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His second self

For decades, he tried to deny his urge to be a woman. Now, he and his female side are finally merging, and career and family are splintering. "I realized, all my life, I'd been looking in the mirror to check my clothes, my hair, my teeth. But until then,
Published Mar. 11, 2007
Updated Apr. 12, 2007

When it was finally over - after he had listened to people talk for four hours about how depraved he was, how sinful and untrustworthy - Steve Stanton handed over his office key and walked out of the City Hall he had run for 14 years.

He climbed into his Lexus and turned on a CD. Wynonna Judd sang, "Is it over yet?" Steve tried not to be angry even though the Largo vote had been 5-2 against him. He tried not to feel sorry for himself.

It was after 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27. He thought everybody would be in bed when he got home. His 13-year-old son, Travis, had school the next day. And Steve hadn't shared a room with his wife, Donna, for years.

When he turned into the driveway, he was surprised to see the kitchen lights still on. By the time he shut off the engine, Travis had flung open the door. He ran to his dad and hugged him. Donna came out and hugged Steve, too, for the first time in months.

"We watched the whole thing on TV," Travis said. "Why did they fire you? Why were those people saying such mean things about you?"

Steve shook his head. "Because they don't understand."

- - -

How was anyone supposed to understand?

How could Steve even begin to talk about the mirrors and the clogs, the birthday cards and clothes, the two sets of journals, the loneliness and lies?

How could this tough, 48-year-old city manager who had commanded 1,000 employees, who had rappelled with the firefighters and trained with the SWAT team, explain why he wanted to be a woman?

He had started with his wife. This is not about kinky sex or being gay or strutting like a drag queen, he told her. It's about who I am.

At first, Donna tried to understand. She even took him shoe shopping. It was like a game. Then it wasn't a game anymore.

"I believe you didn't choose to be this way," she told him. But someone who wants to be a woman isn't what she wants in a husband.

You need to know I tried, Steve said. I agonized over this, went to therapy, fought it for 40 years.

You need to understand: I tried to kill Susan.

- - -

Steve Stanton has known he is different as long as he has known his name.

He was born in September 1958 in New York's Catskill Mountains. His father - a distant man, Steve says - was the personnel manager at a knife factory; his mother stayed home with Steve, his older sister and younger brother. They did typical family things together. They camped, built backyard forts, gathered for dinner every night.

But mostly, Steve was a loner. He was always in his room studying, in the basement tending to 50 tanks of tropical fish, taking walks with his gray poodle, Misty.

She was his only confidant. Even when he was 6, Steve says, he would walk her through the woods, saying out loud what he was ashamed even to think.

"I want to be a girl," Steve told his dog. "I think I am a girl, inside."

He told the dog he hated mirrors because his reflection didn't match who he really was. He told her about the time he stole his sister's blue clogs and clip-clopped to Mr. Brown's candy store. He said he was scared of what was inside him.

He thought about how much easier everything would be if he had been born a girl. One day when he was 8 or 9, he asked his mom, "If I'd been a girl, what would you have named me?"

"Susan," she said.

"It was like an electrical charge went through me," Steve says now. "I remember wanting to yell, 'That's it! That's who I am!' "

- - -

He started keeping journals in fourth grade. Every night after his brother fell asleep, Steve would curl up in the corner of their room with a diary.

He wrote about how hard school was, how much it hurt when other kids called him Jew boy. Mostly, though, he wrote about Susan. The journal was the only place he could reveal that part of himself, try to figure out what it was. He didn't have a split personality, he says. Susan was simply the other side of him, the piece that made him whole.

He filled pages with his feelings and thoughts, but he never wrote the word Susan. He didn't want anyone to know her name.

In his writing, Steve called her "my second self."

- - -

Puberty was torture. The more his body changed, the more he felt he was losing who he was supposed to be. When peach fuzz began to sprout above his lip, he stole his sister's pink plastic razor and whisked it away.

But he had to do something to fix himself, to become the man his body was telling him he should be. One afternoon he stuffed all his diaries into a bag, dropped them in a can and burned them.

