Monday, 30 December 2013

Interview with Rosalyne Blumenstein LCSW ACHP-SW

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor 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!
Rosalyne: Hello Monika! First I want to thank you for having this website and bringing a variety of voices together to share with others. And second, thank you for asking me to participate. Hopefully, even after my responses to your questions, you will feel the same way☺.
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 a 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 barstool.

Monika: Your movie debut took place in 1996 when you participated in the German documentary titled “Vor Transsexuellen wird gewarnt” directed by Rosa von Praunheim. He shot that movie in autumn 1985, documenting the first movement of transgender people demanding their rights…
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 kinds 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 trailblazers, 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 in 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 Statewide 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 kinds 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, to this day although I love Barbara Warren with all my heart, there is a part where she 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, I'm 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 getting naked even if you are a Doctoral student or really uncomfortable with your nakedness. I got all kinds 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 were about showing 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).
Monika: In 2003 you published your biography titled “Branded T”. What inspired you to write the memoir?
Rosalyne: Ego, fucking Ego! There is a song that I want to be played at my memorial when I'm gone… No Regrets, by Edith Piaff, but in French of course. So you think I have culture☺.
However, I have some regrets about 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 ecosystem surrounding you is just coming at you from too many directions. 
First of all Branded T needs a good editor. Do you 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 it 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.
Monika: It must have been challenging.
Rosalyne: 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 anymore. 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 to do it too. But I'm going to 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.
I have received nothing but grace and love from folks saying how much Branded T had helped them personally or professionally and for that, it is all worth it. However, it has affected many of my relationships with some people involved in my life past, present, and future. It has also affected the work that I get at this point in my life. Because of the world of internet access Branded T comes up when my name is googled.
Monika: Did you get some job offers afterwards?
Rosalyne: 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 with 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.

Monika: In February and April 2008, you performed together with Veronica Klaus, Dee Dee Flores, Victoria Ortiz, Desiree Jade Sol, Gina Grahame, Aleshia Brevard, Leslie Townsend, Jerry Rodriguez, Angelae Le'Chastaignier, Rachel Dunn, Cheryl Hoffman, and Suzanne Shaw in the Trans Sister Tales, a set of shows focusing on the society’s perception of transwomen. Could you elaborate more on that interesting project? Do you keep in touch with all the ladies?
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 worldwide 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 honored to be with them on the same stage. What an amazing group of talented beautiful exciting women. 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.


All the photos: courtesy of Rosalyne Blumenstein.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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