Saturday 7 February 2015

Interview with Yasmin Lee

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Yasmin Lee, an American entertainer and adult movie actress, TV celebrity, model, and make-up artist. Hello Yasmin!
Yasmin: Hi Monika, thank you for having me.
Monika: Yasmin, having so many talents, which fields you are most interested in: acting, modeling, or maybe something different?
Yasmin: To be honest I’m not quite sure what I would be content with most. I had always been drawn to different things, and enjoy the experience of it all too much to settle for a specific. I love the arts.
Monika: Your life is full of incredible stories, which could constitute a perfect movie scenario: the US Navy drop-out, making-up for Hollywood actresses, being a casting director and actress on adult films, and finally a Hollywood actress …
Yasmin: There are so many life-changing moments in my life but I would say the most dramatic chapter might be my birth. If only I’m a writer. My birth name is Kosal, meaning to bless or one who blesses. It’s a unisex name.
For the first time, my mom and dad didn’t know what my sex will be at birth. They must have had clear dreams to guide them with the 7 siblings before me. Anyhow, my mom, along with my father, 6 sisters, and brother, decided to escape from the concentration work camp in Cambodia. She was 7 months pregnant with me.
I was birthed while in hiding in the deep jungle. My family told me bullets were flying, along with the white noise of chaos. It was a rainy night and my sisters gathered around holding banana leaves to help shelter my mom from the rain. Not many can say that their whole family helped to deliver them. One hour after the delivery, she got herself up and we kept on moving.
She refused to let anyone help carry me. She couldn’t trust anyone. It’s not uncommon to kill the baby when in hiding for the sake of the whole family or fellow runaways. I was told that I was a good baby just as much as luck as I don’t make noise. The one time that I cried was when we sat on fire ants and they were biting me all over.

Courtesy of Yasmin Lee.

Monika: Which actresses or movies are your inspirations?
Yasmin: Joy Luck Club. It was the first great movie that I came across that featured Asians. I feel that there’s such a lack of representation from the Asian community in Hollywood. There are too many great actresses for me to just name one for acting talent. 
I would like to default with Laverne Cox as she is not only a great actress but she strikes the largest blow at the barrier wall for our community. I feel that collectively, we as a community, our lives and struggles had been chipping away at Hollywood. Laverne, however, she’s an angel warrior that played the game and showed us it is possible to win. She’s an inspiration.
Monika: Some critics say that the contemporary film industry does not provide many opportunities for transgender women to show their talents and stories to a wider audience. Would you agree?
Yasmin: I totally agree. I realized by my junior year in high school that I want to be in the arts. I didn’t care whether it was painting, dancing, or acting. I just wanted to be creative. I auditioned for the Academy of Performing Arts at Huntington Beach for singing, dancing, and acting. 
After school, I lost sight while drowning in my sexuality and gender. The “Hollywood” world was a daydream. This is due to the lack of representation. Back then, being successful in that field was never a goal that many was reaching for. Acting and performing had always been just a supporting role in my life.
Monika: The roles of Kimmy in The Hangover Part II (2011) and The Succubus in Red Ice (2011) allowed you to enter the Hollywood show business. How do you recollect those productions?
Yasmin: I was fortunate enough to run into these casting calls. Though I was living in Hollywood, I was not seeking out roles. With The Hangover, I was lucky enough for them to find me on either Facebook or MySpace, and asked me to come in to audition. I had nothing better to do and gave it a go. I walked in with no headshot, resume, or expectation.
A few days later they called me for a second reading, followed by the 3rd for the director Todd Philip. At the end of the reading, he asked me “so what do I do?” With a half a second hesitation I said I do domination porn. “I just can’t help wanting to make grown men cry.” I Will never forget that awkward moment of why in the world would I say that.
After that, I received a phone call saying that it’s down to me and a few girls but they are not even sure about that until they audition the girls in Thailand. I should know in a few weeks. The experience was amazing. It was in and out to wardrobe and hair to work on the looks before shooting. We pick the outfit that I looked the best in and based on that, manufactured the outfit for all the girls in the movie in my scenes. I get to say I help pick and design that pink and white outfit for the girls.
For both movies, I was treated like a star. Everything from what was in my trailer to having it next to Bradley Cooper. The only thing challenging with being the Succubus in “Red Ice” was the 5 hours going into makeup and the fighting scene. My right wrist was banging against the flute so many takes when the guy was blocking my knife stabbing in the choreography. We had to keep icing in between takes.

