December Feature Interview

Features Scott Turner Schofield
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www.diversityrulesmagazine.com

schofield-tumblerScott Turner Schofield is an award-winning performer and highly acclaimed diversity speaker on Transgender issues. Inviting a presentation, workshop, reading or performance guarantees high-level, in-depth exploration of the T in GBLTQ aimed at welcoming beginners, affirming communities, and equipping advocates. At least, that’s what university administrators, artistic directors, and HR departments have been saying for over a decade now.

JRK:  Can you give Diversity Rules readers an idea of who Scott Schofield is — where you are from and all that good basic information?

STS:  I’m a man who was a woman. I’m a straight-ish dude who used to be a lesbian, but who most people think is a gay teenager. I have been out for over 18 years – 14 of which I have understood myself as a transgender person. I am 34 years old –  an early Millennial.

When I was born, I lived with my mom, aunt, uncle, and cousins. My uncle is Black, and our family is blended racially as well as parentally.  Interestingly from an LGBTQ perspective, my aunt and uncle couldn’t get married until I was 2, because until 1982, interracial marriage was illegal in Texas, where we lived. From a racial perspective, my uncle was my first father, and this relationship is profound to my understanding of race. In addition, I have two half-sisters who are Thai and live in Thailand.

I have lived in 25 places since 1980. I have spent quality, non-tourist time in Latin America, South Africa, Asia, and Alaska. My parents are British and I lived in England for 7 years. I have spent most of my life in the US South.

At one point my single mother collected welfare and depended on family to get by. We became middle class by marriage. We moved back to the US from the UK at a good moment in the exchange rate. We literally doubled our money and became upper class. I attended private high school and university, and I have no debt. However transgender diversity speaking and storytelling isn’t exactly lucrative, so I am grateful for the Affordable Care Act and other social programs to help me be a productive member of society.

I have no physical disabilities, but I live with Bipolar disorder and PTSD, which disrupted my life a lot before I was diagnosed and learned to thrive.

I know that’s a lot, but I think it demonstrates the lived experience that allows me to have an intersectional approach when I speak and work on diversity issues. The first step is being able to take stock of your life exactly as it is – where you are privileged and where you are oppressed, and where it’s a mix – and then see how that trains your perspective on the world. Plus it allows me to be an ally to lot of people.

JRK:  You are a highly acclaimed diversity speaker on transgender issues.  How did you get started with gender diversity training?

STS:  My honors thesis at Emory University was my one-person show Underground Transit. I began touring the show before I graduated in 2002, and I have never stopped. However, back in the early 2000s, people were much less aware of transgender issues than they are now – and we are not aware enough even now! So, in order to entice people to come see a show about transgender identity, I had to teach them what it was in the first place. Wherever I toured, I gave class talks and workshops. Since the Great Recession, it has become much harder to tour performances – they’re just too expensive. But people want to learn, and now I have a reputation as a teacher as well as an artist. So that’s what I do now.  LINKS: www.scott-t-schofield.com www.youtube.com/users/videos/undergroundtrans

JRK:  You state in your bio that your passion for your diversity training work was “indelibly stamped” on you with your private audience with Desmond Tutu.  Can you tell us about that meeting and what it was that impacted you so much?

STS:  In 2000, I was lucky enough to travel to South Africa as part of a program run by the Office of Religious Life at Emory University called Journeys of Reconciliation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a visiting scholar at Emory, and before we departed, he spoke with my group about his experiences created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with the horrors of apartheid in South Africa. What an incredibly lucky, privileged moment in my life!   What marked me about this moment – besides just its existence – was that the Archbishop was speaking, pacing as he talked, and then he wheeled around and pointed at me. I was one of two white people in the room. Then he yelled at me, “YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT MEANS TO BE FREE.” He went on to speak about how it felt when apartheid fell, what it felt to become free in a human sense.   The Archbishop pointed at me because, as a white person, I have never been oppressed at the level of race, thus I can never know the liberation he experienced. That is true. However, as an LGBTQ person, I have felt oppression at the hands of my country and its laws. This is very different from racial oppression, but it is still oppression. And I did have a moment, in its own, different way, like the Archbishop felt. In 2003, when the Supreme Court overturned the state laws that made LGBTQ sexual acts illegal. There was a time when a person could be arrested for making love if they were gay, and they would be charged as sex criminals. That morning, when I could experience just the very foundation of my sexuality freely, I did get a taste of feeling freer than before. I cannot imagine this experience would parallel the elation of racial liberation, but it felt incredible nonetheless.  Since that moment, I look for all the places in me where I have unquestioned freedom, and all the places where I may help other achieve their own experience of liberation. A lot of that has to do with freeing peoples‘ minds. 

JRK:  Your website says that you were taught how to be an artist and an activist at the same time.  Can you explain that a bit more?

STS:  My favorite rock star gave me my first job. Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls is an artist-activist. What that looks like is: writing songs that become anthems for various political causes; speaking out for political causes at their concerts and in the media; organizing local activists to be present and circulate petitions at their events, etc. I was hired to manufacture and sell the CDs on her independent label, but I also covered special projects. One of these was helping to create a tour for Native American poet/musician/activist John Trudell. That training – organizing the tour, and local groups, and media – taught me how I could do it for my own work. Because being a transgender artist inherently means being an activist!  LINKS: www.amy-ray.com, www.daemonrecords.com, www.johntrudell.com.

JRK:  What are some of the most important things we can tell our youth about their individuality?  What can be done to encourage them to embrace it and be proud of who they are despite a society that sometimes degrades our individuality and creates disrespect and in many cases causes physical harm to those who are different?

