The Trans-Gender Experience in Lincoln
Interview by Benjamin Steinke – August 2nd, 2014
Benjamin Steinke chats with Wes Staley and Scott Schneider of
The Nebraska Trans* Community – nebraskatranscommunity.com
Interview Parts One and Two of Three (four audio files, then transcripts):
Audio 1A (mp3, 07:22, 6.8M)
Audio 1B (mp3, 08:22, 7.7M)
Audio 2A (mp3, 08:26, 7.8M, NOT WORKING)
Audio 2B (mp3, 10:33, 9.7M, NOT WORKING)
Ben: Alright, hello, this is Benjamin Steinke here at Mo Java coffee house on Saturday, August 2nd, 2014, and I’m very privileged to talk with Wes Staley and Scott Schneider. This is the audio transcript for an interview that will be featured in Issue #7 of The Common Root Zine. So, let’s get started today. First of all, welcome to both of you!
Scott: Thank you!
Wes: Sounds like you need your own radio show! You’re like, this isn’t refined….! (Laughter)
Ben: Oh my goodness, that’s frightening! Radio, oh my gosh! Cool, well, first of all, maybe a little personal background and some fun stuff about you two before we get into the more serious questioning?
Wes: Oh, I have to go first! He always throws me under the bus first! It’s fine, it’s fine! (Laughter)
Scott: I have to think about it more!
Wes: Alright, well, this is Wes speaking. I’m 26 years old, born and raised in Lincoln. I was adopted when I was about 9 days old. My parents are both quite liberal; they were raised in small-town Nebraska, but they’ve always been incredibly supportive of the arts community, of the LGBT community. We have other family members who are LGBT-identified in various ways.
I’m actually not the first person in my family to come out as trans, so yeah, we have a lot of different things in our family (cont’d on page 2) that are kind of interesting like that, which made it a lot easier for me personally to come out.
I mean, coming out was still difficult, I think, like, no matter how supportive your family is, it’s always going to be something this difficult. But, the response from my parents was alright, basically, which was really cool!
So, anyway, I’ve also been really involved in various artistic endeavors, I guess, for my whole life. After I graduated from high school, I moved out to Los Angeles for a year, and worked in a make-up effects shop (prosthetics and stuff like that) so, I did that, went to make-up school out there, and then I came back to Nebraska ‘cause I ran out of money – ‘cause it was Los Angeles! (Laughter) And, I did college for a semester as a Biology major, and that was kind of a flip-flop, and then I just realized college wasn’t really my thing, I guess.
So, then I’ve just kind of been working around, doing various things, and then I got involved in the drag community about four years ago, and through drag, that was kind of what opened my eyes to playing around with various gender roles, and maybe realizing that I was having some gender issues of my own, you know? Because I kind of started realizing that, well, I don’t really think I’m straight, but I don’t really know what that means. ‘Cause I’d always assumed that I was straight before because I was raised female and, you know, figured I was that and I was attracted to men, so I must be straight, right? And it was like, no, something’s not right. Drag kind of started to open my eyes to that, so that was a very interesting experience in that journey. So then, yeah, I’ve been performing in the drag community for a number of years, and that’s pretty much where I am now. My story in a nutshell!
Scott: My story ended up being shorter because I forget all the major points! (Laughter) Um, let’s see – Scott here! I was born and raised in Lincoln, as well. I went to Lincoln High. My parents, I don’t really know where they stand on a lot of this stuff. They were not supportive, but I don’t really know if they would consider themselves conservative, or like, I guess I just don’t….they didn’t really talk to me about what happened when I came out. They just kind of shut down, which is kind of how my family deals with it. So that issue is still kind of a mystery to me. I do have a sister who’s very, very supportive, and her husband now (they just got married recently) so they’ve been super-cool. They’ve definitely been my “rocks.”
I decided to transition when I was about 26, which was in the middle of a six-year military enlistment with the Air National Guard, and that was an interesting adventure.
Wes: The most logical thing to do! (Laughter)
Scott: Yeah, I mean, clearly, you know, that’s just how you should do it! It worked out really well for me, actually. And we can get into that. I don’t know, some people are super-interested in that, and other people, not really.
But let’s see, what else? Like Wes and his one semester in college, I did major in Biology, except that I graduated in May. (Laughter) I double-majored in Biology and Psychology and most recently got a job, so that’s very exciting. Yeah…I don’t know. I do these things a lot, and I feel like I just say the same things over and over. Hopefully, we can come up with something new for you today! (Laughter)
Ben: How do you two typically explain the concept of “transgender” to people who might ask you, like someone you’ve just met, or someone you’ve just revealed that fact to? How…. in what ways do you explain that to people?
Wes: Well, “transgender” is such a broad term that most people aren’t aware how broad it is. They hear “transgender” and they think, “Well, you were this gender, and then you changed into this gender magically”, you know, or whatever. And it’s just seen as this black and white thing. And I usually try to just explain it by, you know, “transgender” is basically you identify as a gender that is not congruent with the gender you were assigned at birth, the sex you were assigned at birth. And that can manifest itself in any of a number of ways, you know? It’s not one thing or the other.
You know, because then you get people who identify as male-to-female transgender or female-to-male transgender, but then you get all these others. I guess, for lack of a better word right now, ambiguous identities, maybe gender-fluid identities, you know? People who identify as gender-queer.; agender, bi-gender, tri-gender, you know, all these different things, that don’t fall on that “male” or “female” checkbox / spectrum / lack-of-a-spectrum dichotomy. So, what do I want to say? (Laughter)
Scott: I don’t know what to tell you….I can’t help you talk! (Laughter)
Wes: You can’t help me talk, and this is what we do! Help me talk! (Laughter) I’m just gonna sip my coffee for a second!
Scott: Hand the mic over to me and come back to you…..
Wes: You could…you could….you speak about transgender for a moment!
Scott: OK, so I think my approach to it is just to deal with…well, okay, I usually deal with it on a personal level. So I get people into a one-on-one encounter where they’re dealing specifically with me. And then like when they say that I’m like, well you know, I was born a female, and then just kind of go from there. Like, if they look at me with a blank stare, then, you know, you kind of start at the beginning and you’re like, OK, so, I grew up, blah, blah, blah, did “girly” things, and then I decided…and kind of go that route. But, especially now that it’s kind of getting to be in the media a lot more, so there’s not really that need.
