Interview by Sheri Mann Stewart
Sheri: We've known each other for (15ish?) years! Would you describe the arc(s) your life has traveled during that time?
Scott: When we met, I had just started my journey as an out trans person. I hadn’t even changed my name yet, and I was very much in a place of fluidity with gender. I wouldn’t say too much has changed in that respect, except that I’ve gone 15(ish) years deeper into my own understanding of what that means (for me).
You’ve seen me through tremendous personal growth. You’ve met all the significant others (and heard about the not-significant ones!). You’ve seen me through the highs and lows as I have navigated mental health in a world that wants to obliterate my existence generally, and deny my humanity specifically.
I’ve watched your children grow into outstanding humans, and through them and you and Barry, I’ve had the really special experience of being loved unconditionally. So if I had to describe any arcs, I think I’d say there’s been a lot of rainbows with you, over all this time.
This interview is in honor of the upcoming Trans Day of Visibility. How will you be spending that day? What’s the most interesting or personally impactful way you've spent it in the past?
I’ll spend TDoV making sure that the activation I created for GLAAD, where I am a retained consultant, rolls out well over social media. We’re reminding everyone who the trans stars on our screens are, what shows to watch for them on, and thanking the studios who make trans visibility at the highest level. Namely, that’s: The women in front of and behind the camera on Pose (FX), Nicole Maines on Supergirl (The CW); Amiyah Scott on STAR (Fox); Ian Alexander on The OA (Netflix), and Asia Kate Dillon on Billions (Showtime). We’ll also give a shoutout to the awesome feminists at 5050by2020 and Time’s Up, for their amazing Open Letter to Hollywood on trans inclusion.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about Transgender identity?
That it’s not real.
Sexual orientation is invisible. So, when you told me you’re bi, I just accepted it — even if you have a husband, it’s YOUR sexual orientation, and it’s not my place to argue with you over it. If I want to love you, I accept you.
Same for gender identity. You can’t see it. But every medical organization (the APA, AMA, and dozens of others) agree that it’s a real thing we’re all born with that can’t be forcibly changed. And yet there’s still a whole world of people, a lot of them who call themselves feminists, who say that your chromosomes determine your gender, and you can’t change it. I don’t give time to them anymore. They’re the people who can’t be changed.
There are plenty of people who understand that, just like the human body, everything is fluid; that society tries to box us into clothing and colors that doesn’t fit everybody; that it’s a much happier existence to love and accept rather than exclude and deny. So I spend my time on those folks, and people who are coming to those conclusions.
Of all the things you do in your life related to being trans, which is your favorite or the most meaningful for you and why?
I love telling stories about it, and watching recognition, understanding, acceptance, peace, and love wash over the faces of the people who are really listening.
Do you ever get tired of being “professionally” trans and simply want to live life as if this is a world where it doesn't matter in any particular way? (I relate to this, having spent a number of years being “professionally” bi and it just became too tiring at a certain point and I started to resent it and felt the need to reclaim my life — at least for a time...)
I do. I think what really tires me is the resistance, and the disappointment I feel about it — it’s not the work that’s the problem. This big wave of visibility we have all been riding has brought with it a wave of resistance. I believe the best in people, and they show me the opposite frustratingly often. That’s what makes me want to quit. And why I never will.
You're married to the lovely, talented musician Terra Naomi. What, related to being Trans, has been the most challenging part of your relationship, and what advice can you share for Trans readers or others about finding and maintaining a relationship?
I got so lucky with Terra on so many levels! If I’m generous, I’ll say that I really did my personal work so that I could show up as a partner to someone amazing. I keep doing it, I’ll never stop. I don’t know, but I think taking responsibility for being your best self is always going to make you someone people want to be with, at least in part.
A part of my close family used our wedding to reveal that they don’t accept me as a man, and they don’t accept us as a married couple, which was honestly the greatest blow ever delivered to me in my life. Terra was an amazing ally to me, which is impressive because this happened to her, too, but she took care of me and didn’t let it bother her too much. Her family, too, are so loving and accepting. It’s a ridiculous world that we live in, to say we’re “lucky” to have some family support, but we do live in a painfully ridiculous world.
Some years ago, we co-wrote a play inspired by our identities of being Trans and Bi, and more recently, we've been part of the production team for a feature film starring you and based on your one-person show, Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps. Would you talk about where that project stands and what readers could do if they want to support or follow it?
Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps started out as a performance piece that I toured around the US and Europe for over a decade. As a live show, audiences would call out a number between 1-127, and I would tell stories from my life: from before, during, and after transition — because trans lives are about much more than just transitioning. Some stories are on-the-nose about trans issues, like how it feels to change your body with hormones; some are pretty universal, like what it feels like to lose a parent. They’re all about how I became a man.
The show won awards and made an impact on trans people and their friends and family everywhere it went, so it seemed logical to make it more accessible by turning it into a film. Except you can’t fit 127 stories into a film! So we’ve broken the stories up into a book, a podcast, and a film—because, just like humans with all our identities, it’s not just one thing.
