Sunday, 30 June 2013

Interview with Jasmine Isabella Neuenhaus

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Jasmine Isabella Neuenhaus, a charming lady from 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 favourite 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 systems training for financial advisers based in the state of Queensland who utilise 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 is really quite typical of any other woman. We go to work, we go out for coffee, we do the 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 the 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 recognised on licences, 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 USA. Unlike in the previous years some of them have status of celebrities or are really well-known, just to mention Lana Wachowski in film-directing, Jenna Talackova in modelling, 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 panellist 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 realised 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 of 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 spoken than, “Kid’s can be cruel!” But, my school life wasn’t too bad. In fact, 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 defence 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 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 victimised. 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 have 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 realised, 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 recognise 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.
As for recommendations to others, just remember to avoid dangerous areas where LGBTIQ people are not accepted, ignore negative comments from people you will never see again, acknowledge that for every 1 person who gives you a weird look or says something nasty that there are 50 people who don’t have a problem, be proud of who you are and present yourself with confidence to the world.
Oh, and don’t go overboard on the makeup or dress too young for your age, they are dead giveaways!
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Jasmine: Not spending my entire pay on fashion, make up and laser hair removal! No, I’m serious! Now that I was willing to let people know about my gender, I had the opportunity to buy those Dianna Ferrari’s that I’d always loved, it was OK for me to visit Napoleon Perdis and why wouldn’t I get the best laser as often as possible to eliminate my beard? It took a while to build some self control to make sure the speed of my transition did not exceed my means. I was surprised no one warned me of the dangers of momentum.
Loving being in the fresh air with my wonderful boyfriend.
Monika: Being such a beautiful lady, do you often use the girl power?
Jasmine: Oh you flatter me Monika! I have never seen myself as ‘beautiful’, but I have certainly noticed men are a little more helpful and polite these days. They seem enchanted by a hair flick and hypnotised by an ample bust, but I remind myself to use my powers wisely. “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Jasmine: Prior to transitioning I lived as a gay male and, in Australia, the government is still behind the times on equal marriage rights. While I have not been married, I’ve always wanted to walk down the aisle as the princess in white, and now that I’m legally female I can.
But I only want to do it once so I will not take the decision lightly. I think love is one of our greatest gifts and no matter how hard circumstances may be, true love can make anything feel possible, so having the right person by your side can make a massive difference to the positive direction of your life.
Monika: Have you ever thought about being a mother?
Jasmine: An emotional point indeed as I have always wanted to be a mother. There is nothing more beautiful or miraculous than a pregnant woman. I’ve cried many times about not having the right body to conceive a child, and I get so angry when I see bad parents who take the privilege of having children for granted.
And yes, selfish as it is, I feel raging jealousy around pregnant women and newborns. But, I have a wonderful nephew and step niece and I put all of my protective guardian instincts into being a positive part of their life. And I have four cockatiels and my boyfriend’s two dogs who are my adopted children.
My first guest speaking role after
starting life as my true self.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Jasmine: While I keep my finger on the pulse of equality legislation and scan the media to keep myself up to date with current social issues and community wins, I’m not active in politics outside of Facebook comments and article shares regarding LGBTI rights, animal rights, women's rights, general human rights and environmental concerns.
Can trans women make a difference in politics? Of course! Any focused individual with goals and ideals can make a difference in politics, and there are indeed trans women involved in politics around the world who are just as valuable and productive as their cisgendered counterparts.
I am however involved in activities aiming to promote professional and social integration of trans women in business and society and to dispel inappropriate preconceived notions of what it is to be transgendered.
Through YouTube, media articles, radio interviews and guest speaking at events, I raise awareness of the issues faced by trans women and provide experiential feedback and assistance regarding workplace transitioning, social inclusion and the red tape that encompasses medical and legal transition. Aside from that, I am also actively involved in raising awareness of the plight of homeless youth in Australia.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Jasmine: Beauty pageants are what they are, a celebration of individuals who take great care with achieving and maintaining a commercially marketable image of aesthetic beauty. Often these individuals go on to use their famed status to contribute to their communities and raise awareness for important issues which I think is a fantastic outcome.
Cisgendered and transgendered pageants are akin, and as long as both cisgendered and transgendered individuals maintain an understanding that the physical image these pageants celebrate is not the defining factor on what constitutes a beautiful person, I don’t see a problem with them. Of course, it would be nice to see birth sex removed from the equation and a greater acceptance of blended pageants involving cisgendered and transgendered women as equals.
My typical fashion style, simple yet different.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Jasmine: I’m not going to lie, there is a female stereotype I very much fit, and that is my love of shopping and fashion. Shopping for fashion, well let’s just say that is an image of part of my personal heaven! For me, fashion is all about pride, comfort and coordination.
Do I wear dresses and skirts now just because I can? No, it’s just not me. If you see me walking down the street on a weekend you are likely to see me wearing a cute pair of heels, a pair of simple blue jeans and a top that has some kind of unique design feature, not just a plan t-shirt.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Jasmine: I’ve often joked with friends about writing a trilogy of my life, because my personal history is varied beyond just gender identity. And I’ve actually had people suggest it too. I guess I’m open to the idea, I just haven’t actively pursued it. That said, I have read trans specific autobiographies and am very thankful for those who have so openly shared their stories.
I'm never afraid to be a kid and play with
my wonderful nephew and niece.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Jasmine: I’m a woman with a great shoe collection, who gets frustrated with men, has good and bad days at work, doesn’t always like clothes as much at home as she did in the shops, enjoys girls nights out and spends a lot of effort maintaining her home and keeping on top of her bills so that she can sit back to relax and enjoy her hobbies. I feel I am finally just another normal woman, and that Monika, that makes me a very happy woman indeed!
Monika: Jasmine, Thank you very much for your answers!

All the photos: courtesy of Jasmine Isabella Neuenhaus.
Done on 30 June 2013
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska  

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