Jenn Smith | Recess: Young artist seeks, finds resolution

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"I am simply

A person

A person who

Is finding himself"

— Hunter Schrade

NORTH ADAMS — In case you missed it, there's a social media trend called "#decadechallenge," also known as "#10YearChallenge." The campaign prompts participants to share side-by-side photos of themselves, one from 10 years ago, and one from present day.

Looking at the Facebook page of Hunter Schrade, the dramatic shift in appearance is self-evident: He has transformed from a girl with a dark brown shoulder-length bob into a hand-knit hat wearing, bare-chested 22-year-old man.

His post reads: "2009, 2010, and 2019. A lot has changed but being me is still the same."

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I first met Hunter in September 2018, when he was an artist and intern with the Arts in Recovery for Youth arts therapy program.

"With this group, we are saving lives and giving youth a place that makes you feel you are worth something," Schrade told me about the group.

When I think of resolution, it's not about embracing a trend, or a fad, or a quick fix. It's about passionately pursuing a value, a dream, and staying dedicated to it, and nurturing it. Schrade is full of resolve, to illustrate for himself and others, how to live life without fear.

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Schrade is a painter, dancer, knitter, a student in the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts interdisciplinary studies program, and is working on earning his master's degree in art therapy.

Back in June, while millions of people across the country were celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month through parades, pageants and protests for equal rights, Schrade was preparing to make his own revolution from a hospital room. He was preparing for what's known as "top surgery," a gender-affirming medical procedure involving the removal breast tissue and reconstruction of the chest area to create more masculine contours so that a person can be more physically aligned with their masculine identity.

I interviewed Schrade again this July when he opened, "Self Made Human," believed to be Pittsfield's first art show featuring a transgender youth. It included personal art, a form of expression to channel all the emotions he was feeling as he was becoming the gender he truly identified with. As I saw "before" images of arrows raining down on a silhouetted figure in one painting, and labels like "dainty female" painted in blood-red lettering across a breast, I got the impression that the surgical scars were easier to manage than the ones Schrade has accrued from being misidentified and shamed.

According to research published earlier this year by The Trevor Project, a national nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth, transgender youth were significantly more likely to experience depression, be victimized and have thoughts of suicide compared with their cisgender peers. In the past year, one in three transgender youth reported attempting suicide; they were three times as likely as their cisgender peers to report being a victim of sexual violence; and more than half of transgender youths reported experiencing depression for a period of two weeks or longer.

"A transgender experience showing how society and having a body that doesn't match my gender identity can be distressing and hurtful," Schrade explained in an artist's statement. "Being transgender isn't easy in this world but I have taken one of the steps to feel like myself. I have just gotten gender confirmation surgery called top surgery on June 11th and the art will show how I feel before top surgery and after top surgery. Showing how free I feel to be myself and be happier. I just want to show people that transgender people exist and that we just want to be respected and accepted for who we are."

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Shortly after "Self Made Human" opened, he raised enough money through painting sales and a coloring book of positive messages and images designed for transgender youth, to legally change his name to Hunter and affirm his male identity. Right now, Schrade is jumping through bureaucratic hoops to begin taking testosterone in February, in continuing with his transition.

"I am slowly getting there," he said.

But Schrade is as resolute as ever, surviving and thriving, thanks in large part to having creative outlets and people to support him and his art.

He says the summer art show success, "inspired me to write more about what I am going through in my poetry," which he often shares at WordXWord poetry readings in Pittsfield.

He's also working on a new digital art series — check out @hfsartstudio on Instagram — that is called "flower power," which focuses on different flowers "and how flowers always find the light."

Said Schrade: "I just love sunflowers and I love how flowers symbolize growth, which is what I am doing. I am growing into who I am and finding my light."

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


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