Becoming a Man

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Scott Turner Schofield (@turnerschofield) is an actor, lecturer and author who writes frequently about gender-related issues for various publications. His book, Two Truths and a Lie, was a Finalist for two Lambda Literary Awards in 2008. The script of his award-winning play, “Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps,” is set to become a feature film next year. Named by Out as a Trans Influencer of Hollywood, he has regular guest roles on CBS’s The Bold and The Beautiful and Amazon’s Pride: The Series.

 

This is what happened at a theater festival in Pula, Croatia: I befriended my technician, Atzo, and his buddy, Petar. We closed down the bar at 4 a.m., lit on honey schnapps. Petar, amped from his shift, insisted that I enjoy the salty waters of his country’s coastline without the bothersome tourists.

We had the cove all to ourselves. White ballast stones from ancient Greek ships felt cool and smooth underfoot. Petar cried, “Let’s go skinny-dipping!” and Atzo dropped his jeans in agreement. Ready to dive in, they realized I wasn’t with them.

“What you do? Why not come in?”

What was I supposed to say? Ah, well, this whole time you’ve thought I was a guy like you, when really I’m transgender. I didn’t know the word in Croatian. I said: “I have this thing. With my chest. I look like I have breasts.

Visiting a London park with my grandmothers when I was 7. Though I was a tomboy even then, they never saw me as anything but their “beautiful little girl.”

“What?”

“Breasts. Tits!” They took it as a male self-consciousness thing. Plenty of guys have man boobs.

“Do not be shame! This is Croatia—it is too beautiful. Come in!”

I took off my shirt but left on my pants and dove in. It was bathwater, after you sit, sweat, read and maybe jerk off, and it’s cool and satisfying on your skin. We were three young guys together, drunk off our asses.

“All that could be better would be a girl, no Petar?” sighed Atzo. Petar riffed: “Yeah! A girl we could all fuck together. She would love it!”

I decided to go along with it, definitely scared of what could happen. One drunken grab to the crotch, and there I’d be, the girl we could all fuck together.

“But Atzo, it’s not great to fuck a woman in the water.” “Why no?”

“It is the water. The wet of the water, it stops the woman from getting wet herself. Is this translating?”

“What you are talking about? You don’t need wet!”

And then I noticed they were moving. Slowly, hips rocking, they were humping, sliding over and over on the cool, slick stones that had warmed as we lay at the water’s edge of the moonlit shore. Faster and faster. It occurred to me this was one of those homosexual experiences they say every guy has. It was definitely the gayest thing I’d ever experienced. And then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over.

“Don’t look at me,” mumbled Atzo, emerging from the tide, holding himself with both hands. We pulled dry clothes over wet skin, hugged like we’d been fighting, not fucking, and walked home, each of us alone.

We never saw or spoke to one another again. I don’t know how that became a parable about male intimacy—but ain’t that how it sneaks up on you?

Photography by John Tsiavis, Styled by Alison Brooks

So: First, forget your dick. The body hardly matters in most cases, not in the gym or at the beach or even in bed. Starting with your dick to figure out what it means to be a man is a recipe for failure—you’re selling yourself short. Becoming a man is the accumulation of a lifetime of experiences, not a few—or many— inches of autonomic flesh. I can say that much for sure because in the two decades since I began my transition from female to male, I’ve made myself an expert on becoming a man.

I can almost pinpoint when my transition began: I was tiny when I crushed on Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. I stole my dad’s ties and asked for a subscription to The Wall Street Journal. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I quickly learned that my true answer—a man!—made people uncomfortable, so I changed it to my own secret code: the CEO of a multinational company! Made my parents so proud.

 

My father and I didn’t speak for eight years after I began my transition. As difficult as our relationship was, in may ways he was awesome. When we took this portrait at Sears I was 9. Dad told me to buy whatever clothes I wanted. He didn’t say a word when i showed up looking just like him.

A couple years later, I chose my name. Jason Donovan played a character named Scott in an Australian soap opera called Neighbours. I fell in love with his romance with Kylie Minogue, and with his hair. I wanted to look like him and have a love like that when I grew up, so I chose his name to state my goal. (It’s not polite to ask a trans person their given name, and I don’t offer it, but it wasn’t Scott.)

Perhaps I became a man when I made my medical transition, replacing estrogen with testosterone and undergoing surgery to make my nude body male. As they pulled my gurney into recovery, I had a vision of my guru, Ma Jaya, sitting in lotus position with an empty bowl at her feet. We locked eyes, and I felt vibrating heat.

