7x21 Coco Janssen

7x21 explores life at 21 with 7 young wāhine and irarere. Here's the incredible Coco Janssen!


October 05, 2023

What are you listening to right now?

I was just listening to Islands in the Stream by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers.

Back when you were 18, you planned to go to uni for a year then travel to Europe. Then covid hit. How was that?

If you asked 18-year-old me, she would have had many curse words about covid. Instead of running around the world, I was doing 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles in a day. When we started to come out of covid I had the worst depression I have ever had for about nine months. That further robbed me of those experiences and was harder as I couldn’t go ‘ug covid’ but ‘ug my brain doesn’t work properly’.

What did your depression feel like in those low times?

I felt incapacitated. There was this moment when I was supposed to go to work, (waitressing) and I could not stop my panic attack – a panic attack will normally last for 15-30 – minutes but this one went on for hours. My body was saying ‘you can’t do this’. I felt defeated. Nothing would click. All of that has bought me to where I am now and without sounding like a cliché, what happened during covid led me to my job.

What is that job?

A preschool. It is my joy. My favourite part is when some of my kids are having a difficult moment and I know how to help them. I couldn’t help myself for so long but with these kids, I can. The playfulness and the impulsivity kids have brings back the silliness I was supposed to experience when I was 18/19 and couldn’t.

Working with children with autism also helped my sensory awareness. When you have a panic attack you get asked ‘what can you taste, see, feel, hear’. So now when I have had a hard day, I will take five minutes and simply sit there and feel what my body’s feeling.

Now you’re 21, when you look back on teenage you, what would you say?

I would tell her to listen to her mother when she says it does pass but also be angry. Don’t disregard the anger. It was unfair I didn’t get to go and dance on tables in Greece but there was nobody to blame.

Are young women allowed to be angry?

There is a small spectrum of emotions that women are allowed to feel. I was taught you could be beautiful AND smart and strong AND sensitive and funny AND kind and never thought of myself as anything other than that. Then when I got into high school and not everyone was raised that way I discovered that some people think it is not OK if I feel all those things. Or that it’s not OK that I am uber confident and that I know what I want and I am loud. It’s bullshit.

It’s the same with sexuality. There’s this idea that women can explore bisexuality but it’s frivolous or fetishized.

You came out not too long ago. How was that experience?

I was cautious, worried I was tying myself to something, but I wanted to have it taken seriously. A women’s sexuality is complicated. It is a beautiful, exciting thing and it’s not bizarre that a woman wants to enjoy sex or wants to have more than one partner at a time or not want to have sex at all. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It can be complicated and cool. That’s why having bisexual or even pansexual as a label gives so much freedom and also why I like the word queer. I can be bisexual and only have relationships with men. It’s all valid.

My parents were surprised when I wanted to talk about it. They said I can live my life as I want. That opened up a lot. I can do things that they wouldn’t think I would do.

What sort of things did it open up?

I have tattoos now. When I was younger, I thought I wouldn’t get tattoos. When I was in my heavy depression my therapist helped me crawl my way into and then out of a deep issue where I believed that I didn’t t fit into my family. And if I didn’t fit into my family then where would I ever fit in? I created this idea of a family that was book smart, with kids who got corporate office jobs, and didn’t do tattoos or piercings.

My therapist said to me one day ‘When you get good eggs from a farmers market, they don’t match, they are different sizes, shapes, and taste different but they are all eggs in the cartoon together’. That clung to me. This is my life, I get to do it the way I want and still be part of the carton of eggs. I could date girls and get tattoos and do something that wasn’t an office job and be loud and still be part of my family and they would love me whoever and however I am. (My family will be mad thinking I’ve called them eggs).

I must acknowledge how privileged I was to have access to therapy.

What do you think about the stereotype that all Gen Z’s are pigeonholed as liberal snowflakes?

That feels pre covid. During covid across the entire world, we saw the power of people staying home and being there for one another. We closed doors and opened curtains. We’re not snowflakes anymore, more like liberal problem-makers.

If you picture yourself at 25, what does that look like?

In four years’ time, if, for some reason, I think I never want to teach again, I want to be OK with that. I’m constantly fighting against the idea that women lose their value at 35.

What’s one word to sum up how you feel about the future?

Explore. That’s all I want to do for the rest of my life. There’s time for everything. That would be a good tattoo.

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