‚ÄúMy first reaction when someone tells me they‚Äôre suicidal is‚Ä¶‚ÄėI totally understand.‚Äô trans artist Dylan Scholinski reveals. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve been in a constant state of saving my life‚Ä¶going back to when I was high school age. Suicide has been a continual threat‚Ä¶whether it was my own attempts‚Ä¶[or] going through that with friends.‚ÄĚ
As a teen, the then female-bodied Daphne Scholinski was diagnosed with gender identity disorder, institutionalized in a mental hospital and forced to undergo extreme femininity training. ‚ÄúPuberty hit me and my voice just dropped,‚ÄĚ he recalls. ‚ÄúAnd my mom was constantly trying to bleach my moustache. It was like a white caterpillar on my upper lip.‚ÄĚ
That natural facial hair and low voice allow Scholinski to pass as male, even though he doesn‚Äôt undergo hormone treatment. He contends, ‚ÄúI‚Äôve never been all female or all male, all gay or all straight, all happy or all sad. I‚Äôve always been somewhere in the middle. Any time that I try to deny myself of that middle space and try to claim one or the other exclusively - I feel part of me die. ‚ÄĚ
With the 1997 memoir, The Last Time I Wore a Dress, Scholinski became an award-winning author. He is an accomplished artist and has appeared on 20/20, Dateline and Today. Despite those accomplishments and the ensuing decades since his institutionalization, Scholinski admits to suffering bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts.
According to the CDC, the 40-something Denver resident has plenty of company: a new analysis indicates suicide rates among 45-to-54-year-olds increased nearly 20 percent between 1999 to 2004. Scholinski has seen those numbers reflected among his circles. ‚ÄúFrom like 32 to 40‚Ä¶there seemed a drop in suicide‚Ä¶and then all of a sudden I turned 40 and it was like, BAM! Three of my friends in a year. There [is] this resurgence of suicide. Visibility needs to be created. We really need to be‚Ä¶ actively pursuing repairing self directed violence and reclaiming our power about it.‚ÄĚ
In response to that need, Scholinski created the Sent(a)Mental (myspace.com/dylanscholinski) art project to draw attention to and combat LGBT suicides with artistic submissions by those mourning the loss of friends or family, and people who‚Äôve survived their own attempts. For the former, Scholinski hopes the project can provide closure. ‚ÄúUsually it‚Äôs so sudden, and there‚Äôs all these questions, like ‚ÄėWhat could I have done?‚Äô There‚Äôs a lot of self-blame.‚ÄĚ
Likewise, for the latter, ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs this whole other level of shame that you carry with you for the rest of your life. [But, nothing] takes your power back like the act of just telling your story. It creates‚Ä¶a system of hope for those people who are struggling‚Ä¶to hear stories of people surviving their depression.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI like the idea of things not being permanent,‚ÄĚ Scholinski declares. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a beginning and an end of everything. If I treat my body, and my life, and my soul that way, I can see that in other people. There‚Äôs a lot of beauty in the ways that we are destructed.‚ÄĚ He‚Äôs exploring those themes in another project, collecting garbage that has been squished by cars.
Believing that ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre all looking for mirrors. We‚Äôre all seeking community,‚ÄĚ Scholinski is playing that role by opening his studio to Denver youth to ‚Äúhang out and learn ways of expressing themselves.‚ÄĚ Without administrative or financial support, Scholinski provides free training, art supplies and dinner, where kids gather around a table and chat about their day.
Nowadays, Scholinski identifies primarily as male and says, ‚ÄúI‚Äôve trained my friends and my family‚Ä¶[so] they‚Äôre not accidentally going to ‚Äėshe‚Äô me‚Ä¶and get [me] beat up.‚ÄĚ
Despite the ongoing possibility of a movie based on his memoirs, Scholinski remains more concerned with publicizing the Sent(a)Mental project, and - next month - joining TrannyRoadshow‚Äôs (trannyroadshow.org) Rocky Mountain Tour with events in Colorado and New Mexico.
Trans author Jacob Anderson-Minshall co-writes the Blind Eye mystery series with his wife.