“What Was It Like? Stories by LGBTQ Elders” is a new program by I’m From Driftwood, in partnership with Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, and SAGE, the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older adults. Learn more about the program here.
Stephanie Clark’s 8 Video Stories and transcripts can be seen below.
Dressing Up In Mother’s Clothes As A Child:
“I Knew I Could Be The Woman That I Wanted To Be.”
I was born in 1943. I was the younger son in a Catholic family – I had an older brother. My mother had two miscarriages and we think those were girls. And my mother always wanted a daughter, but I came along.
At age 3, I started just feeling different. I don’t know why, I couldn’t put a finger on it, but I just had this strange feeling. By the time I was age 6, my mother would start sewing clothes for the next door neighbors – that was part of her getting the fix of having a girl around. And she would use me as her dress dummy, so she would dress me up in a gingham dress, do the hemming and things like that. That’s when I started realizing that maybe I was – might be a crossdresser.
It went on six years, not much happening. Then, about age 12, my mother came into the bedroom and found me in her bra and panties.
She said, “Stop that!” I couldn’t and I didn’t.
As life goes on, I would secretly take her things and hide them and put them on in bed at night.
Off to high school, I ended up going to the seminary. It’s something a good catholic boy always does, especially the second boy in a Catholic family. I’m in a school with nothing but boys, living in a dorm room, starting to feel strange.
I came out of the seminary when I was 15 and did my last year of high school in a Jesuit high school with a bunch of guys. It was a boys school. But we started dating girls from the girls Catholic school. And I found that I liked the girls more as girls than as a girlfriend. So I loved to be with them, watch their – look at their clothes, and just kind of emulate their style and their manner in my mind.
At that point, I really decided that I was a cross-dressing lesbian. I loved being with women – always have, always will be.
The feeling that I got when my mother put me in a dress and used me as a dress dummy was kind of a passive feeling. The first time I took her clothes and put them on, that was an aggressive feeling. Because all of a sudden, I knew I could be the woman that I wanted to be.
1950’s: “I Had To Be The Man Of The Family… And I Think I’m A Girl.”
I ended up going to the seminary, as something a good catholic boy always does, especially the second boy in a Catholic family. I’m in a school with nothing but boys, living in a dorm room, starting to feel strange.
Then my father died. I came home for the funeral and that was fine. Then I went back to the seminary. A year later, my brother died in a car accident. When my dad dies, I knew he was going to die, because he was dying of Hodgkin’s Disease. But my brother was in a car accident, so that was earth shattering to the whole family. And even worse than that, it was on a bridge and the body was thrown in the water, so we didn’t find his body for over a month.
After my brother’s death, my grandfather and I went out and did all the basic funeral arrangements. I was sleeping in the room next to him and he died of a heart attack. Now my mother has lost her husband and her oldest child, and three days later she loses her father. With my grandfather’s death, then I had to go out and do all the things I just learned to do four days before. I had to be the man of the family.
So what that means is, by the time I was 12, my father had died, a year later my brother died, three days later my grandfather died. That left me the youngest – the only male in the family and I think I’m a girl. The power and responsibility I had as a boy were huge but I wasn’t prepared to support that.
1960’s: Coming Out To Wife “Left An Elephant In The Room For The Next 44 Years.”
So it’s June 1966. I’m just finishing up college at Seattle University. I just got my first CPA job and I’m off to a client’s office and I have to do the cash work. It has to get done that day – it’s a Friday night and it has to be done by the morning. I tell the office that I’m going to have to be late, can somebody stay around to let me out?
As I’m working, I notice this blonde over in the corner, a pretty good-looking lady. I finish my work and I said, “What’re you still hanging around for?”
She says, “Well, you.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
She says, “Well, I’m waiting for you to take me out for a drink.” So we went out for a drink. And she loves scotch. Can you imagine that? A college girl who drinks nothing but scotch on the rocks? That’s what I drink. We had a couple of drinks and then I took her home in my car – an old, beat-up car. And she got out of the car and got up into the apartment before I could even get her name.
The next morning, I call the company and I said, “There was a blonde who worked just outside the president’s office. Who was that woman?”
She says, “Oh, that was me.”
I said, “Oh.” I said, “Well, we had a good time last night. Would you like to go out again?”
She says, “Well, I can’t go out with you for two more days because I’m dating a disc jockey and
I’ve got to tell him that it’s over.” Two days later, we went out and drank some more scotch. The courtship began and within ten months, we were married.