Monika: Do you have any new roles in the pipeline? The IMDb list mentions your role of Ying in Promoted (2015).
Yasmin: Well I’m trying to audition a little more whenever I have free time. I got the part of Ying in this fun, raunchy comedy. I don’t want to give away too much. Let's just say that she is trouble in everyone’s fight for that promotion.
Monika: However, you are usually associated with your adult movie career. According to the IDMB listing, you acted in over 20 such films. How did you come into the adult movies industry?
Yasmin: When I first came to Los Angeles, I was a make-up artist and a drag impersonator showgirl along the coast by night. I enjoyed being on stage and performing. This was before I started my transitioning. I was fortunate enough to be in the right circle. Not many artists were fortunate enough to start right away working with Michelle Rodriguez, Paris and Nikki Hilton, Nicole Richie, Carmen Electra, Pussycat Dolls, etc.
When I started to transition, I started working less and less. Not because I wasn’t being hired but my own fear of facing people that knew me as a boy. Really wish I had role models or a support group to help guide me during that time. I was then introduced to a friend from the production company Anabolic. I started to do make-up for the girls and that extra money really help spring my transitioning. I was asked to help create their “Tgirls” line for an otherwise straight company.
One week, after dealing with the girls repeatedly flaking on my shoot, I decided to jump in front of the camera. I didn’t think much about it. I was comfortable after being around that world for some time now. Plus all the transgender girls I knew were either doing porn and or escorting. It sounds dumb, but back then, my naïve mind really thought that it’s normal and the only option in our community.
Monika: Is it possible to make both ends meet with being a transgender adult actress? 
Yasmin: It can be. Just like anything, if you put in the time and effort to work, you will get paid. I was fortunate enough to be loved and desired. If you follow my career, you’ll realize that I attempt to reach for stardom. There was no promotion or networking to really play the game. My success truly came from fans and their marketing of me. 

Courtesy of Yasmin Lee.

Monika: Some transgender activists say that transgender adult movies create a negative image of the whole transgender community. What would be your answer in this respect? 
Yasmin: They need to step back with that perspective and analyze the circumstances before judging or casting a stone. Adult entertainment is not the transgender movement’s enemy here. Society’s inability to understand transgender people and embrace that diversity is the enemy. Porn exists with or without transgender people. This is more of a social moral debate in which the transgender community is not excluded.
The fact is, porn can only exist if the majority watch it and want it to be created. Almost everyone watches it. It is disturbing that we live in a world where we are taught to be ashamed of our sexuality. And I am sad that some within my own community would think to throw stones while being stoned.
Many of our transgender sisters are in fact in the adult entertainment world. So whether we like it or not, it is a large part of our community. What we need to address is the social injustice that our community faced and continues to face that lead us down this path. Back then, there was no Janet Mock, or Laverne Cox, or Yasmin Lee on the big screen. Our world consists of hiding during the day and dressing up for the clubs. Many are abandoned by the world and by their family. Most are not given the opportunity to have a fair chance at a regular job to survive.
Monika: It is so true...
Yasmin: I know very well for myself and many others, that starting or finishing school for the hope of a great job in the future did not factor in. The only thing that registered in my mind at that moment with no guidance was living my life as a woman, and getting money to make that happen. It was either be true to myself or end my life. How we get here today is not from the few girls sitting on top as role models but rather the story of our living and struggles touching everyone we met, whether good or bad.
We would not be where we are today with our successes and acceptance without the stereotype of these porn stars and streetwalkers in the mainstream. It was exposure for conversations, and through those conversations, we are blessed with the opportunities to educate them. We need to embrace these girls and their stories as we are standing on their lives to be where we are now as a community. If all fail, practice empathy. 
Monika: Have you ever taken part in transgender beauty pageants?
Yasmin: I sure have. I think it is a great platform for the girls to celebrate their beauty, talent, and intelligence. Not to mention the opportunity to come out and enjoy each other as a community. 

