their partner in order to have really satisfactory sex. Men don’t have to have that. I mean is it nice to have that? Of course.”
Our food arrives and I explain to the waiter that we are sharing everything – he places the food in the middle and I repeat, "I mean we are literally sharing everything!"
Jedlica checks his phone. He has a Grindr date to get to. I suggest that he invites him – it’ll be great for the story, "Imagine… I take a mouthful of creamy burrata when Jedlica’s Grindr date arrives". He shrieks "No way! You’re crazy!"
Being newly single, he hasn’t wasted time understanding the latest dating apps. “I’m on them all now – Grindr, Tinder, Thrinder, Jack’d, plus match making places.”
Apparently we can expect to see him on an upcoming episode of Millionaire Matchmaker soon. He tells me he likes being in relationships in a supporting role, so I wonder if he thinks that being on these kinds of apps will help or if he’s just out there now to have some fun.
“It depends on the time and the day you ask me. I change my profile heading because sometimes I just want to go out to dinner and get to know somebody – sometimes when I travel it is a good way to connect with locals and find out where is good to go and some days you just want to get on and get off.”
At this point, PUMP’s owner Lisa Vanderpump takes a seat at the next table – we finger wave.
As we finish up, Jedlica makes the arrangement to meet his Grindr date and we talk about how his perception of beauty and of himself continues to be fluid. “My message isn’t superficial or vain, it’s about owning what your interests are. I was artistic and effeminate and it all led me to this. This is my expression of being a non-conformist.
"I’m not going to try to fit in to a mould, I’m going to make myself extremely exceptionally different in my own vision. I don’t have to concede to the fact that this is what God gave me. I can be my own God and I can take control of my own destiny and how I view myself.”