music: "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" by Prince "You're the reason why God made a girl ... "
Hey Everyone -
It seems like everywhere I go people keep asking me when is my novel Ball-Shaped World coming out, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Some people are starting to believe I never wrote a book! lol The book IS finished and has been finished for awhile now -- I am just in the long process of publishing, which requires patience, a positive attitude and conversations with my amazing agent. However, I don't have a release date for you as of yet -- I'm hoping to have something in the next few months, but when I have the date ... believe me, everyone that I can possibly reach will know.
I want to thank Jazmine Manolo-Blahnik for her amazing interview– she was candid, raw, honest and sincere. I am about to get a lil’ Oprah-ish, but it was one of the most profound interviewing experience I have ever had – and Lawd knows, I've interviewed tons of people. So, big thanks to Jazmine – with the new school year upon us this interview will hopefully inspire others to make those significant changes in their life and pull themselves from whatever spaces/people they do not need to be in – so, “make it work!” Considering we just lost such a timeless icon in our community, Willi Ninja (I can’t stop thinking about it), this let’s us know that we MUST continue to celebrate and respect life -- just like Willi Ninja. Love is the message!
Life is not about love, money, or even success. Life is about reinvention, which is the central theme in my interview with Mother Jazmine Manolo-Blahnik. Jazmine’s powerful story echoes the human experience of every person who will fight, scratch and claw - all to survive. If one cannot reinvent themselves and simply remain in the same space they have always been then there can be no success that is worthy, no money that is satisfying, or no love that is truly nurturing. Jazmine is a prime example of someone who has reinvented herself from the brutal streets of New York City to the whimsical world of the ballroom scene to two college degrees.
Jazmine has been storming the ballroom floor since 1996, making a name for herself in categories such as realness and femme queen face. In 2000 she transitioned from a “butch queen up in drags” to a “femme queen” and won femme queen realness of the year for two consecutive years in the House of Givenchy (now Mizrahi). Shortly thereafter she became Mother of the House of Blahnik, New York City Chapter. Outside of the ballroom scene Jazmine earned her Bachelor’s degree with a major in Social Work and a minor in Psychology. At the age of 27 years-old she currently attends Fordham University for a Master’s in Social Work and will graduate in 2007. However, the road to ballroom and collegiate success was filled with earth shattering tribulations and priceless transformations, which grounds her as the person she is today. In an extremely honest interview she discusses being transgender, her experience in sex-work, the ballroom scene and much more.
How would you describe the ballroom scene?
Jazmine: I would explain it is a whole bunch of GLBT individuals who come together and compete in various categories that encompass talent, fashion and beauty. Within those categories there are subcategories for each gender like butch queens and femme queens.
What is the most frustrating element of the ballroom scene?
Jazmine: The time that balls starts -- that gets on my nerves. Everybody wants to show up fashionably late, or wants to make a grand entrance. Balls don't usually start till like two or three in the morning. I work Monday through Friday, and sometimes balls are thrown on Sundays so I have to take the day off work the next day.
How would you describe yourself as being house mother to your kids?
Jazmine: That's a very good question ... I'm the kind of mother that's supportive to kids - if they need me for advice, help, or shopping, I always extend myself. When they made me mother of the house they knew that quality about me. I'm so giving and caring they could depend on me for that. For example, recently I had the Blahnik day picnic for a bunch of the kids -- my boyfriend was cooking barbeque food and we just had a great time, a whole family thing. I'm all about being family oriented to the kids.
How did you become Mother of the House of Blahnik?
Jazmine: A lot of the members of Blahnik at that time were my close friends. They kept asking me to join the House of Blahnik, but I kept telling them no because I was happy at the House of Givenchy (now Mizrahi) -- but my friends were there. Overall Father Jay Blahnik wanted me to join so they got on a five-way phone conversation and got me to join. I told them for me to leave the House of Givenchy I wouldn’t to want just join another house as a child, I told them if I wanted to move on, I wanted to move on to bigger and better things. So, they are selling it to me like, oh you'll be mother one day, kind of … and I didn’t expect them to make me Mother because Octavia was the mother at that time. Octavia was there but not there, her presence was needed more with the kids. It was a perfect opportunity for me to show my relationship skills and help the kids out if they needed something. A year after me joining the House of Blahnik Father Jay had an announcement that Pony was going to be the father and I was going to be the mother.
