“The call to action I can offer is to all of us to appreciate and vulnerably share the in-between extremes of our lives; something mainstream media has been too slow to recognize we so desperately need. There is more that is happening between our high achievements and deep despairs.” Alex Schmider talks divisive narratives in the media, Boys Don’t Cry, Caster Semenya VS Athletic Governing Bodies, the documentary “Changing the Game,” the vilification of trans athletes, “broness” and what he would graffiti on the back of a toilet door.
Art for EL CHAMP @3rd_eyechakra
REPRESENTATION and ROLE MODELS
As a transgender advocate do you ever feel that there’s so much more about you beyond your transness that contributes to who you are that isn’t discussed. Tell us three facts we should know about Alex Schimider?
I think it can be frustrating when any one part of a person is arbitrarily prioritized over another and without the agency of the person to share themselves and be seen as whole. At the same time, my experience being trans has informed and influenced so much of who I am in extraordinary ways.
Here are three things most people don’t know about me:
I identify as an introvert though I love being around people.
I go to the movie theater at least twice a month – life goal is to have AMC hire me on as a brand ambassador for their A-List Stubs Membership.
One day, I hope to move into a retirement home, eat buffet meals, and live in a perpetually air-conditioned place with my friends where we talk for hours on end about nothing and everything.
Throughout your career how has the cultural understanding of trans people shifted for the best or for the worst and what have you determined as the most notable examples that promote acceptance or narratives that divest the trans experience?
The shift and evolution of the understanding of trans people in the past few years has been significant. I attribute much of it to the rising visibility of transgender people in mainstream media, starting really with Laverne Cox in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, and the democratization of storytelling through social media. If only 20% of Americans say they personally know someone who is trans, then for the 80% majority they are learning everything they know about us from the news, TV, and film. For the past 100 years or more, it hasn’t been that we’ve been invisible, but we’ve been so grossly misrepresented that peoples’ ideas of us are not in sync with reality. The catch 22 of all this is that the more visibility we have, the more dangerous it can also become when people are suddenly made more aware of our existence. My personal belief and the reason why I’m so passionate and committed to media representation is because I believe it to be one of the most efficient and expedient mediums to elicit empathy. We are real people living real lives with real stories that have yet to be fully told in mainstream media.
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Honored to have participated in this dynamic and engaging panel of media professionals for the ACLU Advocacy Institute’s plenary on how TV representation affects cultural change, including Marsha Zeesman, @aclu_nationwide’s Deputy Director of Communications, Zuri Adele, actor and abolitionist from @freeform’s @goodtrouble, Danny Woodburn, actor and disability activist, and Sue Obeidi, Director of Muslim Public Affairs Council—moderated by Michele Moore, ACLU’s Chief Communications Officer. The young people in this audience are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
You’ve mentioned the violent and disheartening, “Boys Don’t Cry” was your first cultural experience of trans representation. With a lack of public role models, how did you navigate your youth and was this “lack of” a motivator for what you’re creating now for the trans community?
Boys Don’t Cry about Nebraska trans man Brandon Teena was not only my first interaction with trans media representation but my first knowing about any trans person – in media or real life. I describe it as being both an experience of profound relief that I wasn’t alone in the world and acute terror that I did not and could not imagine a future for myself outside of Brandon’s violent and untimely death. It’s what both allowed me to see myself for the first time and it’s also what delayed my full self-acceptance for a decade. So what motivates me to create and cultivate media representation that spans stories and experiences is personal; I do it because I know how much I needed it when I was younger and still do. We all deserve to see ourselves reflected in ways that illuminate a vision for ourselves now and into the future.
“All of this sexism and racism is compounded with homophobia and gender stereotypes about how a woman “should” perform, act, and be.”
Sports Culture and Masculinity
The ruling against Caster Semenya in May this year highlights the urgency and importance of examining athletic governing bodies’ regulations. Do you think that ruling has any relation to the attempted exclusion of trans people in sports?