People might not know the buzzword, but then when you say, well, I was born female, then they’re like “ohhh, okay” and then it doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation, which is good because I’m not a big talker. (Laughter) I tend to make, like, the shortest explanation possible. I think that’s kind of how I deal with it. And then if it is somebody who knows a little bit more and then they start asking questions, then it helps me ‘cause I can elaborate from there, as opposed to just kind of trying to start with something small and run with it…..(think of what you wanted to say?)
Wes: More or less….something in my brain about gender roles, and I was just trying to figure out what that was. Well, I think just culturally, and really culturally almost worldwide, you know, people are just raised to believe that gender is innate and it is never changing and is just this thing you have that you can’t ever change. Because, well obviously, you were born with these parts so you must think these things and feel these things, and it’s just like, well, if you look at gender roles even, you know, within our own country or even within our own state, they’re different. Like if you look at, especially the Midwest, you know, I think it’s interesting where if you look at, maybe, more of a….like, women, for example. If you just look at, you know, women on the street that you see who are, like, quite feminine, and, you know, the more traditional idea of femininity, of womanhood or what have you, and then you compare that to, say, a woman who’s maybe, who lives on a farm or works on a farm and has a lot more masculine qualities, but obviously no one thinks she’s not a woman. Like, maybe she wears jeans and buttoned-down plaid shirts all the time and works with farm equipment and things like that. Well, that’s seen as more masculine traits, but it’s seen as perfectly “normal” in our culture because we’re in that part of the state where…or the part of the country where that’s just the thing, and it’s just seen as totally fine.
But when you get into trans-people and you try to explain, like, “oh, well, I was born this way or I was assigned this way, but I feel more like this” then all of a sudden it’s like this crazy thing that people can’t wrap their heads around. Like, “Oh, well, that’s not normal; you’re not supposed to do that!” Well, there are men who like to cook and clean and all that, and there are women who like to do more masculine things, you know, working on cars, more traditional male-type roles, and that’s not really questioned. But then, for some reason, when it comes to trans-people, it is, because people, I think, feel so threatened, you know, by this questioning of the norm that they don’t really know how to feel about it. That’s one of the first things that you try to figure out about someone new that you meet, like, is this person male or female? And if you can’t figure that out, most people will get really, really uncomfortable about it. Well, why is that? You know, like, why is that the thing? If you know somebody’s name, why is it so important that you know if they’re a dude or a lady, you know? I don’t know.
Scott: Unless you are trans, and then the first thing you try to figure out is, does this person think I’m male or female? Hmmm….you turn that guessing game around because you want to know how to react to them.
Ben: What are some typical reactions you get from most people when you tell them about transgender, and how do you handle those reactions? How do you usually respond to that?
Wes: Hmm….I guess, for some reason, I really haven’t had that experience that often. ‘Cause when I first came out, I was working at a job where, like, I had already been there for a really long time and everyone knew me really well, so it was this gradual coming-out where it was, like, okay this is happening. So I transitioned on-the-job, so that was fine. There were a few, like….it was a retail environment, so there were a few regular customers that would come in where we had to have that conversation like, “Well, I’m going by this name now”, and yadda yadda, and they’re like, “Oh…okay.” You know, like it didn’t really seem to be that big of a deal, and I suppose that if anyone had an issue with it, they didn’t really express that.
We always talk about the concept of “Nebraska Nice” which is, you know, kind of this idea that in Nebraska, people will be all nice and cheery and polite to your face, but then when it comes to talking about you behind closed doors, or at the voting booth, their opinions are radically different. Which is funny, because wasn’t that the new slogan for Nebraska? “Nebraska Nice” and we just laughed about, like, that doesn’t mean what you think it means! So, I don’t know, I guess I haven’t really had that experience where I’m like, “Oh, by the way, random person that I just met, you know, I’m trans!” That hasn’t happened for me yet, and maybe at some point, it will. Which is interesting ‘cause I guess I’ve been kind of going along this path for, like, four years now, and for some reason either I’m in such a tight bubble that I don’t really, like, have that happen or I’ve just been really lucky in my experiences and haven’t really had the super-super-uncomfortable experiences that so many other people do. I don’t know.What about you, Scott?
Scott: I think this is a really interesting topic, actually, because while people are…I don’t want to say “repulsed”, but like, I don’t know. Like when people get super-excited about this topic, like it’s some crazy thing, I don’t know. So, people like to talk about it a lot. So I’ve never actually had to confront anybody about it, except in, like, public speaking settings. Normally, like, word gets around before I do, which is really interesting, so I don’t have to have that conversation with people because somebody else thought it was this super-interesting story. Which, being the non-confrontational person that I am, that’s kind of how I would prefer it happens because I don’t want those super-awkward issues.
Wes: “You all just talk amongst ya’selves!” (Laughter)
Scott: I mean, really, like, I’ve been known to actually plant the seed and tell people that it’s totally OK to spread the word because I don’t want to have that conversation. Well, I shouldn’t say that. It’s not that I don’t want to have that conversation. But, I would rather have the in-depth, detailed part of the conversation rather than, like, the shock part of it.
Wes: Yeah….the initial response.
Scott: ‘Cause I’m over the shock. Yeah, like, I’m just not…that’s just not interesting to me. I know that’s not how that’s supposed to work!
Wes: Surprise! Okay, now that’s old now!
Scott: (Laughter) I’m like, okay, yeah…It isn’t news to me anymore. But, yeah, I don’t know, outside of speaking on panels and stuff, that I’ve ever shocked anybody with it. Plus, we’ve been in a lot of articles and newspaper thingies.
Wes: Although, I guess, well, you could use the example of your last job, a co-worker who was just like, “You’re joking, right? You’re kidding! You’re joking!” Yeah, we don’t believe you could possibly be trans because you have a beard!
Scott: Again, it wasn’t me, either. Like you and Devon told him that. But, yeah, I mean, I suppose that is a thing, like a lot of people look at me and they’re, like, “No, you’re not!” I’m like, “No, really, I am!”
Wes: And they see me and my little baby face. I’m like, “Yeah, I can see that! Oh, whatever!” (Laughter)
Scott: Yeah, but nobody’s been super-shocked lately by it in a negative way.
Wes: Just because I have ten facial hairs right now doesn’t mean I…..(Laughter)
Scott: That’s a little generous, I think. (Laughter)
(End of Part One.)