One of the things is when you’re dealing – as a trans woman or whatever you want to call yourself – when do you tell the fiancée about your personal relationships? So I decided to tell her after we were married, hoping she would accept it. I had a bra slip made out of blue lace. It was just beautiful. It was my favorite possession.
It was in the bedroom so I went upstairs and got it. I came down with it in my hands and showed it to my wife as kind of a peace offering and tried to explain that I was really a crossdresser and I hope she can accept it. There was just complete silence. From that day on, there was never any mention of my being a crossdressing person.
What that did was left an elephant in the room for the next 44 years. Unspoken but passively there. I can remember one time I left a pair of pink panties in the dryer – I didn’t know I’d done that. But the next day, those pink panties were put on top of my jockey shorts. That was her way of saying, “I know.”
She was with me for 44 years. She would go to church with me every Sunday. We lived all over the United States. We travelled all over the world. She never had to work because I had a good job. I remember one time I got fired. I was going to be paid for a year. She’d been in California and she came back.
She said, “How was your week?”
I said, “Well, I was fired.”
She said, “Well, what’re we going to do?”
I said, “Well, I thought we’d go to Europe.” And we just drove around Europe for four weeks. And that was the kind of life she had. She could do what she wanted and, conversely, I could do what I wanted. I got the better part of the marriage. I got the relationship. She was always there for me. She would move whenever I had to move. So all I could do was try to make her life as good as possible.
You have to be true to yourself. This isn’t something I can bite a stick and change. I am who I am, and so what I’ve got to do is figure out a way to make that work with my family relationships. And that means being honest but understanding that the potential for rejection on the other side is great. What you’ve really gotta do is make the best of the good times and just alleviate the bad times.
1980’s: Dominatrix Inspires Trans Woman To Become Comfortable In Her Own Skin.
It was August 1989. I got a call out of the blue – a search firm wanted me to come to Chicago and take over financial reporting for a company that was newly starting up. I go to Chicago. My wife reluctantly comes and looks at housing and decides that she isn’t going to move for a year. I commute back and forth every Monday and Friday, sometimes going to New York before I’d come to Seattle.
What that allowed me to do was get an apartment in Chicago. And what does a tranny do, first free day in Chicago without any constraints? You get a dirty magazine and you find out where all the entertainment centers are. I’m looking through the entertainment magazine and there was an article about a dominatrix. Now, I don’t know what a dominatrix is but it sounds like it might be fun.
So I call her up and I say, “I’m a crossdresser. I’m interested in your services. What does this entail?”
She says, “First of all, it entails paying $150 an hour.”
I says, “Oh, ok. Where do I come?”
She says, “Come into the city and ring the door buzzer on Elston Street.” So I ring the door buzzer. I’m standing out there with my bag of clothes – female clothes – and this middle-aged lady came in.
She says, “Hi. I’m Foxy. You must be Stefani.”
I said, “Yeah.”
She says, “Well, what do you want to do?”
I says, “Well, I’d like to be dressed up and I’d like to be made pretty. And anything else that you can think of.” She brought me in, dressed me, did my makeup, a few other things that we won’t get into. I ended up staying about an hour and a half, two hours. It was the most gratifying time of my life because it was the first time I could actually be a woman wearing frilly clothes and my hair done and makeup and things like that. I immediately scheduled an appointment in another two weeks.
I came back a second time and she had an assistant there this time. They worked with me for almost two and a half hours but the last hour and a half was spent cleaning the office in my maid’s uniform, so therefore they didn’t charge me for that.
As we went through time, she would – she wasn’t pretty. She was mature. A little on the harsh side. But just a wonderful personality and she truly liked me and I went to her off and on for a good fifteen years. It was kind of that, when I needed that moment away from my wife and just to be able to steal an hour and be myself because I didn’t really have that many opportunities to dress out in public.
From then on, for the balance of that year until my wife came out to Chicago, I would meet with Foxy at least once a month. She would just take me around, take me out shopping – the first endeavors of buying girls’ clothes. I was so anal compulsive that I would go in and buy a blouse and immediately walk out.
She says, “You’re missing the excitement of buying clothes. You don’t have to pay for anything. All you gotta do is just touch the clothes and then leave.” Foxy later introduced me to a gal who started doing all my hair. About that time, Foxy’s husband was getting sick with cancer so she stopped her business, as lucrative as it was.
Watching her – a few times, she would let me sit with her in her dungeon when the male was blindfolded and watch her put the guy through his paces – is just an experience of what power and control a woman can have over a man.
