Is Scott Turner Schofield a man trapped in a woman’s body? Don’t bet on it.
By Blase DiStefano
Scott Turner Schofield has performed three one-person shows about his life experience, including, but not entirely about, his incarnation as a transgender, female to male, lesbian to straight man, woman-now-a-man who loves women. But his work is not just about making people laugh from coast to coast. He also works with youth in high school, workshop, and summer camp contexts, teaching how to write and perform autobiographical and social-issues theater. He is the author of Two Truths and a Lie , a memoir, and has been included in a number of anthologies. Recently he spoke with OutSmart about his life, his work, and his upcoming performance in Houston, February 20 & 21 , at DiverseWorks.
Blase DiStefano: You live in California, right?
Scott Turner Schofield: Yes. I just relocated to Los Angeles from Atlanta about three months ago.
But you’re always moving around for your shows, aren’t you?
Yes. I tour full time.
Is home ever home?
[Laughs] Not really, but I’m grateful to say I know my way around a lot of cities and have really wonderful friends in a lot of places, so I can find home almost anywhere.
In your shows, you say that you can be asked just about anything. Does that go for this interview?
During my research, I read that you weren’t particularly thrilled with what the medical community can do as far as constructing a penis. Is that still the case?
It wouldn’t be my choice.
Would it be your choice if it was perfected?
It’s a good question. People ask me a lot, When will you wake up a quote-unquote real man? What I say at the top of Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps is that I wasn’t born in the wrong body. It’s a common narrative that you hear—straight man trapped in a woman’s body or a lesbian trapped in a man’s body or things like that—and I’m not telling anybody that they’re wrong if that’s how they feel. For myself, I think there’s so much to be done with a body that is at odds with what our dominant culture believes about itself. My body blows minds. Who doesn’t want that? [Both laugh]
Do you plan on doing any other changes? Or is this pretty much it?
Everything I have learned growing up and transitioning as a person, I’ve learned to never say never about anything. People often think when you’ve had surgeries and hormones and all those things, then you’re done, like there’s an end point to becoming a real man or woman. Any person who is perfectly at home in their gender identity will tell you there is never a point when you feel done. So it’s not about surgery for me, it’s about living my life authentically and being respected and having rights, but most of all having great stories. [Both laugh]
Besides the great stories, that’s the case for everybody. Everybody is going through the same thing in a sense, but maybe just on different levels.
Exactly. And that’s the thing that really works about the show. A lot of people ask if it’s a performance about being transgender. One, I don’t even know what that is. Two, why would I even care? Three, that’s not my cup of tea. But you hit it exactly on the head, Blase. We are all going through this. Nobody is completely pleased with their body. Everybody has stories of feeling isolated, of feeling those truly joyous, incredible moments when you feel you are actually living your truth, doing what you want to do, being who you want to be, right? And that’s what my work is about. It takes this perspective, this kind of out-of-left-field perspective. This show has sold out every run that it has had, and that’s from Miami to Anchorage, twice in Atlanta, Seattle. The first round of people come because it’s their issue, and then they go out and tell their friends, and when those people come, they realize that this is not about an agenda, this is not about an issue; it’s about being human and that it’s a really fun, well-told story that speaks to people’s hearts.
And we can all identify. But going on to where some of us cannot identify—men’s or women’s restroom?
[Laughs] If I showed up in a woman’s restroom, I’d be arrested.
In other words, when people look at you, you look like a man.
Have you ever had any problems when you go to the men’s restroom? Obviously, you use a stall.
Who doesn’t use a stall?
[Laughs] Good point.
Homophobia operates so deeply in men’s restrooms. Unless you’re looking for something, nobody even looks at you. If somebody looks at you the wrong way, all you say is, “What are you looking at, fag?” [Both laugh] I’ve never had to do that, because I’ve never had a problem in the men’s room, except with the way it smells.
[Laughs] A lot of us have that problem with the men’s room. When you used to go into the women’s restroom, did you ever have a problem?
I did actually. Even before I came out to myself as being trans, I had a very similar gender presentation. You know the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA] that’s caused so much trouble?
This is where gender identity is perhaps more important than sexual orientation. It’s about what people perceive. As far as I was concerned, I was a 19-year-old girl walking into the women’s bathroom; as far as the 40-year-old woman who beat me up in that bathroom was concerned, I was a young pervert. That’s why gender identity matters, because it’s not just about how you identify, it’s about how other people identify you.
She saw you as a man.
When we’re covering sexual orientation, we’re covering the people who are the nelly fags and the butch dykes. We’re covering their gender identity. We’re not covering just who they sleep with. That’s why this whole ENDA conversation is completely stupid in my opinion. But you’re right. She saw what she wanted to see, and she acted accordingly,
which was to freak out and start hitting me with her purse.