He thought Susan was gone.

In high school, other boys bragged about their sexual exploits, but Steve didn't want to hear. He wasn't attracted to anyone, really, girls or boys. He never asked anyone out. He didn't go to his prom.

"I never thought anything of it," says Steve's dad, Web Stanton, who lives outside Tallahassee. "I just thought he was too cheap."

Steve spent his time playing basketball, delivering papers, scrubbing bathrooms at his father's company.

He didn't write in his journal. But he still dreamed of being Susan. In his dreams, his body matched his brain.

- - -

Steve's parents split up in his senior year in high school, and his mom asked him to take some of her clothes to the Salvation Army. By then, Steve's sister had moved out, so he had his own room.

He was 17. He'd never worn a dress.

He spent hours that day poring through his mom's discard pile, picking out outfits. At the bottom of the heap, he found a white tennis dress.

He slipped it on. It hugged his thin hips. He loved how the fabric felt against his skin.

He slept in the dress that night. And the next.

When he left for the University of Florida in 1977, he took it with him.

- - -

Steve rented an apartment by himself. He majored in psychology, thinking it might help him figure out what was going on in his head.

He never went to football games or frat parties. He spent weekends shopping - and becoming Susan behind closed doors.

He would buy nightgowns and cheap dresses, always long-sleeved and floor-length to hide his hairy arms and legs. He would buy a birthday card so the clerk would think the clothes were a gift.

After his first semester in college, Steve bought a journal: a leather-bound volume with lined, dated pages. His first entry was on Jan. 1, 1978, in black ballpoint pen, in almost illegible script.

"Life is funny," he wrote. "And God works in mysterious ways. ... It is up to us all to seek the truth about ourselves. I will try to do just that."

- - -

Psychology turned out to be too hard, so Steve got his degree in political science, then stayed another year for a master's. When it was time to leave Gainesville, he knew he had to kill Susan. Again.

He stuffed a closetful of clothes into trash bags and dragged them to the trash bin. The last thing he wedged in was the white tennis dress.

The next few years took Steve to Washington, D.C., New York, Alaska, Champaign, Ill., then Kentucky. Susan died each time. Every move to a new place gave Steve faint hope that he could be someone the world could accept.

But every time he landed in a new city, he bought another wardrobe.

- - -

At work, Steve seemed to have it all together. In 1986 he got his first job as a city manager, in Berea, Ky.

In an aerobics class in nearby Lexington, Steve met a woman named Donna. She was tall and voluptuous, with blonde hair and a soft voice. She laughed a lot.

Steve thought she was gorgeous. But he wasn't really attracted to her. At 30, he says, he was still a virgin.

Donna, who was seven years older, had been married before. At first, she didn't like Steve. He was sarcastic, condescending, not considerate of other people's feelings, she says. He seemed uncomfortable. But the social worker in her saw he needed a friend.

Eventually, Steve invited Donna to his apartment. He had bought another wardrobe of women's clothes by then, and he hid everything in a blue trunk.

One afternoon, Donna saw Steve's diary and asked to read it. Okay, he said, but not this one. He gave her the one from his first year in college. It never spelled out his desire to be a woman. It didn't mention Susan.

When Donna thinks about those days now, she wonders how she missed the signs. In a four-hour phone conversation last week, she poured out her story, beginning with that afternoon she spent deciphering the cramped handwriting in his journal.

"I saw a different side of him in those pages. There was a vulnerability about him," Donna says. "If I'd never read his journals, we probably never would have dated."

She didn't know it, but she had fallen in love with Susan.

- - -

They had been dating for eight months when Steve got an offer to move to Florida and be an assistant city manager in Largo.

The third-largest city in Pinellas County, Largo is home to 76,000 people. It's about 90 percent white and has more than 60 churches. It is known for its parks, mobile homes and downtown feed store. It calls itself the City of Progress.

Steve asked Donna to marry him and move with him to Florida.

