By Mark McNease
I first learned about Stephanie Mott when I saw an article on an educational tour she did through Kansas last July 4th weekend. After posting about it on this site, Stephanie dropped me a “thank you” email and I thought, what a terrific voice to add to the site. I wrote her back, and now we’re including her monthly columns. We also spoke on the phone and she’s as terrific as I thought she’d be. She was generous enough to share the following interview with me.
MM: I’m delighted to have your columns on lgbtSr and wanted to give the readers a chance to get to know you. I first heard about you from reading of your educational tour through Kansas over the 4th of July weekend. What prompted that, and how do think it turned out?
SM: I was just thinking about what to do over the long weekend, and the thought came into my head. People are always traveling across the country, or across the state for a cause. Once I had the thought, I think I just pretty much had to do it.
The tour was undoubtedly one of the most remarkable four day stretches of my life. I connected on multiple occasions with people who knew a transgender person who was struggling in their journey. Had that happened only once, the tour would have been worth it. I also connected with people who wanted to know more, with people who were kind and accepting, and with a few people who were less kind.
What I didn’t expect from the tour, was that I would look at myself in a different light. Is my prejudice against someone whose appearance suggests conservatism, getting in the way of my effectiveness as a transgender educator? How does that balance with my own safety?
My upcoming column will describe the tour in greater detail.
MM: I saw on your Facebook page that you recently celebrated four years of being Stephanie. Can you elaborate on that?
SM: It is as if someone turned on a light. As though someone opened the door through which the nightmare is not allowed to follow. The impossible comes true in my life every day.
There is a scene from the movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes”, during which Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) is telling her husband that she wants Ms. Threadgood (Jessica Tandy) to come live in their home. She explains to her husband how Ms. Threadgood has changed her life, and her husband asks, “What’s changed?” Evelyn says, “The air and the light”.
Early in my transition, I spoke at a local high school Gay/Straight Alliance. I was horribly nervous and only spoke for a few minutes. After that presentation, a 17-year-old transgender person came up to me and said, “Oh my God, you changed my life.”
In that moment, my life changed as well. I knew that I had to share about my journey. It would be understandable for a person to be bitter about the lost almost 50 years, but then I would have missed the last four years as well. I am blessed with the opportunity to take something horrible, and create something good.
The last four years, have been so incredibly amazing, far more wonderful than I could have possibly imagined..
MM: Another part of your story that caught my attention is that you’re a member of Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka. I’ve been with MCC New York for about 17 years now. I think one of the greatest harms done to lgbt youth and adults is the lie that our lives are not compatible with faith. Can you speak to the place of faith in your life?
SM: When I was trying to live as a man, I was in conflict with God. When I embraced the woman God created me to be, I came into harmony with God. The lie, and it is a lie, that you can’t be LGBT and have a relationship with God, kept me separated from God for a very long time. Then I found MCC of Topeka.
My second time at MCC, Pastor Paul Evans did a sermon on II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creature. Old things are passed away. Behold, all things are become new.” I am sure he was preaching to me. I knew then, that God would be there for me in my transition.
My definition of faith is knowing that God will give me everything I need to do whatever God wants me to do. My analogy for faith is the child, leaping without fear, in complete joy, from the edge of the swimming pool, and landing in the waiting arms of a parent.
It took a while for me to learn to leap with that kind of joy. All things did indeed, become new.
MM: I know your life has had its challenges – alcoholism, homelessness, estranged from your family at times. But you’ve come through it in such an inspiring way. What would you most want to say to people faced with similar challenges – as so many of us are?
SM: It is so easy to lose sight of what’s possible, when you are in the midst of what’s horrible. I had been so certain, for so long, that I could not let anyone into my soul. Fear, anger, doubt, and shame kept me from reaching out. I had forgotten what it felt like to be a part of life.
I had to learn to believe that it was ok to reach out to someone and let them know about what was happening inside me. When I began to do that, the light began to find its way inside of me too.
Be as true to yourself as you can be. It was not possible for me to discover the miracles of life while I was denying my soul the light of self acceptance.
MM: I know you founded the Kansas State Transgender Education Project (K-STEP). How is that going?
SM: K-STEP was a dream that was born on the day I cast away my “Steven suit”, On August 14, 2010, I brought together a number of people from across Kansas, and we formed a non-profit organization, Twelve days later, we incorporated.
We are dedicated to bringing about an end to discrimination against transgender people and their families through education. We also provide resources for transgender people and their families.
In our 11 months, we have provided over 65 educational forums and workshops. Some of them have been for PFLAG chapters and other friendly places. However, we have also done trainings for two major Kansas mental health centers, for one of the largest jails in the state, for a local health department, and for a number of faith communities.
We just did a training for Ryan White Program case workers from across the state for Kansas Department of Health and Environment. It is hard to imagine that we could have come so far in such a short time. Two more major mental health centers, and one of the state’s largest county health departments are also on our upcoming schedule.
MM: You’ve come such a long way, Stephanie. It really is a privilege to have you here on the site now as well. While it’s open to anyone to read (it’s online!), it is tailored to an over-50 readership. We believe life not only goes on, but goes on with a bang! Aside from being a little slower in the joints, I love being the age I am. Could you speak to life after 49?
SM: I don’t feel old. Sometimes, my knees ache and all that. But I’ve never been more at peace. I have never been more able to experience the joys of life.
I have experienced my second puberty at the age of 50. It has given me the opportunity to survive terror with a degree of dignity and grace. For reasons that are quite simple – in many ways I am only a few years old – life seems to have only just begun.
I listened to two people one time talking about how this old woman did this, and this old woman did that. I asked them, “Just how old do you have to be to be an old woman?” They just stared at me. Then I said, “I would like to know, because someday, I would like to be one.”