Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Rosalyne Blumenstein LCSW ACHP-SW, a woman of many talents, film director, writer, social worker, activist, former director of the Gender Identity Project at the LGBT Center in Manhattan, the author of Branded T. Hello Rosalyne!
Monika: Having had so many talents and jobs, which profession do you enjoy most?
Rosalyne: The one that pays the rent of course!☺
There have been many phases in my life and within those stages of life and my varied professions. There was enjoyment and struggle within each and every phase. What I can say is that I have learned so much about myself and the world around me within each phase and each profession. I’ve been involved in professions that had tremendous stigma attached to them at the time I was involved.
There were many gifts within those times as well as costs. The ‘Cost and benefit’ analysis has not been a tool I’ve utilized in my life as much as I should. I may have reaped more benefits if I was less impulsive. As one gets older we do slow down and I am less impulsive but not to the extent of really thinking things through at all times! Within those professions one would consider suitable there were exactly the same experiences as the more stigmatized professions. Again there were costs and benefits.
|16 already sitting on a bar stool.|
Rosalyne: That was a magical time in my life. I was involved with one of the few men I have met in my life that knew all about where I came from and supported me unconditionally. Those kind of men are few and far between and unfortunately because of the current socio political agendas.
I think it is now even worse (I'll get into that at a later question). In 1996 I was moving, stepping out of a profession I thought I could never get out of and moving into an exciting new arena. Back then we were trail blazers, those that came before me within this socio political movement, the trans movement. I was afforded the opportunity to be a voice, hold a position, and have access. But I was also learning and evolving and my ego was also consistently getting in the way.
You see, I came from an informally educated background, the streets of NYC. And I was just beginning my formal education since 1993. I was green in regards to “the kings English”. I knew how to play the game of life my way and this neo movement that I became engaged with was with many formally educated and wise and privileged beings. It was a challenge, it was scary, it was invigorating, thought provoking, and I was trying to establish myself within this new arena utilizing my informal education (my life, my being, my abilities to be who I was/am since 16) and connect it with what I was currently learning and becoming within this neo-movement.
Again, I was also loved very much by my x-fiancee, I was in great shape, I looked fabulous and there was a big part of me that wanted to be famous, seen, and in a movie. So to do a documentary just fed my ego. That could be both positive and negative.
Monika: In the next years you directed your own documentaries: "Safe-T-Lessons" (1996), "Gender Variance Perception …YOURS/MINE/OURS" (1998) and "Gender Identity Mergers and the Power of Language" (2000). Could you say a few words about them?
Rosalyne: Well Safe T Lessons was the infamous Dr Barbara Warren’s (current LGBT Director of a major hospital in NYC) idea. I was the coordinator of the Gender Identity Project at that time. We were being funded by the AIDS Institute, a State wide NY Agency overseeing money for HIV/AIDS prevention. It was under the heading of the gay/lesbian/bisexual initiative (one of the biggest gifts and biggest problems I believe that has affected the whole trans movement). There was never before a video made where people of trans experience could talk about themselves, community, empowerment, health, and self protection. People like Riki Wilchins (before she was an entity) agreed to participate. Our collaborative goal was to bring together different kind of folks, from various backgrounds and trans experiences to discuss HIV.
I had no desire to be in the Video. I was uncomfortable with exposing my history and I just wanted to be the gofer for this educational video. In fact till this day although I love Barbara Warren with all my heart, there is a part where her and I are sitting talking about peer counseling and she sought of outed me as if I was one of the clients of our project and all I wanted to do was smack her☺.
Or that might be a scene from Rosa’s film, Im so confused ☺))))). I Directed and edited with assistance Gender Variance Perception. I loved that. I have a great personality and can sway people to do things. Like get naked even if you are a Doctoral student or really uncomfortable with your nakedness. I got all kind of people to get naked and talk about their comfort or discomfort with their nakedness, the genitalia, to make gender and sex identity not just a trans issue.
