Friday, September 20, 2019

Lisa Scheps - Changing the world

Changing the world 
The activism of Lisa Scheps
By Jessica Soukup of for KOOP

Headshot of Lisa Scheps
Lisa Scheps
Few would argue that the climate has improved for transgender people.  We all understand that there's still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done, especially for trans people of color and trans youth.  Nevertheless, just a few years ago if you wanted to transition, you planned and organized, moved away abandoning your old life, and started over in a new place. 

As I transitioned, I still had to worry about the safety of my job and about the likely loss of relationships I have had for many years but, all trans people stand on the shoulders of activists who publicly transitioned and fought for trans rights at a time when open discussions of trans rights were not a thing.

I first met Lisa Scheps over dinner at a Texas Roadhouse in South Austin.  She was working to find a new executive director for the Transgender Education Network of Texas. When I met her, I frankly hardly had any idea who she was and of her history of trans activism.  Since then I have heard her name echo through the trans activist community in Texas.

I bumped into her most recently as she was preparing an original trans written, produced, and acted play for the Ground Floor Theater in Austin called Transom.

She very graciously agreed to answer some questions for me about her life as an activist.

JS: Do you consider yourself an activist?  Why or why not?

LS: I do consider myself an activist.  I believe anyone who is working to make a difference is an activist…  Some think the word has a negative connotation, but I do not.  To me, anyone who has come out to friends, family, and coworkers is helping to move us all forward.  The biggest roadblock for gender diverse civil rights is ignorance so by coming out or speaking up or being a VOCAL ally, you are being an activist.

JS: Please tell me your favorite story of Activism

LS: One day this person came up to me and said, “do you remember that talk you did at my university on Transgender education?  Well, you should know that I had a very close friend that was in that class and they were deeply trouble and was considering harming themselves…  After your talk, they felt better… more connected and had a better outlook on life…  you saved their life that day.”  I can’t tell you what it means to hear stories like that.. to know that the work we do actually touches individuals make it all worthwhile.

JS: What is one dream you have for the future?

LS: To not be needed as an advocate for the gender diverse.  I think we are gonna get there, but we all have to continue to fight…. Especially in states like Texas.  I don’t think that we will no be facing bigotry and bias in our lifetimes, but I do believe the world is heading in a direction of love, acceptance, and respect.

JS: Who is one friend you look up to?

LS: It is hard NOT to look up to Mara Keisling (she is 6’ tall).  Mara is the Executive Director and Founder of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

JS: How did you meet?

LS: I met Mara when I was struggling early on in my transition and worried about coming out to my nieces and nephews as I was their favorite uncle and didn’t want to lose the ‘favorite’ part.  I posted a question on a trans group and Mara answered it and told me she was giving a talk at Southern Comfort that year.  I went to see the talk and introduced myself to Mara and went on my way.  During her talk, I learned that she was in a similar business to mine and she had not lost any clients.

When I was losing my business because of my transition (my partners were forcing me out), I contacted Mara for advice…  She didn’t hesitate offering her assistance in ANY way she could even though she and I did not know each other at all.  I ended up losing the business.  A few months later, we met again at a conference that I organized in Chicago and I ask if I could take her to dinner as a thank you.  We went to my favorite haunt , Club Lucky, and we became fast friends.  I witnessed, first hand, Mara’s generous spirit and caring. And was there when she started NCTE (I am a founding board member).  Mara continues to amaze me with the incredible work she is doing.

JS: What is the most scared you have been when trying to make a difference in the world?

LS: I don’t know if ‘scared’ is the right word here.  When I am working in the advocacy space, I am focused on what I am doing and don’t really pay attention to the dangers.  That being said, I am not a transwoman of color and I have all the resources afforded me by my privilege, so I am lucky that way.

JS: What do you say to people who say they want to make a difference but they don't know what to do

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Et Tu Facebook

I, like the rest of my cohort, came to social media in my middle years.  I wasn't raised on it and, while I will abstain from stories of a tech free childhood, I never the less lived them.

When I started my account, I did so because everyone else was doing it.  I was half interested and developed an extensive list of maybe 70 friends.   

Then, there was a major shift in my life.  I discovered my gender identity was not as I was assigned at birth.  I was transgender.

