[Photo of Gabrielle. Copyright © 2004 by Anjelica Kieltyka; click for larger view]
Gabrielle Schaffer is an actress and esthetician.
She transitioned when young.
Currently a student at Act One Studios, in Chicago, Illinois, Gabrielle has performed in the stage-plays Infidelities (Act One Theatre) and Cyrano de Bergerac (Footlik Theatre), and was an extra in the movie Ocean's Eleven.
Gabrielle performed in the third annual Vitality Festival for the Speaking Ring Theatre. She played the over the top waitress, Janet, in the one act play, "Coffee" and the director in the one act play, "Ich Wunsche Den Schonen Liebestod" (The Beautiful Love Death).
She also appeared in the play "Drag!" at Neo-Futuriists in Chicago in 2006: "Using the glamour and conventions of a rip-roaring drag show, four performance artists explore their desire to perform as the opposite sex. "Drag" deals with issues of sexual identity, sexual expression, and gender-bending". You can watch portions of Gabrielle's performance on YouTube (click here for scene 3 and here for scene 4).
I'll begin telling my story by sharing a recent letter I sent to a friend. I receive emails from all over the world. The one question I am asked most is: How did you find the courage to transition?
taking hormones when I was 20 years old. I was working as a hairdresser in a
small town and living at home with my parents, who were not thrilled about
having a feminine son (at all). I know how hard it is. I thought when I
decided to transition that my parents would never speak to me again.
However, the pain of wanting to transition had become so great that I had to
take that chance and risk everything. So I had decided one day at 20 to get
in my car and drive to Chicago to try and get some hormones. You can take
hormones and still live as a boy for a while, until you are ready to go full
time. I was taking hormones while living with my parents and working as a
boy. The results of hormones take time.
But after a while my mom was yelling at me everyday, "you look like a girl" "Are your eyebrows arched?" (they were). "You are an embarrassment to the family, what will the neighbors think?" My dad was not speaking much to me at all. At work they knew I wanted to be a girl, but they treated me more like a joke than anything else. Everything was coming down on me. I felt trapped, scared and ashamed. I always wanted to please everyone and make everyone happy, especially my mother (I knew this would kill her). I used laughter to hide my feelings. I would always make myself the butt of the joke before anyone else could. I still do this today, even in my acting. Some feeling and habits become ingrained in you and you will carry them throughout your life.
One morning I was at work, feeling suicidal, wondering what I was going to do. I wanted to move to Chicago away from my parents. I knew if I stayed in my small town I would never be happy or live as a female. The radio was playing in the salon and a song by Tracy Chapman, "Fast Car" began to play (still love that song). There was a line in the song "Leave tonight or live and die this way" that touched my soul. I felt chills go down my spine. "Take a fast car and keep on driving". It sounds silly but that line was exactly what I needed to hear. I decided right then and there I was leaving for Chicago. I called my friend Manny (gay boy/dresses in drag)
(Call Manny on the phone)
Me: Lets move to Chicago and have sex changes. I'll be there in an hour to pick you up.
Manny: Ok, I'll pack.
Manny was truly a person who lived with no cares or worries. (She turned out to be a nightmare in Chicago, but that is entirely another story) I still love her and I am grateful she did not let me make the journey alone.
I then went in to tell my boss,
Me: I need to tell you something
Me: I appreciate everything you have done for me and the job, but I am moving to Chicago...(deep breath) and changing my sex.
Boss: Ohhkaaayyy. Do you have money?
Me: 50 dollars and change for the tolls
Boss: Don't you think you should wait and save some money
Me: If I wait one more second I'm going to come to my senses and lose my nerve.
Boss: Well then, here’s $150 dollars
Me: No, no, no, I can't take it
Boss: Please take it…… I’m going to miss you! I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for.
She hugged me and I was off. I picked up Manny on the way home to see my mother. I made her wait in the car because she was wearing spandex pants and had shaved off her eyebrows. My mom was going to be traumatized enough for one day.
I walked into the house, went to my room, and packed a few boy clothes and drag clothes into a duffle bag. My mom walked in.
Mom: What are you doing and how come you're not at work?
Me: I'm moving to Chicago
Mom: What the hell are you talking about! You’re not going anywhere!
Me: I can't take it here anymore
Mom: Oh yea! Your life here is soooo hard!
Me: Mom, look at me! (I grabbed both of her wrists and looked her right in the eyes.) Really look at me!... I don't fit in!!
I saw her hopes and wishes, that things could be different for me, leave at that moment from her eyes.
Mom: But I'm going to miss you. (Tears rolled from her eyes).
Me: I'll miss you too. (My heart caved-in)
Mom: I love you (we never used words like that in our home)
Me: I love you too
We hugged and cried. I realized my mother was more scared for me than anything else. As I walked to the car I looked over my shoulder, and saw my mother crying through the glass at the top of the screen door.
I hopped in the car where Manny was plucking her beard with a pair of tweezers.
Manny: How did she take it?
Me: ….I broke her heart.
Manny: You ain't that special Mary. Let’s go!
I cried as I pulled away. It would be the last time I would ever wear male clothes again.
I don’t think of myself as being a very courageous person. Just like anyone else, I still fear rejection, being an outcast or on some days, my own shadow. This is not an overnight process and you have to take baby steps. Just like the old saying goes, keep taking one step after another and you never know where that road will lead. It’s scary and a risk, but living is about taking risks and being authentic. Play it safe and your life will never change or grow. Personally I know if I wouldn't of taken the risk, my soul would have shriveled and died among the wasteland of unlived dreams and broken hopes (or is it broken dreams and unlived hopes). Who knows, the line is way too dramatic and clichéd, but so am I !
Photos of Gabrielle
Photo by Anjelica Kieltyka
Photo by Robert Potter
Photos taken at V-DAY 2004,
in Hollywood, California:
Gabrielle with Jane Fonda
With Troy Garrity
Leading actor in "Soldier's Girl"
With Calpernia Addams
Photo of Gabrielle with Boy George
at Sound Bar in Chicago, on March 31, 2005.
[Note: Sound Bar is one of Chicago's newest and coolest nightclubs...]
Backstage photos from "Cyrano de Bergerac"
at the Footlik Theater
Gabrielle at a dinner with friends at Winberie's restaurant, Oak Park, IL, in June 2003
Left to right: Lynn, Maria (en español), Victoria (en español) and Gabrielle
LynnConway.com > TS Successes > Photo Gallery 2 > Gabrielle's Story