PART TWO TRANSCRIPT
(LAUGHTER) Ben: Cool….When did you two realize that your biological gender was not consistent with your true gender, the one you felt more yourself in?
Wes: Let’s see….for me? Well, I never really started recognizing, I guess, my gender issues, as it were, until my early 20s. I think….like I starting realizinig that something was “off” or something was “different” or had been for a very long time, you know, I started recognizing that when I was maybe 21 or so, but not even like that, that wasn’t even related to gender. That was just, you know, what’s happening with my identity, I have no idea! And then, by the time I started realizing gender things, I was probably, well, it was maybe like the next year, like 22 or so, and I actually tried using the identity of “gender-queer” for myself, thinking like, “Well, you know, I still kind of like girly, femmie things”. Like, I have a whole closet full of dresses, you know, from high school that I’m never getting rid of! My Mom’s like, “You’re never going to wear these again!” I’m like, “NO, you can’t take them away!!!” But, I also like, you know, more masculine things. Well, maybe I’m gender-queer, like, maybe my identity is a little more fluid than that. But that was still quite problematic for me. Personally, it just didn’t fit, so the more I kind of tried to delve deeper into it, I was like, “No, I’m just flat-out trans”, like I prefer to live my daily life and be referred to and acknowledged as male, but, you know, the more interest in feminine-type things or girly things or whatever—that’s more of the “theatrical side” of me. I have, like, a really big theater background, and so it’s like, yeah, I like performing in drag. Well now, at this point, I do both boy drag AND girl drag. You know, that’s fun for me. It’s also performance, and I think that’s what me living as female for so long was—that was performance.
And that’s what I think it is for so many other trans-people who try so hard to, like, jam themselves into this box of, like, “Oh, I’m supposed to be this way, so I better act this way.” And then they do that to an excessive amount because there are a lot of trans-women, before they come out, you know, people will say like, “Ohhh, you were so masculine, you know, a big beard and blah blah blah!”, and you try so hard to make sure that no one ever can tell that you’re maybe not what you’re saying you are, you know, no one can ever see these problems that you’re having. So, you try extra-hard to fulfill that role, even if you’re terrible at it. I was terrible at it!!! (LAUGHTER) I would try to be “girly” on a regular basis! I can’t do “girl” clothes, it doesn’t make sense to me! The second I started wearing jeans and a t-shirt and a terrible trucker hat I got at Goodwill, then it started clicking, “Oh, this is so much more comfortable!”, you know, and then I started shirt-and-ties, and I was like, “Yeah, I like this!” Then the gender expression from that part started clicking a little more.
So, as I kind of went through that, I want to say I finally came out as trans when I was about 23, I believe it was, ’cause I came out publicly, on-stage, at what was formerly “The Q” when I was running for “Mr. Q.”, the title of Mr. Q., and it was the on-stage “question-and-answer”, and I hadn’t even planned on saying these things, but my question was, “What can you bring to this title that none of the other contestants can?”, and it was just “word-vomit”, like, “Ummmm….I’m coming out as trans-gender”, and everyone’s like, “Yeaaaaahhh!!! Omigod!!!!” It was this really amazing response! It was super-cool! So, yeah, “surprise, everyone!!!” Super-public coming-out for me! Moving on to Scott.”
Scott: Okay, ummm….this is always a really hard question for me because, obviously, you don’t know about—-how do I want to say this?—-I guess you really don’t know about anything until you get information from the outside. So, like, looking back on it, I can see things from…I think my earliest memory, I was like six or so, and I was trying to run around the neighborhood with no shirt on, and my neighbors were trying to explain to me why I couldn’t do that, but all my friends could, and whatever. I mean, at the time, I was just like, “Well, that rule sucks!”, but I never really….you know, like I didn’t think about WHY or, you know, all the social implications of what was going on, because I was, like. SIX! But I think when I was….I think I was, like, 21 maybe, and I’d been, like, super-masculine, butch, whatever, like my entire life. I think that all of my family would agree that, like, my sisters thought it was really cute to try and dress me up when I was a kid, and I would just scream bloody murder!! Like, every time they tried to put a dress on me, it was awful!! But, I think I was 21 when I finally, like, realized that “trans” was a thing, and, like, there were people who were having surgeries and like, I don’t know, there was a whole online—-’cause online had just become a thing. I was around when the Internet was born. I was at the early stages of that. (Thank you!) But, yeah, I think I was about twenty-something and just realized it was a thing, and it immediately clicked with me that that was me. And then from that point, it took a long time for me to allow myself to go through with each stage. Like, I changed my wardrobe first, like I bought Polos and khakis ’cause that was super-edgy for me at the time. (LAUGHTER)
Wes: Watch out, world!!! (LAUGHTER)
Scott: I know, right?! (LAUGHTER) Then, as I got bored with that and whatever, then I cut my hair super….like I just walked in one day and it down below my shoulders and it was just, like, take it off, I want it all gone. And I actually had to do that twice because hairdressers are really tentative about doing that. So the first cut I got was awful, and I was, like, “No, no, no—I don’t think you understood!” But, yeah, so…and I would say it probably wasn’t, maybe, a year after my haircut that I joined the military, which was crazy, which slowed everything down for me. So, it was over the course of about…oh, I don’t know…five years, I guess, that I just slowly moved into the whole issue, and then I came out to my parents and, well, my family in general, like a month before my first shot. So, I pretty much….I knew that my parents wouldn’t be horribly supportive, so I just went through all the things I had to get done and got everything solidified and then just kind of threw it at them, which probably wasn’t the nicest thing ever, but….you know, “what’s the point of easing somebody into it if you know they’re just going to fight it the whole way?” I think is the way I looked at it.
Wes: And I think an important thing to acknowledge is that, you know, you hear this common trans narrative of, “Oh, well, I always knew since I was this little that, you know, I was different, or that I was, you know, not a girl, I wasn’t a boy, or whatever, and so many people think that’s always the case. Like, “Oh, have you always known?” That’s why when Scott and I do presentations, I think it’s important that we do those together because Scott pointed out that, oh, I had all these real memories of thinking this or thinking that, and for me, I’m just like, I didn’t have a clue until I was, like 20 or 22. So, and that’s not uncommon for people not to know until later. Some people don’t figure it out until, you know, they’re middle-aged. It’s different for everyone. I mean, looking back, I guess there’s different things that happened when I was little, or that I would do when I was little, where I was, like, “Oh, well, maybe THAT could have been,kind of like, a clue!” Thinking I could pee standing up, or whatever, and then finding out, uh, no you can’t!! (LAUGHTER) So, there’s various little things here and there, but, like, did I know?No, I didn’t. Like, I just assumed that things were the way I was told they were, and didn’t really question otherwise until later on. So, I think that’s an important part to acknowledge.