She gave me the confidence to walk in with – I jokingly say – with my shoulders back and my tits out. With that just sassy “I don’t care what you say. I’m going to live my life to its fullest.” I got so I could go into a bar an hour before she was going to be there and just sit at the bar and have a drink by myself. Never fearful of all the things that could happen to me, always kind of being on the edge. That allows you to live a different life than being a CPA in an accounting room.
After Wife’s Death in 2012, Trans Woman Seizes Opportunity To Come Out To Family.
I can remember July 20, 2012 like it was yesterday. My wife had been sick with cancer for over five years and she’s dying. I’m sitting – sleeping in the hospital room for like two weeks. We had a Do Not Resuscitate order. It’s a Friday afternoon and we told them not to do anything. She’d been in the hospital for twenty days this time. She started turning from flesh color to yellow and then it went to gray.
I couldn’t stick around. I left the room. And she came back – I came back and she was dead. The agony was there but the relief of now being able to be myself was so powerful. Once I stepped out of the hospital room and I knew that I could be who I wanted to be, I wanted to get out and get into the public eye as soon as possible.
Within the next 45 days, I came out to all my children. When I came out to the youngest daughter, it was no surprise to her because she had found my breast forms when she was 14.
When I told my older daughter, the first words were “Oh” and then “Okay, let’s have a drink.”
When I told my son, it was as if I didn’t say anything. Now, you gotta remember, he’s 44 years old, a Mustang officer in the Coast Guard, still active duty. Not only has he lost his mother but in the same day lost his father and some woman is living in his house.
I remember when I told my daughter-in-law, who loves me, my son’s wife, I said, we were out having lunch and I said, “Oh, I’ve got something to tell you.”
And she says, “What’s that?”
I says, “Well, I’m a crossdressing lesbian.”
She says, “Oh. You wanna go shopping?” And we did. She takes me shopping everytime I’m in Connecticut.
And it was a soft acceptance because they still had some concerns, really, about Stefanie and Dad.
One day after $350 worth of mimosas in five different locations, the younger one said, “Would you be comfortable if we called you Tía?” which is “auntie” in Spanish.
I said, “Yeah.” That moment, Stefanie, who had lived in the closet for 68 years in the third-person, that moment became a human being. And Stephen went in the closet never to be seen again.
As it relates to when to tell persons, I took advantage of the opportunity. What you gotta do is find that moment when everybody seems supportive of you, their father, and say, “Well, there’s more to me that just being your father. And I hope you’re going to be comfortable with your new aunt.”
Trans Woman’s Life Changed After Finding A Mentor.
I needed acceptance as a human being. Not male, not female, not trans. I just needed acceptance and a friend that could guide me through this morass of conflict. How short should the skirt be? How long? What should I wear to the theater? What should I wear to a fundraising gala?
After my wife’s death in August of 2012, I ran into a prospective business client. I asked her what she did and she said she was an actress and I said, “Oh.”
She said, “Yeah, I’m with the Raven Theater. The Raven has a great relationship with the LGBT community. Opening night, they have what they call – Thursday, Friday after opening night, they have what they call ‘Out at the Raven.’ You need to come… dressed.” I don’t know how she knew but she did. She seemed to take a like to me as a woman. She knew that I was transgender but she, as a genetic, true genetic woman, just treated me like an equal. She started out by taking me out and introducing me as her friend to all the ensemble members at the Raven theater.
As we went through time, she looked at my clothes – and I remember the first time, I had a pair of used, second hand boots in the middle of a snow storm, and I just about fell off the stairs because the boots were so sloppy.
She says, “We’re going shopping.” A week later, we went out and I went on my first professional shopping trip. Six and a half hours – without lunch – Liz insisted that I look at every single rack. I ended up selecting seventy pieces, tried on thirty, and bought fourteen outfits – some of them, I’m still wearing today. So that was my first dressing experience.
One year passes and she takes me out shopping again. This time, it doesn’t need to be six and a half hours. We get it done in five.
As I’m walking out the door, the little lady in the store says, “Oh! We’re having a fashion show later in the month. Would you like to be in it?”
I said, “Yes!” I already had three outfits that would be very well. At the fashion show, I was the best-dress woman. I had the smallest ass and the best clothes.
You’ve got to find a mentor because every day we’re stepping on a landmine. With no support out there, you’ll kill yourself because you can never succeed because you don’t know what success is. Until you have somebody – a mentor, a woman – who you respect as a woman, is willing to help you become the woman she is, at least in appearance, that’s critical. So I’m saying pick a role model, pick somebody, befriend them. Then be honest and ask them to help you. That’s what a Liz does for you.
