Queer girl biographies are never for the faint of heart and Stephanie Schroeder’s “Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies and Suicide” is no exception. Schroeder’s memoir tells the story of her life as a 20-something New York City transplant, struggling with undiagnosed bipolar disease and tourettes. Oh yeah and dyke drama. Of course.
“Beautiful Wreck” touches on so many subjects near and dear to my heart that I had to interview Stephanie. Luckily for all of us, she said yes!
Hot Femme: How did you decide the time was right to tell your story?
Stephanie Schroeder: I’ve worked on this book for almost 10 years. I began writing it while I was still living it. “It” meaning dealing with severe depression and also mania, a psychotic break and diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a cheating girlfriend, one final suicide attempt, and so many other issues. I put my manuscript down and picked it up many, many times. I was unemployed for two years and it sat untouched the entire time because I was too busy worrying about just surviving–and I really wasn’t ready to finish it. But when I picked it up again in 2010, I was determined to finish it, hired an editor and seriously pitched it to agents and publishers. So that was my personal timeline. In addition, the time was ripe for a brutally honest story about intimate partner violence in the lesbian community. Plus, I have been blogging about mental illness and speaking on the topic for some time. I thought the timing was perfect to publish my memoir to address so many important issues around health, mental health, abuse, survival and other topics.
HF: You expose a lot of yourself, and others, in Beautiful Wreck. How did you decide to let go and share your experiences?
SS: I’ve been letting my stuff hang out in public for a very long time. I’m all about removing stigma and bearing personal witness in the process. I’m not being narcissistic, just very open (and vulnerable) in presenting my story. I hope other people see themselves in my work, not necessarily as a person with mental illness, but in any other situation in the book and do what they need to do. I’m all for helping people find their voice, whatever that means, and I hope this helps others find their own authenticity, to speak up as writers, artists, advocates, activists, as survivors of abuse of whatever kind, or anything else.
HF: How has your family reacted?
SS: I sent manuscripts to my entire biological family about a month before going to press: both my parents and my two sisters. They had all said write whatever I want, tell my own truth and they would deal with the result. My sister Ann, who is only two years younger, has been supportive throughout. My other sister, who is 10 years younger, hasn’t said a word. And, I actually cut out the sex scenes from the manuscripts I sent to my parents. My mother said she is profoundly sad I had to go through such a rough time in my childhood and teenage years and that she played a part in it. My father said he thought I let him off easy, which I think is the case with father in general. (And, for the record, my therapist would agree with me.)
HF: Do any of your exes know about Beautiful Wreck and have your heard from any of them?
SS: I was in the process of writing the book when I was with Phoebe, but I’m not sure she knows it’s been published. Melanie knows because a mutual friend told her about the publication. I don’t know whether she’s read it and neither she nor anyone else who is in the book has contacted me.
HF: Domestic violence is a problem that generally goes unmentioned in the lesbian community. Did you envision your memoir as a way to get this dialogue started?
SS: Yes and no. Intimate partner violence is mentioned from time to time in the queer press. I’ve blogged about it and other lesbian journalists have written about in popular lesbian publications. Lesbian therapists have published papers about it, etc. But it is a major issue I want to bring to light and keep the conversation going — or get it started!
HF: You write about several relationships that you stay in even after they are “past their expiration date.” This is something that a lot of women do, why did you stay in dysfunctional relationships and why do you think that this is so prevalent among women?
SS: I think it’s prevalent among everyone! It’s hard to break up and no one wants to hurt someone they have loved at some point by leaving them. I stayed because I was depressed, I had let myself be put in a position where I didn’t have an sustainable income or an independent way to support myself, and I sometimes felt I needed someone else to take care of me. There were lot of reasons due to my specific situations and circumstances.
HF: In the book you reveal the many ways that you have reinvented your style over the years, even going from androgynous to super femme. This is particularly interesting because many of us kind of pick one and run with it. What would you call your look now and why is this something that is so ﬂuid for you.
SS: My style was fluid in the past — and I suppose could be again in the future. I would say that my present style is “urban cowgurl.” I have definitely been very femme in the past and at the time it felt right. I also felt that because I was attracted to very butch women in the past I had to be super femme in contrast. I feel more at home with myself now than ever before. But, it’s not just because of my style or lesbian “label” thought I do love my T-shirts, Levis and cowgurl boots…I feel better because I have come to terms with my illness and been stable with it for over six years. Also becauseI am seen and heard for who I really am rather than who someone wants me to be or thinks they can mold me to be (like Lauren does in the book).
HF: In the book you reveal that you have both Tourette’s disease and Bipolar disease. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to be supportive to a partner with one of these afﬂictions?
SS: Don’t be a watcher and worrier. I’m adamant about that. I don’t want to be monitored because I am an adult and ultimately responsible for my actions being bipolar or have TS or not. I would advise having support “team” who keeps an eye out. Have doctors with knowledge, peers and other people you know with either disorder so you are not isolated. My girlfriend has all the phone numbers and info for my doctors and family as well as about all my medications and dosages. I should have a psychiatric advance directive, which is what many people do. It’s to communicate treatment preferences in case of a psychiatric emergency. I don’t have on, though, because both my family of choice and family of origin know my wishes and would not battle each other about any treatment I might need involuntarily. They are all on the same page.
HF: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
SS: I like stream of consciousness writing. To put it bluntly, just vomit your words onto the page and worry about editing, reordering and everything else later.
HF: Now that you’ve told your life story, what projects are you working on now?
SS: I write for Curve Magazine and have all sorts of assignments there. And, I have a new book project that is not a sequel, which people keep asking about. It’s about a friend of mine who died two years ago. He was an ex-pat I met in Holland. He was my father’s age and had worked at Gove Press in its heyday. He was an esteemed illustrator who only drew for progressive publications, and he wrote and illustrated his own books as well as others’ work. I find him extremely fascinating and think others will, too. His longtime companion gave me all the contact info she could find on his computer and what info she had about friends of his from back in the day, for his family and other acquaintances and I’m just now beginning to contact them. He was from the Bronx so a lot are still here in New York City.
HF: Where can fans ﬁnd you?
SS: My book site is http://www.beautifulwreck.com, my writing website is http://www.stephanieschroeder.com. I’m on Twitter at @StephS910 and @BeautifulWreck1 . My personal mental health activist blog is http://www.beautifulwreck1.wordpress.com and you can just plain find me on Facebook, my page is public.