She asked him if he was gay.

"I'd wondered, after reading some of his journals. He wrote somewhat in code, but it was obvious he felt ... differently ... about a lot of situations," she says.

Steve assured her he wasn't gay.

They had a short ceremony in Myrtle Beach, S.C. When they got to Largo, Steve tossed his women's clothes into a trash bin. He wrote in his journal: "I've gotten rid of my second self."

- - -

Now that he had Donna, he thought, he didn't need Susan. Cat Stevens lyrics kept playing in his head: "Find a girl, settle down." Marriage - that would be the cure.

For seven years, it worked. Donna found a job in a nursing home. Steve was promoted to city manager. They bought a house. Travis was born. Donna quit her job and became a soccer mom.

Steve didn't buy women's clothes. He didn't write about Susan in his journals. He was just Steve, workaholic city manager, husband and father. Regular guy.

Until 1998. When he had a dream.

In the dream he was Susan, and everyone could see it. Steve woke up in a panic: She was back.

He got on the Internet and typed in "transvestite." A new world opened up to him, one with cross-dressers and drag queens, gays and lesbians, bisexuals and asexuals, and something called a transgender. Steve says he had never heard that word. He was sure he wasn't one.

He got lost in cross-dressing Web sites. He started coming home late from work, then holing up in his study to look at them. When Donna walked in, he'd click off his computer. "City business," he'd say.

Finally, she told him she knew. He was having an affair.

No, Steve told her. It's not that.

She started crying.

In bed that night, Steve touched her shoulder. "There's something I have to tell you," he said. He kept talking in circles, telling her how much he loved her. Finally, he blurted, "I think I might be a cross-dresser."

He didn't tell her he had worn dresses before. And he didn't tell her about Susan. Just that he had been looking at Web sites and thought he'd like to dress up.

Donna laughed. "Steve," she said, "you are the most conservative, judgmental person I know. That's just too funny to be true."

He told his wife, "It's not a joke."

- - -

Cross-dressing? Was that all it was? Donna was relieved. She even said she would help him.

On a Saturday evening in January 1998, while their son was at a sleep-over, Donna took her husband to Payless ShoeSource. She pretended to be shopping for pumps, then let Steve try them on.

He has small feet - size 8 - so it was easy to find shoes that fit. At first, he teetered in the black pumps.

Then Donna took him to Ross Dress for Less, where she helped him buy a blue dress, size 12, and panty hose. He had never worn panty hose.

"I thought it was just a little fetish," Donna says, "something we could giggle about together. I didn't know he'd been struggling with this all his life. In my mind, he'd try it out and see a ridiculous-looking man in a dress. He'd figure out the foolishness of it and it'd be over with.

"If I had known what I was doing," she says, "I probably never would have done it."

The next night, in their bedroom, she showed him how to roll up panty hose. She zipped his dress. She gave him a blond wig she'd worn to a costume party and did his make-up: thick foundation to cover his whiskers, lipstick, shimmery eye shadow, mascara.

One wall of their living room was filled with full-length mirrors. Donna led Steve toward them.

"I was laughing. He was Halloween, a masquerade," Donna says.

Steve stared at himself for a long time. He says he didn't even see his shoes, the dress, the wig. He was looking into his own eyes. He couldn't believe that after all these years, he was seeing Susan.

"This person I'd been running from was right there, staring back at me in the mirror," he says. "I knew once she was out I couldn't put her back in again."

Watching her husband watch himself, Donna felt sick. "It wasn't funny to him," she says, her voice catching. "He was connecting with that image and it frightened me. I think he said something like, 'So there she is!' "

After midnight, still in makeup, Steve opened his journal. On Jan. 19, 1998, he wrote the first entry in Susan's voice.

"Well, finally I'm free to see the world as I am. To look in the mirror and see my own image. I have protected him for so many years, waiting for my chance to see the world as he does. ... I'm the softness in his heart and the caring in his mind. I have comforted him when he feels alone and protected him from rejection, from hurt. I've always been with him. And he's always been with me. For so many years, I've cried out in his sleep to be whole, to express my femininity while he expressed his maleness. I promise to act as one. I can make him a fuller person. But I am real. And I need light, no less than he does ..."

