Ice House

A Conversation with Propane Jane, Politics Junkie

A Houston doctor makes some noise on Twitter.

By Roxanna Asgarian December 29, 2016 Published in the January 2017 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Image: Shutterstock

Wife. Mother. Doctor. Christian. Democrat. Scorpio. Politics Junkie. Houstonian. You can learn all these things and more about Propane Jane (@docrocktex26) from her Twitter bio. But what you won’t find out? Her real name.

Jane’s kept it under wraps, even as her strong opinions—on the brutal presidential campaign and its aftermath, among other things—have gained attention from journalists across the country. As a black woman and proud Texan with a following now 46,000 members strong, she’s struck a chord with many. We tracked Jane down to ask her a few questions.

Your Twitter following exploded during this past election cycle. Why do you think that people outside Texas were so interested in your take?

Being a Texan and being from the south, I am shedding some light on my perspective on politics, which I don’t think is a widely shared perspective, in terms of what we see and hear in the media. I grew up in Missouri City, I went to the University of Texas at Austin, I spent two years at Texas Tech in Lubbock, I went to Baylor for medical school. I’ve been all over Texas, lived in different places in Texas and I feel like I know the state and who we are. I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder — I’m a political junkie and I get into conversations with people who know nothing about Texas, who think there’s nothing liberal in Texas except Austin, that we’re all a bunch of rednecks, all the stereotypes you’re familiar with. We have all this diversity and all these people that Trump is vilifying. So many of my colleagues are not Christian, from all different backgrounds. The perception of Texas doesn’t match, it doesn’t comport with my day-to-day life living in Houston, Texas.

You tweet a lot about the state’s shifting demographics and what that means for its politics. Texas as a whole went red this time, but Harris County and neighboring Fort Bend County went decidedly blue. Do you see the democrats’ win here locally as a sign of things to come for the state?

I work in Harris County and I live in Fort Bend County. When I look at the place I was raised and see how much it’s changed — I was the only black girl in my class from second grade to fifth grade. And I have two kids now and they are in school in Fort Bend County, and it looks like the United Colors of Benetton! I look at my neighborhood, the Indian restaurants and Vietnamese restaurants down the street, with the New York Times calling us the most diverse county in America and I think — y’all are sleeping on Texas! Harris County had 160,0000 more votes for Hillary  — that’s gigantic. That fueled my optimism. People didn’t want Texas to continue with its reputation. It feels confirmatory and that something is brewing and that will continue to get better and better; at the same time, I’m feeling that the country is going backwards.

You’re a psychiatrist who works with low-income populations here in Houston. How does your work influence your politics, and vice versa?

I knew since I was 6 that I wanted to be a doctor. When I was in college taking my prerequisites, I took a sociology class and I fell in love with it. I learned so many things about society and the  -isms and disparities, and it was everything I was interested in, even as a physician—of course I was interested in disease processes and things at the individual level, but I was always interested in things at the societal level, focused on health disparities and race, class and gender. Throughout my training and every day in my work, you can’t separate this stuff. With my patients, I can prescribe them anything I want, but at the end of the day, if they don’t have five dollars for the copay, I’m not making them any better. I’m always reminded of the broader stuff, and mental health is already undervalued, but my patients, who are low-income and mentally ill, are especially underserved.

I know that harassment by other Twitter users has been a big problem for some high-profile people. Have you experienced a lot of that?

I don’t know if this is just wishful thinking or I’m an eternal optimist, but I just don’t think I have a bad troll problem. For as heated as the conversations get, and with the occasional person that comes in and says whatever, by and large I don’t really have a problem. I don’t know why — maybe it’s because I’m sort of brutal in response and that stands as a lesson for people who want to try it? If I’m giving you facts and not just saying this is my opinion, but these are the facts that support my opinion, if you’re going to come in and step on the stage with 40,000 people watching, you have to have something good to do it with. And so in that sense the record speaks for itself that not very many people try it. I welcome the dialogue and the conversation, and I do block a lot of people — if people are inflammatory or are there to be a distraction, I kick them out of class. But I will say in that sense I have been blessed. There are other activists, women of color, men of color, white women that are very strong supporters of feminism or staunch supporters of Black Lives Matter that get attacked pretty heavily.

Why did you choose to go by a pseudonym for your online presence?

A lot of why Propane Jane is as popular as she has become is because I talk about racism and misogyny and socioeconomic injustice—things that people know, but we don’t always say explicitly. I am saying some controversial things, and I am a public figure in my profession. My approach to medicine is like the separation of church and state. I don’t think my political views belong anywhere near my practice of medicine, apart from the fact that I think healthcare should be a right to all. But in terms of me being a psychiatrist, I have people that proudly voted for Trump and in their deepest darkest moments they want to see me. The fact I can’t stand Trump does not affect my ability to heal and care for my patient. Also, maybe it’s because I am from a marginalized group, but I don’t feel as empowered and safe to say what I want to say and not be adversely affected in my career. Really, I’m glad that people enjoy what I say online and that it resonates. Propane Jane is just an opportunity for me to showcase Houston. It’s not about me, it’s about the ideas, the people I try to help, and the place that shapes me and my value system. As much as I can, I want to put that on the map, more than I do my individual self.

This interview has been edited and condensed. A shorter version first appeared in Houstonia's January 2017 issue.
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