One Hundred Sleepless Nights: Transcript
ACTOR: They’re a boy, plain and simple. They don’t understand what it’s like to go through this endless, torturous cycle all because they were born in the wrong body.
YVONNE: This is Mouthful and I am Yvonne Latty. Every week I will be having a complicated conversation with a young person about the things that matter to them, things they have written about and shared on stages across the city. And then we will go out into the community and talk to teens, adults, experts anyone who can broaden the conversation.
Today’s episode is about gender identity. Specifically, it’s about the experiences and perspectives of transgender and non-binary people, in their own words.
In the last several years, issues around gender identity have entered the mainstream in a serious way. From issues of legislation and governance to representation on television shows and in the culture at large.
It’s complicated and requires many of us to really think about what we believe or believed about gender and identity and even to relearn language.
Even though conversations about trans rights are more front and center, all too often trans and non-binary young people are not given a space to speak for themselves.
Hunter: There’s more changes going on in the government to protect people in that community. Maybe not, it’ll be a bit harder now since Trump is in office but we came a long way from where we were.
YVONNE: That’s Hunter. When Hunter was in 9th grade, they wrote a monologue entitled “One Hundred Sleepless Nights,” expressing a trans youth’s sense of frustration and powerlessness under the weight of their identity.
Let’s listen to Hunter’s monologue performed by trans activist, actor, and Bold and The Beautiful star, Scott Turner Schofield. But before you listen, please be warned that there is some explicit language.
ACTOR: Do you ever get so frustrated that you need to hear yourself scream? The kind of frustration that messes with your stomach worse than when your crush says hi to you and the butterflies are filling your stomach where you feel like you could just throw up happiness. It's one thousand times worse than that I assure you. This type of frustration is the one that makes you want to trash your entire bedroom and tell all of the assholes who promised that they would listen and that they would care then they turn right around and tell you that you're a liar and ask stupid questions like "How could you be something you don't know anything about?" or "What research have you done on this" like it's a fucking religion of some sort, and my all time favorite: "That's not very transgender of you" and "That's not how a real boy would act." You just want to scream at them and tell them to fuck off. You just feel so destructive in every sense of the word and you know that you can't do anything about it so you cry. The violent cries that shake your whole body and leave you empty and emotionless for the rest of the week. You feel so hopeless and helpless and you just want to rip yourself apart and take away all of the things that you've been cursed with: wide hips, tits, the voice of a prepubescent 12 year old, vagina, a face that just screams feminine, and the list goes on. But there's nothing you can do about it, so you're just left having to live with those things. Every. Single. Day. Every day you have to be around all of those stupid boys who just unintentionally mock you. Mock you with the fact that you're not actually a boy nor do you actually pass like they do. You don't have all the right parts they have. They don't have to worry about being called by the wrong pronoun. They're all the real deal, and you're just the little wannabe in everyone else's eyes. A fake. The on that will get called incorrectly over and over and over again and will be too scared to say anything. You get a shit ton of anxiety saying those three or four words. The words that you know will cause the other person to give you that look, that questioning, confused, and kind of disturbed look and you know exactly why. Because you don't pass, not even a little. You just go through your entire day, every day, being quietly jealous of all of the real ones that don't ever have to correct someone by saying that they're a both and they don't have to get that look every time they decide to speak up about being called she instead of he. Because they obviously pass, have all the parts, don't have to live with all the dysphoria, tears, people telling them that they're attention seeking and/or a fake and many other heartless things. They're a boy: plain and simple. They don't understand what it's like to go through this endless, torturous cycle. All because they were born in the wrong body.
Yvonne: So why did you write this piece?
Hunter: At the time I was going through a bit of an identity journey, so to speak, and I guess I kind of wanted to tell a story that kind of not only explained how it was feeling for me but how it was feeling for other people.
YVONNE: Hunter’s a senior in high school now. In the four years since Hunter wrote the monologue a lot has changed, both in the culture and in Hunter’s own life. When Hunter wrote the piece they believed they might be transgender. But through the process of writing this piece and seeing it performed, they learned that they identify as non-binary, which means they do not identify as male or female.
Hunter: I just like at the time I didn’t really know like who I was supposed to be kind of. It was more or less I felt more of like an in-between kind of thing towards genders. And I think at first I was kind of like “if it’s not one then it’s the other” and I didn’t really take into consideration that I could just be myself and not have to really put any sort of label on me. But after writing that I realized that.
Yvonne: How would you explain your identity?