It's no surprise that the magnatude of that discovery was obvious to my 48 year old self.  I could lose everything; my family, friends, job, really everything. Regardless, once I knew who I was, there was no stopping the changes.  The need to transition is overpowering and increased for me with every milestone I overcame.

Loneliness was pervasive in my early transition.  I didn't know anyone who was trans and I had nobody to reach out to for help navigating the enormous complexity of transitioning to the opposite end of the gender spectrum.  Young women relied on their girlfriends and the women in their life to navigate their way into womanhood. I was trying to do it alone.

I created a new Facebook account.  With my new account, I joined support groups, I explored my personality, I tried out my chosen name and most importantly, I connected to people like me.  People who had shared the trans experience. People who understood what I was going through and people who could advise me and help me find my way.

I found a local meetup of trans people called TGQ and my Facebook friends list began to grow.  I shared my transition experiences openly and slowly, over time, gained a group of friends who lived my ups and downs with me.  

As my connections grew, my ability to make a difference grew as well. Connections across the country allowed me to help people.  Trans people in need or their allies would reach out to me for advice and connections.

One man in New Jersey, across the county from my home in Central Texas, was abandoned by his church, his family, and his community.   He connected to a co-worker on twitter who had an affirming ministry in Austin. My friend reached out to me to see if I could help. A quick search of my Facebook account found a connection to a PRIDE organizer who attended an affirming church a short public transit ride into New York City.  

An organizer in Alabama was in need of a trans speaker to do a cultural competency training for a VA Hospital Staff.   They asked if I could come do it. Again, a quick search of my Facebook connections allowed me to find a local trans activist to complete the training.  

I have so many stories like these where I felt I was able to make a difference.  Connecting people with therapists or doctors who do HRT, finding emergency housing for trans people with no place to go; making a difference is all I ever wanted to do.

Perhaps the people I feel like I was the most connected to were the mothers of trans kids.   My openness about my transition had led to a following in the mama bear community. These mother's read about my journey and learned along with me the challenges their trans kids would have to overcome and, I believe, received a little piece of mind that their kids could live a happy life.

Over time, I tried to find new ways to make a difference. I started a Facebook Page to share transgender news. I started another one to share transgender history. Other subjects important to me also were represented. I had a long running page where I shared clean eating information.  When I published my book, He/She/They - Us, I created a Facebook page for it. The very name of my book came from a discussion on Facebook.

I carefully curated my friends list with supporters, allies and other transgender people.   I blocked trolls and I wanted no part of arguements. If I dissagréed with someone, we went our separate ways and I made extensive use of the block feature to avoid internet trolls and chasers ( men who fetishize trans women ).

Thursday March 14th, 2019, things changed.  I received a message at 6 in the morning as I popped online to see what I missed while I was sleeping.   I got what looked like a routine message to veryify my account and I followed the directions casually expecting to be on Facebook again.  The outcome of the verification though was a disabled account and a label of “violating community standards.”

I was in shock.  

Intellectually, I know.  I know losing my Facebook account was the most first world of first world problems.  Dozens of people I knew abandoned Facebook voluntairally. That said, I thought about my connections I had worked so hard to build.  I thought about the people I had been able to help with those connections. I felt the loneliness of my early transition waft over me.

I grew to recognize how I had allowed this faceless corporate entity to grow into a position of power over me, over my advocacy, over my activism and over my interpersonal communications.

Here I sit; but a few days into my forced Facebook free life. I pick up my phone to look for messages and connections from my online community only to find silence. I feel like my ability to make a positive impact on people's lives is diminished and I look for clarity, I look for resiliency as I plot my path forward.   

I remain hopeful my account will eventually get reinstated.  Until then, perhaps I need to try and build connections another way.  I way not subject to the whims of a transphobic Facebook employee.

I know that moving forward, the connections that I have built over time remain even if I don't have a means to contact them.  I'm going to work hard to build resiliency and Independence into my activism.  Don't create circumstances that allow your voice to be silenced.  I know I have learned my lesson.

Please connect with me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and together he will make a difference.  Don't be afraid to email me.

Edit: Sunday March 17, 2019.   Without comment or communication, my Facebook account was restored.

Friday, October 5, 2018

National Coming Out Day

For National Coming Out Day on October 11th, some other authors and I will be on a Facebook Live event for the "Strong Family Alliance" where we will be talking about allyship within the family and supporting those close to you.

Please Join Us!

October 11th
7pm Central

Here is a video of the event: