Ze Said, She Said

How does gender affect who we are? Scott Turner Schofield 02C explores the male-female connection.

By Michelle Valigursky

Once upon a time there lived a little girl, who knew he was a boy, who became a woman, who grew into a man, who became a whole person who advocates for gender expression and women’s rights. Her name was Katie Lauren Kilborn, then gender-neutral Kt, then Turner. Now he is actor and activist Scott Turner Schofield 02C, and his story of courage and character is nothing short of remarkable.

The multi-step journey from female to male involved plenty of emotional upheaval, medical decision making, psychological counseling, personal risk, and triumph. For Schofield, there was no choice. “I always knew I was a boy,” he says, “even when I was little.” But, he reflects about the blue-eyed blonde girl he once embodied, “People had no context for that type of change.”

Growing up in sheltered Southern communities, Schofield underwent numerous transitional phases during which he fulfilled expected societal roles. In Debutante Balls, he refers to this phase of life as the time in which he and friends “had to go home to the part-selves we lived at home.” As a teen girl, he attended high-society Debutante balls with friends, wearing gowns and toting escorts through the Deep South. Later, as a young Emory student yearning for answers, he interned with lesbian performance artists at The WOW Cafe, a feminist theater collective in New York City. This point in Schofield’s life was inimitably transformative. He refers to New York as “the city that saved me, the city that woke me, the city that took me for the ride of my life, through an infinity of girl to one end of boy.”

With encouragement from the Emory Theater Department and advice from role models like Saralyn Chesnut 94PhD and Amy Ray 86C, Schofield began writing his own story, a memoir to be shared through honest performance. Through it all, his family supported his choices. But external expectations could be confusing, and he often wondered if outsiders would “run from the man-girl freakshow I’d become.

Still, Schofield understood an innate truth. “I know what my identity is.” The societal displacement he felt – and sometimes still feels – is apparent. “I have come out more times than should be allowed. First I was a lesbian, then I was a feminist, then I was transgender, now I’m a transsexual. That’s a whole lot of transitioning. Too much to describe all in one sentence,” he writes in Debutante Balls.

“It’s That Difficult

With perfect comic timing and astute awareness, he reveals an ironic observation. “The Debutantes understand. Coming out should be your own made-for-TV-movie-of-the-week, the kind that ends in a Ball with the date you’ve always wanted. I’ll take it further. I always take it further. I think that we all deserve a Grand Gala – or, if you prefer, GAYla – Ball, when we come out! It’s that difficult, it’s that important to come out as whatever it is you are.”

As a college student in transition, Schofield gained comfort in his university surroundings. “I needed to educate myself and find context. Emory gave me the space and support to deeply investigate, personally and academically. Emory recognizes non-traditional identities and supports all cultural backgrounds. I appreciate that it is very welcoming and progressive.” At Emory, “My degree was called Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture (IDS). It was a self-directed major that encompassed history, gender studies, cultural studies, creative writing, and theatre studies.” By the time he left campus, Schofield had found the courage to begin the physical transformation into the man he is today.

He describes a very important phase of his transitional journey during which his sex characteristics were in flux. “While the traffic of straight and gay moved around me – on different days, in different directions- I stepped out of the two-step grooves, treading on toes and bumping shoulders as I made my own way. Coming out trans felt like catching the ground. Learning a dance all my own, learning that a dance could be my own, and that a dance works best when two bodies that know themselves move, and catch each other in the groove.”

Schofield began medical treatments at age 24 with testosterone injections and his body started changing. It was during this time that he drew into focus the true meaning of gender. 

Should you be in this bathroom?

“Check the other box,” Schofield advises in his TEDx talk. His request is clear. “End gender.”

But what is gender identity, exactly? And how does it relate to a person’s gender expression? By his definition, gender involves cultural, social, and personal aspects.  He especially appreciates the term trans* because it allows him to write his own definition of what his journey has been. Even so, Schofield poses a question while reflecting on his own self-description. He writes in his frank memoir, Two Truths and a Lie, “Is it possible to just be trans in the moment, without explanation? Or is storytelling, to myself and others, the condition of being – and staying – transgender?”

Schofield acknowledges that transsexualism can be confusing for people who don’t understand the pronouns or social protocol. For clarity, Schofield prefers we use the pronouns he, his, and him to address who he is today. Though he jests that we all may need a decoder ring to determine how to address an individual in the future, how should people act when meeting an individual whose sexuality and gender aren’t necessarily distinguished by body type and behaviors alone?

