Saturday, 19 March 2016

Interview with Deena Kaye Rose

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Deena Kaye Rose, an American writer, lecturer, one of the most recognized Nashville songwriters of her time with over 400 songs published and around 200 of those recorded and released worldwide, the author of the biographical book titled “Some Days Are Diamonds” (2016). Hello Deena!
Deena: Hi, Monika! It is an honor to be invited to share a bit of my humble story with you. Thanks bunches.
Monika: You are a woman of so many talents! Could you say a few words about your fantastic career?
Deena: Well, I appreciate your very kind words. I have often thought that even a stray dog finds a ham-bone now and then! So I have stumbled upon some minor successes in the world of entertainment.
Being creative is absolutely the most important part of my life; whether that is writing songs, performing onstage, or recreating myself as a woman. Having lived in Los Angeles, New York City, and Nashville, the world of show business is filled with so many inspirational people. My intent was to TRY and write songs, rather than not make the attempt and spend the rest of my days wondering if I might have done it - but I didn’t give it a chance.
Nashville Publicity Photo.
Monika: Most people remember your songs written for Johnny Cash. How do you recollect your co-operation with him?
Deena: Johnny Cash heard a tape of about seven of my compositions and he called me. He said, “Hello, this is Johnny Cash,” and at first I thought it was one of my friends trying to prank me. He asked me to come out and talk to him.
Well, I was about 5 miles away and I think I made it in about four minutes! He praised my tunes and said they were “not just a bunch of words.” John signed me to his publishing company and gave me a draw of $100 a week.
We had some terrific talks, one on one. He recorded and released four of my songs, including his number one recording of my song, “Any Old Wind That Blows.” The best advice he ever gave me was “Sing Louder!”.
Monika: Did being a session musician help you to understand the needs and expectations of artists waiting for your songs?
Deena: Very much so. And it gave me a close relationship with other professional Nashville musicians. These girls and guys gave me a lot of tips concerning recording artists who might be looking for a particular type of material. 
Monika: What is your favourite song that you wrote? Where did you get your inspirations from?
Deena: My songs are like my children. While each tune may have unique qualities and a special history that I like, I could not choose one over another anymore than I could choose one child over another.
I always feel that I have two favorite songs: the last one and the next one! The excitement an artist has for a new creation is very exhilarating. And when that excitement wears off, well, the creative muse nudges me with another idea.
My inspiration has often come from the art of others. Mary Cassatt’s painting of “Portrait of a Young Woman in Green” might touch me and leave me with such a glow that I want to create, too; not to copy her genius but to make something with my own talents. Out of that feeling, might come a new song.
And I love to speak with persons who give me a line or tell me a story that becomes a nice musical work, to express what they might feel but cannot say.
Late 1970s in NYC.
Monika: Did the transition change your artistic perception of the world? What does it mean to be a transgender artist?
Deena: Now, I am artistically Fearless! A lot of my time when I was trying to be a guy was consumed with the paranoid acts of, what I felt was self-protection.
Monika: The contemporary music has produced a new wave of transgender female artists, just to name few of them: Mina Caputo of Life of Agony, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Marissa Martinez of Cretin, Amber Taylor of The Sexual Side Effects, Namoli Brennet, Sissy Début, and Jennifer Leitham, and many others. Are we going to see more and more transgender artists in the mainstream music?
Deena: I celebrate them all! Wonderful artistic courage, every one of them. When I met Jennifer Leitham, I told her she had inspired me in a very deep way in how, after transition, she had publicly embraced her achievements before transition, her musical career as a guy, She said, “Well, I really didn’t have a choice!”
Too often the impression I have gotten through the years is that Transgender folks have all been incapacitated by gender dysphoria, that we were hiding in a shuttered room somewhere just waiting to transition so that our lives could begin. But that is certainly not true. I am thrilled to see so many post transition people coming out to claim their successes in their previous personas.
Just to mention a few as examples, Martine Rothblatt, the founder of Sirius Satellite Radio, yes, Laura Jane Grace, already a star as the male lead singer in the band, Against Me, slipped seamlessly into the same spot as her female self, the recent story that the Wachowskis, the genius movie makers are both transgender, and, of course, Caitlyn Jenner. Now everyone can say I knew someone before she transitioned!
Yes, I do hope we see more and more transgender musical artists and would hope that someday the TG part of a performer’s story will be a very minor deal when really great music should be the main thing.