But again there was ego because I looked fabulous naked and was comfortable with my own nakedness . I came from a profession where I spent a lot of time being naked. And there was this deep urge to show the world; see, this all makes sense. So even though it was a brilliant idea my ego was also invested in it. Gender Identity mergers and the power of language was about showing the diversity to combat the stereotypes. You see although I had and have this fucken ego that on a daily basis I need to work on and look at. I really wanted to bring as many voices to the table. Especially the silenced voices! That was so important to me and still is.
|"Branded T" (2003).|
Rosalyne: Ego, fucking Ego! There is a song that I want to be played at my memorial when Im gone… No Regrets, by Edith Piaff, but in French of course. So you think I have culture☺.
However, I have some regrets in writing this book. I was in my angry black woman phase. (in my role as a clinical educator I use the term “angry black woman” but also state why it is perfectly normal for a black woman to be angry because of our societal systematic behaviors). I use the term not as a pathology but as an experience one has when the eco system surrounding you is just coming at you from too many directions.
First of all Branded T needs a good editor…know anyone so I can do a more proficient second edition? Most dissertations take years and you go over and over and over. I wrote this book and published in less than a year with an asshole of an editor.☺
I left NYC (New York City) in 2002 annoyed and confused. I left the trans socio political work within an LGBT movement angry and disdained. Within my years at the LG Later LGBT Center I became a public figure within a movement and with that lost my ability to just be Rosalyne. Every which way I turned I was fighting, fighting public access for clients, fighting the police for violence, fighting the gay and lesbian community to be inclusive and educated, fighting amongst the people of trans experiences that were the haves and have nots, fighting social workers to be more progressive, fighting the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association HBIGDA now called WPATH World Professional Association for Transgender Health to stop pathologizing the trans identity, fighting those with access to money and literary power to share with those of us that come from a varied unconventional education.
And I really just wanted to be Rosalyne again, get laid when I wanted and not to have this “transgender label”. But I also felt I needed to keep my voice alive in a movement in the world since I really believed, and still believe I had something to say. But I didn’t want to be on the front line any more. I also had a girlfriend I was with at the time writing a book about her life and since I am so competitive I said damn if she can do it, I'm going do it too. But I'm going do it from an autobiographical perspective utilizing my progressive clinical social justice therapeutic background to interweave and educate as I go from one era of life to another.
|"Branded T" (2003.|
Many Employers seem to have a problem with a clinical therapist who used to perform fellatio or swing on a pole or who has challenged the constructs of gender and I don’t get hired. I didn’t think about how Branded T would affect my professional life. And that is on me.
On one hand, I am sorry about how it has affected some of those that I have had a personal engagement with. On another hand I get frustrated when I am looking for professional work and I know the reasons behind ‘not getting the position or the call. And on the other hand I feel those that have an issue with my history can kiss my ass.
And last thought on Branded t. Movie stars in their 60s or 70s write a tell all book when they are in a place where they are not so worried about the ramifications of what is in the book. Branded T I think has too much introspective personal information in regards to what I have thought about myself in conjunction to what I thought about others. Besides the fact that I am nor will I ever be a movie star, and II was not in my 60s or 70s when I wrote it.☺ I should’ve searched for some professional guidance before publishing.
Monika: In 2006 your story was covered in the documentary titled “Almost Myself”, directed by T. Joe Murray. You were featured there along with Kate Bornstein, Marci Bowers and other prominent transgender women? How do you recollect the co-operation with T. Joe Murray?
Rosalyne: Monika, gorgeous Monika. I don’t use the term transgender woman unless of course that is how someone identifies. Then I totally respect their reality. I believe my discussion within that documentary was more coming from a therapeutic less personal perspective.