“The soul has no gender,” she taught. I woke up in my new body, all that time, money and pain later, unable ever to unhear her.

These vignettes tell you I am white, with upwardly mobile aspirations; I learned heterosexuality as the model for love; and there’s a journey from the sex I was born with to the gender I inhabit today as a person who acknowledges both the physical and the spiritual. To most of us, these facets of identity are the wallpaper of existence. We’re encouraged never to think too much about them: Just buy this idea to make you that kind of guy, and hate this idea to make you this kind of dude, and love only this part of your physiognomy—nothing more or less—to make you truly a man.

Compassionate people pity transgender folks because there is no choiceless choice for us. Add to that the casual contempt, the “small-government” fundamentalists dictating which bathroom stalls we may use, and the violence that murders two or three of us every month. But it is our superpower to live life with a consciousness that cisgender people (which means you, BTW, if you’re not transgender or nonbinary) are strongly encouraged never to entertain, much less cultivate.

The resulting enrichment that trans people experience can’t be bought nor erased. Transgender people change the world just by existing. When cis people encounter us, their unconsidered definition of gender must be reshaped. They see themselves and the world differently—well, the intelligent ones do. It is a powerful experience, and it’s making an impact: Half of millennials believe gender is a spectrum, according to a 2015 Fusion magazine poll.

 

So: Imagine yourself a blank slate. A male blank slate. Becoming a man starts with finding a role model. This could be your dad, Alex P. Keaton, Bowie, Steve McQueen or that senior from camp when you were 13. They model for you the key elements of life: style—sartorial, social and ethical—and purpose.

For me, pop-culture icons Pee-wee Herman and Ferris Bueller possessed qualities I knew I wanted in the man I would become. They were zany, funny, utterly unique. They couldn’t give a shit about anyone’s reaction to them. Alex Keaton’s look didn’t suit me anymore: In L.A., the only people who wear ties to work anymore are Republicans and lesbians. As all things come full circle, I made my television debut as the first openly transgender actor in daytime—the name “Scott” rolling in the credits for 30 million viewers to see—on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. I looked a lot like the young Jason Donovan.

Kurt Cobain was the icon of my adolescence. Turns out it wasn’t the ’90s that made me hate myself and want to die—in our transphobic culture, 41% of trans people attempt suicide. The shadow of unworthiness to live darkened half my life starting at age 15. The last time I tried to kill myself I discovered it wasn’t, in fact, death I wanted but simply change. Not just for myself—for that part was underway— but big change. Social change. Waiting for social change was—is—excruciating. Without a positive role model, I almost never lived to become a role model for anyone else.

I am one of the first out trans men in television and film, and the messages I receive on social media from kids like I was give me a powerful motive to live. That’s my purpose as a man now: to become the kind of man whom kids—boys and girls—can emulate.

My first trans role model was a performer at the feminist theater collective where I, a young radical lesbian feminist, interned one summer in college. I didn’t understand why the mostly separatist self-identified dykes embraced this dude until one of them murmured in my ear: “He’s got a pussy, honey. That’s why.”

My heart beat quicker as I considered the fact of this transgender man. Those weren’t even two words I had ever strung together. Drag queen, transgender woman, male-to-female, yes—but never the other way around. I invited him for coffee and found everything I had been looking for since childhood, found the start of the story of my true self. Shane shone to me the embodiment of what a man could be, what my life could be, possibility I had never imagined.

In the hospital right before I was wheeled to the operating room. My best friend was on hand for the event. You can’t see it, but the tattoo on my wrist says ‘Don’t worry.’”

He gave me Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors, a history of transgender culture across all time on all continents.

It took me years to go from radical lesbian feminist to becoming a straight white man. I didn’t want the privilege I’d critiqued. But I couldn’t live knowing who I was and not expressing it, and I would not live in denial. After years of deep lesbian processing with my therapist, I determined to change white male heterosexuality from the inside. I would call out sexism and homophobia—“locker-room talk”—from the power position of being a dude myself.

The only thing that ever happened to me in a men’s locker room was my towels fell off during a busy Friday evening at the LA Fitness on Hollywood Boulevard. I still had a female body, and I stood naked among 50 men for what felt like 10 minutes before I collected myself and covered up. Absolutely no one noticed at all. This is when I realized one lesson of manhood: No one cares about your body as much as you think they do. Like you, they’re hyperfocused on their own damn bodies.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of sharing a locker room, or a bathroom or the universe, with a transgender person, you can learn from that basic truism. Or you could look away—you know, the way you do with homelessness—and live in a pretend reality.