What sets the House of Manolo-Blahnik a part from other houses in the ballroom scene?
Jazmine: Blahniks are one of the few houses that are pretty new and not legendary yet, but Blahnik has history of ballroom walkers becoming legends. Look at Pony, Arturo -- even Tyhierry and Daeja were in the house. There are a lot of kids who are Blahniks, or were Blahniks, who are now new legends.
You were featured in the ballroom documentary How Do I Look. Some people in the scene, not all, were unhappy with the film. What was your reaction to it?
Jazmine: Ummm ... I don't know, it's something that was needed in terms of giving an update of what has happened since Paris Is Burning. Wolfgang had tried to get the community together to be able to film and some people did not agree with him, or wanted him to do it. They felt like he was going to be another Jennie Livingston (director of Paris is Burning) coming into the scene and exploiting it, but ... I’m the type of person when it comes to stuff like that, I just like to help everyone. If you have a craft that you do really well and you ask me for my help - like for example, for this interview, you asked if you could interview me and I was like, okay sure. I’m just that type of person, willing to educate or inform people about what it means to be involved in the scene. Did I answer the question? (laughs)
Well, there has been criticism and people are really sensitive about what comes out on the scene. So, I guess I should ask since you were in the film -- were you happy with it?
Jazmine: It was okay ... it wasn’t spectacular, like -- Oh my gosh show stopping and this needs to be released in the movie theatre! It was a documentary, it is what it is. It was okay ... some parts could have used some more development and other parts were fine where they were. You know, it was okay ...
When I told someone I was interviewing a transgender woman who was in college they were completely shocked that someone of transgender experience can be in college. Do you think people have low expectations of transgenders?
Jazmine: Definitely! I always encounter people who are shocked by transgender individuals doing it up in the world. It is really sad - when I became transgender I wanted to break all stereotypes of what it meant to be one. I didn’t want them to see me as another statistic. I wanted to be more than just that and shock people that transgenders can do it up in this world.
I've met some people who are transgender that are nervous to get a job, or go to college because they feel like them being the wrong gender is going to be on their record and their name isn't changed. How did you get through all of those details to get into college?
Jazmine: When I was younger I was homeless, I had Green Chimneys (homeless shelter for GLBT youth) assisting me and I was also sex-working. I was not proud of it, but I did it because I did what I had to do to take care of myself. I didn’t have a job and nobody was taking care of me at that time. I was able to use my money wisely. A lot of girls buy drugs, go to clubs -- they waste their money frivolously. Me, on the other hand, if I needed to pay for that hormone, if I needed to pay for that name change so it could help in other areas of my life -- I was going to do it. At a young age there were so many social services available to me that were free, being that I was young - I took advantage of that. I was able to get healthcare and counseling. While living through Green Chimneys I was able to graduate from high school and I applied to go to college and I got in, I was so happy. Financial aide helped out a lot - I’m in debt now though! (laughs)
When you applied did your record reflect male and you were actually female?
Jazmine: Originally when I got accepted my name was not changed, I hadn't even transitioned. This was around my first year being involved in the ballroom scene. I had dropped out of school and came back to New York . During three years times is when I was getting myself together, becoming Jazmine and transiting to the person I am today. Then I went back to Syracuse University as a girl - my name had already been changed and no one knew anything. To this day, people don't know - I told a couple people and they've just been gagging ever since ... four years and they didn’t know anything.
That must've taken a lot of courage to go to Syracuse University in upstate New York. Were you scared that somebody might find out who you were and you might get attacked? I know gay boys in college that have that fear -- did you have that fear?
