Interview with Rosalyne Blumenstein LCSW ACHP-SW - Part 2

Monika: You mean how we as transgender people were categorized?
Rosalyne: The word transgender was established; I am one of those who sat around the Center for Disease Control tables during the beginning of the AIDS pandemic to categorize a group of people that were at high risk for HIV, that is where the word transgender, as an umbrella term was born.
Mind you others use the term transgenderist to describe an identity that was based where someone lived in the desired gender but did not utilize any medical interventions to transform any primary sexual characteristics to fit their identity i.e. the late Virginia Prince.
But transgender was born within an AIDS pandemic and a Gay controlled movement. Again please don’t get this wrong. On one hand, I love what the gay community has done for trans people across the continuum. On the other hand, Transgender is now a gay term a fight that I gave up when I decided to leave the LGBT Center. 12 years later I believe it is worse than ever.

Yes I know, attack of the 50-foot woman.

Again this is not a book but your blog so I don’t want to go on a total diatribe. I come from a different generation on one hand. On another hand, I am a licensed clinical social worker and I have to be objective when engaging and educating people as well I have to support those clients that entrust their deepest issues with me in my office and trust that I will be there to assist objectively.
The subjective; transgender means crossing and to too many, they have crossed the street like the chicken who crossed the road. And in crossing that street they just want to be who they are on the other side of that street, not hiding or denying but just have their being on the other side of the street legitimized. Transgender doesn’t do that because it is synonymous with gay issues and when someone utilizes that term let's say, transgender woman, people immediately think you are really a man!
Monika: So what was your strategy?
Rosalyne: My strategy besides just wanting a different kind of job in the 90s was that people of sexual minorities might somehow come together and challenge the larger more empowered institutions not make trans a subheading of gay issues. And my strategy for the use of the word transgender was to bring many different people together from all gender identity experiences to challenge the hierarchy. That was my strategy back then and that was my largest fight on many levels.
And now that I am no longer in that fight I believe it is now even worse than it was 12 years ago. On the other hand, there is more trans visibility and many more voices coming from all different directions but I truly believe the more visibility and the connection with the powers that be within the gay and lesbian movement educating incorrectly that is why so many of our trans women are murdered. If a trans woman is identified as someone who is under a gay umbrella and a man, let's say a hetero or bisexual man is attracted to that woman, it makes them in their head gay which can lead a hetero man to violent behaviors. In addition, the word transgender has eliminated the word transexual or trans and has transformed that medical term to have less of a meaning.

Glamour photo.

If you look at the civil rights movement and the ways in which people of color attempted to get access and power. They came up with the term people of color to bring together all people that have experienced oppression and together they had more power and more opportunities to change the oppressor. That was my hope with LGBT. Not to have the T as a sub-heading. Transgender was supposed to be an umbrella term and within it, there would be all these identities that challenged the constructs of gender.
Monika: However, "T" is used differently now ...
Rosalyne: Yes, the term is now used as a way to identify third sex if you will (that’s how I believe many see it). Again this is not to discredit those that love the term and use it to identify themselves. But there are many under this umbrella term specifically those of transexual experience that have decided to have their core identity interwoven with a specific sexual/gender identity. And they don’t want to be referred to as someone who is crossing the street. They have already crossed and wanted that to be their primary identity.
In the late 1990s, I did term the phrase woman or man of transexual or trans experience. This is to identify and legitimize the core identity while celebrating the cultural heritage as well. But the male or female is the primary, the core identity, and that should not be de-legitimized. Again, although I am a clinician I come from an older generation. I understand the celebration of the word transgender and want to assist with that celebration. However, that doesn’t mean that someone can use that to box me in. Girl, you just exhausted me. Am I getting paid for this interview. ☺)))))) 
Monika: Is there anyone in the US transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Rosalyne: Is there anyone of trans experience like Harvey? There are so many that have done so much and if I start naming I know I will leave someone out so forgive me. I have to give credit where credit was done. First, there were the trans women on the street without privilege or power, or access. Those are the strong ones. But usually with street life comes other pathological defense mechanisms in order to survive.
Those are the Name-less. There is Riki Wilchins, Dr. Barbara Warren, Joanne Keatly, Valerie Spencer, many women you have already interviewed, many men of trans experience that have done some amazing work to change the world i.e. Jamison Green, Justus Eisfield, Imani Henry, Samurel Laurie…

