|Promotional z-card and poster.|
The psychiatrist recommended adult chaperone accompanying me to the bathroom to make sure I would stand to urinate. My father was distant and stoic. I was artistic and creative, but effeminate in my mannerisms. I wanted to be a nurse like my mother; this behavior caused me a great deal of trouble when I entered school.
|(Left) - Paleo Selfie, 2012.|
(Right) - Early meme/poster art 2002. The artist formerly known as meme can be found at: oldskoolphreak.com in
the hacker art gallery. There are also podcasts where I discuss my art and culture jamming.
I remember our first Christmas in Atlanta. It was a white Christmas and my father helped me build a snowman, but the neighborhood kids tore it down and teased me. That was my first bullying experience. At school I found out it was not okay to play with girls. My father gave me a very short haircut to make me more masculine; but it only made me miserable. When I had an opportunity at home I would dress in my mother’s older clothes. I thought I was the only child in the world who felt this way! I was gobsmacked when I first saw a television show dealing with transsexualism.
On more than one occasion in my early teens, I was lured into the woods and sexually assaulted by boys in the neighborhood. The problems in school became so severe that I was taken away from my regular school and classmates and enrolled in a private adolescent middle school program.
|The first newsletter I designed and edited.|
I vividly recall getting a 20 mg injection of Squibb Delestrogen in a Becton-Dickinson syringe. I began electrolysis for the small amount of facial hair. I interviewed with the school administrators and they made arrangements for me to transition (and to use the restroom in the teachers’ lounge).
But I had no income, no hope of financing surgery. For a time I worked as a lab technician. My family pressured me to return to school at the Art Institute of Atlanta, in an androgynous mode. I had not met any other transsexual women. I began working in the design field, on a number of high profile design projects. I felt as though my transition was stagnating. Through an advertisement in the local tabloid, I found a support group and was introduced, for the first time, to others who shared my experience.
|Caroline Cossey plus moi (early 1990s).|
I worked as Deputy Director for AEGIS, and built up the branding, identity, and administrative structure. Unfortunately our involvement with AEGIS ended when the director chose to incorporate without including us. I became the spokesperson for “Straight But Not Narrow,” founded by Emily Nussbaum, building alliances with the gay and straight communities.
|On the eve of my SRS with Doctuer Michel Seghers.|
|(Left and Middle) - The Advocate op Ed was, to my knowledge; was the very first published|
piece to address the issue of anti-transgender violence head-on.
(Right) - Chrysalis Quarterly cover featuring "Gendermatic" digitally composited art by moi.
My first memory on regaining consciousness was the faint cadence of an EKG monitor. BEEP… BEEP…BEEP… – I made it! I survived surgery. But I felt cold. I had had previous surgery and remembered feeling cold, so I thought nothing of it. But then things started to go wrong: nurses began acting erratically, speaking excitedly in French. It became clear, between the alarms on the blood pressure meter and the anxious speech – something was wrong. I was bleeding profusely in the pelvic area and my blood pressure was dropping. Somehow, with my profuse shivering, I must have torn stitches. A nurse pulled the sheet down and screamed. Dr. Seghers’s wife, who assisted him in surgery, came to my bedside and squeezed my hand.
In minutes – which seemed like hours – Dr. Seghers was at the bedside. Without any preparation he removed my bandages exposing the bleeders and began re-suturing my labia. He applied extreme pressure to stop bleeding. I saw a nurse with a spray of arterial blood on her uniform. Dr. Seghers used heavy “0 silk” sutures to stop the bleeding. The voices became fainter. I thought I was going to die – and then I passed out. This is difficult to talk about, but I felt a very personal deep spiritual experience.
The only thing bringing me back was the severe pain. Dr. Seghers kept speaking to me as he tugged at my sutures. “I want you to be perfect.” I wasn’t amused as I cursed him for the pain. “That’s why I’m over here, where you can’t reach me.” He knew I would have hit him if I could. Finally he stabilized my bleeding. In a state of semi-consciousness, unclear whether I was living, dying, or hallucinating, my life really did seem to pass before my eyes, only to give way to a sense of serenity. Then everything went black again.
|(Left) - Synth noodling at an undisclosed location.|
(Right) - Demonstrating Virtual Reality at the H+ symposium.
The next morning I woke up in the hospital bed, and all I could think of was how badly my back itched. I had broken out in hives – perhaps an antibiotic allergy. My surgical complications had already receded in my memory. At that point Dr. Seghers appeared at my bedside and cheerfully said, “Good morning, Mrs. Schaffer. Today it is President Clinton.” I had forgotten about Election Day.
|Modeling a synth shirt.|
Upon relocating we found ourselves slowly drawn back into activism purely out of the necessity of an utter paucity of services and outreach in the area. Having worked for an internet service provider, I became cognizant that there was a real need for education on the world wide web since most search engines only showed results that were pornographic when researching ‘transsexual’ or ‘sex change’ needless to say, it was the dark ages.
|Standing in front of the Pyramid|
of Djoser. Cairo, Egypt 2008
|(Left) - Performing in The Vagina Monologs at VDAY 2004 at Pacific Design Center.|
(Right) - VDAY Poster.
