Stephanie Schroeder’s memoir Beautiful Wreck: Sex Lies & Suicide will be released Monday, September 10. On the eve of the publication, I interviewed her about her captivating personal narrative of mental illness.
I can imagine that writing this book, or any book, would be especially difficult while dealing with mental health issues. How did you know that this was the right time to write your book?
I started writing Beautiful Wreck in 2004, in the middle of suicidal episodes, a bad relationship, and it was hard because I couldn’t even really deal with what was happening right under my nose. I worked on it on and off until 2008, when I became unemployed.
I met a girl who changed my life at the corner of Homewood and Maitland, Toronto’s trans sex worker stroll. It was 2008, and we, along with a hundred other queers, trans folks, and sex worker superheroes were gathered to counter a group calling themselves the Homewood Maitland Safety Association (HMSA). Wendy Babcock was leading the counter protest along with another friend of mine. The HMSA, made up almost exclusively of middle class gay white cis men who had recently moved into the neighbourhood, was harassing and attempting to physically remove trans sex workers from their neighbourhood. Some of the women working there claimed that they had been assaulted with flashlights, photographed, followed, and harassed by HMSA members. This night was the start of many things: a six week long counter-protest lead by Wendy and myself; my friendship with Wendy; and the complete transformation of how I’d been living.
Wendy and I connected that night. At the time I was working on and off in minimum wage retail and barista jobs, sometimes unable to afford to feed myself, after an unsuccessful attempt to launch a career as a makeup artist. Though I’d previously done a small amount of work around sex workers’ rights, I really hadn’t spent much time as an activist then. Wendy and I spent two nights a week for the next six weeks countering the HMSA from 11 pm – 4 am, and in the morning I’d get back up at 9 am and head to work. Our efforts continued over the next several years and we managed to render the HMSA completely ineffectual.
I grew up in Camden, New Jersey, during a time, not unlike the present, when it was well known as one of the state’s and country’s most economically deprived, criminally devastated urban spaces. Poverty was felt and seen. Friends were murdered before the celebration of their eighteenth birthdays. Hopelessness was evidenced on streets where homes sat abandoned along trash-lined streets. And, despite all of this, I was carefully and lovingly nurtured by a young mother who sought to protect her quirky son from the staunch realities of life growing up in a troubled urban space that we both loved and called home.
I considered why it was that they would be so determined to set me on fire.
My mother was a victim of intimate partner violence. My father, who was fifteen when I was born, seemed to know more about hurt than love. And, he demonstrated that knowledge through his actions.
The first time I tried to end my life my father had just finished brutally beating my mother. I felt horrified, angry and helpless. While I do not remember the specifics of that particular attack, I do remember my response. Eleven years of life, or so, had begun to feel like an eternity of pain and I wanted out quickly. So, I moved toward the window in the small bedroom that I shared with my three younger sisters and with mournful tears in my eyes announced that I was about to jump. I thought that my leap would distract my father long enough to stop him from punching my mom in her face and would be cause for my other family member’s intervention in a common occurrence that was wreaking havoc on all of our lives.
Someone who was probably the coolest person born after 1980 died the other day and it’s a real bummer.
She is twenty-four and lived in Chicago. She had an unabashed disinterest in white people, hated beards, and thought you were racist if you didn’t like latter-day Mariah Carey.
She spent most of her days waking up brilliant and gorgeous, being right about everything but not bragging about it, not cleaning her room, and speaking in questions that she often answered with more of her own questions. She hated shaving and loved weave.