After the smooth stones of Croatia, I continued dating women, not as a lesbian but as a straight guy. I had a type: straight, long-maned women who dressed to kill and loved dudes. My feminist critique spoke up quick and harsh. Men who date super-femme women regardless of common interests or compatibility think they’re accessorizing their masculinity, in the same way they do with muscle cars. I soon discovered that most people looked at those women on my arm with curiosity and pity as they took in my masculinity. Shaped as I was by having grown up female, and given our culture’s conflation of any feminine masculinity with homosexuality, people would whisper:

“Does she know her boyfriend’s gay?”

final phase of my social transition, just before I started on hormones. By this time I identified myself exclusively as Scott, (and think i looked the part.)

Maybe the kind of man I am is gay! As the hormone treatments set in, even gay men took me for a twink. I took my testosterone shots, and my U-Haul, and moved in with the boys. It was just that easy—once you change your sex, anything else is a piece of cake. This is not to suggest that being gay or straight is a choice. It’s merely reflective of the kind of guy I am: open, curious, adventurous—and always on the lookout for a good story.

A gay guy I know came to my solo show, “Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps.” A survivor of reparative therapy, he drove seven hours across Pennsylvania to see me, and I was open to an intimate encounter.

I invited him to stay in my hotel room after the show. We ordered pizza and sat side by side watching HBO on my deluxe queen bed. Without looking at him, as casually as if I was asking him to pass the garlic sauce, I asked, “Hey, can I lose my gay virginity to you?”

Without hesitation, he replied, “Of course.” Right before we got it on, he said, “I want you to know that I do not sleep with women, and that is why I am sleeping with you.” Amazing trans ally move. We did it, and it was great.

The next morning we walked into this little coffee shop in Philadelphia. I wondered what all these strangers made of us. I’d never been a gay man before, and the world looked different from that perspective. It might have looked to the world like we were just two dudes having a power breakfast.

“Nobody knows that I had this man’s dick in my mouth like six hours ago,” I marveled. I wondered how many other men I had never before seen the same way.

“Real men” make masculinity look effortless, like those washboard abs just happened by getting out of bed in the morning.

“Real men” make masculinity look effortless, like those washboard abs just happened by getting out of bed in the morning. You don’t see marginalization—like being queer or trans or old or fat or poor—on that late-20s bearded, slim lumberjack who represents today’s “man’s man.” Yet no matter how hard I try, I can’t erase my realities, and I can’t conform to those standards. Shirts never quite fit my slim shoulders and concave waist, so I can’t achieve that “canvas stretched over a frame” torso. You don’t have to be trans to feel the resulting frustration, with its stab of unworthiness: How much do men hide behind facial hair? What complexities swim below the surface of that perfectly pressed and flat flannel? What do we have to do to find all the truths?

Photography by John Tsiavis, Styled by Alison Brooks

Truth: Wine helps. I found myself in an assignation with a man in Baltimore. The night we first met at Grand Central, in New York, we had talked for hours about theater until, several cocktails in, he leaned over and murmured, “I have something I have to tell you.”

“Oh, really? What is it?” It felt nice not being the first one to have to say that phrase. My being trans just hadn’t come up, and I didn’t yet know if he merited that intimacy.

“Well, I’m a Republican,” and before he finished the word, I snapped: “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re a fiscal conservative, and you voted for Obama but didn’t tell your family. Don’t tell unattractive lies about yourself.” He blushed. I was right.

We continued our flirtation until he whispered, very seriously, “I have something else I have to tell you.” I was all

ears. I had never been so turned on by the slow reveal, and by not being the one who has to do it. Not without some evident fear, he disclosed: “Till last year I was married to a woman. But I’m into men—I’m not at all bisexual,” possibly too emphatically.

“It’s OK, Jeremy. I have to tell you something, too.” He was so caught up in his own drama that it was clear nothing I could say could beat his dirty secret. I persevered with gravitas.

“Up until just a few years ago I was a woman.”

His response?

“Should we go back to your hotel or mine?”

Jeremy fit the stereotypes of an early-30s white gay man—perfect lumberjack. But he couldn’t find a relationship because his ex-wife left a mark on him most men wouldn’t look past. My transgender complexity left me untouchable to most gay men, too. We each had something we had to disclose, to resulting disappointment, over and over again. My truth and Jeremy’s secret clicked, joyfully, in a way that healed and emboldened us both. But it turned out he really was a Republican, and that’s a level of self-delusion I simply cannot handle in anyone, so I ended our story.