Hunter: I don’t, I don’t, I don’t know. I don’t really think about it. I’m kind of just like well, I’m just gonna be myself. I don’t really want to put any sort of label or anything on it because I feel like it puts too much pressure to be one certain type of way, personally. So I just let it be.
YVONNE: Hunter and my teen daughters see gender very differently than I do and my peers. For them, it's a spectrum. It’s a more nuanced understanding than I grew up with. For young people struggling to be understood by their parents or peers, Hunter offers this piece of advice for young people.
Hunter: I think it’s just important to remember that, um, that you’re not alone. There’s always going to be somebody that you can talk to about how you’re feeling and it’s never as deep as you’re making it out to be. Like you feel like it’s a whole crisis and your world is ending. But you gotta remember that it’s not because at the end of the day it’s about you being happy with yourself and not with like how you feel like anybody else is gonna feel about it. Because they can feel however they wanna feel about it, but it shouldn’t stop you from just being your own person and expressing yourself.
YVONNE: At the Attic, Philadelphia’s Center for Gay, Lesbian and transgender youth , my producer Mitchell Bloom and I literally sat in the attic with two young people and played the monologue.
They understood all too well what Hunter was expressing.
Alex: It was just really powerful. And as a trans person, it was so relatable. It was like the author literally taking the words out of my. What I experience every day and especially what I experienced when I first came out and when I first realized I was trans. It was all just right there.
YVONNE: That’s Alex Phillips. He’s a senior at CAPA, an actor, dancer and young activist who was named part of the GLISTEN student leadership team, which is dedicated to supporting queer youth nationwide. Alex was one of several trans and non-binary students that worked with the Philadelphia School District on a new policy for these students.
Alex: Ever since I came out as trans, even immediately I felt more happy and more confident with myself cause I felt like I knew myself more and that I wasn’t hiding anymore and I was just living my truth so I think there is something very powerful about identifying as trans because it’s like when you’re born the world forces this one label on you, but trans people, we have the power to be like, naw, we’re gonna have our own identities and to forge our own paths, we’re not gonna go with what you try to impose on me.
Dalyla: The way I told my mom was after I had already gotten my hormones, I was old enough to do what I wanted, so I just put my pills on the bed and said, mom it’s going down. So that’s pretty much how it went.
YVONNE: That's Dalyla Baker, is a young transwoman, who also does drag shows. She’s a college student, a role model at the Attic and an education intern at the Mazzoni center, which supports LGBTQ youth .She came out to her parents as transgender when she finished high school. Although Dalyla’s parents are generally supportive, it’s not always that way.
Dalyla: My mom is definitely open and does acknowledge me as her daughter. And my dad does too, but it’s only… well my mom will do it in the house when no one else is around you know, just to feed me, but it’s like if I’m at the family’s house for holidays, she misgenders me right along with the rest of my family. And then my dad will misgender me to my face, but if something’s going on on Facebook because a lot of things pop up on Facebook because I have so many events coming up, so if he’ll like so if there’s a holiday or something, he’ll say happy birthday or Merry Christmas to the best daughter. So he likes to look open-minded instead of not, while my mom is open-minded but she just doesn’t want to get into the conversation of how she now has a daughter.
YVONNE: The politics of being transgender in 2017 has come down to a conversation about which bathrooms transgender people can use.
Dalyla: As far as the bathroom goes… To be honest the bathroom is something that I still struggle with myself. And I guess that comes from my anxiety and my insecurities because of how I look. Like I know I don’t want to be in the boy’s bathroom but sometimes I just don’t feel pretty enough to use the girls restroom. So if there’s no gender neutral bathroom in a public setting then I probably won’t use it and I’ll just have to hold it or risk bursting my bladder until I get home. I'm just trying to learn as much as possible, because I am 21 now. And I haven't quite held on to this thing called adulting, so you know just like trying to get my life together and be prepared for what's about to come to make sure that I'm safe.
YVONNE: But being an adult is not Dalyla's biggest challenge. She and other transgender people have to live with the fear of violence.
Dalyla: Another issue that I want to touch base on is the trans murders that seemed to come back from 2015.
YVONNE: Violence directed at the trans community is something that Dalyla lives with every day. Seven trans women have been killed in 2017. In 2016, 27 were killed, making it the deadliest year on record for this community. Almost all of the victims were people of color.
Dalyla: There’s a lot of things running through my mind when I leave a gig. Like I don’t know the sanity of me getting home or elsewhere because I’m out so late. So I hope that’s… I mean if that’s something I can change then I’d love to… but other than that I just lay low until I can find a safe hut.