Ben: Excellent points! This is probably going to be a somewhat awkward question. How would you describe your transition process, and the changes that you went through during that, maybe during and after?
Wes: Hmmm….I don’t think that’s awkward.
Scott: Never had that question before.
Wes: ‘Describe the transition process….’ Ummm, well, both of our order of events are slightly different, you know, because…used to be, most of the time, people would follow, like, the same sort of, like, order of, you know, oh well, first you change your name, then you go on hormones, then you do this, and then you do this, and then you do this, but it’s such a pick-and-choose process that, you know, you can do things in any order you want, pretty much, and you can do certain things and not do other things. It’s entirely customizable, which is awesome because not every step of the way suits everyone. So, for me, my first big step was finding a therapist for….a gender therapist, and I was doing that for almost a year, and then I, uh, I got my name changed in May of 2012, and then I started testosterone that July, so it would have been a full year under therapy before I decided that I was ready. ‘Cause, really, like, the standards of care suggest, like, at least three months of therapy, but, like, I knew I wanted to take my time and be slow about it, so that was my decision. So, I was already on testosterone….the changes you go through on that are, you know, pretty much the same for everyone, but there are little things that differ as far as the timeline just because everyone’s body is different, and not everyone, you know, your first puberty, goes through everything at the same times, right? So, it’s the same thing for our second! (LAUGHTER) Which, the second one is far less traumatic because you actually want those things to happen! So, not quite as terrible! Plus, it’s funny, and you’re an adult already, so it’s just kind like, ahh, whatever! You don’t really care as much, or, I didn’t really care as much. It was just kinda like, uh, that’s fine!
But, I would say that the first thing I noticed after my first shot was just an emotional shift. I was just kind of like, oh, the clouds have lifted….(indistinct)….magical thing, but it was just like, all of a sudden, I felt better. Like, I don’t know how to describe it. I just felt happier, or more carefree, and it was almost instantaneous, which is, like, a really weird thing to admit because you’d think it would take a while, but it was, like, that day! It was like, “Omigosh, I can tell that it’s something life-changing already!” As far as the physical changes, obviously those took a little longer, but, like, after each shot I would notice, like, a few days after each shot, I’d get, like, this sore throat thing, and then a couple of days after that, then all of a sudden, my voice would drop a notch, and I was, like, “Omigosh, this is the craziest thing ever!!” So, you know, stuff like that. I don’t know—everything for me has been pretty gradual. I was on a pretty low dose anyway, so, you know, I’ve been on that for about 2 years now, and I don’t really feel like I’ve changed physically all that much. But, you know, that’s fine. I’m more patient in that respect. But, anyway, so, yeah, and then I got my gender marker changed the following year after I started hormones, on my drivers’ license. Um, that was exciting, too! And then, this past March, I had top surgery in Omaha, so that was, like, I feel, the biggest undertaking ’cause that was, like, the first real permanent-permanent thing. I mean, there are certain permanent things about hormones, but it’s less, like, I don’t know, invasive to your body, so, and I had never had surgery before, so it was a pretty big deal. And, that’s just kind of been, like, the surgery healing process, you know, like numb spots and nerve pain here and there. But, super-worth it, and summer is super-worth it, so, no gross back-sweat stuck under a binder anymore, so, that’s awesome!….(LAUGHTER)….your turn!
Scott: Okay, ummm, I would say when I just, like, casually think back on my transition, I’m always, like, oh yeah, it was, like, super-exciting and I was totally into it and whatever, and then I just realized when I thought about it a little deeper that it was, like, super-terrifying, but part of that had to do with the fact that I was in the military at the time, so I basically knew that I wanted to transition, but I put it off for a really long time. Like, I just kept pushing it back, like I can (indistinct). Like, you know, first it was, like, oh, I can make it to the end of my enlistment, and then it was, like, okay, if I make it ’til the end of the year, then we’ll worry about that. Pretty soon, it was, like, okay, if I can make it to the end of the month, (LAUGHTER) then we’ll be good and we can talk about it then. So, I pushed it off as long as I possibly could. Then, finally, I was, like, this is it, I’m at the point where I’m willing to risk getting discharged. I’m OK with that; it’s worth it.
So, I basically called up a therapist that I knew was friendly—I got it from a referral, from another guy. And I basically just called her and said, “This is what I want. Will you see me?” And she said, “Sure”, you know, “Come on in,” whatever. And it’s actually not very uncommon for trans-people to call a therapist and be like, “Look, I just want a letter.” But, I was a little bit nicer about it (LAUGHTER) because I was willing to, like, actually see her and talk to her and let her decide whether or not she should give it to me! But I only had to do that for, like, I think it was, like, three months. I saw her, like, six times, and she was, like, “No, you pretty much have it nailed down.” Which, at that point, like, I had been talking and thinking about it for years. So, I got the letter, and it took quite a bit longer for my letter because we had to consult with an attorney and stuff to present it to the military. And then, before she finished writing the letter, I had already set a surgery date and a hormone date.
So, I had all those things taken care of within, like, two months of each other. I started hormones in August of 2008, and at the end of October, I had my top surgery. So, I just kind of sped through that first part. And then, like, at that point, I started getting changes from the hormones right away, and healing from the surgery and whatever. So, I was pretty happy, I guess. It was kind of like the hair and the polo thing, like, that staved off everything for a while. And so I just kind of rode that wave, I guess, and just let the hormones take effect and dealt with the rest of my enlistment and whatever. And then, just before I was scheduled to get out of the military, I had my hysterectomy because I knew that I wanted to get my gender marker and name and stuff changed as soon as I got out, and I wanted my insurance to cover my hysterectomy because I had medical reasons for it, but if you wait until all that stuff’s changed, it throws everything out the window. So, I got that done right before I got out in October of 2012. And then, as soon as I got out in January, I….or, sorry, October 2011. Anyway, as soon as I got out, I went and got all my paperwork changed….or started to. It took me nine months to get my gender marker on my birth certificate changed, which should not have happened, but they kind of gave me the runaround. So, I think we’ve got that figured out for everybody that comes after me. But, I don’t know if they just changed the policy, or if I just didn’t know what it was, but they gave me the runaround on it.