When you’re transgender, there’s always this notion floating around, an unspoken possibility, that you’re a liar, or that you’re faking it. It’s as if my life is a ruse designed to trick you into believing I am a man when I’m really not. Actually, I am consciously constructing my inner and public identities so they match with my sense of who I know I am, and then I live the corresponding authenticity.

“Passing” as a man, my masculinity conforms to the social standards, and I am the only one who knows any difference. In this state, I search for what other things there are to talk about, where else I might live deeply. We could meet, and I could talk your ear off about yoga and television and never have reason to mention my medical history or my social transitions. You’d find out somehow, between the first encounter and, say, the first date. At best you’d be hurt that I didn’t “let you in”; at worst you’d spit my name as you outed me at the bar as “another lying tranny.

I’m expected to reveal this deep, intense journey in the first conversation or be labeled a liar—in contrast, say, to men who can maintain an intimate relationship for years without ever revealing how they truly feel about anything. The double standard is infuriating, even more so in the age of sex on demand, chosen by a pic and what a couple hundred characters reveal about your “profile.”

“33 Boulevard Magenta. If you don’t hear from me in a few hours, that’s where I tricked,” I texted a friend.

“Well done. Be safe! Have fun.”

He didn’t come down to greet me for 20 minutes, the trick I met on Grindr. I don’t know why I didn’t leave; I just refused to let it go. This wasn’t my first time having sex with a gay guy, but it was the first time I didn’t disclose that I am transgender.

Don’t look at me like that. If you’re not trans, then your judgment is baseless, and you’d better check your privilege as someone who gets to just “be who you are” all the time without question. Because I’ve never had that, and I wanted it one time with one person, just to see. If you’re trans and you’re judging me—well, you know what they say about opinions.

I waited in the fall chill, streetlights burning against Paris’ midnight-blue sky, convincing myself it was not a mistake. Then a slight, bearded ginger appeared behind the security door, his face incredulous.

“I didn’t think you would stay. I checked to see if you were gone. My friends said that you would murder me.”

“It can really happen that you meet a cute guy online and he comes over for sex,” I said. “Simple.”

He had transformed his studio into a one-bedroom using bookcases full of white-spined works of French literature. I asked him if he knew what John Waters said: “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!”

He laughed, relieved that I was literate. We smoked in his tiny, book-lined sitting room and discussed what we’d do.

“You can take off your clothes, but I won’t. And I always use condoms.” Such a powerful and unfamiliar feeling, to assert boundaries around sex. I never had that as a woman.

Sitting on the bed, removing his gray cotton sweatpants and dark tee, laying back, acquiescent but watchful, on the edge of wary. I had just had gender-affirmation surgery, and my body looked perfect to me. I felt proud and whole, and in a fit of passion I took off my shirt for the first time during sex. Like, ever. He stopped and stared at me. My blood iced, and I feared the keyhole-shaped scars at either side of my rib cage had revealed what I hadn’t said in words.

“You have amazing pecs,” he said, and pressed his mouth against one then the other. I hadn’t regained feeling yet, but my mind did all the work.

He said goodnight and closed the apartment door behind me. Twenty seconds later, he ran out in the hall: “I meant to say to you, you are really good. Thanks.”

What did he mean—good in bed, a good person? I just let the sentence resonate all the ways. Because it’s true: I am really good. I do my best.

I still feel weird about not disclosing to that guy in Paris. But I didn’t lie; I did what anybody with a dating app has done and had sex without sharing myself. What’s weird is not having conscious sex—that intimacy, even if it only lasts a moment. At least, that’s how I live the facet of myself called my sexuality authentically. I know it now because I broke my own rule then and think about it often.

The problem with manhood—and gender, generally—is that most people think of it as automatic

The problem with manhood—and gender, generally—is that most people think of it as automatic. You’re born a boy, you become a man. How—your preferences, your desires, your choices—says more these days about marketing than it does about you. As a result of this lack of reflection around what it means to be a man, our collective manhood has become an atrophied pectoral under the implant of anything money can buy to make us look the part.

What would it mean to become conscious of every story that makes us who we are? To embrace all they say about us instead of cramming ourselves into commercial boxes and cutting the parts that don’t fit? The truth of who you are, shown freely to others, contributes uniquely in ways that have un- marketable value—worth beyond measure. That’s what I learned in becoming a man: Live your power, and change everything.

Photographed by John Tsiavis; Styled by Alison Brooks; Producer Villani Productions; Special thanks to Ignited Spaces

 

 

 

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