We’re making the film right now. If people want to support it, they can go to patreon.com/127steps and sign up to receive weekly stories from the book and the podcast, which will help us finish the film.
If time and expense were not issues, what would you want to be doing to support Trans youth or others?
If I had all the money and time in the world, I would build communal living compounds around the world to care for the LGBTQ youth and elders who are pushed to the margins, who struggle in invisibility. I’d fill them with people who are willing to be the parents and caretakers that we need: people who radiate love, and know how to make community. I’d love to grow up and grow old inside a rainbow bubble—or at least take a vacation to one…
What can the rest of us do to support our fellow Trans citizens in our country and other parts of the world?
You can’t just say you’re an ally. Allyship is action. To be an ally, it starts with loving us unconditionally—which is easy to say, but difficult to practice in the real world. Then you have to advocate for us, which means treating our issues as just as important as your own. You have to make the world safe for us to pee—I can’t believe it’s gotten that bad, but it has. You have to insist that people use our correct names and pronouns, even when we’re not in the room. You have to shut people down when they sit around wondering whether we’re really trans or non-binary, or just seeking attention, or whatever armchair philosophy people do that actually cause harm in our lives by making them imaginary. You have to vote against politicians who don’t believe we should have equal rights, rather than saying you have our backs while voting for your biggest tax break. We are a minority, which means, mathematically that we are never going to win.
If you want a better world for us, you have to do the work, even if it means risking something yourself. You can do it in big or small ways, but you do have to do it if you want to actually be an ally.
I’m at least a generation (or more) older than you. When you think towards being my age, edging toward 60, what do you think would feel like a Life Well Lived as you looked back and what role(s) do you think someone of my age can still play in creating a better world?
I keep surprising myself by aging — that’s what first tipped me off to the fact that this world sends me messages that I shouldn’t be alive. So once I figured that out, I started believing it would be cool to get old — an act of resistance in itself. As I write this, I have just passed the life expectancy for trans people, which is 35 (you read that right).
But beyond mere survival, I think a life well lived looks like having contributed something tangible in the world. I’ve recently reached a place where even my own unworthiness can’t deny that I have done that, with my work. I also can’t deny that I have known great and true love. Or that I have really mastered some difficult things. I have memories that I treasure. So while I still pass every year surprised I made it this far, and while I still expect to die young, I’m grateful that I’ll have no regrets.
As for my elders, I feel like we have to do something to wake people up to the fact that our elders are our treasures. I’m amazed that more people don’t have friends who are at least 40 years older than them. My older friends help me find context, they know how to build community and deal with people, they give the best advice, and they have the best sense of humor. Elders don’t have to do anything to be valuable. We have to do more to recognize it.
Would you speak to the complexities of being someone who transitioned from being seen as the more societally oppressed gender to that of the most privileged gender and race in our culture vs. those who identify and may transition in the opposite direction?
We have to stop this idea that trans men have extra privilege.
As soon as anyone Googles my name — or hears it from a neighbor, or cuts open my clothes in an emergency room after an accident, or takes care of me in an old folks’ home where my medical records are available to anyone — I am not a man anymore. I am a trans man, which, to a good portion of the world, means that I am a woman — a very weird, mentally ill, lying woman — open to the same sexism as all women, with all the exclusion, casual contempt, hatred and danger of transphobia (and often homophobia) on top. I have been excluded for being trans in my family, at work, in public spaces, in healthcare situations; it has impacted my mental and physical health, my livelihood, my ability to achieve my goals and dreams. This is not a safe world for me at any level, and one of the definitions of privilege is safety. I may look, to some, like I have privilege, because I am a man at first glance — but my privilege is relative, at best. And I am one of the most privileged trans people I know.
What will you seek in a candidate for the 2020 Presidential Election, and what do you think are the world's most important political issues domestically and internationally?
AOC in 2020! If only she could. I am almost never asked questions that don’t relate to being trans, so I hardly know how to answer this. But I do know that I am a healthcare voter, I am a climate-change voter, and I am a living-wage voter.
What Border Walls exist for you and what is their dynamic, positively and negatively?
It’s a glass wall that I run into, full speed, over and over again. I never know which people believe that I am who I know I am, and who has different opinions that undermine my humanity. Whenever I find out, it’s a tough blow, and it hurts mostly because of how shocking it is.
For a long time, I let everyone in, only to hit their glass walls. So now I have my own glass wall. Mine has doors in it, doors that open wide to everyone I see doing the work of being an ally—that’s my prerequisite for entry. It doesn’t matter how far along you are in the process of being an ally: If you’re doing it, you’re doing it. I’m sad that I’ve had to make a wall, but I’m glad that I can still see through it. It fits my values: You have to see people.
For more information about Transgender Day of Awareness, visit our resource page.
For more information about Scott's work, visit speakingoftransgender.com
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