story and photos by Andrea Fenise
Nine people molested me, I was raped 12 times, shot seven times. It is a dangerous life to live…I’ve learned to use EVERYTHING I’ve been through as a source of inspiration to others in the community. All of my efforts in advocacy work is because of my life story.
– Jasmine Tasaki
Jasmine Tasaki works full time for PEAS (Partnership to End AIDS Status) and was the first transgender woman of color to hold a leadership position as Health Literacy and Advocacy Chair for Memphis Urban League. She actively volunteers for The Headliners, Sisterreach, OUTMemphis, and Deep South Regional Roundtable. She sat down with Focus® to tell us the rest of her story.
You moved to Atlanta, how was that? Did you have a bigger blast here in Memphis or Atlanta?
Moving back to Memphis, placed me in a position to be a role model in the LGBTQ community. I was going through a lot while in Atlanta. I experienced a year of turmoil. I broke and broke and broke. It was a big trigger for me while there. I wasn’t really doing hair there. I think God had a different plan for me. If things had of gone as planned I wouldn’t be where I am now, working for PEAS, advocacy work for PREP and back in the salon. I love what I’m doing now. I found a way to make my job speak to my soul. It gave me what I needed versus what I wanted. The job put me in a position to where I found discipline, it challenged me to find the beauty in my natural ability to speak to more people and reignite talents I forgot I had. Overall, here in Memphis, I’m able to balance creativity and living a purposeful life. Plus, I’m able to make the work I do visually appealing.
You’ve been through so much throughout your life. I don’t think people realize or know your story. Emotional survival – how is it that you’ve been able to still stand so beautifully despite the dark times of your life as a transgender woman?
I’ve learned to love myself and my story. I had to reintroduce myself to myself. I grew up hating the fact that I was mixed. I didn’t know anybody else with the last name of Tasaki or anybody else that was mixed. My family felt I was treated differently.
As I’ve gotten older I learned to fully embrace myself and evolve into the woman I am today. My sexuality was warped because of molestation at an early age. I didn’t really know how to connect sexually which in turned made me become more of an actress when it came to sexuality and identity.
2017 has been the deadliest year on record for transgender people. How do you cope and navigate through living as transgender with the possibility of being harmed simply because of who you are?
DANGEROUSLY. FEARLESSLY. I don’t change my life. I tried to but my spirituality and my belief in God makes me not worry about that. Nine people molested me, I was raped 12 times, shot seven times. It is a dangerous life to live. My family worries but I tell them not to speak violence over my life. I’ve learned to use EVERYTHING I’ve been through as a source of inspiration to others in the community. All of my efforts in advocacy work are because of my life story.
How do you feel about representation of all women in fashion, in particular trans women?
I feel that it’s necessary to have but necessary to label or announce. I think that all women should be given the equal opportunity but I don’t think anyone should be singled out. I fear for ostracizing in the industry with labels. I get tired of all the labels. I think it should be inclusive but it doesn’t have to be announced as “trans fashion show” or trans model.
I have always been in awe of your personal style with fashion, makeup and hair. Everything you do is visually appealing and done with great attention to detail. Who were your sources of inspiration as you began your transition? Who are they now?
My physical transition and style inspiration came largely from my mom. She has always been extremely meticulous and gamine. Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Charlize Theron, Nia Long, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Roberts, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé and Oprah were major influences in my transition. I look to them all now as well.
How do you use your identity to express yourself in fashion and creativity?
I use my identity to express myself in several ways. When I’m in a work setting my clothes are always very professional, while standing out is still a must, strong fashion content with a conservative twist.
Does participating in pageants give you a larger platform for the community? Why?
Participating in pageants definitely gives me a larger platform as a personality, an advocate, and as a community organizer. Pageantry initially strikes interest in a way that resonates with a lot of people, my follow up meeting of people always locks them into my world because of the positive energy I exude.
You’ve experienced instances in which someone has tried to blast you on social media during instances like dating while trans. Talk to me about that and how it makes you feel.
I’m always indifferent. I agree with everybody. Everyone will have mixed feelings. Do I always reveal – sometimes. Maybe not on time. But when you’ve been trans as long as I have you learn to ignore things, you learn to stop worrying about what people think.
I think what bothers me is trans exposing people that are “supposed to be straight”. I get it. It gets frustrating living this life. You know how life is as a woman, Imagine being a trans woman. So many people have attacked me and done so much to me as far as violent acts because I am transgender. I worry but it doesn’t affect me.