Wes: I feel like it was somebody in the office.
Scott: Yeah. I don’t want to say ‘discrimination’, but I think somebody had their “cranky pants” on for nine months! (LAUGHTER)
Wes: Thanks, Vital Records! (LAUGHTER)
Scott: I know, right? The gal that I actually worked with (’cause I kept seeing the same person when I went in)—I don’t know if they, like, threw her to the wolves and made her talk to me every time, or if she just happened to be working, but she was really cool about it It was somebody….she kept having to go in the back and ask somebody else, and I was, like, “I don’t like that person.” But, anyway, that was, at this point, the last step I’ve taken, so, just….I don’t know….it was really exciting, but the first….I would say, well, pretty much the first four years, were scary as hell, just because of the whole military thing, and like, you don’t know what’s going to happen. But, at the same time it was super-exciting.
Wes: I don’t know, I think that any step of transition that you take is scary in its own right, you know. Like, you have that added factor of the military and “Omigosh, what if I get discharged?” type of thing. Because, even…(to Scott) although you were in there when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was still in the military, or was still part of a policy? Even though “don’t ask, don’t tell” has been repealed, it still doesn’t protect trans-servicemembers. It doesn’t….you can still get discharged technically. And they do, so, yeah, we’re not all the way there with the military yet because gender dysphoria is in the DSM as, basically….
Scott: ….a disorder.
Wes: ….a disorder. It’s seen as a medical condition, therefore a dischargeable thing. Yeah, so….
Ben: Very strange!
Wes: I know! A lot of people don’t know that! A lot of people don’t know that.
They think that, “oh, don’t ask, don’t tell is gone,” so that means everybody gets….nope, nope, nope! So, anyway, but military aside….like, I was just going to say that for each step of my transition,anyway, like, I was terrified. Like, coming out, first of all….terrifying. Name change….I kind of had this, “oh, gosh, am I really ready for this?” But then it ….like, I know myself well enough at this point where it’s like all of a sudden, I’ll reach this point where I’m just like, okay, I’m ready, let’s do it, and that I know that I’m ready. But, up to that point, I’m like back and forth like “omigosh, is this the right decision?”, “I don’t know—what if I do something wrong?” and da, da, da. You know, like, even the day of my surgery, I was, like, “Omigosh, what am I doing? What am I doing? I’ve never had surgery before; I’ve never been under anesthesia ! Omigod!” you know! I was freaking out about it! And then, by the time I got there, I’m like, “No, I’m good!! Let’s do this!!” (LAUGHTER)
Scott: The big difference there is how we handle stress.
Wes: Well, some of us have anxiety problems—Scott!—(LAUGHTER)
Scott: Well, I have the same back-and forth, but I don’t wig out about it. I’m like, “Oh, I think I’m going to make this decision. No, no I’m not….ah, maybe I will….”. (LAUGHTER)
Wes: Scott isn’t human, so he can handle his panic attacks! (LAUGHTER)
END OF PART TWO
Part 3 Transcript (Section 1)
Ben: What are some of the daily life and workplace issues and challenges that you’ve faced since this whole process that you two have been through?
Wes: Bathrooms suck!! (LAUGHTER) No, no trans-person likes a public restroom! We’ll just say that—it’s a nightmare!!
Scott: Not because they’re dirty!
Wes: No, it’s just like, you know, there are full-on….states that are trying to pass legistlation about, you know, bathroom use. There was that bathroom bill in Arizona for a while that has since disappeared, but, um, where, like, “oh, well, you have to use the bathroom that matched your gender marker birth certificate”, wasn’t it? It didn’t make any sense. Who carries their birth certificate around? Like, are you serious? So, like, just crazy things like that where it’s, like, you know, well, okay, I can use the bathroom I’m more comfortable with and go in and do my business and get out, or I could use the bathroom that, you know, you think is RIGHT, and then get, like, screamed at the second I walk in. So, what do you want? You know, like either way, it’s just like they’re basically saying, “Don’t ever use the bathroom-ever!” Which is why there are so many people in our community that develop, like, really terrible bladder infections and things like that because they wait to go to the bathroom for hours and hours on end. Um, you know, I’ve gotten really good at holding it for a long period of time because, it’s just like, you know, I’d be out and, like, I just don’t want to deal with the bathroom, so I’m just going to wait until we get home, and it’d be a really long time. So, that can be a huge issue. And, sometimes, workplaces can be bad for that, too. I haven’t had a negative problem with workplace things. Luckily, the past two jobs that I’ve had since coming out have had just like single-stall restrooms available where I didn’t have to worry about it. But there are people who have not been us lucky, where there work there has a policy or a boss or something that has an issue with it , and it’s like, “Well, you can’t use THIS restroom—you have to use THIS one, or you can’t use ANY of them because we think you’re gross!”—that type of thing. (LAUGHTER) But, overall, I think most people I know have had a pretty OK time as far as places of employment. Um, there’s always going to be exceptions of people who have issues, or other people having problems with people like us who can’t deal with it, and seem to think that the bathroom is the first place to have that fight, I don’t know. (LAUGHTER)
Scott: Um, I think as far as workplaces, the place that I transitioned, the place I was working when I transitioned, they were pretty good about it. But, I kind of had an in there because my boss had been my roommate at one point, so obviously, like, she was pretty cool with me. And so I think that definitely helped things, but even like the employees there, I just kind of…the ones that were not too happy about it just didn’t talk to me. You know, it was a big enough place where we didn’t really have to interact on a regular basis. Um, it was a cube farm, so they kept to their little cube, and I kept to mine, it was fine. And I think…let’s see, where did I work after that? I remember….oh, and then I went to school. Okay, so….
Wes: He looks at me! (?) (LAUGHTER)
Scott: You know everything about me! Well, yeah, then I started working at The Queer Center on campus, so it’s really hard for them to discriminate in any way against trans people ’cause they help trans people. So, obviously, that was, like, the greatest experience ever. And I worked at the computer lab in the Athletic Department, and I just never….like, I guess I don’t bring it up at work unless I absolutely have to. So, I don’t even know, aside from my boss there who saw my application, because I got my name changed at the time, like they would know, but nobody else would know. And then, we worked at Target, and they were super-cool about it. They actually have a non-discrimination policy and inclusive health insurance, so that was never an issue. And, um, the place where I work now is actually really funny because I started…like…what was it, the week before your article came out in the paper?