- - -

Come with me, he begged Donna. Help me navigate this new world.

Donna was trying to be supportive. She called a friend, asked her to keep Travis for the evening.

They drove to Orlando, to a big hotel, where 60 men in drag were meeting in a support group for heterosexual cross-dressers. Some brought their wives. As Steve and Donna crossed the parking lot together, Steve kept staring at his shadow. In those heels, that dress and wig, his outline looked like a woman's. This was Susan's public debut.

But inside the meeting, Steve got squirrelly. He wasn't like those other men in dresses.

Donna wanted to go home. She kept thinking, "This is my date night?"

Three weekends, they drove the 90 minutes, only to realize they didn't fit in with that group. Finally, Donna struck a deal. If Steve had to do this, that was one thing. But she didn't want any part of it.

Once a month, Steve could go out of town and do whatever he had to do. But he couldn't talk about it. He could never dress up at home.

And they couldn't tell anyone. Ever.

- - -

Steve called those weekends "boy's night out."

He'd tell Travis he was going away on business, or to run a marathon. He always packed four bags: A garment bag for his suit and ties; a gym bag for running clothes; a rolling suitcase for Susan's wardrobe; and another gym bag of makeup.

He'd drive to Jacksonville, Savannah or Atlanta, where he figured no one would know him. He'd check into a hotel and start the transformation.

It took at least two hours for Susan to emerge. First he would tug on a sports bra, then four pairs of stockings. He needed at least that many to keep the hair on his legs from poking out. Long skirt and long sleeves. The wig, low heels.

He developed his own process for applying makeup: Dot lipstick across your beard and moustache areas and blend. Add two or three layers of liquid foundation and you can barely see the razor burn. He got good at accenting his blue eyes, inking his pale lashes.

The first few weekends, he went to nightclubs, gay and straight. He didn't like either. He got nervous when guys looked at him. He thought he was passing. But he didn't want them trying to buy him a drink. Just like in high school, he wasn't interested in sex with anybody; it wasn't about that.

Maybe Susan would be more comfortable someplace a little more upscale, he thought. So one weekend, Steve put on a woman's suit and pulled into the parking lot of Orlando's Adam's Mark Hotel.

He walked toward the glass front doors and hesitated. He started and stopped three times before he finally dared go in. The doorman held the door for him and said, "Good evening, ma'am."

He had made it. She had made it.

Soon, he was wearing dresses everywhere on those secret weekends. He would sit on benches at malls and study how women walk, what they wear, how they move their hands. He learned to speak more softly, to raise the inflection of his voice and shift his speech patterns.

"At the drive-through, a man says, 'Give me some fries,' " Steve says. "With women, it's usually, 'Can I please have some fries?' Gender is about so much more than just the way we dress."

Some Saturdays, when he got back to the hotel, Steve would call Donna. Often, she'd be angry. Eventually he stopped calling.

In each strange city, before he went to bed, Steve would unpack a little black frame with an old photo of Travis. He'd put it on the nightstand and push the button.

"Hi Daddy. I miss you so much," the photo would say, in Travis' 4-year-old voice. "I can't wait until you get home."

- - -

While Steve was going out to dinner and concerts as Susan, Donna was home with Travis, watching rented movies. She never went out when he was away. What if someone asked, "Where's Steve?"

She hated lying. She hated his being gone. She got sick of thinking about him somewhere in a dress. What if someone saw him? What if someone jumped him? He wasn't used to thinking like a woman.

They found a marriage counselor who specialized in cross-dressing. They agreed they both loved their son, their home and friends, their standing in the community. So they agreed to stay together and keep the secret.

"That's how we lived for years," Donna said. "And I hated it. I felt like a fraud."