Jazmine: Hell fuckin' yeah! Syracuse has a long way to go in terms of tolerance and things --I think I developed anxiety there. I get anxiety every now and then and I think I got it from Syracuse University, fearing for my life -- thinking, oh my God this person knows, Oh my God that persons knows -- because as many trophies as I've won for realness, I feel like I can get spooked too. It's the reality of being trans; it's scary to be in the country. There's a city part of Syracuse, but it is only so big ... it was so dark - I was scared! (laughs)
How come you didn’t apply to a school on New York City - did you want to get away?
Jazmine: Well, that is why I am going to Fordham University and I'm going to stay in New York City to get my master's. At that time in my life I did need that change in scenery; I needed to get away from everybody. Like I said, I was living in group homes, my family was being really shady to me at that time and I had to get away from everybody and everything. That is why I kind of went away, but yeah, I'm not doing that again - I'm staying in New York!
Let's talk about your experiences in sex work because a lot of people in the scene, male and female, have that experience. What was that like for you?
Jazmine: I was so afraid doing sex-work. I remember one time I went in this guy's car and I did my business with him, he gave me my money, but he wanted to find the condom wrappers we used. We're looking around for it, but we didn’t find it -- after five minutes of looking he said, "Don't worry about it, I'll look for it before I get home." Mind you, this guy was married -- for some reason I looked in the backseat on the floor and said, "Oh there's the condom wrapper." I pick up the condom wrapper and I see the handle of a gun right there ... I just started freaking out, but I kept my cool. I gave him the wrapper, said, “Nice meeting you,” and got out of the car. I was walking and praying to God - don't kill me, don't kill me and ... he didn’t, but God forbid I would’ve said something wrong, or did something wrong ... he probably would've shot me and that would've been my life right there ... It was so scary. Sex-work is just not for me. You can't retire off of it - one day you're not going to be pretty, you're not going to have the body and you're not going to be the money making bitch. I had to get out of it - I made the money to get me from point A to point B to help me through college and I was done. It was just too scary, it was not for me.
How long were you doing it for?
Jazmine: I would say six or seven years...
What is your advice to people who are in sex-work and might even be reading this right now?
Jazmine: I would tell them - keep your head up, do what you got to do, get a bank account, save your money, spend it wisely -- don't waste it away on your girlfriends, or the fake boyfriends who are out there.
Some people think that sex-work is because of the ballroom scene. I tend to think it's because of rejection from family forcing someone to go that route - how did your family affect what you had to do to survive?
Jazmine: It did affect me -- I'm half Puerto Rican and half Ecuadorian and I have a good relationship with my friends and family now. When I was 15 I ran away from my mother's house because we had moved to Puerto Rico and I didn’t want to live there. She wasn’t going to understand me being attracted to men and to even transition at that. I had to get out of there so I left and I moved from one aunt to another aunt to a cousin to another aunt --I kept getting kicked out of my family's house. No one really wanted to take in the 15 year-old who was acting and looking queer -- that's how they saw me. They didn’t take me seriously, they didn’t care, they didn’t give me shelter, they didn’t give me money to try to help me get myself on my feet at all, so I had to do what I had to do to get myself through life, college and things like that. Also, my mom had a college tuition fund for me and being that I ran away from her she took that and spent it on herself - she got the whole house renovated. I didn’t go through college because of my mom's help, I did it all on my own.
How does your family look at you now?
They gag at me now! (laughs) Before they viewed me as this queer thing - I wasn't looking like a boy, I wasn't looking like a girl yet, I was just a "thing" to them. Now they view me as someone who is intelligent, they respect and admire what I’ve been through. I'm pretty much the only one in my family, on both sides, who has graduated from college. To be transgender, be living on the street and all that -- they really respect me for doing well for myself.
What's been your lowest moment?
