Hi crush monsters, this is Straddler On The Street, a feature where I celebrate all of you incredible Autostraddle readers by hunting you down, demanding you chat with me, and then writing about you on the Internet so we can all crush on you. Get excited, because butterflies in your stomach 24/7 is a fantastic way to live.
Header by Rory Midhani
Straddler On The Street: Shelby, 32
Shelby is an avid Autostraddle commenter, an A-Camper, a student, and a warm, welcoming human. She was so kind and enthusiastic when I met her at camp, and I was so psyched when she volunteered to be a Straddler On The Street!
She was born in the South but says all that remains of that “is a slight accent and an inability to take the last piece of pecan pie… not polite you know!” She’s on track to become a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, with a focus on Art Therapy and more creatively driven and less traditionally structure concepts of therapy. She’s not a fan of rigid gatekeeping systems and wants to work against the inherent prejudices within the professional track for therapists and counselors.
She told me her useless superpower is making anything into a song at the drop of a hat, and she loves creating, telling and building stories. Say hi to Shelby!
How old are you, where do you currently live, and what are you up to with your life?
I am 32 going on 22 it seems like. My wife and I live in Chicago and currently I am preparing to go back to school for my extended senior year. And then some.
Awesome! Do you like Chicago?
I love it. I have lived all over the world as a military brat and bounced through a few cities even after leaving home and Chicago is the most comfortable big city I have lived in. I love it for some of the downtown architecture, for the people I have met upon returning to school. The pizza isn’t bad either.
What are you currently studying at school, and what do you hope to do with your degree when you finish?
I’m currently studying Women and Gender Studies – of course – but up until this last quarter I was a Psychology and WGS double major. I have all the Psych requirements for my masters already and needed some breathing space. I also shifted my focus heading into my senior year because that’s a good idea, right? I am going to eventually be a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor focusing on Art Therapy. Hilly [my wife] is about to become Dr. Green and we hope to eventually open a queer focused practice and an eventual trans community center.
Woah, that all sounds incredible. And congrats to Hilly! You mentioned in your submission that you’re interested in costume work. Can you talk a bit about that?
I have been a geek since way back, I love pretty much everything sci-fi and yeah, I adore roleplaying games. The shame! Actually I have no shame about that at all. I started doing costume stuff and going to conventions back in 2001 and loved the idea of putting together original or movie accurate outfits or anime/furry stuff.
That doesn’t sound shameful at all, that sounds so cool! What are some of your favorite conventions, or favorite costumes you’ve put together?
I have a rich fantasy life – it’s probably too rich and should share the wealth more or something. Some of my favorite conventions were Acon in Dallas as well as Acen and MFF here in Chicago. I would say my favorite costumes I put together were an entire Steampunk crew from a classic Burroughs Mars setting – not the awful John Carter movie, blerg. I still have a lot of the props laying around here. My favorite commission was a custom Sonic Screwdriver for someone.
Oh wow, people commission stuff from you?! Where did you learn how to do that sort of stuff? Are you self taught?
I have always enjoyed creating things or art from scrap. I am self taught, and the quality of my teaching shows at times. I tend to make things that look pretty good but I can never promise it will turn out okay when I start. Its a pretty organic process, just seeing what happens. I wish I were faster so that I could take more commissions. I have made about five full costumes and maybe an equal number of props and stuff.
I’ve never met anyone who does that – it sounds so neat. You also mentioned you do a lot of wood working and found object art. Tell me about that.
Well my stepfather was funny; when he got irritated he would build things. All kinds of things with whatever wood was lying around. I picked that up from helping out on stuff and eventually we joked that we could build anything as long as the materials we had weren’t brand new. Apparently straight lines and right angles are perplexing… for the record I still can’t manage straight anything.
The desk I am sitting at was build by me, after disassembling some old oak cabinets, and I like making small display pieces like frames or decorative pieces like tree silhouettes or recently a fireplace mantel thingy. The found object stuff is almost exclusively steampunk because, well, a great deal of it is fantastical and no one can tell me that my Jetpack isn’t exactly built the way it should be.