YVONNE: But Dayla lives her life her way. She is happy and loves her life. And for the trans and questioning kids out there she offers this advice.
Dalyla: If you’re asking questions then mostly likely you pretty much found who you are. Um, and if you don’t know any words for it, it’s okay. Because when I was young, I didn’t know how to tell my mom that I was a girl, I didn’t know what transgender was, hell I didn’t even know what drag was. I didn’t know any of these things, but I knew I didn’t belong in the boy’s bathroom, I knew I didn’t like playing with cars I knew that I hated getting my haircut, and I knew I was better at double dutch than everybody else. So like if you have questions and if you’re looking and if you’re trying to find your way, then just take it one day at a time because you’re identity comes as you as you take each step and as you grow and as you learn. So basically my advice is: just live your life. Learn. Grow. And express yourself however you feel and let people know that. Introduce people to the real you.
YVONNE: I feel like I've been on a journey myself producing this podcast. My daughters are always on me about transgender pronouns and forcing me to look at where I come up short. But talking to the kids is really helpful. And we all have so much more to learn. Which is why we're really honored to have Scott Turner Schofield perform this week’s monologue. You can see Scott on the Bold and the Beautiful, he's the first trans actor on a soap and he’s killing it. But he is more than a soap star, he in award winning actor, and national diversity educator. He joined via Skype to get in on the conversation.
Scott: Well first I was just really impressed with the author’s ability at such a young age to articulate those feelings. I certainly didn’t have all of those words, you know, or the ability to put them together in such a real and true way when I was at that point in my age development. And you know I know that it it was really truthful to the experience of kind of being aware of yourself as a trans man or a non-binary person who feels out of place within your own body among your own community, right? So the worlds were super uh the monologue itself just had all of that emotion right in it and because I’ve lived that I was very easily able to access my own emotions of it. And you know this goes to that idea of like what kinds of actors should play trans characters. There’s no way that a cisgender actor could access so easily all of the feelings that I was able to unleash. I did that in two takes, you know, I knew exactly what was being said I knew exactly how I felt about it, I knew exactly how to express. It would take a cisgender actor a year to really feel that and get into it, you know?
YVONNE: Like all journey’s Scott’s was complex.
Scott: From the moment I can remember being aware of myself; I knew that I was a boy. I was, you know, three years old looking in the bathtub being like, where is my penis? You know? I was six years old in the first grade playing GI Joe with the other boys, you know what I mean? Everything was very clear to me. Um, and at a certain age, you know, and I would just tell people, you know, I would say “I’m a boy” and at a certain age that became not okay to do. So, you know, what I then had to do was, subvert my own knowledge, or subsume my own knowledge of who I was, and that’s kind of where acting became a really major part of my life.
YVONNE: Scott often felt that he didn't even have the language to help him define who he was.
Scott: I grew up in a very sheltered environment. I didn’t even know what a lesbian was until Ellen DeGeneres came out. And I certainly didn’t know--I knew what a trans woman was, I knew that transgender men becoming women, but I did not know that women could become men until I was 20 and I met somebody. I had to go all the way to New York City on an internship in college to meet somebody who had this story that resonated with my own. And you know, the story that I tell about that is you know I had a friend who was almost blind until she was 8, and she had really kind of radical surgery and when she was 8 she had the consciousness of an 8 year old when she first walked out into the night time and saw stars for the first time.
YVONNE: For Scott, meeting someone he could finally identify with was like seeing stars for the first time.
Scott: To know that they’ve been here all along, you know, that trans people have been in every culture across all time and on every continent. This has always been. We’ve always been. And that was profound, you know, and that just centered me, it re-centered me with who I knew I always was.
YVONNE: Scott said the arts helped him find his way, his voice. And he uses it every chance he gets.
Scott: You know, trans people are superheroes. We really are if you think about it. Trans and non-binary people make everybody who comes into contact with them have to question the social construct of gender which is deep. They have to look at people differently, they have to consider the world differently, and you do that to the world just by existing. That is deep power. You have the power to change your name, you have the power to change your body. That is power that most people never ever express in their lifetimes, and once you do express it, then you have even more power, because you realize that you can do so much more. So, yes, things are really hard right now, but you actually have more power than most people to change yourself, and that’s all that really matters.
YVONNE: And that’s our show.
Thanks to Hunter Mckee of Palumbo High School and North Philly for sharing a powerful monologue.
The staff of The Attic for letting us visit and giving us a tour.
And of course big thanks to Alex and Dalyla.
"100 Sleepless Nights" was performed by Scott Turner Schofield, and thank you for the conversation Scott.
See you next time.