STS:  What can be done to encourage them to embrace it and be proud of who they are despite a society that sometimes degrades our individuality and creates disrespect and in many cases causes physical harm to those who are different?  We need to believe youth. When they tell us they are a different gender, we need to believe them.  We need to accept youth. When they come out to us, we need to celebrate them, and offer support.  We need to love youth. Unconditionally. For exactly who they are and what they do.   I know from my life that this foundation gives youth the security to believe in themselves, and to build from there. They’re going to change as they grow – they may decide differently about themselves at 20 than they did at 12. But if they have our belief, our acceptance, and our unconditional love, they will be much happier and much more secure, and much more able to make good choices for their lives. Belief, acceptance, and unconditional love are the net we give youth to teach them to fish for how to fully become who they really are.

JRK:  Your spirituality plays an important role in your work.  Can you tell us about your spiritual grounding and how it has helped you overcome your challenges?

STS:  Finding my Guru, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, and my Teacher, Swami Jaya Devi Bhagavati, has given me a blessed point of stillness in my always-changing-and-moving world. I am learning how to detach, so that I truly do not judge. I am learning how to meditate, so that I can always refill myself even as I give of myself to the world. I am learning how to humbly serve. And, believe it or not, I am still learning who I am! This time in an eternal sense.  Other of Ma’s important teachings are:  The soul has no gender. – This helps me teach the fundamental point of my message.  Feed everyone. – How can I feed every person I meet, where they are, without judgement?  There are no throwaway people. – Not even the ones with whom I disagree, not even the ones who, if I’m honest, I judge.  Live double. – This year, scores of transgender people were murdered just for being who they are. It happens every year. So I must live and act for them.  LINKS:

 www.kashi.org
www.kashiatlanta.org
 
JRK:  Can you tell us about your workshops that you do?  How do you feel doing them has changed people’s perspectives and attitudes on transgender issues?

STS:  It’s hard for me to speak to how I have changed other people’s perspectives – I’m not them. What I know is that cisgender people often don’t have the words to speak respectfully, much less honor transgender people. I teach them those words. This way, they know more, they are better equipped to speak sensitively about and around transgender people.  I tell stories about what I experienced as a way of highlighting salient transgender issues – for example, being bullied, contemplating suicide, interacting with doctors, interacting with friends and family, being sexual, being successful. This way, they know more, they are better equipped to make sensitive decisions as they interact with transgender people.  But also I teach workshops for transgender people and allies – like Gender Self-Esteem for Every Body. Using didactic teaching as well as storytelling, I teach the skills and tactics I have found successful in my 14 years living openly trans, and from my 30 years (15 in therapy) learning to live as a happy transperson. What I hope is that this changes your perspective on yourself, allowing you to thrive by helping you out from under social attitudes that have wrongly told you that you are less than anyone else in this world.  LINKS:

www.tiny.cc/stsTEDtalk
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/94169197/STS%20Residency%20Activites.pdf

JRK:  You are also an acclaimed storyteller.  How do you use your storytelling to teach lessons and help others to deal with themselves?

STS:  Storytelling reaches inside of people – to their hearts, not just their minds – and shifts things around that can never get moved back. A good story details a compelling transformation; a great story transforms everyone who reads or hears it. Once you identify with a transgender person, or any person, it’s unlikely you’ll turn around and hate them. A good story can make a great ally out of anyone.  In my case, everybody has a gender. If we’re honest, nearly everyone has had to question their gender at some point – we’ve all felt different or less-than as boys, girls, men, women, and everyone else. I come in from an extreme point of view – a person who undertook the hero’s journey to become a man out of being born female. I make an obvious point: that gender isn’t a rigid box, we all change, and everyone has the right to become their most authentic self. It all comes clear when you listen to my stories.

Check out my book, Two Truths and a Lie, for what I mean at http://tiny.cc/STSamazon

JRK:  What are some of the misconceptions about transgender people that need to be dispelled?  How is that achieved?

STS:  Understanding what transgender is takes time: people need to listen to the stories of transgender people; evaluate what they have been taught about gender; rearrange ideas and beliefs; and accept difference. It takes some work if it doesn’t just come naturally to you.   Then, within transgender communities, there is debate about what being transgender is. It’s changing all the time, due to advancements in knowledge and language and medicine and society. I won’t even start to get into it here!   So let’s start by defining what transgender is NOT.  – Transgender is not a mental disorder. – Transgender is not a psychological diagnosis. – Transgender people are not sex criminals.  – Transgender is not a sexual orientation.  If you only know those things, you are in a good place to start listening, learning, and transforming yourself into an ally.

JRK:  Do you have any parting thoughts you wish to relay to Diversity Rules readers?

STS:  I believe that everyone wants to be an ally, that nobody truly wishes to hurt or exclude others. I believe that people try their best, and sometimes still make mistakes. Unfortunately, when you make a mistake around someone’s identity, it’s kind of like you were juggling chainsaws, and you dropped one on their foot. So, if you’re not sure how to be an ally, and you’re scared of all these chainsaws, take it back to the Golden Rule. Would you wish to be asked about your genitals by strangers? Would you like to be told you’re in the wrong bathroom – in every bathroom? Would you like to be known as anyone’s [gay, or black, or fat, or trans] friend, and nothing more?

Being an ally is truly simple, and not at all scary, if we let it be. I look so forward to helping anyone who reads this to become a better ally. Try starting with my TED Talk: http://tiny.cc/stsTEDtalk, and then hit me up on fb/scott.turner.schofield, twitter @turnerschofield or linkedin/scottturnerschofield.

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