- - -

At work, Steve was the buttoned-up, short-fused boss, the face of Largo's aggressive annexation policy and its quest to become a real city with 10-story buildings downtown. He demanded perfection from his employees, was quick to fire them if they questioned him. Nobody would have guessed he was Susan on weekends.

He managed to keep a solid wall between the two personas - until 2003.

That year, commissioners were considering a human rights ordinance that would have protected transgender people - people who prefer to present in the opposite gender. Steve said he supported the ordinance, but he didn't push for it. He was afraid someone would make him defend his view. And he knew he wasn't impartial, so it would be hard to consider the city's best interests on the issue.

"We were drafting this stuff and some people were trying to figure it out, but others were just snickering," Steve says. "Someone would make a distasteful joke and I'd go red."

The law came up for a public hearing. Until then, Steve said, he hadn't really understood what it meant to be transgender. The men in dresses - that's what they looked like to him - scared him when they spoke to the commission. He didn't think he was one of them.

But their stories sounded familiar. His journals were filled with all the things they were saying. He felt small, sitting there in his big chair, in his tailored suit.

The commission voted against the ordinance. Later, one of the commissioners called Steve aside. She knew he believed in the law. Why hadn't he fought harder for it?

Steve hung his head.

- - -

After years of wondering, denying, pretending and hiding, he had to know: What was he? Where did he fit in? Was there a treatment for whatever he had?

He looked up Dr. Kathleen Farrell, a clinical psychologist who had spoken at the Largo meeting. Farrell, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati, has spent more than 20 years working with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Tampa Bay area. She also founded Starburst, the area's first transgender support group .

Steve drove to her office in a St. Petersburg church. Shaking, he knocked on the door.

Farrell told Steve to stand in front of a large oval mirror. She asked, "What do you see?"

He saw a pasty man with short brown hair, a few flecks of gray creeping up the temples. He saw a thick neck, strong jaw and full lips. Steve ran his hand across his stubbly cheeks. It felt so wrong.

Steve told Farrell about his childhood, about the clogs and tennis dress, about trying to kill Susan and live with Donna. He told her about his journals. For the last year he had been keeping two - one for Steve and one for Susan.

Farrell asked him: If you could take a pill that would make you feel the same on the inside as you are on the outside, would you take it?

Steve didn't hesitate. "Absolutely not."

- - -

The psychologist ran tests. Steve's blood work and testosterone levels were normal. After three months of counseling, Farrell diagnosed him with gender identity disorder. No other mental illness, she said, could explain his lifelong desire to be female.

The disorder is described in detail in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard guide for psychological diagnosis.

"There must be evidence of a strong and persistent cross-gender identification, which is the desire to be, or the insistence that one is, of the other sex," the manual says. "There must also be evidence of persistent discomfort about one's assigned sex."

There's no cure for the condition, Farrell said. But there is treatment. Steve could start taking hormones. He could take pills to suppress his testosterone, others that would add estrogen. He would grow breasts. He could have electrolysis to remove his beard and body hair. He could start to feel and look more like a woman.

Steve hesitated. What would he tell his employees at City Hall? How would he explain his physical changes to the commission?

He met with Farrell for eight or nine months but still wasn't ready to start hormone therapy. One day, Farrell told him, "I want to meet Susan."

At their next appointment, Farrell says, a professional and "extraordinarily well-dressed woman" walked though the door, looking frightened.

"So," Steve asked, fidgeting in his dress. "What do you think?"

"You're a beautiful woman," said his therapist. He believed she meant it.

- - -

In March 2004, Steve told Donna he realized they'd grown apart and he was sorry. He said he was working on something that would make things better.

"I thought maybe he was planning a second honeymoon or a cruise, some kind of romantic getaway," Donna says. "I was getting pretty excited to find out how he was going to improve our marriage."

One night while Travis, then 10, was at a friend's house, Donna made a candlelight dinner. Steve poured wine. He handed her an eight-page letter.

It started out tracing the history of their relationship, their love. Then he got to the part where he said he had been seeing a therapist. "I need to become the person that I really am," Steve wrote to his wife. "And that person is a woman."

