Friday 4 March 2022

Interview with Lexi Schmidt

Monika: Today I have the pleasure and honor of interviewing Lexi Schmidt, an American transgender activist that shares her transition story on social media. Hello Lexi!
Lexi: Hi Monika! It's really nice to be here, and thank you again for reaching out!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Lexi: Ha! I'm a bit of a talker, so I can say more than a few words about myself, but I'll try to keep this part brief. I'm a 40-year-old transwoman currently living in Minneapolis. I started my transition in 2017. Like many of us, life has been a bit of a rollercoaster since then. I'm the Director of Community Engagement for TransChance Health, and have done advocacy work for the community from major health insurers to Ivy League schools.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments via social media?
Lexi: Well, it started with community. Sharing progress, successes, and struggles with friends and peers. I'm ridiculously happy that many of the amazing people I formed bonds with in those early days are still crucial parts of my life and people I love dearly. In the US we lost an entire generation to the AIDS crisis. That meant that when we saw this boom of understanding about gender identities, here I was in my late 30s being looked to as an elder in the community. (Which is wild when you only figured out who you are like 3 weeks ago.) 
When I realized my posts were influencing others to live authentically, I almost developed a sense of duty. I have a certain amount of privilege, and my past led me to develop a set of skills that lets me be out and open. I guess that's my way of saying I was inspired to share because I have a voice not everyone has access to.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Lexi: Yes. It's a mixed bag, of course. In the early days, it was a lot about how to access gender-related health services or therapists. I made my marriage a big focus of my content in those days and was approached about how to "stay together" by many. Most of the time, it's just someone that's looking for validation in their struggles and they see that I've been down that road before. The more and more I realize we each have our own unique personal journeys, the more I realize how similar our shared narratives can be.

"When I realized my posts were influencing
others to live authentically, I almost developed
a sense of duty."

Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Lexi: Although I was employed at a company that projected an accepting environment for trans folk, coming out at work was especially problematic. It led to an entire year of being misgendered and deadnamed. After escalating things through several levels of HR and getting nowhere, I proceeded legally. Unfortunately, I was fighting a $21 billion gorilla, and I lost. Hard. While I haven't quite yet recovered from the stress-related trauma, I decided that I wasn't going to let my legacy be one of failure. All of the advocacy work I've done for the non-profit comes from pivoting out of that bad situation to try to make the world a better place for my trans siblings.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition? Did they accept it easily?
Lexi: They seemed incredibly surprised. I had done a pretty good job of playing the part of the midwestern boy next door. Coming out was rocky at points, which I think is pretty common for most families. They have the strongest ideas of who you are as a person, and challenging those concepts can be very difficult. Especially if they don't have a ton of working knowledge of transgender people. My nephew was particularly adorable. When my sister told him the news, he cried. But only because he didn't know any girls that liked to build Lego, and he thought that meant I wasn't gonna be his Lego buddy anymore.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Lexi: I feel like estrogen has been good to me, yes. More than just the feminizing of my features, it's done wonders to quell the chaos and rage that used to be what fueled my brain. Within the first few months of HRT, I developed these "giggle fits" where I would just get irrationally giggly at things. It was a visible, and welcome change to how my brain is wired.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Lexi: Try not viewing it as "passing". Doing so has a tendency to cause your subconscious to be continuously degraded by dysphoria. I understand how hard that can be, and how much external factors can make us feel helpless. Building community with my peers has helped with this, actually. It's made me realize how incredibly beautiful my friends are, changing my perceptions.
"Coming out at work was
especially problematic."
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Lexi: I don't remember what actually came first, but mainstream movies and TV in the 80s and 90s here in the States were incredibly transphobic. Even the fairly positive portrayals of transwomen then were only found on the late night HBO shows, so they were incredibly sexualized. Then there was the bad stuff. That scene where everyone vomits in Ace Ventura scarred many of us pretty bad.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Lexi: They're all friends, honestly. They're the people that I can celebrate with, be vulnerable with, and love.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Lexi: It's scary, quite frankly. The Trump administration did record harm to our community, and while he's no longer in the oval office, the transphobic rhetoric he fed to appeal to the evangelical right is still holding strong politically.
As I'm saying this, Greg Abbott R-Governor, Texas, is making news by criminalizing gender-affirming care for minors. The bill is ridiculously careless, even prohibiting Gender Affirmation Surgery, which is something that has NOT been happening for minors, to begin with. Not only does this target the medical field, but would label parents that support their child's gender identity as child abusers.
On the nationwide front, we're currently dealing with the review of the "Equality Act" by the 117th Congress. This bill would "prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and for other purposes." something 29 of our 50 states currently do not guarantee as a basic right.
I can't bring up the struggle of transgender people in the US without bringing up the unfortunately unique hardships faced by Black transwomen particularly. The already scary statistics of discrimination and violence against trans people skyrocket. Nearly half (47%) of transwomen of color reported being harassed and/or physically assaulted in the last year, based solely upon their gender identity.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Lexi: I love fashion! At the same time, I'm far enough into my transition that my outfits these days tend to be kind of boring. There's something we call the "Pink Phase", where a transwoman tends to dress ultra-feminine right out of the gender gate because she's making up for the lost time. Luckily, I got most of that out of the way in my crossdressing days.
My style has certainly changed in the last few years, though. I don't feel the need to present so femme all the time. My style tends to be cutesy mixed with a bit of streetwear. I'll show up to a fancy event in a cute cocktail dress, but I'll have my denim jacket and Air Jordans on while I do it.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Lexi: Not often anymore. It was an arduous process back when I was presenting pre HRT. Thick foundation and color corrector to cover my beard, contouring. Ugh. I don't wear makeup most days anymore, which is something Lexi from 5b years ago CANNOT believe is the truth. When I do, even my bold looks tend to be rather simple. I focus on my eyes, and I'm done. I learned how to do a smokey eye real well years ago, and have just been going back to that same well ever since.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Lexi: YES! Although, I know I need to get better at accepting those compliments.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Lexi: Keep your chin up.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Lexi: I could have answered this question with an enthusiastic yes before the pandemic. So much of community is fellowship and togetherness that all this time apart has made many of us feel out of touch.
"Strong feelings of love are
a definitive trait in my
identity as a woman."
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Lexi: It's huge. HRT and social transition let me feel and express love in ways I'd only hoped before. Strong feelings of love are a definitive trait in my identity as a woman. I've also learned to redefine what love means to me. My divorce was not one of giant contention. It was about realizing that we still deeply love each other, but that it's a love that no longer means marriage. That's let me be more honest about loving my friends.
I used to have this very heteronormative view that there was only one kind of love. Many of us in the queer community view love broader, and that leads to friendships that can be physical and friendly and coexist with the other relationships in our lives. I love that.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Lexi: I think about my memoirs so often I worry it's a narcissistic tendency, lol. My gift to gab not only makes me feel like it would be an entertaining story but is also the catalyst to many of those stories. Ever since I was a teen partying in the cornfields of northwest Iowa, I've had a tendency to throw caution to the wind because "This will make a great story!". The list of things I used to be is longer than the list of things I am, and I think that means there are many compelling chapters before it even reaches Lexi's origin story.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Lexi: Honestly, I still haven't found what I'm looking for. Right now I'm in a place of great uncertainty, which makes it difficult to see 5-7 weeks into the future, let alone years.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Lexi: First, try to realize that fear is valid. Transition is a big deal, and it's totally normal to be intimidated. Second, figure out what your first step would be, and if that step is realistic for you. Then give it a shot! After that first big step, most of us know whether or not transition is right for us.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Lexi: I do. That being said, I think it's paramount to acknowledge a couple things. Internalized transphobia is real, and something that even the strongest of us can be hindered by. Those negative thoughts about ourselves manifest because of negative societal opinions. That can be a very valid hurdle to overcome. There's also the reality that while a trans person might be dreaming big, the giant transphobic scalpel wielded by the world at large might be responsible for the waste lying next to the operating table.
Monika: Lexi, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!

All the photos: courtesy of Lexi Schmidt.
© 2022 - Monika Kowalska

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