Jazmine: My lowest moment ... I would say, I was renting a room in Queens ... I had just gotten kicked out of Green Chimneys ... it was winter, I was hungry - I needed money. So, I went out to 14th Street, at that time the girls would be out on 14th Street to make their coin, but ... this was a day and a night that New York got hit with a fierce snowstorm. So, I’m out there on 14th Street … hungry, trying to make a buck and there was no cars for like two or three hours ... I'm freezing out there ... finally I had to do some cheap client ... uggh -- I can't believe I did it to this day ... just so I could eat, so I could survive, pay my rent and all that. God, that was a long time ago too … I always think about that night, it was so depressing. It helps me appreciate where I come from.
Do you feel like you've healed from those experiences?
Jazmine: I have healed ... at that time of my life I was a very angry person, you can ask anybody - I was always involved in some sort of fight, argument, or scandal. I was angry at what I had to go through in life, but throughout the time I did go through counseling and got the help that I wanted and needed so I could feel okay with who I am, where I am at and be able to move on and learn from it.
Outside of your degrees what are you most proud of you?
Jazmine: I’m proud of being able to blend in. Honestly, when I became transgender I never thought that I would go to college, be involved in the ballroom scene and to be the Mother of a house - I’m very proud of that. I thought I would end up in the gutter, high off crack - I thought I was doomed. I'm thankful to God for everything.
How do you feel about surgery -- was it important to you to get work done?
Jazmine: Not really, I’m fortunate in that sense that I did not need much surgery. I haven't gotten my nose done, no cheek implants - nothing done to my face. This is what God gave me when it comes to my face. The only things I’ve enhanced on myself are my breasts, a lot of electrolysis (hair removal) done on my face -- obviously you need to remove that. Also, I’ve gotten pumped a little bit on my hips, but that was it.
How do you feel when you walk a ball, you're eating, the kids are living for you and somebody wins over you, when you know they shouldn’t be winning?
Jazmine: Well, two things can happen (laughs) ... one, I'll congratulate them, move on and I’ll be okay with it. If I know it's shade, I know it's shade and I can move on - that's happened a lot of times. If I had an extra drink in my system, and I’ve been know to have little fits here and there, I’ll say something like, "Are you serious?" but I would say more often times it would be the first one. I'm good at bowing out gracefully.
Some people think the scene has gotten really violent over the past couple years - how do you feel about that?
Jazmine: I really hate it. People fight because of the competitive edge, on top of that you have people who tend to get drunk, tend to be high and it mix together -- we think irrationally and tend to do and say a lot of things you might regret the next day. When it happens I'm not surprised because like I said, the competitive vibe that people have. I hate it ... I wish we could get along and be okay with a person winning over them.
What can we expect from the House of Manolo-Blahnik Ball on Sunday, September 17th?
Jazmine: Let me just say that grand march is going to be something the scene has never seen before. It's going to be hot!
What do you plan to do with your degrees?
Jazmine: I want to work with transgender youth, regardless if they are male or female, and offer supportive type services to them. There is no instructional manual on how to be transgender, how to live as trans and what to expect being trans.
When you started transitioning did you think would look this "real", or pass as well as you do?
Jazmine: No ... like I said, I thought I was going to be living as a crack head in the gutter just basically dying away. I never thought it would be like this - I am very fortunate that I am able to pass, blend, live a healthy life and be more confident about who I am.
What's your advice to the girls, whether they are just starting out, or made some bad decisions, who don't “pass”?
Jazmine: Patience - I tell that to all the girls regardless if you think you're real or not. Patience and confidence, know who you are, respect who you are and it will shine through. That's what realness is all about ... it's not how good your skin is, it's not how pretty your hair is, it's not your bone structure -- it's who you are as a person.
Check out Mother Jazmine Manolo-Blahnik at http://myspace.com/jazmineperez!
The House of Manolo-Blahnik Ball is Sunday, September 17th in Newark, New Jersey.
Time: Doors open @ 6:00 PM Ball Starts PROMPTLY @ 8:00 PM Ball ENDS @ 2:00 AM
Admission is $30.00
Location: The Robert Treat Hotel (walking distance from Newark Penn Station)
50 Park Place Newark, New Jersey
For more information you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Overall Father Jay Manolo-Blahnik at 215.431.1790.
Please be sure to visit http://houseofblahnik.com/!