Monika: Few people are aware of your role in designing graphics that were later adopted and to be known as the "Transgender Pride Flag." Can you share the history of this flag?
|At the wheel, 2016.|
I decided to make a presentation to varied people whom were in my circle of peers, despite my intentions and credentials the idea was summarily rejected! People did NOT want to be identified as a ‘movement.’ It was a dramatic paradigm shift that many lacked prescience of mind to seriously consider. Despite multiple proposals, different modalities and PMS color variations which closely resembled a number of later designs that have become adopted, my role in the early visualization of the concept went the way of the dodo bird. Que Sera, Sera.
|Rescuing a tarantula crossing the road. Sedona, Arizona 1994.|
I’ve never seriously tried to assert any ownership on the grounds that by the time I became cognizant that the flag was codified as a transgender flag, despite its earlier proposal as something completely different, I just shrugged it off as what happens when things become divergent enough that once discovered, it’s just too complicated to pursue for historical purposes and it’s time to move on.
|(Left) - Transgender Day of Remembrance at the Arizona State Capitol 2008|
L to R Margaux Ayn Schaffer, Representative, Kyrsten Sinema, Rebecca Allison, M.
(Right) - Representing Arizona TDOR at PRIDE 2008.
As for my own views, I’m big on education. “Stop the hate. Educate” has been my creed for some years. Unfortunately, with cable, satellite and other media delivery models, there’s an insatiable need for infotainment, yes, we now have “reality television” which some might dispute as being neither, but I believe in choice, there’s many ways to change hearts and minds; it takes all shapes and sizes, races, ages and socioeconomic perspectives to reach people and be the change we want to see in the world. There’s still a great deal of work that needs to be done.
|An article on Transgender Art in JAVA MAG.|
Monika: Is there anything like transgender art?
Philanthropy is another area I feel strongly about, art in service to activism can be purely message based or it can be synergy between your brand and a specific issue, event or one-off cause such as auctions and mural projects.
I've had a long history of donating my skills not just to Trans, but to LGBTQ and broader social justice pursuits, be it pro bono design or donating art: I try to elevate the aesthetic and make art my own form of charity and intellectual capital.
|Exploring Meteor Crater, Flagstaff Arizona 2015.|
Women like Christine Jorgensen obviously come to mind, more personally Canary Conn, Wendy Carlos and Caroline Cossey were sources of validation and inspiration.
I was humiliated at my place of employment when someone (my boss's father) called me a creature in front of everybody, I had had enough; after that I was not in the mood for anything except to rescue my dignity and clear out my office. That's when I started being a self employed contractor. Even when people are supportive it's usually fraught with misgendering at the least or at worst violence out in the world.
|(Left) - Posing with my donated art at fund raising gala 2006.|
(Right) Haters gonna hate: vandalism of my work at a 2015 art show.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
It's also about forming liaisons and constructively engaging with allies and adversaries; sometimes you have to partner with others and create synergies with organizations like GLMA and HRC. We have many LGB friends who want to help us with transgender rights. They may not understand us completely, but most are willing to learn. Together we can achieve goals that might be unreachable with transgender resources alone.
|John Albaza Fashion show at the Phoenix|
Art Museum, V.I.P.(!)
For myself, being able to connect with shared experiences of others was quite validating during a time of profound isolation. All too often one can be discouraged when they can't identify with other people's histories; yet, had they been able to learn of someone else's similar age, social, or career circumstances, they would feel as if they were in this together. When I was starting transition, most transsexual narratives followed a formulaic approach that had become the industry standard. More recently, the phenomenon of self-publishing has led to more diversity in sharing our histories online and in print.
I’ve realized that there are so many transition narratives that vary according to a person’s unique qualities, and I think I have quite a few experiences that make my life interesting. We’ll see…
Love in all its forms manifests in many ways, for some it's about family; in my own case I've remained close to my aunt (mom's twin sister) and my cousins while not having the best relations with my father's family. Biology is not destiny, so I sought to build my own extended family (you all know who you are), I'm in a good place now.
For some time, I went under a number of creative aliases, I’m the hacker/street artist formerly known as MEME, and my friends call me Vangaux with an X (lol). I’ve got several irons in the fire right now, having built a large modular synthesizer, I’m working on a music project called CHAOS MESSIAH.
As for activism, I really don't distinguish that much because it's ongoing, I've never looked at anything as having an end, it's always been the journey as much as the destination and whether it's mentoring, public speaking or working on a documentary; it's all part of a continuum.
The most important thing of all is to know your value and recognize we can't always choose our circumstances, but we CAN choose our support network; if you're rejected by family there's the need for creating a extended family of peers and allies.
For more information about Margaux, follow her on Twitter.