Coming of age – and becoming the adult you want to be – is never really easy, but for trans* people, this process of self-invention can be doubly challenging. Denver artist and author Dylan Scholinski was born Daphne Scholinski. As a young girl growing up in the Chicago suburbs, she played first base in Little League and preferred drawing to playing with dolls. When she was 15 years old she was locked up in a mental hospital, diagnosed as “an inappropriate female”, and spent the rest of her high school years undergoing extreme femininity training. At 18, her insurance ran out and she was discharged.
Now 46 years old, Dylan has appeared on 20/20, Dateline and Today to discuss his experiences and has been featured in a variety of newspapers and magazines. Recently his award winning book, The Last Time I Wore a Dress: A Memoir (Penguin/Putnam), was listed in the Top 10 Must Reads in Out Magazine‘s first Transgender Issue. His work not only portrays the anguish of his hospital years but also his ultimate triumph.
Dylan is the founder/witness for the Sent(a)Mental Project : A Memorial to Suicide. He spends much of his time working in his studio, public speaking, creating zines – such as Freedom of Depression, Please Forgive Me For Judging You, Sent(a)Mental – and frequently opens his studio to a variety of at-risk youth to provide safe space to explore and discover ways of expressing and empowering themselves without bringing harm to themselves or others.
The Sent(a)Mental Studios Youth Project has extended hours this summer in Denver and Lafayette, Colorado, offering creative alternatives to suicide for at-risk youth.
1. What is your hometown?
I considered every place I have ever lived to be a hometown – each with their own purpose, story, and ultimately unique life changing events, relationships, and self-discoveries. I experienced the bulk of my middle school and early adolescence in the Chicago area – and discovered my ability to entertain myself within the mundane repetition unique to suburbia as well as in my stays in a variety of institutions from the age of 14-18.
I was actually born close to San Francisco and eventually returned there to write my memoir The Last Time I Wore a Dress. San Francisco gave me the needed space to paint, write, show – and eventually brought me some closure to many previous life events as well as opening new doors that eventually brought me to Washington DC. My time in DC was spent on a personal journey that helped to further uncover myself even more as an artist and as Dylan. This is where a theater production of my memoir was produced and I was able to release Daphne and truly become Dylan.
I now live in the DENVER/BOULDER area. I have a wonderful family and community and have once again landed home. I have continued in my quest toward my true self – as an artist, activist, teacher, and friend – as a father, partner, son, brother, and uncle – and what I have uncovered and found to be true for myself is that community and family are the rooms that make up my house and that wherever I am – I am my hometown.
2. With what fictional character do you most identify?
I have spent a great portion of my life’s energy finding what is real in terms of myself. I have never found it easy to pretend to be anything other that myself – even when it was getting me into tremendous trouble.
I tend to get shy about dress up and make believe – especially when it covers and/or hides myself. I find it especially hard to pretend I’m happy when I am not – to cry when I am so happy or challenged, or to laugh when I find something is funny. So as I sit here trying to imagine a fictional me – I am left a bit blank and near anxious.
So I will answer with this. I remember being at the Field Museum in Chicago as a small child – looking up at that HUGE T Rex skeleton – and thinking to myself – “wow, I feel like that”. That I had a sensitivity to the world that often made me feel like I had no skin – life hurt and sometimes in an act of self preservation I had to do things that made me seem big and scary – and often left me feeling misunderstood. Now I have grown – I have had opportunity to visit the T Rex and recently I ran into a version of her at a different museum exhibition… and what I have realized is that that T Rex is not so big after all. That I love how I feel the world around me and that I can handle anything that life throws at me no matter how much it hurts.
3. In the movie of your life, cast an actor to play you.
Probably the person I get compared to the most over the last 10 or so years is Matt Damon – however, that is the adult me. The kid me? That ‘s different and it changes. At one time I was looking at Jena Malone from the Bastard Out Of Carolina days… but now she may be too old. More currently there’s Spencer Treat Clark – I loved him from early on in Arlington Road and love the idea of him taking on this kind of challenging role.
4. What work of art speaks to your soul?
I love personal narrative and expressive types of artwork. What speaks to my soul? Truth. The various expressions that have been submitted to the Sent(a)Mental Project – A Memorial to LGBTIQA Suicides as well as the variety of creations from the Youth Project’s open studios by the various young artists I am so fortunate to witness as they reclaim their creative voices and express their personal truths.
5. What books are you currently reading or recommending?
MOBY-DICK in pictures – one drawing for every page, by Matt Kish
6. What song or album is currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?
always – Elton John
todays plays – Low, Tune-Yards, Kate Bush, Kanye West and Jay Z, Broken Bells, Hercules and Love Affair, Antony and the Johnsons, Beirut, Queen, The Broken West, The XX, Nick Drake, badly brawn boy, Peter Gabriel, Gnarls Barkley, Ani DiFranco, and Pink Floyd
7. What’s the last movie that made you cry?
Honestly, I cry at almost every movie.
8. Cat person or dog person?
Cats – they complete me.
But I also love having dog friends.
9. What is more important, truth or kindness?
I believe that in truth there is kindness.
10. How do you define sin?
I was not brought up in a very church/religious type household but still I am aware of the sort of stereotypical type sin – such as I believe in treating people as you’d like to be treated and I’m not to comfortable with the whole killing anything really. Perhaps though, for me the biggest “sin” would be to live a life that is not your own and/or to participate in being an obstacle to yourself or anyone else in attaining this for themselves.
11. How do you define virtue?
Sort of in addition to my answer to “sin” … Virtue for me is to always attempt to lead by example in creating a world that encourages, supports and nurtures the quest for true self – to participate in maintaining and creating paths for experiences that are new, different, and/or challenging to you and what you believe to be true. Live a life with and open heart – forever yearning… by giving, losing, learning, and changing.
12. Design your headstone: What does it say? What does it look like?
I don’t think that I will have a headstone – as I hope to be cremated and scattered – but perhaps as I am scattered – it may be said that “love is in the air”.
Bonus Question: Who would you like to see answer these questions?
If it can be anyone – well, more than ever, my dear friend Ed Tyler.
If living – my mother, father, and 3rd grade teacher.