Monika: Being beautiful always produces a lot of girl power and empowerment. Do you often use it?
Yasmin: I think that beauty is very powerful but not more than intelligent kindness or knowledge of life’s experiences. That aside, I have used my looks to my advantage all the time. I usually turn down drinks as I work hard to afford my own, so I don't have to deal with annoying cuties at the bar. I’m also a firm believer that if you distract the boys with your perfect breasts and hypnotic eyes, you will use less lube. And the money saved is power.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Yasmin: At the time of my transition, the ladies that exist were the girls I met in clubs and showgirls. I picked up many make-up tricks from Raja from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Her beauty and showmanship was my inspiration.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Yasmin: Thinking I was going to lose my family and feel I was alone. I wish there were people by my side during these stages in my life to help guide me. It’s because of this that I constantly reach out to transgender youth. Our job as decent human beings is to want our children to have everything that we didn’t have, for them to learn from our mistakes and excel in the pursuit of their own happiness.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Yasmin: I think that this is an amazing time. We are united through the Internet and social media. The world has heard our voices more for the last 10 years than during our whole existence. I feel that the war for equality is far from over but it’s a great start. Unfortunately, there’s usually war before there’s peace. 
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Yasmin: I would love to see our community running for office as we can always use leaders. Our battle for equality, however, will only be successful once the minds and hearts of the mainstream are ours. I ask everyone to be active in voicing themselves. Write and call your government to let them hear you and donate to organizations like ACLU. They are our frontline in political battles. I had been a part of the ACLU (American Civil Liberty Union) for a while now as a member, and a board member for the last 3 years.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Yasmin: If we are talking about finding that special someone, I’m a little broken and numbed right now to fully invest my life for love. When your heart is broken because you lost family members in your life, your idea of love is lost and changes. I am open to it if it comes and learning to accept if it doesn’t find me this lifetime. As long as I fall in love with myself and who I am as a person then I will be happy. Right now my focus is the love that my family and I have for each other.

Courtesy of Yasmin Lee.

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Yasmin: I’m told that I’m pretty fashionable, though I’m all over the place. Clothing for me has always been "let's play". I don’t follow or follow trends but rather just enjoy expressing how I feel at that moment. Sometimes it is conservative, sometimes glam, sometimes rock, sometimes slutty.
I have never been a fan of showing off labels unless it’s for a specific look or image that I feel like playing that day. I will mix a blouse that I found at a flea market for $5 with a $10,000 couture designer skirt that I was stupid enough to splurge on because I was once young and stupid. If you’re walking out the door feeling good about yourself then you are good to go. Have fun and make mistakes.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Yasmin: I had several offers that approached me to write my stories in the past. I think that if I’m a better writer or somewhere along the way learn to write, I would love to tell my stories. I think I have a very unique perspective and life lessons.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Yasmin: I wasn’t feeling well after I finished shooting “Promoted”. I had a system crashed in NYC in the subway. I think it’s a combination of everything from the heat that day, to going through a divorce, to never dealing with the death of my little brother in the war, followed by my dad to a stroke, and lastly my older brother to a fire.
I was in and out of the hospitals with what looks now like panic attacks. I’m with my family right now and recovering really nicely. While shooting "The Hangover", I had to fight the tears in between some of the takes because it was my little brother 1 year anniversary after he died in Afghanistan.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls, thinking about such a career as yours?
Yasmin: If we are talking about porn, I would continue to say to them that it is not for most. There is nothing wrong with doing porn but understand that it will close many other doors. The world will wrongfully judge you with anything that they don’t see themselves doing, whether it is legal or not. Our moral compass is a constant variable.
There are more options and opportunities now than ever for a transgender woman and think about what it is that you dream of being and doing and don’t be afraid. Fight for your life and consider all possibilities before going on this road. There is a possible burden that can come from sex and money. Depending on who you are, how you are raised, how you see the world, who you are meant to be. All of these variables will factor in how you deal with yourself once you do porn.
You can love it or learn to be OK with it with time, or hurt by it. The healing can be within a day, week, month, or it could be years or your lifetime. The problem is you’ll never know until the ship had already sailed.
Monika: Yasmin, thank you for the interview! 

All the photos: courtesy of Yasmin Lee.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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