I remember going to some concert at some big arena around here and went into the men’s restroom, and there were women in the restroom. Some people were getting freaked out, and I thought, If I were a woman, I’d want to be coming in here too, so I wouldn’t have to stand in those damn long lines.
Exactly. Which is why women do that. I saw in The Advocate a few months ago, T. Cooper, who’s a transgender author, did an opinion piece about bathrooms, and he said, “I think we should split bathrooms by whether you need to go number one or number two, because that way you’d always know which one to pick.”
[Both laugh] That’s great. How about we go further back. Where were you born?
San Antonio. I’m a native Texan.
How long were you there?
I was there until I was 21 or 22, and then we moved away. But my father ended up living in Wolf City, outside of Dallas, so I spent a lot of summers in Texas.
Tell me about your family.
My parents divorced when I was five. My mom remarried when I was eight, and I have a wonderful stepfather. He’s amazing and he’s been in my life for all the important things.
Did you see your father after the divorce?
Yeah, I did. The last time I saw him was when I graduated from high school about 10 years ago. But we maintained contact for a while.
Did he know about you, and did he care?
I came out, as a lot of people do, as a lesbian first. I didn’t understand the difference between sexuality and gender identity. So he had some homophobic things to say about that and was not very accepting. Whereas, my real parents, the people who took care of me, were always supportive. In fact, they’re going to be there for the performance [in Houston], and my family from San Antonio is coming up.
When did you start wondering about your body, that maybe it shouldn’t have been what it is.
My story as a transgender person is pretty common. At an early age I felt out of place with my body, and I wondered why I wasn’t the boy I thought I was, and when you start learning about body parts and all those things, I remember being a young child and thinking to myself that my nana had changed my body parts, because she told me over and over again how happy she was that she had a granddaughter. I thought it was a plot on her part. My grandmother gave me a sex change, right? [Both laugh] That was an early moment of realization. Part of why it’s so difficult to grow up transgender is the messages we get are: No, that’s not possible, that doesn’t exist, there’s no way. You really run into a huge wall at an early age when people are trying to make things very black and white for you, when in actual fact you know even as a child that it’s much more complicated.
What was school like?
I didn’t have problems in school. I had problems with myself. When I was 11, I was told by the boy down the street that I needed to start acting like a girl. So I did, because I didn’t know how to do anything else. I was on the homecoming court in high school, I went to debutante balls, I did the girl thing.
Was it during that time that you came out as a lesbian?
Yes, when I was in high school. It was hilarious. Ellen [DeGeneres] was coming out, and everyone was saying that I looked so much like Ellen. I really felt great about that. I started going to a place called Time Out Youth—this was in Charlotte, North Carolina—started going to a youth group that supported LGBT and questioning kids, and I got a lot of support there. It was totally outside of my rich prep-school experience, so it grounded me in the real world. They really helped me know that who I am is okay and that I deserved to feel good about myself. So I’m really thankful for that opportunity.
I read that you were very confident as a kid and that you were student body president in your senior year in high school. Apparently your confusion about who you were didn’t stop you from living your life.
There’s this thing—you might have heard of it—The Queer Over-Achiever Syndrome. You have a couple of options: you can fall off the face of the earth or you can run headlong into it and say, “Damn it, I’m gonna be the best person I can be no matter what you say.” But I had the support to do that. I had a supportive family, a wonderful group of friends, great teachers. I didn’t hold an assembly and come out when I was in high school, but if you look on my website, there’s a picture of me in the homecoming court, and I’m wearing this bright rainbow dress. I said it in as many ways as I could say it. Everybody knew. It was obvious. I don’t know if it was because it was a private school or what, but at my school the teachers got together and said, “We need to know how to support this person.”
Kids hear antigay slurs 25 times a day, and most teachers don’t stop that. A good moral teacher will support a student no matter what they are, even in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2006 I had a show in Charlotte, and it was censored because of the nudity in it, and the venue said they don’t allow female nudity. I said, “I’m not female.” [Both laugh] We cancelled at that venue and got it at a new place, and it was really good. Most of my teachers came to the show, and I went to my school, and the dean of students who used to bust me for coming late to school, or driving too fast in the parking lot, she shows up and she says “Scott, it’s so good to see you. I’d like to re-introduce you to your teachers.” And she went back around and took me to all my old teachers that were there and said, “I think you might remember this person, his name is Scott.” It was amazing.
That’s mind-boggling, because what I hear about North Carolina is not that.
People say to me a lot, “How could you have ever lived in the South?” and “How did you survive?” I think a lot of people, Texans included, in the South are tired of that scapegoating, that we’re all racist or we’re all homophobic, that we’re all stuck in the mud. I think Southerners most especially understand that it’s important to be nice to people, that hospitality works in a really progressive way. And that has consistently been my experience. But what more has been my experience is that when you stand in your truth and say this is who I am… In the South we understand something very deep about respect. That’s why the Civil Rights Movement worked the way it did. When you refuse to move to the back of the bus, and you do it respectfully and with dignity, that’s what people respond to, and that’s a Southern thing.