I think ☺ again, I may be wrong. I believe every voice should be heard even the voice that may change the way in which people view things. There was one character in the documentary that had regrets, found god, and decided to live a different way. Yes that voice should be heard. But the director I believe spent a little too much time on that character. The power of the editor of any film is what makes and breaks a film. The trans movement was still in its baby phase and the world has not been kind to these issues. So I believe the Director should’ve been a little more empathetic to that cause.
|Bryant Park New York City Pride event 2000.|
Rosalyne: A very old friend Leslie Townsend was the co-director of that play. I had no desire to be in it although I do have a theatrical background and miss performing so much. Ever since I was very young that was my dream. But my vocal tremors and my worldwind life only afforded me opportunities within the asshole end of show business, the sex industry. They had a performer drop out and they begged me to be in it. So I did it. I stay in touch with Leslie as we have experienced many similar life experiences. And I know her since I was 23. Although we have gone down different roads she is one of the few women I know with my history that gets my journey on some deeper level.
A few of the other women I just met during that performance and was honoured to be with them on the same stage. What an amazing group of talented beautiful exciting woman. The factor that I was taught, once again, is when you walk through something and push past your comfort zone there are always tremendous gifts on the other side of that experience. I also stay in touch with Cheryl Hoffman as she was a health care worker for some time here in Los Angeles CA. I enjoy supporting and guiding her in her life from afar.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Rosalyne: Thanks for sticking that thorn right…. ☺)) Another regret!
Back to the costs and the benefits. I was afforded a new kind of career in the 1990s because of the L and G now LGBT Center in NYC. Looking back now I have nothing but gratitude to that Center for affording me all the opportunities I received. I met some brilliant people and became a brilliant person in my own right. But the LGBT movement has taken trans issues down a road of disaster for too many.
The word transgender was established; which I am one of those who sat around the Center for Disease Control tables during the beginning of the AIDS pandemic to categorize a group of people that were at high risk for HIV, that is where the word transgender, as an umbrella term was born.
Mind you others use the term transgenderist to describe an identity that was based where some one lived in a desired gender but did not utilize any medical interventions to transform any primary sexual characteristics to fit their identity i.e. the late Virgina Prince.
But trans gender was born within an AIDS pandemic and a Gay controlled movement. Again please don’t get this wrong. On one hand I love what the gay community has done for trans people across the continuum. On the other hand Transgender is now a gay term a fight that I gave up when I decided to leave the LGBT Center. 12 years later I believe it is worse than ever.
|Yes I know, attack of the 50 foot woman.|
I come from a different generation on one hand. On another hand I am a licensed clinical social worker and I have to be objective when engaging and educating people as well I have to support those clients that entrust their deepest issues with me in my office and trust that I will be their to assist objectively.
The subjective; transgender means crossing and to too many they have crossed the street like the chicken who crossed the road. And in crossing that street they just want to be who they are on the other side of that street, not hiding or denying but just have their being on the other side of the street legitimized. Transgender doesn’t do that because it is synonymous with gay issues and when someone utilizes that term lets say transgender woman, people immediately think you are really a man!
My strategy besides just wanting a different kind of job in the 90s was that people of sexual minorities might somehow come together and challenge the larger more empowered institutions not make trans a sub heading of gay issues. And my strategy for the use of the word transgender was to bring many different people together form all gender identity experiences to challenge the hierarchy. That was my strategy back then and that was my largest fight on many levels.
And now that I am no longer in that fight I believe it is now even worse than it was 12 years ago. On the other hand there is more trans visibility and many more voices coming from all different directions but I truly believe the more visibility and the connection with the powers that be within the gay and lesbian movement educating incorrectly that is why so many of our trans women are murdered. If a trans woman is identified as someone who is under a gay umbrella and a man, lets say a hetero or bisexual man is attracted to that woman, it makes them in their head gay which can lead a hetero man to violent behaviors. In addition the word transgender has eliminated the word transexual or trans and has transformed that medical term to have less of a meaning.
But the term is now used as a way to identify a third sex if you will (that’s how I believe many see it). Again this is not to discredit those that love the term and use it to identify themselves. But there are many under this umbrella term specifically those of transexual experience that have decided to have their core identity interwoven with a specific sexual/gender identity. And they don’t want to be referred as someone who is crossing the street. They have already crossed and want that to be their primary identity.
