Sunday 18 April 2021

Interview with Amber Rose Washington

Monika: Today I am meeting Amber Rose Washington, an American author, songwriter, musician, producer, public speaker, and advocate for the transgender community originally from Liberty, New York. Amber has been featured on FOX, NBC, CBS, NPR, and a host of other media. In 2020 she published her memoir "Hiding from Myself: My Complicated Rebirth Into Womanhood and My Own Skin". Her new Podcast, "THE JOURNEY, Unscripted" is scheduled to begin airing in April 2021. Hello Amber!
Amber: Hello Monika! It’s nice to be here.
Monika: You are a woman of many talents. I have listed so many of your professions and interests. I am wondering which one you are most eager to pursue.
Amber: I’ve done many things in my life, partially due to what I call, self-inflicted Occupational ADD. I kept myself busy so I would have very little time dwelling on my incongruity. I spent nearly three decades in the music business.
Music was a perfect outlet for me. I began writing music at about the age of thirteen and was fortunate to have several successes along the way. Although I will always be a songwriter, I really enjoy writing stories as well as helping others tell their stories.
Monika: What inspired you to write your biography?
Amber: My memoir was a book in the making for nearly my entire life. I have an important story to tell. I have had so many different experiences in my life. I am often told that the number of experiences I have had would take most people three lifetimes to achieve. I don’t know if I agree with that, or if it’s even accurate, LOL. But I do agree that I have experienced a wealth of diverse experiences in my life and believe people will be able to relate to them in many different ways.
My writing style has been called very conversational. I set out to write a book that feels like you and I are sitting together in the same room having a chat.

Available via Amazon.

Monika: You grew up in Liberty, New York; a small town in the Catskill Mountains, which was the inspiration behind the famous movie, Dirty Dancing. Did it influence your life decisions in terms of what you would like to do?
Amber: The area I am from has a long and rich history in entertainment, so it influenced me a great deal. However, growing up in the 70s and 80s, Dirty Dancing had not yet been produced. I believe that movie came out when I was 18.
However, I did have four people that greatly influenced my pursuit of a music career. They were my uncle Jack O’Neill, a professional drummer. Second, Karen Carpenter, a legendary vocalist, and drummer. Third, Olivia Newton-John. And fourth, Carly Simon.
Monika: How would you define your music? You wrote many genres of music but probably most fans regard you as a smooth jazz artist.
Amber: I have always written what comes to me naturally. I never really let genre get in the way of my creativity. One song might be smooth jazz and the next could end up being pop/electronica, and still, the next: country. That said, however, most people would recognize my smooth jazz music, yes.
Monika: You worked with several cast members of HBO’s, The Sopranos and the movie, Goodfellas in the capacity of producer, and co-operated with numerous mainstream music recording artists as a national and regional TV and radio voice-over artist, stage management, and live concert introductions in New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville. Which of these projects did you like most?
Amber: When I was in the role of producer, it was for a multi-state music competition meant to send the winners to the televised show in Hollywood. That was the show I produced with the guys from Goodfellas and The Sopranos. It was a last-minute call, and I had a lot of fun producing the show set in a gorgeous hotel in The Catskill Mountains called the Villa Roma.
But what I would call my most fond memory was my introduction to the music business in New York City. It was a chance encounter, really! I was the first to arrive at a songwriting convention. I stood outside the ballroom that was being readied for over one thousand songwriters. A security guard let me in early and I immediately made my way to a front-row seat. I was told to feel free to grab something from the breakfast table in the back of the room as others began to arrive.
An older woman approached me as I was trying to decide which bagel I would choose. She said, “Impossible choice isn’t it?”

The first online author retreat via YouTube.

Monika: It started as a casual conversation but I can feel that there is more to come.
Amber: This conversation about bagels and where I grew up continued for about 25 minutes when she told me, “I’ll tell you what. Give me one of your music packets and I promise whether I like it or not, I will call you on Monday. Okay?”
I had no idea who this person was and nearly told her “No thank you.” But I proceeded to give her one of my four music packets. At that very moment, someone came up behind her and said, Ms. Ruckert? 5-minutes before your keynote, we need to get you ready.
Now, I was intrigued. Who was this I was just speaking with? She then wished me well and off she went. I took my seat and the guy sitting next to me asked, “How in the world did you get Ann Ruckert to take your music packet?” I told him, “She asked for it.” In disbelief, he responded, “Wow. You are the luckiest person here.”
That was when the lights went up and a man walked out onto the stage and announced, “A woman and a living legend that certainly needs no introduction. She currently serves as Vice President on the Grammy’s Board of Governors and The Songwriter’s Guild of America. She is co-founder of The Jazz Foundation of America. She has worked with Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, and countless others. Please welcome Ms. Ann Ruckert!
My ordinary bagel conversation would become my introduction to the music business. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.
Monika: Did the transition change you as an artist? Did it change your artistic perception of the world?
Amber: My artistic sense was always feminine in nature. I always wrote songs and lyrics from the female perspective. My countless inspirational quotes and poems were also from a female perspective. I didn’t really see the world any other way. The world saw me as a guy, and I knew I was not. And back in those days before the Internet existed, I felt as if perhaps I was only one of a few people on the entire planet that was born like this. That really took its toll on me.
I had been attempting to amass the courage to transition since my later teen years. But I was always unsuccessful, mostly because I was so terrified of society. I remember wishing that I had the courage and determination of Caroline Cossey (Tula). She was actually the first person I ever identified with. She embodied the essence that this condition I was given was fixable. She doesn’t know it, but she meant so much to me growing up. One day, on the Phil Donohue show, Caroline showed me I was no longer alone. She changed my life in so many ways. I wish I could thank her personally.