Donna read that page five times. The words were blurry through her tears. Her head hurt. Her stomach was in knots. "I kept thinking: I gotta get out of here," she says. "I gotta grab Travis and run."

"What about this," she asked Steve, "is going to make our marriage better?"

He said he didn't want a divorce. He just wanted to be who he was supposed to be. Sure, they'd have to adjust their relationship. But he still wanted to be Travis' parent and her partner. He'd just be Susan.

He knew he was asking a lot, but hoped somehow she would understand.

- - -

For two days, Donna stayed in bed crying.

If Steve could take a pill to suppress testosterone, couldn't he take one to add it? If his body and his brain didn't match, wouldn't it be easier to fix his mind than mess with his body? If he had lived with this for more than 40 years, why couldn't he live with it the rest of his life?

"I can't keep myself split," Steve remembers telling her. All his life, he had "put who I am aside for my parents, my career, society, my family." He says he felt like the alien in a Star Trek episode who could take on the form of whatever creature it was around. But the alien got sick and couldn't keep up the illusion. "I'm too tired," Steve said. "I can't do it anymore."

He told Donna he had come to understand how people could commit suicide. At times he thought it would be easier to die than put everyone through the humiliation they would suffer when he became a woman.

He had agonized about Travis. He had asked himself whether he could wait until his son was older before making the change. He had decided he couldn't. It would kill him. It had come down to this, he told Donna: Would it be better for Travis to have a dead dad? Or a dad who wanted to be a woman?

Steve gave Donna books and articles to read, Web sites to study and chat rooms for partners of transgender people.

"I had nothing in common with them," Donna says. "All those people were planning to stay with their partners, even after the transition. I couldn't do that."

She went to see Farrell, who told her many families work through this. Another therapist told her not to make any life decisions while the hurt was so raw.

Donna took off her wedding ring. She and Steve made a two-year plan:

Steve would start electrolysis and hormone therapy. Donna would go back to school to become a medical technician. They'd continue living as a family while he embarked on his new life. When Steve was ready to be Susan, he would move out.

They wouldn't tell Travis - or anyone - until 2007.

- - -

It hurt so much, having his beard ripped out. "Like 10,000 bees stinging your face," Steve says. Every three weeks, he'd go back for more treatments. Sometimes the technician would have to stop because he was shaking so hard.

He told his employees he had a skin condition. He got in the habit of tracing his fingers across his cheeks, exploring the softness. He started shaving the backs of his hands, then his wrists, arms and legs.

One day, during a run, Steve felt raindrops dappling his forearm. He couldn't remember ever feeling that sensation: rain right on his skin. He stopped and stood there, basking in it.

He canceled his weekly haircuts because he wanted his short crop to grow to his shoulders. He became a vegetarian and dropped 35 pounds. The hormones he was taking made him lose muscle tone. He could no longer get an erection. His breasts started to swell. He started having to wear tight undershirts beneath his dress shirts so his employees wouldn't notice.

Steve: "It was amazing, feeling those changes in my body, watching it evolve ... to what it was supposed to be."

Donna: "It was heartbreaking, seeing those changes in his body, watching him feminize himself. He was my man."

- - -

Steve was getting ready to go public. He told his brother and sister, who said they supported him. And he confided in the Largo police and fire chiefs, who were close friends as well as colleagues.

Steve chose Jan. 1, 2007, as the day he would tell Mayor Pat Gerard. She would be an important ally. Over the next few weeks, he would spill his secret to the city commissioners, then his employees. He planned to start coming to work as Susan in the summer. Sex change surgery was still way off, maybe a year or more.

At 7 a.m. the morning he was going to meet the mayor, he pulled out his journal to write about his anxieties. Travis had given him the book, a birthday gift.

Steve opened the cover. The first page was filled with block print.

"Dad," Travis had written. "I want to tell you that you're, like, the most perfect dad. You have taught me almost everything I know. Except for school stuff. I've had so much fun with you. My most favorite time was going to the Keys. ... I can't tell you how much I love you because it would fill up this whole book."

