Arts & Culture / Mosaic / April 15, 2009

“Debutante Balls”

Scott Turner Schofield brought his one-man performance, “Debutante Balls,” to a full Harbach Theatre last Saturday night. He began his show by poking his head through a white, frilly debutante dress hung on a rack in the middle of the stage, admitting that he was nervous about sharing his story with the audience.

In the South, Schofield explained, it is common for women to enter high society with a “coming out” party, or the debutante ball. Such women must attend a certain number of events and participate in sophisticated culture before throwing their own balls to announce their “arrival” as women into high society. Schofield, a transgendered performer, drew the easy comparison between “coming out” as a debutante and “coming out” as a non-straight person, which he carried throughout the show.

Schofield told his story through lively dialogue and movement onstage while keeping the debutante dress close at hand. Schofield talked about “coming out” during his teenage years as a lesbian, growing into a radical feminist during his college years, and eventually deciding he fit best into society as a transgendered person. He told all this to the audience with a glowing smile on his face.

The show was about more than sexuality. It was about the divides in American culture between the sexes, classes, and regions in this country. Having grown up in Charlotte, North Carolina as a member of the middle class, Schofield was able to explain how these contrasts worked together to form the community within which we live. He also poked fun at each different group for their odd habits which showed that everybody is a different individual.

“We get so caught up in these labels and they’re not true,” said Schofield during the question and answer session after the show. “To point fingers and box everyone in is just not very useful.”

A natural storyteller, Schofield endeared the audience to him with his playful stories and genuine movements throughout the show. He even approached the audience a few times, once to hand out Dixie cups of sweet tea (a staple at debutante balls) which he brewed himself in Steve Jones’ backyard, and once to ask audience members what they considered themselves to be labeled. The answers varied from different sexual preferences to professional jobs to states of mind. Afterwards, Schofield suggested that everybody should be able to “come out” as who they are regardless of the means with which they define themselves. And everyone should throw a party.

After the show, which ended with a standing ovation, Schofield returned to the stage for a more serious question and answer session. One of the big questions was about gender reassignment surgery, which was rarely touched on during the show. Though living as a man, Schofield has not yet had the surgery.

“Everybody has body image issues and not everyone has surgery to fix that,” said Schofield. The surgery is expensive, Schofield said, and many people who want to have it do not have the opportunity, but they can still live as the gender they prefer.

He talked about being discriminated against because he is transgendered. While trying to obtain medicine for pink eye, a doctor nearly caused his insurance to be revoked because many insurance companies will not accept transgendered people. He also mentioned that in some states employers can discriminate against transgendered people. It is also illegal for transgendered people to get married in most places.

“Your gender has nothing to do with your actions,” said Schofield, continuing to say that a person’s gender does not make them “good” or “bad.”

Schofield also fielded questions about his performance, which he wrote himself, and his experiences as a transgendered performer in shows where he has shed his clothing.

“Having a transgendered body is something that not every actor has unless they are transgendered. To put a naked body on stage is powerful,” said Schofield. “Through my writing, I express things I can’t just say.”

Laura Miller

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