Caroline Cossey's famous appearance at the
Phil Donahue Show. Source: YouTube.

Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Amber: I am truly blessed. I had told my mom by the time I was four years old that I knew I was “different”. While she didn’t understand what I was going through, she remained loving; even protective.
My core family; mom, dad, and my sister embraced me completely. Did they have much to learn and understand? Yes. But they remained by my side. Many of us come out later in life because we assimilate and conform to what society expects of us rather than just being ourselves naturally. Much of this stems from a society that either does not understand who we are and why we are. There is so much misinformation and mythology out there about us, that many of us find it easier to remain hidden.
I have four children. My children all understand and embrace me as well. My ex’s all knew who I was before marrying me and still married me anyway. Those marriages ultimately did not work. But I remain friends with at least one of them.
Perhaps the hardest thing about coming out was the fear of losing everyone I love. This did not happen, except for some notable standouts, mainly two uncles and aunts and only a couple of my two dozen cousins. Being known in many places, I decided to come out to not just my family and friends, but to the entire planet; unapologetically.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Amber: Somewhat. Some do better. Some do worse. We are all different. I have experienced wonderful things since the removal of testosterone and the introduction of estrogen. I call myself a “testosterone survivor”. LOL. So am I satisfied? Oddly, I never really thought about it. I just feel far more congruent and for lack of another word, correct now.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Amber: A part of my speaking platform is centered around this question. It’s the “judging a book by its cover” conundrum. It is a conundrum because, as humans, this trait is hardwired or built into our DNA. Over several thousand years, we have evolved to profile friend from foe. We can, within 4 milliseconds discern male from female based on unconscious physical queues. As a society that is coming to the understanding that the human condition is far more diverse than we’ve been taught, we have already begun a long exercise in restructuring our most basic understandings of what makes us human and how.
Those of us that must cope with this predisposition of “judging” have to find ways to embrace and love our individual uniqueness. We also need to begin the process of eliminating toxic nomenclature from our vocabulary. Two such terms are “Passing” and “Clocked”. They have connotations of us “fooling” others or “making sure the “costume” fits correctly. Although the trans community created these terms, they definitely need to go away.

"Many of us have dysphoria, primarily due to
going through puberty the wrong way. This
causes permanent damage to our self-image."

Many of us have dysphoria, primarily due to going through puberty the wrong way. This causes permanent damage to our self-image. Our priority must be 100% focused on allowing the transgender youth continued access to puberty blockers, less we face the extreme danger of future generations of the same issues we faced years ago and today. Look at the music pop artist, Kim Petras. She did not have to suffer through the wrong puberty. She is living a much less dysphoric life than most of us, especially for someone assigned incorrectly at birth. She was the youngest person to receive GCS.
Monika: She was so lucky!
Amber: Politicians need to stay out of things they don’t understand. Transgender people including youth and adults comprise approximately 1.4% of the human population. We cannot allow future generations of transgender youth to be subjected to extreme persecution just because a minuscule percentage of people figure out this was all a “phase”. That is the exception and not the rule.
Humanity does not fare well when it comes to understanding or embracing things that seem new to them. Look at how civilization handled leprosy. For thousands of years, leprosy was considered the hand of God punishing a person for sinning against him. In 1873 a Norwegian scientist discovered it was merely a mycobacterial infection, yet, it would take nearly another century for society and religion to concede and adopt this discovery.
We have a long road ahead, with many dangerous obstacles in the way. I intend on using my platform to advocate and more so, to educate.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Amber: I always followed Caroline Cossey. She was my biggest role model. There are several I now follow that are also very influential: Janet Mock, Trace Lysette, Laverne Cox, and Sarah McBride. For the younger generations, I am particularly proud of Jazz Jennings and Kim Petras.


All the photos: courtesy of Amber Rose Washington.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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