That is such an awesome hobby and passion. Let’s talk movies. You said you like bad ones – list some favorites, please!
Oh wow. So many good bad movies. Pretty much anything with Molly Ringwald, although those not really bad movies now that I think about it. Sappy 80s-90s romance movies like Say Anything and the like. Also a lot of Hong Kong and Korean films, as well as old Monster Movies like Fright Night, or Godzilla. I am kind of a Pixar fan too, although they are starting to go downhill.
Do you have any celeb crushes?
I have a bit of a crush on Katee Sackhoff, Ellen Page and well, I can’t stop raving about Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black. She is my idol right about now.
Do you have any thoughts/feelings about the show?
So many thoughts and feels on the show. I adore Laverne Cox and the way that she and the writers are presenting a broader view of a trans woman. I found it really hard to get through the first episode because it was so uncomfortable, but that’s partially the point. I really appreciate the conversations the show is starting and the view of the prison system, although I will admit to having just as many critiques of the prison and racial issues that the show claims to be ‘realistically’ presenting. They get a lot right, more than most, but they ignore other things… I haven’t even finished it yet, though! I am only about four episodes in and am desperately trying to get through it ahead of the spoilers.
Oh, same! Everyone keeps yelling at me because I haven’t watched yet. I’m going to, though! Next question: how did you discover Autostraddle?
I think it was from a post on Facebook a while back, or possibly a link through a queer blog that I wrote something for. I had been casting around for a good queer / lesbian centered blog or news site for a while but to be honest, as a trans woman, a lot of them were far less than welcoming. I can’t remember what article or event it was from Autostraddle, but I remembered seeing a rude and dismissive comment about a trans woman, and then this explosion of support from the AS community. I had never seen anything like it. Within a month or so both Hilly and I were all over AS and heading to A-Camp, which was… kinda life changing.
Can you talk about your A-Camp experience, please?
A-Camp was something that kept me going through the beginning of a rough year. I had dropped my spring quarter and was in the middle of probably one of the worst depressions I had ever felt. I was a wreck but the one thing we held onto was that in May we could get away and celebrate our 1 year wedding anniversary and hang out with wonderful women.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was pretty terrified on the bus headed up the mountain. But everyone was so open and by day two there was this bizarre realization that there were no hierarchies of thin women, fat women, tall women, ugly women, or anyone out of anyone’s league. It was just US, and the judgment that is as much the part of my day to day life as air is was gone. It was just lighter up there. And that wasn’t just because of the elevation.
Ugh, when people talk about camp my heart swells like 400 sizes. Can you also tell me a bit about your wedding?
Oh gods. Well it was both wonderful and wretched in turn. Wonderful for all the right reasons and wretched for all the expected ones.
The ceremony was tiny, only about 25 people including family. When Hilly and I started dating about 8 years back her family saw me as the tolerable male for their daughter. When I transitioned about 3 years back and they were informed of her never having been all that straight and now being happier with a women, they were… less than thrilled. I’d like to say they got over it but they haven’t, and probably won’t. But ah well.
The ceremony was beautiful and since we were in PA we used a Quaker wedding ceremony where you self marry. No officiant is needed. Just you, your partner, and two people to witness you both saying “Hey look. We’re married!” My family were happy for us, so were our guests, so 23 out of 25 isn’t bad.
Oh wow, that does sound beautiful. Thank you for sharing! On a totally different note, what are some of your favorite books?
Anything not textbook related! But seriously… I don’t read as much as I should. I used to devour books but since starting school I have been swamped and not able to do as much reading for fun. I just started Imogen Binnie’s book Nevada and like it.
Oh, I liked that too. I was disappointed with the ending though. Anyway! Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to share with the Autostraddle community?
Thank you for being out there. Thank you for being you and you doing you.
If you would like to be featured as a future Straddler on the Street, please email vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com. Include a few photos, 3-5 sentences about yourself and put “Straddler Submission” in your subject line. Approximately a million people have submitted so far, so please be patient as Vanessa goes through her inbox — you’re all sexy with really smart brains, and don’t you forget it!