Schofield responds by posing a moral scenario and offers helpful advice. “When you can’t tell a person’s gender identity or their class status, it is never polite to ask, and class status, like gender identity, is something we discern by what we display, or don’t. While it's always socially-awkward when you can't tell a person's gender, humbly and supportively asking a person ‘Which pronouns do you prefer?’ is totally acceptable, while ‘Have you had the surgery?’ or ‘Are you totally transitioned yet’ is the height of impoliteness!”

“Like most people,” he says, “I struggle with labels. I feel I must describe, claim, and process all the social factors that make me who I am.” He admits that “since my transgender eureka moment back in 2000, I have struggled to identify myself not only to myself, but to paying audiences as well.” With unfailing honesty, he offers heartfelt advice to others facing a similar conundrum: “Make a big scene.”

“You gotta know how to make an entrance – how to be gracious and take it in stride – if you want to survive.”

The stage and screen are now where Schofield feels most comfortable to express himself, but it wasn’t always that way. As the author of three auto-biographical stage plays that incorporate both excruciating self-revelation and no-holds-barred full frontal nudity, Schofield is no stranger to risking ridicule through daring choices. But faith in those personal risks continues to lead him to global recognition and rewards.

Schofield – who almost became high school Homecoming Queen – has been named a Princess Grace Foundation Acting Fellow and served as artistic director for the Alaska ACLU-recognized theater named “1 of 40 Heroes of Constitutional Rights.” In addition, he received a “Fruitie” Audience Choice Award for Off-Broadway Performance and the Trinity College Dublin Award for Significant Contribution to LGBTQ Culture. On March 4th, Schofield will also be honored as Emory's LGBTQ Person of the Year.

As an actor, he has been touring and performing internationally since 2002, invited by the National Theater de France to perform in French as part of La Faculté, an original play written by Christophe Honoré and directed by Eric Vigner. In 2013, he was invited to become a TED speaker.

Among his many global accolades, Schofield was recognized by Emory University Gay and Lesbian Alumni (GALA) in 2013 as a Change Agent. His recognition revealed, “Members of the Emory family selected you because of your contributions to create change for LGBT people at Emory University and beyond throughout the last 20 years.” Indeed, Schofield’s courage paved the way for considerable change on campus. The award continues, “Although Emory struggled for many years to create institutional access and equity for trans-identified students, faculty and staff, the current movement has YOU to thank. Emory is now one of 25 institutions of higher education that provides a student health insurance plan that covers mental health care, hormonal therapies, and surgery for trans-identified students. Your decision to be your authentic self forced Emory University to honor its commitments to trans-identified people and forever changed the institution for the better.”

“I was not born in the wrong body.” 

Genetics and heredity may play a role in how an individual is raised, but it’s what’s inside that defines who a person really is. His drama Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps documents the physical and emotional phases of his ongoing journey. The ending continues to be rewritten. “I am a person who is confident, educated, and ready with stories,” he shares.

Schofield isn’t ready to end the critical conversation. “Ending gender would look like getting to the root of what gender is. Isn’t gender just a cry for beauty? What if we just let everyone be as beautiful as they want to be? What if we respected and celebrated whatever beauty is? What if we let go of our expectations, our limitations?” he asks.  “Ending gender would mean advancing the use of a third pronoun, a gender neutral pronoun in English, ze and hir,” he suggests. “It is so powerful and it includes so many more people in it. Ending gender would mean ending these words, limiting words that never quite fit, ending these labels,” he continues. “Would it kill you to go into a bathroom, that’s just like your bathroom at home, that’s not sex-segregated?”

His opinions, borne through countless growth experiences, are always stated with unflinching candor. “If you’re wondering, and you might not be, but if you’re wondering: I did not become a man because somebody made me feel bad for being a girl. Even within your own body, which is predetermined by genes and bones and parts, and then molded by people and what they do to you, you still happen any way you choose.”

Editor’s Note: I write this note with deep appreciation for the incredible generosity of Scott Turner Schofield who allowed me to draw from his body of work to write this article. Passages in italics have been excerpted with permission from his three solo plays Underground Transit, Debutante Balls, and Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps, which have been combined along with additional essays in his personal memoir Two Truths and a Lie. Ze Said, She Said is Scott’s latest web series in progress, in which he stars with his life partner Jessica Lynn Johnson. Copyright to each of these literary and film works belongs solely to Scott Turner Schofield. As he has written, “Sometimes there’s just no other way to go about it but step into that spotlight and take a bow; because you know what they say, don’t you? It’s not so much coming out, as it is coming through.” Thank you, Scott, for sharing your personal journey with us so others may learn from your experience.

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Michelle Valigursky