Sunday, 30 June 2013

Interview with Jasmine Isabella Neuenhaus

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Jasmine Isabella Neuenhaus, a multinational corporation employee and charming lady from Queensland, Australia. Hello Jasmine!
Jasmine: Hi Monika! Thank you for inviting me to interview with you.
Monika: Jasmine is such a lovely name! Did you choose it yourself?
Jasmine: I did indeed choose my new name. When I was young I was obsessed with escaping into the fantasy world of cartoons, none more so than the classic Disney animations.
And my favorite Disney cartoon? Aladdin of course! Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine was more focused on being true to herself than just accepting the path others paved for her. That character was the first role model I identified with and taking her name seemed an easy choice.

Even before transitioning I did guest speaking to raise
awareness of the plight of homeless youth.

Monika: What are you doing these days?
Jasmine: I have a busy career in a multinational financial institution managing the training systems for financial advisers based in the state of Queensland, who utilize our investment, superannuation, and life insurance platforms.
My career is something I will never take for granted, especially when I consider the fact that I never finished school, so a lot of my energy goes into my work.
Monika: The perception of Australian transsexual and transgender ladies is often shaped by the movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. How far was the movie from reality?
Jasmine: My life is certainly a busy production, but it’s not that sort of production. I do understand why people picture Australian trans women as being on a big lavender bus in the middle of the desert with crazy outfits and foot-long lashes. That is their only exposure to gender diversity.
The reality is much different though. The lives of myself and most of my other trans friends are really quite typical of any other woman. We go to work, we go out for coffee, we do gardening, we go shopping, we indulge in our hobbies and we try to teach men how to hang their towels on the rack.

Just a headshot.

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in Australian society?
Jasmine: There is a lot to say about perspective when answering questions like this. Are trans rights in Australia perfect? No. But are we in a comparatively good position to enable a positive and safe life? We definitely are! Look, it is true that our laws need to dot some i’s and cross some t’s.
But for the most part, we have laws that protect our safety, we have rights at work, and we have a legal system that allows our gender transition to be formally recognized on licenses, passports, and birth certificates. 
And with some more mainstream exposure of trans women involved in the community and living typical lives, I feel we can gain the respect we deserve to jump some of the hurdles of prejudice that make it harder for trans women to find employment and integrate more easily on a social level.
Monika: There are more and more transgender ladies coming out in the USA. Unlike in the previous years, some of them have the status of celebrities or are really well-known, just to mention Lana Wachowski in film-directing, Jenna Talackova in modeling, Kate Bornstein in academic life, Laura Jane Grace in music or Candis Cayne in acting. Do you witness the same trend in Australia?
Jasmine: While Australia has a couple of trans celebrities, very few are mainstream. I think the leading mainstream example would have to be Carlotta who appeared as a panelist on a popular TV talk show for many years. Most trans celebrities here are so purely to the LGBTIQ community and are widely unknown to the general public.
That said, there are more and more stories of Australian trans women appearing in mainstream media highlighting the life challenges of trans women in school, workplaces, rural communities, and the armed forces. These identities become temporary celebrities and many friends and colleagues make a point of talking to me about these amazing people.

Me and my ex-boyfriend before I came out as trans.

Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Jasmine: My childhood was turbulent, to say the least. My biological parents divorced when I was quite young so I grew up with two homes. In one home I lived with violence fuelled by alcohol while violence was fuelled by anger management issues in the other. But none of that had anywhere near as much impact on me emotionally as the disconnection I felt with life as a boy.
For years I felt like something wasn’t right but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it and I couldn’t work out how to fit in or why I was always told to behave differently. I was always told to spend more time with the boys, not to play with dolls or nail polish, not to be so emotional.
It wasn’t until I was 9yo while watching Aladdin that it hit me. I realized that I never wanted to be the masculine male hero, I found more comfort in associating with the headstrong princesses. My understanding of gender and what it meant for me grew over the years that followed. But I kept my discovery secret as I knew from instinct alone that my desire to be a girl would not be tolerated.

Recovering after 14 hours of surgery
including SRS, breast augmentation
and chin augmentation.

Monika: For most transgender girls, the most traumatic time is the time spent at school, college, or university when they had to face lots of discrimination. Was it the same in your case?
Jasmine: Not a truer word was spoken than, “Kid’s can be cruel!” But, my school life wasn’t too bad. In fact, the school was my escape from home. Primary school was pretty smooth sailing but when I was sent to an all-boys Catholic high school my self-defense mode went into hyperdrive.
I knew I wouldn’t survive if I shared the truth with anyone I was at school with, so I worked harder on validating my male traits in balance with my academic pursuits.
While some of the popular kids looked down on the fact that I enjoyed debating and public speaking along with extension classes, they forgave these ‘uncool” hobbies in my case as I also brought home soccer trophies and showed an interest and aptitude in sports classes. It was actually my ability to blend in at an all-boys school that gave me false confidence that I never had to tell anyone my secret.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends?
Jasmine: In December 2009, when I was 25yo, I was walking back to my hotel from a business dinner and was ‘gay’ bashed. That was the trigger, the final straw. I had spent all of my life crafting this ‘gay male’ identity to avoid confronting those around me with my gender reality, and here I was still being victimized. I figured that if I was going to be harassed anyway, I may as well see what it would be like to live as my true self.
I began coming out to friends and family in January 2010, I communicated transition plans at work in March 2011, I started hormones in April 2011, I changed my name in June 2011 and I started living and working as my true female identity in August 2011.
I then went on to undergo SRS to complete my transition in October 2012. Through this time my friendship base remained my strongest support network, with work colleagues supporting me as well, but my biological family has become quite distanced.

Two weeks after surgery, visiting the clinic that
changed my life for my follow-up consultation.

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Jasmine: To be honest, when I first started transition I knew very little about transgenderism. Even though I knew transgendered people.
I avoided knowledge because knowledge is power and I had always been scared of sacrificing the security of my false male identity for the temptation of revealing the female me if I had the knowledge required to do so.
This meant that when it came time to transition, I had a lot of learning to do. Between a great GP and psychologist plus the glory of the internet, I had access to all of the medical and legal I needed. But finding role models wasn’t so easy.
Then I found YouTube and, after a little searching, finally managed to find some trans women I could relate to, share information with, and who I could look up to.

Just another headshot.

Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You do not have such a problem at all but what would you recommend to other transgender ladies that have to struggle every day to pass?
Jasmine: While I am still ‘read’ occasionally before I underwent chin and breast augmentation I was ‘clocked’ constantly. The battle to pass was almost obsessive and I found myself torn by the struggle.
Then I realized, I spent my whole life trying to hide as a male, I wasn’t about to spend the rest of my life trying to hide as a female. Once I accepted that some people were going to recognize that I was once a male, once I understood that recognition of my gender history did not betray my current gender, once I started focusing on living rather than passing, that’s when I found happiness as the real me.


All the photos: courtesy of Jasmine Isabella Neuenhaus.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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