In the late 1990s I did term the phrase woman or man of transexual or trans experience. This is to identify and legitimize the core identity while celebrating the cultural heritage as well. But the male or female is the primary, the core identity, and that should not be de-legitimized. Again, although I am a clinician I come from an older generation. I understand the celebration of the word transgender and want to assist with that celebration. However, that doesn’t mean that someone can use that to box me in. Girl you just exhausted me. Am I getting paid for this interview. ☺))))))
Monika: Is there anyone in the US transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the 60s and 70s for the gay activism?
Rosalyne: Is there anyone of trans experience like Harvey? There are so many that have done so much and if I start naming I know I will leave someone out so forgive me. I have to give credit where credit was do. First there were the trans women on the street without privilege or power or access. Those are the strong ones. But usually with street life comes other pathological defense mechanisms in order to survive.
Those are the Name-less. There is Riki Wilchins, Dr Barbara Warren, Joanne Keatly, Valerie Spencer, many women you have already interviewed, many men of trans experience that have done some amazing work to change the world i.e. Jamison Green, Justus Eisfield, Imani Henry, Samurel Laurie…
I could keep going. There are so many amazing people of trans experience really working it out doing extraordinary things on local, state, national and international levels. Three amazing trans women of color you should interview, one from a new generation Janet Mock and the amazing actress Laverne Cox as well as Jazzmun Nichcala Crayton who just co-directed a play called Lovely Bouquet of Flowers where she used writings by people of trans experience and then have actors of trans experience present the monologues and montages. She is currently seeking funding for the documentary putting together the play. It’s all about building community through theatre, its brilliant.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Rosalyne: Besides dis-liking the word trans gender.☺))))) There is certainly more visibility and more diversity in the public eye! Do I think the world is now more accepting for lets say a hetero woman of ts experience to find love, no, I actually think its worse.
I think the visibility along with the utilization of the word transgender and its consistent connect with LGBT issues under the label the heading gay has made it worse. However life is about freedom and the ability to be free from within. So because of the visibility and the age of the internet more women are not alone and have more opportunities to be educated about their options. So for that it is a good thing.
|From the left: Veronica Klaus, Rosalyne Blumenstein, Victoria Ortiz,|
Dee Dee Flores, Desiree Jade Sol, Gina Grahame, Aleshia Brevard,
and Leslie Townsend, February 2008.
Rosalyne: Monika, I found myself on the streets of NYC at age 16. It was a very colourful time. In my book Branded T I discuss NYC in the 70s. I don’t care what anybody says but NYC was much more fun when it was dangerous and eclectic not like today where it is safe and full of Disney!. It was the studio 54 era and it was all about looking a certain way as well as being comatosed from reality!!!!! I wouldn’t change a thing.
And the characters I came in contact with, well that was the cultural milieu and they were my role models. And when you think about it those role models were enigmatic and powerful. They survived life without privilege or access!
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Rosalyne: The young and fascinating Janet Mock has rephrased this. It’s not so much about coming out but about being visible. I knew something was up at the age of 3 and did something about it at the age of 16. I didn’t wait so long. So life has been a gift.
Monika: Having transitioned yourself, what would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Rosalyne: As a clinical therapist I would suggest finding a progressive therapist that is not your gate keeper but a tool for you to utilize to way out the costs and benefits, the pros and cons, and to utilize reality therapy so that you make the best personal and professional decisions possible.
As a human being who has survived many many storms, I would say; life is too short, live it to the fullest, dare to dream and be. Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back to be able to live in your truth. Being true to oneself makes you a stronger more vibrant more tolerable individual. If you need to, take that road less traveled. The journey is fabulous and worth it.
But I believe I was in their life mentoring and supporting and now so many that went through that project are current leaders in their own right doing amazing work. I have a small private practice here in Los Angeles called Therapy2Go where I see clients one on one in person at my office or their homes or through Skype. If we can help change one person’s life a day, plant one new seed, even a mustard seed, then that day is a success!