That’s really all I have to say.
this was really interesting and sweet! thanks for sharing!
Shelby! I’m really inspired by your career ambitions. I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to do and that might involve opening a homeless shelter and community health clinic focused on queer people, especially queer youth. It’s good to know there’s someone out there who’s working in the same line of work!
Loved this! You are too cool, Shelby. ::passes slice of bourbon pecan pie::
Shelby is one of my absolute favorites.
I SO want a custom Sonic Screwdriver. Added to the list of things I didn’t know I needed. (PS. you’re great!)
really love what you have to say.. very interested in similar areas.. I am studying psychology and I write about women and objectification.. check out my blog if you have time. blog.daniellesonnenberg.com
Cheers to you for living your truth!
Hey Shelby I have been fangirling your comments on AS and remember we connected (in the comments) over rage baking? Well I felt extra happy while eating my tea cookies reading more awesome comments from you.
Yes I adore the idea of making cookies and raging against things. Rawr!
Besides, its cookies. Cookie are always good. Well close to always.
Although I believe it was Marika who coined the term “Rage Baking.” :)
Thank you for warmly welcoming us into the world of the amazing Shelby. Those are going to be very lucky people who get to work with her doing art therapy (my daughter has had some art therapists who’ve made a big impact on her). The only thing conceivably cuter than Shelby and Hilly is Shelby’s pic with her message t-shirt. You have survived and thrived my dear Shelby!
I second this, the t-shirt is so awesome! And Shelby is even more awesome! Yay awesome straddlers!
Hi Shelby! You seem really awesome and talented and smart! I am kind of in awe of your creative projects. I do a lot of knitting and sewing and stuff and design some things, and woodworking is on my thing-making to do list. I have never built furniture though! Or a jetpack. Or a SONIC SCREWDRIVER. Just wow. Very impressive/inspirational!
OMG yall! *hides*
Now I have this repository of comments to stare at and maintain an overly high opinion of myself. What have we done!
Hilly and I are so wired for Acamp4. Jus’saying.
I remember trying to doze off on the bus back to LAX, and I was listening to you talk, thinking you sounded like a radiant human, and so kind, and just a little Southern. So cool to learn more about you here! Your costume designs sound amazing!
We are still trying to find the list of goofy “Only at Acamp” ideas. I can recall ANY of them darnit!
Hey Shelby! Seems I have found a ‘makes up songs with anything at the drop of a hat’ friend in you! :D
Yes, we should only use these powers for good!
I’m thinking a musical, or something like ‘Whos Line Is It Anyway?’is a good place to start? ;)
Yes, all the yesses. :)
Hi Shelby! I really enjoyed watching your We Happy Trans video some time ago. My wife had GRS surgery in California in May and when we were flying back home I remember thinking about all of the Autostraddlers going up the mountain for camp. I’m glad to hear that camp was wonderful! Our savings were spent for the surgery, but I love the idea of going to camp.
Your wedding sounds like it was lovely. My wife and I got legally married before her surgery and plan on having a one year celebration in the spring. For the most part our families are pretty good about the whole thing, so we’ll see.
Wow, that video I did was ages ago! I used to update my personal vlog pretty regularly but that’s slowed lately. (It is pretty inane however). Jen Richards and that whole site and crew of folks are incredible. Congrats to your wife, I hope she is recovering well.
I hope to see you at Acamp sometime, or just meet you out in the “real world” I keep hearing so much about. :)
Also, congrats on your wedding, that’s so great!
The recovery period was more difficult than I expected. She was depressed for some time afterwards, which we later learned is not that unexpected. Only being out to a few people locally also limited the support we had, though there was some. But now she is 3+ months out; got a job, which helps; so it’s getting better (even if she still hates dilating).
Thanks Shelby, for the kind thoughts. I was just thinking this evening that I wished I had someone to talk about it all with, but I also want to respect her right to privacy. It can be tricky, but love is good.
Meeting you and Hilly at camp was seriously one of my highlights :D