Wes: Oh, yeah!
Scott: And, I didn’t figure….you know, I guess I didn’t think anybody would read it or it wouldn’t say anything or recognize me…you know, who’s gonna pay attention? And I go to work, like, a couple of days after it came out, or maybe that Monday, and my boss, like, kinda pulls me out in the hallway and he’s talking about something, and then he’s like, “Oh, I saw that article in the paper! It was really good!”, and I was just like, “Uhhhh”. (LAUGHTER).
Wes: What do I do?! What do I do?! (LAUGHTER)
Scott: Well, I mean, I don’t think I was super-awkward about it, but I was like, “Oh, yeah, cool, you know, whatever!” So, he was awesome, and they have a non-discrimination policy as well. I wasn’t horrified about that, either, but you never know how….even if the company has a non-discrimination policy, you never know how the individual employees are going to act about it, or if they’re going to be super-resentful but just not be able to do anything about it. So, I’ve actually had really good experiences, and luck, I guess, along those lines.
Wes: But, you know, just because Scott and I have had positive experiences in that sort of environment doesn’t mean that other people have not had negative experiences. The unemployment rate and the homelessness rate of trans people is outrageous compared to the rest of our community as a whole. I wanna say, oh gosh….what is the homeless rate of LGBT youth…is about 40% have experienced homelessness at some point. It’s insane…it’s absolutely insane. Because there’s people who get, you know….kids who come out while they’re still underaged, if their families don’t accept them, they will get kicked out of the house and they end up on the streets, and that’s a very pervasive problem, uh, all over the place. And then, you know, Nebraska, or if we’re talking about Lincoln specifically, we tried to get a fairness ordinance passed, and then people were like, “Oh, I have a problem with this because I have no reason to have a problem with this, but I just want to have a problem with this!” You know, have the whole petition thing to put it up to a vote and then it’s just kind of been in limbo ever since. Well, basically because we don’t have that anti-discrimination policy as a city in place, you can be fired, or you can be kicked out of your housing, and we know people that has happened to. You know, not even specifically for being trans, but any part of the LGBT spectrum, we know people who’ve come across problems like that, and so, you know, we’re always sharing our stories, like “Oh, we’ve never had any problem at all, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…isn’t Nebraska great?!” And it is, but there are people, you know, in this city and in this state that have experienced a lot of discrimination for things like that. And, even maybe, if it’s of no fault to the employer….when Scott was job-searching, there was a job he was applying for, basically as a drug-tester—a pee-tester—and even though he was one of the top candidates, the policy they had in place for someone of that position was that if you are in the restroom with the person doing the drug test to make sure that everything’s legit, right, like their policy was your parts have to match their parts, right, and so….
Scott: Their policy….their policy actually regarded….they had a policy for the trans-people coming in, in that the observer’s parts had to match the trans-person’s parts, but they didn’t have any policy for trans employees. Like, it had never dawned on them that a trans-person might apply for that job. So, um, the gal actually, like, I had to go take some tests and whatever, and I was talking to her, and she’d asked me about the name change and whatever, and she’s like, “I’m assuming you’re trans, whatever”, and I was like, “Yeah!” And like, she was super-cool about it and she was like, “Oh, I’ll have to look into it, whatever.” You know, she kind of mentioned, you know, that at this point, it’s looking really good for you, blah, blah, blah, blah, whatever, and then I just never got a reply of any sort. I got no rejection, I got nothing, for like….because they said it would take, like, a couple of months or whatever, because the State of Nebraska is really slow when it comes to jobs (LAUGHTER). But, yeah, like, I just never got anything back from that job, which…it’s…I don’t know, it’s a strange situation because I don’t like to scream “discrimination!” because I don’t know, but at the same time, you know, they don’t tell you why, you know. They just say, “Oh, no thanks, we chose somebody else,” so it could be any reason, so there could be a lot more discrimination that we realize out there.
Ben: Cool! You two run a support group for trans-individuals here in Lincoln. How….in what ways does this group benefit transgendered people and their supporters? How do they move forward by being involved in the group?
Wes: Well, from my own personal experience, when I started going to the group, um…..yeah, at this point, it’s been about three years ago….it’s been an enormous part of my life. I think I’ve only missed one and a half meetings (the time we had to go do a talk)….yeah, pretty much one and a half groups since I started, and those one and a half times were both in this past, like, I don’t know—six months or a year. So, like, the first couple of years that I was going, I did not miss a single one. Like, it would have been devastating if I had, because it became so important to me because while I was still trying to figure things out, you know, like that was one of the only environments where I didn’t feel like I was on-edge all the time or had my guard up or whatever because I could just be like, I know that everyone in this environment is going to refer to me how I like to be referred to, is going to treat me with respect, isn’t going to question how I’m feeling about things or the things that I’m doing, you know, to better myself in my life, because everyone there is going through the same thing. And even if, you know, they’re not trans themselves, like say if someone’s partner is coming to the group (because our group is inclusive towards people’s partners as well), they may not be transitioning, but they’re also experiencing that, basically, well, not first-hand, but second-hand, you know, with their partners, so they’re going through a transitional period, as well. So, anyone that is attending knows what you’re going through! So, I think that’s a really cool part of it. You know, sometimes people refer to it as a support group. I guess we try to not refer to it as such because, you know, you hear “support group”, and you think, like, “Oh, because we have all these problems and blah blah blah blah blah”—Well, you know, I guess, to an extent-ish, but we usually refer to it more like a “community group” because, I mean, we do outings or we plan various things. You know, we’ll have….we do camping trips every now and then, you know, barbeques or whatever. And I think it is a community group because the main point or purpose for us is for people within the community to have an opportunity to meet other people who are going through the same experiences, because, otherwise, where do you meet people like that? Yeah, there’s the Internet, but the whole thing with, you know, being trans—and almost the purpose of being trans—is to transition to a point, usually, you know, where you become invisible, basically, you know, and I think that’s why trans-awareness has just recently started popping up, because, before, you know, the past five years or so, everyone just kind of blended in to the fabric and didn’t want to be, you know, recognized as being trans, and still many people don’t. That absolutely makes sense—that’s kind of the reason why a lot of people transition.