I once heard the legendary guitarist, Chet Atkins, say, “There are only two kinds of music: good and bad!” And I am eager to tie my humble, musical accomplishment to the true fact that I am transgender, that even a country music guy from Nashville who wrote “East Bound And Down” from the Burt Reynolds film, “Smokey and the Bandit,” is not immune to the state of being Trans. It chooses us, not the other way around.
Performing on a Nashville Network TV Show.
Monika: What is the present situation of transgender women in the American society? 
Deena: We are more visible.
Our bravery often comes from others who have taken to the internet to wrap collective arms around one another, to provide support to our trans sisters and brothers.
Being a “mature” lady myself, I grew up in a time when being a person who wanted to be the opposite gender was about the worse social stigma that one could possess. With the advent of the internet, we find, hey, I am not the only one.
There is a great Barry Manilow song (which I wish I had written but didn’t) called, “All the Time” is certainly a great tune about feeling alone when others like me, were there “All The Time.” I recommend a listen. This tune is about US.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Deena: For that same reason of community solidarity that I spoke of before.
When I met Kristin Beck, she told me there was no reason for me to allude to my old dead name; that I could move to Seattle, transition, change all of my gender markers and no one need ever know. I said, “Yes, Kristin, but I would know. And it would be unfair to my TransSisters if I were to choose living in stealth myself while others like Kristin Beck are putting themselves and their lives on the line in order to achieve gender equality for all.”
So my story is my attempt to say to others like myself who have struggled with the idea of transition and what there might be to lose, that all of the negative circumstances that I had imagined never came to pass! And worrying about those “maybes” was an exercise in wasted energy and wasted tears.
And the worse day I have had since my transition to full time lady is better than the best day I had in the dozen or so years before that. I was prepared for disappointment— I was not really prepared to be SO VERY HAPPY!
Each morning, I look in the mirror and I think, I am a woman! Most times, I start to tear up just from the very emotional memory of feeling that I would never see this reflection of myself. “Hello, Lady. Where have you been?” She was there all the time.
A transfriend once said to me, “You know, you have to learn to act like a woman.” I said, “No, I have ALWAYS been a woman. I am just learning to act like a Lady!”
Her book via Amazon.
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Deena: Well, as I have said, I am a “mature” lady and being such, I would tell anyone who has late-in-life-doubts about transition, that it is only the wrong time when there is no MORE time.
I am delighted to be an older woman, for if I am left with twenty more years, twenty more months, or twenty more minutes, this is the right thing to do with the rest of my life. And I am delighted to know my true soul has finally come out to meet the world.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Deena: As I said, I am a late in life Lady! I began HRT about six years ago and around that time I began to rid myself of material ties to everything: I sold property, had yard sales, gave away “stuff,” sold musical instruments on Craigslist, and made tons of donations to charities.
I had come to Nashville with everything I owned in my old blue Chevy and $800 in cash in a Hershey’s chocolate tin. My plan was to leave Tennessee in much the same way— only in a different gender. I put everything in digital form or online or in mail forwarding plans and took all of my left—over boy clothes to Goodwill. All of my music accounts were online; my credit cards were all paperless. All of my banking was now online except for one little local account for petty cash that I closed out for cash to use for travel money. It was a little over a $1000. 
For the last time, I went to the hotel where I had been staying, put on my makeup, slipped on my favorite pencil skirt and flowered top and then, choosing a few pieces of my favorite jewelry, I checked out and headed north into a new life of excited uncertainty. As I drove out of Nashville for the last time, I thought, I came here with everything I needed packed in my car and $800. I am leaving with everything I need packed in my car and $1000. So in 30 years, I have made $200!
Onstage at a college in Seattle, WA.
Monika: At the time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed? Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Deena: At some time or other I have seen great transladies that were inspirational and who I admired tremendously. Certainly, Christine Jorgensen had my great respect. April Ashley, Renee Richards, all of the ladies who transitioned without being intimidated by the “what-will-people-think” mindset. The footprints of their high heels are certainly ahead of me on the path that I travel.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