I could keep going. There are so many amazing people of trans experience really working it out doing extraordinary things on local, state, national, and international levels. Three amazing trans women of color you should interview, one from a new generation Janet Mock and the amazing actress Laverne Cox as well as Jazzmun Nichcala Crayton who just co-directed a play called Lovely Bouquet of Flowers where she used writings by people of trans experience and then have actors of trans experience present the monologues and montages. She is currently seeking funding for the documentary putting together the play. It’s all about building community through theatre, it's brilliant.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Rosalyne: Besides dis-liking the word transgender.☺))))) There is certainly more visibility and more diversity in the public eye! Do I think the world is now more accepting for let's say a hetero woman of ts experience to find love, no, I actually think it's worse.
I think the visibility along with the utilization of the word transgender and its consistent connection with LGBT issues under the label the heading gay has made it worse. However, life is about freedom and the ability to be free from within. So because of the visibility and the age of the internet more women are not alone and have more opportunities to be educated about their options. So for that, it is a good thing.

From the left: Veronica Klaus, Rosalyne Blumenstein, Victoria Ortiz,
Dee Dee Flores, Desiree Jade Sol, Gina Grahame, Aleshia Brevard,
and Leslie Townsend, February 2008.

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any trans role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about trans?
Rosalyne: Monika, I found myself on the streets of NYC at age 16. It was a very colorful time. In my book Branded T I discuss NYC in the 70s. I don’t care what anybody says but NYC was much more fun when it was dangerous and eclectic not like today where it is safe and full of Disney!. It was the studio 54 era and it was all about looking a certain way as well as being comatosed from reality!!!!! I wouldn’t change a thing.
And the characters I came in contact with, well that was the cultural milieu and they were my role models. And when you think about it those role models were enigmatic and powerful. They survived life without privilege or access!
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Rosalyne: The young and fascinating Janet Mock has rephrased this. It’s not so much about coming out but about being visible. I knew something was up at the age of 3 and did something about it at the age of 16. I didn’t wait so long. So life has been a gift.
Monika: Having transitioned yourself, what would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Rosalyne: As a clinical therapist I would suggest finding a progressive therapist that is not your gatekeeper but a tool for you to utilize to way out the costs and benefits, the pros and cons, and to utilize reality therapy so that you make the best personal and professional decisions possible.
As a human being who has survived many many storms, I would say; life is too short, live it to the fullest, dare to dream and be. Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back to be able to live in your truth. Being true to oneself makes you a stronger more vibrant more tolerable individual. If you need to, take that road less traveled. The journey is fabulous and worth it.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Rosalyne: In love do you mean am I getting laid? ☺ Oh, that could be considered lust. I have experienced great loves, the love of someone I am sexually attracted to, the love of the family of origin, the love of the family of choice, the love of deep friendships, the love of being honorable and responsible in the workplace and to my patients and clients, the love of animals, and the love of dance. So yes love is very important to me. Is the love of one partner growing old together a priority, right now it is not!
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Rosalyne: My work now consists of working on a smaller scale behind the scenes. When one is considered a leader in a movement the idea is to mentor folks and then pass it on. It is not for one to be in the spotlight for decades. I truly believe I succeeded in molding leaders, like the leaders within my work at the GIP at the LGBT Center. I know it is those new leaders that did the work, not me.
But I believe I was in their life mentoring and supporting and now so many that went through that project are current leaders in their own right doing amazing work. I have a small private practice here in Los Angeles called Therapy2Go where I see clients one on one in person at my office or their homes or through Skype. If we can help change one person’s life a day, plant one new seed, even a mustard seed, then that day is a success!
Monika: Rosalyne, thank you for the interview!
Rosalyne: Monika thank you for wearing me out ☺!

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

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