Steve turned the page, but he was too choked up to write.

He told the mayor that morning, but still didn't tell his son.

- - -

The two-year plan called for Steve to move out in March, while Travis was on spring break. After school was out, Donna would take Travis to her sister's house in Kansas. Then Steve would make his announcement.

But in February, someone leaked Steve's secret to the newspaper. A story was going to come out soon. That night, Steve called his dad. His mom died a few years ago.

Web Stanton hasn't seen his oldest son in years. "Have you thought about this?" he asked.

All my life, Steve said.

"Okay," his dad remembers saying. "I guess you do what you have to do."

The next day, at a press conference at City Hall, Steve told the world he planned to have a sex change operation and start using the name Susan. The news instantly spread on TV and the Web.

By that evening, Travis still hadn't heard. Steve and Donna sat down with him and told him. Are we still going to go scuba diving? Travis asked his dad. Are we still going to ride in the Jeep?

Of course, Steve assured him. Even when I look different, I'll still be your dad.

Travis had another question: Can I see Susan?

Steve unlocked the file cabinet in his study and pulled out two digital prints. He had used a timer and a tripod to take the photos in his own living room.

Travis stared at the pictures. "That's you?" he finally asked. "You look like a girl."

- - -

Steve stayed up late after the commissioners cast their votes and Naomi Judd sang and Donna and Travis hugged him at the door.

For the first time in years, he didn't write in his journal that night. Reporters hung around him all the next day. Almost a week would go by before he got the chance to take the leather-bound volume from his briefcase.

He finally wrote again late that Sunday, eight pages in a single voice, Steve and Susan musing together.

"I suspect my future will be in many Largos across the nation. We shall see," said the last paragraph. "I started this journey with a simple hope: Just to be me."


Since the city moved to fire him, news crews from across the country have knocked on Steve's door and set up cameras around his pool. Transgender advocates have urged him to join their cause and push for federal laws to protect people like him.

On Thursday, he appealed his dismissal with the help of a new lawyer from a gay and transgender advocacy group. He still loves Largo, he says, and doesn't want to leave.

He and Donna haven't decided when Steve will move out. They are trying to make things as easy as possible for Travis. They have talked to Travis' teachers and taken him to a family counselor.

Steve isn't sure when he'll start wearing Susan's clothes all the time. He says he's waiting for his hair to grow out so he doesn't have to wear a wig.

News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

About the story

Steve Stanton sat for hours of interviews and allowed a reporter to read passages from his journals. He gave permission to Dr. Kathleen Farrell, his psychologist, to speak to the Times about his treatment. Donna Stanton shared her story in a single, four-hour interview. Through his parents, Travis gave permission to quote from the note he wrote in his father's journal.

Lane DeGregory, a feature writer for the Times, can be reached at (727) 893-8825 or

Lorri Helfand, who covers Largo, can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or


Gender identity disorder

Steve Stanton has been diagnosed with gender identity disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, the diagnosis requires a strong identification with the opposite gender and a persistent discomfort with the gender one is born with. Boys with gender identity disorder may be preoccupied with activities traditionally viewed as feminine or have a strong desire to play games that are stereotypically classified as girl's games. They may also prefer wearing women's clothing.


Cross-dresser: A person who wears clothing most often associated with members of the opposite sex. Not necessarily connected to sexual orientation.

Transsexual: Someone who identifies himself or herself as a member of the opposite sex and who acquires the physical characteristics of the opposite sex. Transsexuals can be of any sexual orientation.

Transgender: An adjective that can encompass preoperative, postoperative or nonoperative transsexuals, female and male cross-dressers, drag queens or kings, female or male impersonators, and intersex individuals.

Source: Stylebook of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

The numbers

There aren't solid statistics on the number of transgender people. But the National Center for Transgender Equality, an advocacy group, estimates that there are 750,000 to 3-million transsexuals in the United States.