Yeah, but there are plenty of problems, too.
Absolutely. And I’ll tell you the truth, Blase: when Ellen was coming out and when I was coming out, it was also in Charlotte, North Carolina, when Angels in America was happening, and the county commission said all homosexuals should be pushed off the face of the earth, and they pulled all the money from all the arts programs so this gay show couldn’t happen. I was dealing with that on a very real level as well. I tried to commit suicide twice in high school. At the same time some deep stuff was going on. Yet I still managed all that good stuff. So it’s not black and white.
It never is. So as a woman, you were obviously attracted to women, so you were a lesbian. As a man you’re still attracted to women, so you’re a straight guy. Do you consider yourself trans?
Well, trans is about my sex and gender. Trans in itself isn’t a sexual orientation, because there are trans women who date men and women. There are gay trans men and straight trans men and all this.
We can be anything we want, but because of the laws, I feel like I need to say I’m a gay man. I choose to be labeled, so people know that I’m gay. But it’s easy to label me.
Right. But as a trans person, there are rights that gay people have that I don’t have. I don’t mean to make a hierarchy of oppression here.
But it’s true, of course.
I agree with you completely. I think that being out about who you are is important, and when you have the support to do that, it’s important to do. There are plenty of people who can’t because of their jobs or their families or whatever, and it’s not that they’re living a less authentic life. I come out in different ways, depending on the context. When I do a lot of work with fraternities and sororities—I toured at colleges a lot—I tell them, “If I sleep with women, do I get to be straight? Do I get to be in your club?” And they go, “Oh my God, if that guy’s straight, what does it mean about my straightness?” To a crowd at a gay bar, most people assume I’m gay. The way my gender reads, I’m a slim, good-looking, pay-attention-to-the-way-I-dress man, so pretty much everybody thinks I’m gay. In those situations, I’m like, Whatever. It’s all queer in that odd sense. That’s why I love the word “queer,” because we’re pretty much all queer. Some people don’t like the word, but I definitely claim queer, because there’s not a better word for me.
So you’ve never dated men?
I assume men put the make on you.
Very much so.
Does it bother you?
Not at all. I came of age in the queer community. Queer politics are my politics. I love gay men, I love lesbians, I love bisexuals. That’s my home community. I just love it. My producer is hilarious and makes all these hilarious jokes with me. He says, “I love you because I can make lesbian jokes, I can make gay jokes, you get it all.”
Are you with someone now?
No I’m not. I just got dumped.
I’m sorry to hear that. But you’re forging on?
Good to hear that. Tell me a little more about Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps .
I had all these stories that hadn’t fit into the other two shows before, but I didn’t have that one metaphor to hang it off of [as in the other shows: the subway train in Underground Transit and the debutante ball in Debutante Balls]. I didn’t know how to tell all these stories, until one day I was sitting around, and I remembered the books we used to get in fourth grade, the choose-your-own-adventure stories, where it’s like: If the hero goes
down the ladder, turn to page 7; if the hero turns back, turn to page 9. So I wrote a bunch of stories, and what I have is 127 different vignettes. There’s also a decoder ring, and the audience sees this ring and they pick numbers based on the identities. They look at me and say, “I see a gay man, story number 29.” And I tell story 29. Or they’ll say, “I see a butch lesbian, story number 47,” and I tell story 47. They have 127 stories they can choose from, so that means the show is different every night. I think that’s really great because that means the people can come back and see it, and I think that’s truthful to every human being’s experience. You’re a different person every day. You tell a different story about yourself depending on how you feel that day or depending on what questions people ask you.
In my research I remember something about a story about the army recruitment office. And I thought I’m really, really curious to hear what that story is. Can you tell me?
I don’t want to give it away. There are stories about the army, there are stories about my relationship with my biological father, there are stories about my being mistaken for being gay, there are stories about going to the doctor, sustaining brain damage, and they’re all true.
That’s why there’s 127 of them.
Did you ever live in Houston?
I lived in The Woodlands. My parents lived there. That’s when I came out as trans. But I was crashing with my parents while I was on tour. There was a period where I really didn’t stop for about a year and a half, so anytime like over Christmas I just hung out, I didn’t have much of a community presence. But I have called Houston home.
Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps plays Feb. 20 and 21 at 8 p.m. at DiverseWorks, 1117 E. Freeway. Purchase tickets at DiverseWorks.org, at DiverseWorks Art Space (1117 East Freeway), or by calling 713/335-3445.
Blase DiStefano also interviewed author Matthew Fox (“The Hidden Spirituality of Men“) for this February 2009 issue of OutSmart magazine.