“I’ve Been Helped By So Many People On My Journey To Womanhood.”
Looking back at all those people that have helped me get to where I am today, I’m just so thankful for what they’ve helped me with. All I want to do is find a way to pay those people back and pay it forward for others so they can be as happy as I am.
Little did I know on October 5th, I’d get a call that would change my life one more time and enable me to help others and give back in ways I’d never thought possible. I was walking on the riverwalk out in Naperville. I tend to do about three miles a day and do three miles an hour. I get a call from my stepsister and she said Maury, my stepfather, has passed.
I said, “Oh. All right, I’m walking right now. I’ll call you in a little bit.” I called her and I said, “I will get there as soon as I can.” Because he lived in Wenatchee, Washington, which is a two hour drive from Seattle. So I jumped on a plane, flew to Seattle, got a rental car, drove through the mountains in the middle of the night.
I got to my daughters’ house and she said, “We have an appointment with Maury’s attorney tomorrow and you didn’t respond to my email.”
I said, “What? You said we’re going to go see Maury’s attorney.”
She says, “Do you inherit a million dollars every year?”
I said, “Not every year.” And it really wasn’t a million dollars – but close enough for breakage. In that moment, Stefanie realized that she could do anything she wanted to do. Even before she flew back from the funeral, she’d already made plans. She was going to move to the city. She was going to buy a condo on the lake – nothing in between the lake and her, none of these streets or parks. She was going to be more active in the Raven Theater. She was going to go to the Center on Halsted and begin her gender marker change. She was going to get involved with the Art Institute.
From October 5th through December 5th, she had accomplished every one of those objectives. So now what do I have? I’ve been on the board of the Raven Theater. Still respected, out in the community, doing community development for them. I’m at the Center on Halsted. I did my gender marker change – one of the fastest changes. We did it in seven months. Normally it takes about two years. I’m part of the Speakers’ Bureau. We have discussions. I speak in front of university students, college students, retirement centers, nursing homes and future Catholic churches.
I’ve been helped by so many people on my journey to womanhood. From Liz, who taught me how to dress, to Phoebe, who taught me how to drink Italian wine, to the Center on Halsted, which has helped me change my life, to the Raven Theater, which allowed me to experience theater at its basis, and to the Art Institute, which allows me to give back some.
I try to live my life looking forward. It’s hard because you can have your own pity party. What I’m saying is, look for the things that work for you and leverage up those. Because you don’t know when that really good thing is going to come along and change your life. If it doesn’t come along, just live your life to the fullest. If it does come along, leverage that puppy and ride it as long as you can.
Trans Woman Finds Companionship Late In Life. “I laugh harder now than I have in twenty years.”
I had lived with a woman for 44 years and then had to live alone for six. And then one day, on October 15th, 2017, I get a call from the Center on Halsted.
“We think we’ve found you a companion. She’s a younger woman. She’s only 68.”
I said, “Okay.”
They said, “We’d like to come out and introduce you two. And then she can see Stefanie’s Riviera and see whether you and she are compatible.” The Center on Halsted has a home sharing agreement program. What it basically does is matches people like me who have an extra room or whatever with people who are looking for quality housing at a reasonable price. Not easily done in Chicago.
One of the things that the Center does, it’s kinda like AirBNB, they manage the whole process. They do the screening. They determine whether there’s compatibility between the client and the homeowner. They do the validation of the client. They even write the contract.
She arrived the next week, fell in love with the condo. I ended up cooking her dinner that night. The Center on Halsted finished up the contract and on November 3rd, my companion moved in and she has made my house a home in 30 days.
We have hour long breakfasts talking about what we’ve done the day before or what we’re going to do in the future. She loves to cook. I like cooking. We have cooking duels. She tends to cook from the recipe. I tend to cook from the refrigerator.
We go to the theater. We go to the symphony. We meet and share with my friends. She is now my live-in editor.
I laugh harder now than I have in twenty years. I love alliterations. I’m a shitty speller. She corrects those things and makes me a better person.
This morning we were talking about next year, we need to go bareboat chartering in the Caribbean. And then she wants to go to Spain the following year. These are all things – doing them by yourself isn’t any fun, but doing it with another human being that you like – love is not the word – this truly is a companionship.
So what a companion does, it really just amplifies, it exaggerates your emotion. It allows the noise to become louder. It allows you to grow from a stagnant point in time and be inward looking. To me, just like when you get married the first time, there is a sense of belonging being with another human being. Man or woman is not meant to be alone.
Keep looking. It may take a while, but cast your net wide and be willing to say “Next.”