The ruling against Caster Semenya really revealed the sexism and racism that’s always been prevalent in sports. It is because she is winning that the IAAF came down with a ruling requiring the South African track star who has higher levels of naturally occurring testosterone to physically alter her body in order to continue competing. All of this sexism and racism is compounded with homophobia and gender stereotypes about how a woman “should” perform, act, and be. It’s important to note that while Semenya is not transgender, people have been quick to identify her as such and use the same dangerous rhetoric they do to exclude trans people from participating in sports as they do her, a non-transgender person. What’s so precarious about this is that it continues to force rigidity of societal expectations of gender and physiology onto everyone, limiting what’s acceptable for people of all kinds to just exist. People ought to really look into body diversity as a thing because it is – no one fingerprint is the same, after all. Human beings and other species’ existence has depended on genetic variability and diversity, so why do people so seek to punish it?
Talk to us about the importance of representation outside the contexts of athletics in combatting discrimination in sports?
Representation is about reflecting the populace. Transgender people, up to this point and for the most part, haven’t been reflected based in any reality at all except in something Jill Soloway observed and expressed as white cis men’s “desire to project their notions of Otherness onto the characters they create.” We haven’t been able to tell our own stories for so long, so we are currently countering and dispelling over a hundred year’s worth of projected and pushed notions of us onto us and everyone else. Sports, like everything else, is another arena where our stories have been hijacked and our voices hushed. What we need is for people to allow us to tell our stories, listen, and get to know us.
What does redefine “Health and Fitness” mean to you?
I think it’s important to remember that there is a “health and fitness” industry that profits off peoples’ insecurities and largely reinforces societal standards of Eurocentric beauty. To me, I am most healthy and fit when I am taking care of my body, which means getting plenty of sleep, eating stuff that’s good for me and that I also enjoy, balancing work and non-work, and paying close and gentle attention to what I want and need to show up and be most present in my day-to-day. I need to remind myself that my dad bod is good enough.
Within a week we celebrated Dutee Chand, India’s first queer athlete in the midst of also being mystified by Alabama’s abortion bill being signed into law. It feels as though society is more polarised than ever and with algorithms only perpetuating toxic biased narratives what call to action can a reader in Sydney, Mexico, Nebraska or Munich for example do to support the trans community?
The call to action I can offer is to all of us to appreciate and vulnerably share the in-between extremes of our lives; something mainstream media has been too slow to recognize we so desperately need. There is more that is happening between our high achievements and deep despairs. There is so much life lived in the complicated, uncertain, mundane middles that are rarely ever valued or shown with any significance or truth. There is greatness in small moments of acknowledging the struggle we have been through in order to be here right now and to know exactly who we are. It’s a gift not many people ever give themselves.
You’re the producer of the documentary, “Changing the Game,” which documents the experience of three transgender high school athletes: Sarah Rose Huckman, Mack Beggs and Andraya Yearwood, who explore undocumentated territories as trans athletes. In three words how would you describe the film and what role do you see the film having for queer athletes who might be stigmatized by the queer community for their proximity to an industry often associated with toxic masculinity and “broness”?
Our stories move.
I think a lot of us, myself included, need to really be introspective about what true inclusion means. Mack, Andraya, and Sarah are young transgender athletes who just want to be themselves and compete in the sports they love – something 90% of all young people get to do without question growing up.
What’s been such an eye-opener for me is seeing how trans athletes are only vilified and protested when they are winning, as has been the case for Andraya and Terry most recently in Connecticut. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of trans athletes participating across the country, but people are only interested and media only called to cover when they are succeeding – especially if they are femme and people of color. This paradigm and fixation feeds into the false narrative about advantage to justify reasoning for exclusion.
If LGBTQ people want to fight for and achieve full equality, that includes leveling every playing field. Sure, certain industries are more deeply problematic than others, but a team is only as a strong as its most in-need-of-improvement player. In other words, if we don’t try to change the game in sports, we’re not going deep enough to the places and people who need to improve the most to ultimately deliver a better, more inclusive, diverse, and equitable future for everyone to live.
“We all deserve to see ourselves reflected in ways that illuminate a vision for ourselves now and into the future.”
What would you advise cisgender men on how to ultimately be “better” men?
This advice is for anyone and everyone. Get good with yourself. Get to know who you are – your strength, your fragility, your superpower, your kryptonite, your greatness, your weakness, your triumph, your trauma, your wants, your boundaries – all of you. My own personal tested theory is that when I’m good with me, I’m going to be good with you. Acceptance of self has to come first, just like the oxygen mask requires us to put it on us before we can assist and show up for others.
Wellness goals for 2019?
Saying “no” more often to preserve energy and effort for where I really want and need to put it.
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
Own your shit.