END OF PART 3, SECTION 1
Section 2 of Part 3 Transcript
Wes: Where am I going with that? I don’t know…I just had a massive brain-fart! But…Scott just face-palms himself! (LAUGHTER)
Scott: (indecipherable) I can’t take you anywhere!
Wes: He can’t take me anywhere! The group….the group is important….the group is important. It was for me because when I, you know, first started going by a different name, I remember the first meeting I went to very vividly. I was just like, oh my gosh, I’m going to say that I want to go by this name, and they’re going to know that that’s not really my name, and they’re going to think it’s weird, and it’s like, why? And the second I said (?), “my name’s Wes, guys!” It was, like, not a big deal. And that was what it was, and that’s how people referred to me the entire time, and it was just, like, oh, well, this is awesome! So, it’s just a very positive and self-affirming experience for a lot of people who are starting out, or have been going through transitioning for years on end. It’s a great place to be, and it’s a safe environment for everyone to experience that and process whatever they need to process.
Scott: Okay….um, I think you mostly summed it up in that. I think….I don’t want to say that it provides a sense of normalcy because, like, I think that being trans is perfectly normal, and every aspect of it is. But, in order for (I don’t want to say this…)….like when I first started my transition and I was coming out to people who weren’t trans, it was, like, seen as you revealing some weird, abnormal part of yourself to people. And so….which, I mean, you have to do that, but at the same time, you develop kind of, almost, an anxiety, like, that other people notice. And so you seem like this is some weird, shameful thing that you’re admitting to people. And so, I think the group, for me, it made that part of my life…gave me a place to have just normal conversations about it, or, better yet, to have conversations about things pertaining to it where I didn’t have to make a statement about it. You know, like….and I think a lot of trans-people either, like, their orientation will change, or it won’t change, and then…(that’s gonna be confusing) (LAUGHTER)….their attractions don’t change, but then their orientation does, so you end up with a lot of trans-people who are coming out as gay, which is really difficult for them because now they’re both trans and gay. And this kind of gives them a place where they can talk about these things and become comfortable with those conversations about themselves before they have to deal with that with other people. So, I definitely think, like, it’s just a place for people to become comfortable with themselves. Like, we’ll try to go, like Wes said, we have barbeques and stuff like that, or like after our meetings, we try to go out to dinner or lunch just to give people a group of people that they know are safe to go out and be in public with. And, you know, it sounds really ridiculous to a lot of people, but that’s a huge deal, like so many people are afraid to go out in public, and I think it provides that kind of reinforcement, you know, power in numbers….
Wes:….safety in numbers.
Scott: So, I think that’s the biggest thing. Hopefully, that’s what other people get out of it.
Ben: How would….what kind of advice would you give to trans-gendered people in the community who may be very hesitant or reluctant to come out…well, obviously, you would probably tell them about the group….but, what other things would you tell them? What kind of advice would you give?
Wes: Oh my….that’s a big one. Um, I think….oh gosh….where do I even want to go with that? I think one important thing is to go at your own pace, and don’t take any steps that you don’t think you want to take. You know, because with there being all these misnomers about—-and misinformation about—-trans-people where so many people think, “Oh, well, I have to take all these steps, and I have to have all these surgeries, and that’s terrifying.” It’s like, no, no, no, no, you don’t. You can take little teeny-tiny baby-steps, you know. When I first started coming out, like, what was helpful for me, and what was helpful, I know, for a lot of other people, was that I started by having just a teeny-tiny circle of people who knew that….who knew I was trans or who started referring to me by my preferred name, and so once I kind of had that experience, and I was like, “Okay, I’m a little more comfortable with this,” and then I just kind of slowly expanded that group of people until that was out to everyone. So, you can, you know, do little-bit by little-bit.
And say if you even tell, you know, a best friend or, like, a close family member, like maybe try calling me by this name or using these pronouns, and if it doesn’t feel right, you don’t have to stick with it, like it’s not permanent, you know what I mean? I mean, so you can try things with people you trust, and it won’t be as terrifying as taking this giant leap into this unknown world of, “omigosh, what am I getting myself into?” or “What are people going to think?” I think that was very helpful to me. I guess another thing is that, you know, there are so many people within our community who have….you know I mentioned the anxiety part earlier….you know, so many people who have a lot of anxiety or social anxiety about, like, “Oh, what if I don’t pass when I’m out in public?” and “People are going to stare at me”, and yada yada, and it’s just like, as much as that sucks, it’s like sometimes you just kind of have to try to just do it for you. You know, like, you do you, and chances are, most of the people that are around aren’t even noticing you. Oh gosh, what’s that phenomena called? It’s got some name where, um, you think that everyone else around you is thinking about what you’re doing all the time when, in fact, they aren’t? Um….I can’t even remember….
Wes: Facebook!!! (LAUGHTER) Facebook!!!
Wes: Right!….there is actually like a psychology term for that, and I can’t remember what it is at the moment, but, um…..
Wes: Well, yeah, a little bit of that, too! But, I mean, that’s just a human….it’s just a human condition where you assume that everyone has you under a microscope when everyone else has their own lives and their own, you know, minutae of issues that they’re dealing with. But, chances are, they don’t care, and if they do, like, what do they matter to you, anyway, you know, like, unless you’re dealing with somebody who’s being a gatekeeper to you in pursuing your own happiness, whether it be lawmakers or medical professionals or what have you? That’s when you’re going to have an issue. But, if it’s just somebody out on the street? You know, I’m going to avoid language, but, screw them! (LAUGHTER) I would be more colorful in that, but….Um, I mean, that’s just kind of where I’m coming from, but then, you know, you have the added issue of, well, you do also have to look out for your own safety. You know, you’re in Nebraska. At least, in the past twenty years, we really haven’t had much incident with safety concerns. Omaha’s been a little iffy, but Lincoln is, generally, pretty safe. In other states, that’s not always the case, you know. There’s been, I almost say, an epidemic of homicides and assaults of trans-people and trans-women especially. So, it is important to keep an eye out on your safety. But, overall, it’s like, if you’re going to be worried about that forever, then you’re just going to be doubly-unhappy, you know, whereas if you just pursue your own happiness and be like, “This is going to help me be better, and help me be more comfortable in myself,” and whatever comes along the way is going to come along the way, but you can’t just live in a hole all your life and be miserable. I would say every step that I’ve taken has been absolutely worth it, no matter how scary, at each point.
Scott: Yeah, I think you covered most of it. I think one thing is, like, just to remember that being trans is not one giant step. It’s a series of very tiny steps, and you can take as many as you want in whatever order you want. And, to kind of go along with that, yes, it’s terrifying, but if you refuse to take any steps, it’s going to remain terrifying. Like, you have to step outside of that bubble. So, ’cause, I mean, the whole idea of anxiety, like Wes pointed out, it’s like, you are afraid of something, so you avoid it….well, as long as you avoid it, you’re going to continue to be afraid of it. So, even if it is, like, the little tiny steps, you have to take those and see how that makes you feel, and if it makes you feel better, then you kind of have to face those fears, ’cause I don’t think anybody makes it through any part of the transition process without being terrified of something.
Wes: It’s an uncomfortable thing to go through, like, there’s no getting around that.
Scott: You’re basically facing public rejection every day in trying to make yourself a better person in spite of it. But, I think the other thing—-and this is the way it was for me; like I said, I took little stupid steps to make myself feel better—- but it was one of those things where it’s like, a lot of times, you don’t necessarily make a conscious decision to take the next step. You just realize that you can’t live the way you are anymore, you know. So, your only option is to do something to change it, so….
Wes: And even like, you know, finding, like, the littlest teeny-tiny thing that can make your day a little bit better. Like, I still remember the first time I bought men’s deodorant! It was, like, the most empowering moment of my life thus far….(LAUGHTER) It was like, omigosh, you know, walking into Walgreen’s like….ha ha, I bought men’s deodorant!! Like, that was really exciting!!! It’s a stupid thing, but it was so exciting, you know! Like, it can be just teeny-tiny little things that noone’s going to look at you twice for where you’ll be like, hey, this made me feel really good about myself! And you can just do those little things…..haircuts, you know….haircuts are….I mean, they can be quite drastic, but it’s a non-permanent thing that you can try out. If you don’t like it, grow your hair back out, change it, whatever. But, like….and like Scott said, you know, coming out isn’t one big thing. People ask me, you know, “When did you come out?” And I always say, “What time?” You know, which time? I feel like I’ve come out, you know, five different times along this whole process, you know. And especially with my family, you know. At first, it was like, you know, “Mom, I don’t think I’m straight. I don’t know what that means.” And then it was, “Mom, I think I’m maybe gender-queer of some sort”, and then, “Mom, I think I’m just queer”, and “No, Mom, I think I’m trans.” And it was just kind of like, “Uh, okay….okay….what?!” (LAUGHTER) But, you know, it isn’t one big cut-and-dried thing. So, I think if you just recognize that and, you know, take teeny-tiny little steps and adjust your comfort level along the way, it won’t be this giant, terrifying mountain of an ordeal to get through.
Ben: So, go at your own pace, in other words?
Wes: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely! I mean, that’s, that’s, you know, the first thing I tell people when they say, “Oh well, I’m going to start seeing a gender therapist and blah blah blah”, and I’m just like, well, yeah, go at your own pace. Like, yeah, you could do boom boom boom, like Scott did, run around with his hair on fire, getting all his things switched around. But then like, for me, like I said, I was seeing a therapist for a year before I started hormones because I knew that I had other things that I needed to work through. I had other outside issues besides gender things that it was just, well, I want to make sure that I have this stuff in check before I tackle these other things, so it’s absolutely a very personalized experience.
Scott: And I think one other thing that I’ve encountered with the group especially is that when people are feeling like, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” to re-evaluate whether they really can’t, or if that’s part of them trying to put off the process, ’cause I know a lot of people…we keep hearing, “Oh, well, I can’t transition because I can’t…” you know, whatever bazillions of excuses, and then you start talking to them, and it’s not necessarily that they can’t. Like, there’s plenty of ways around whatever their roadblocks are, but they don’t necessarily want to see it because saying “I can’t” takes that pressure off of them and puts it somewhere else. Um, but also, like, if anyone thinks that, like, if they actually think they can’t, usually if they get in contact with us, we can find ways around roadblocks, for the most part. So, that has proven to be helpful for some people, so…..
Ben: Awesome! Well, um, are there any final thoughts that you guys would like to express, anything else that you wanted to add?
Wes: Mmmmm…..I don’t think so. I don’t know…we covered quite a bit in, what, the hour that we’ve been speaking? So, um, no, not particularly. I would say that, uh, anyone who’s looking for more resources or anything, we do have a website for the group. It’s
nebraskatranscommunity.com—-one full shebang, no hyphens or anything. And then, also, if anyone is looking for presentations and workshops, Scott and I both do those with our little….well, it’s also linked on the website, but we have a little sub (I guess) businessy-type thing called LEAPS—-LGBTQ Education And Public Speaking. We’ve done things for, you know, businesses or counselors and things like that. We can do PowerPoint-type deals. So, yeah, we have a lot of resources on the Nebraska Trans Community dot com website for tips on being a Trans Ally, resources for various intersectional-type things, you know, like, resources for families, educators, yada, yada, yada…..stuff like that, so, a lot of information. We have a list of books and movies that involve trans subject matter. So, a lot of good stuff on there. How about you? Anything to add, Scott?
Scott: Um, for people that are considering transitioning or anything of that nature, we also have, obviously, our group. We have a Facebook group, and referrals for counselors and things of that nature in Nebraska. But we can also….I’ve gotten information for people, like, in Minnesota, so if you know, you know somebody somewhere that’s struggling, like we can probably hook them up with information as well.
Ben: Well, I’d like to thank both of you for this wonderful and insightful and hilarious interview (LAUGHTER), and, uh, which is the kind of interview I like, even though this is the only one I’ve done so far!
Wes: We’re the best interview that he’s done! (LAUGHTER)
Ben: Oh, absolutely! Bar none! Hands down! (LAUGHTER) This has been Common Root Media—-Common Root Conversations. My name is Benjamin Steinke, and this ends my interview with Wes Staley and Scott Schneider, August 2nd, 2014, at Mo Java Coffeehouse. Thank you very much! We’ll see you next time! Thank you!
End of Part 3, Section 2
END OF INTERVIEW