That is why I have so much respect for Caitlyn Jenner. Choosing to transition in the fishbowl that is her life is a serious commitment. Deciding to transition is not just an impulse, akin to walking through Petco and deciding to buy a goldfish. If transition dies, one cannot just flush it down the toilet.
And Caitlyn often gets such a bad rap from our own community. How can we profess the principle of living an authentic life and then when Ms Jenner does just that, we attack her for being rich, having white privilege, being unaware of perpetual trans attitudes and knowing Kanye West? Come on, it has been less than a year since she took the “Pink Plunge” into the Transgender world. Give the lady a break. She has not set herself up as the spokeswoman for us all; the media has been mostly responsible for promoting that. She is trying to learn what a 65 year old cis woman has spent a lifetime learning. She is learning what most of us have had secret nights and dozens of years to absorb; and in just a few months.
Her public metamorphosis has certainly raised the level of the discussion of Gender Variance. Now we all can say we have known someone who was male-born before she came out as transgender.
So if there is a transgender woman who does not want to stand by Caitlyn, move out of the way so that I CAN! She is my sister.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Deena: Probably the actual, definite decision to DO IT!
I am rather hesitant to say that it has been okay, not easy, but certainly a progressive process that, once begun, is just a matter of connecting the gender dots to make the final picture.
Backstage in Nashville before Transition.
Now there are a very few persons to whom I have reached out and given them the information about my changes who have chosen NOT to respond to me. In fact, to date there are only two people who knew me before and have not returned an answer to my letters. I suppose that says more about them than it does about me.
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?
Deena: At times it has been difficult to be near the last in billing. And, of the original four letters, LGBT, we are the people who are not defined by our sexual practices. But in the association of LGBT, we are the Glitter.
You don’t hear people say, “Let’s go to the bisexual bar!”.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Deena: Well, I have heard so many TransPeople say that all Trans movie roles should be played by Transgender actors. As a person who has been in show Biz for many decades, I can tell you, one must hire the RIGHT actor, not just an actor who has lived a similar story. Using that reasoning, all of the murders portrayed in film should be played by artists who have actually KILLED someone.
So “Tangerine” is a wonderful work of art. “HerStory” is absolutely exquisite. “The Danish Girl” made me cry. “Sense8,” though very violent, featured a terrific trans actress, Jamie Clayton, in a trans role. This Netflix series was mostly written and directed by the Wachowski sisters, Lana and Lilly. Oh, and one of the cisgender nurses in “The Danish Girl” is played by the great transgender actress, Rebecca Root.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Deena: Gender Justice is a wonderful organization here in Nevada.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Deena: Long ago, I decided that I would rather be Classy than Sexy! And I try to dress that way, Class before Sass!
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Deena: I have the love of some wonderfully precious souls. ‘Nuff Said.
Deena in San Diego,
A Happy, full-time Lady.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Deena: Every Day. I have some musical creations I would like to offer in a collection very soon. These are songs I have written from a Trans Point of View. The creative energy I found since choosing transition is very freeing. Before I went full time, I had not written but one or two songs in the past two years. After living 24/7, I wrote about thirty new songs in the first few months.
Since my voice is higher now, I would like to take one of my old recordings from Nashville and do a boy/girl duet-with myself! Does that sound Kinky?
John Denver had a huge hit with one of my songs called, “Some Days Are Diamonds.” I would like to record it again as my female self and do the original lyric which was a trans feeling.
The original verse is:

Now the male face I see in my mirror,
More and more is a stranger to me.
More and more I can see there’s a danger,
In becoming what I never thought I’d be.

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Deena: First of all, I would caution anyone not to listen to people like me!
But seriously, Folks: find someone to talk to, a TransWoman, a shrink if you can afford it, search the internet for support groups, like, for instance, on Facebook, there is a group called Association of Transgender Professionals. There is a lot of good, serious help for TransPersons, now.
Monika: Deena, thank you for the interview!
Deena: It was indeed a great joy to be included in such an illustrious group of Trans Heroines. Thank you so very much, Monika.

All the photos: courtesy of Deena Kaye Rose.
Done on 19 March 2016
© 2016 - Monika Kowalska

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