Like no one else, they know

In Largo City Manager Steve Stanton, members of a support group of transgender men see themselves.

Published March 20, 2007

On a Saturday night, in a Pinellas Park church, 17 people sat in a circle. All had been born female.

Now they go by Shawn, Nick and Josh. They talk about how long they've been taking "T" - testosterone - to deepen their voices and help grow the hair they spent years shaving.

They talk about cutting up their bodies with chest surgeries and hysterectomies so they can feel whole.

Twice a month, this support group of transgender men - some fully transitioned, others just starting the process - get together to talk. They cheer when someone's child makes the honor roll or when a group member gets his revised birth certificate.

They search for positive male role models - sensitive ones that hold babies - and supportive employers.

Since they last met, Largo city commissioners started the process to fire City Manager Steve Stanton after he announced he was having a sex change.

This group calls Steve Stanton by the name he said he would take on when he transitioned to a woman: Susan.

The group is organized by Stanton's therapist, Dr. Kathleen Farrell. They say they've broken down in tears over Stanton's treatment and faced the backlash at their own jobs.

When he heard Stanton was fired, a 51-year-old Largo resident called Jay became depressed. His family still knows him as a woman, so he agreed to be identified by his first name only. Now he tries to see deeper into people's smiles and hellos. Do they know?

"Would they still be as nice as they are?" he asked.

At work, the drama in Largo was break-room conversation at the home improvement center where he works. Jay said he stood up for Stanton.

"I think that's affected people's opinion of me," he said.

The members of the group sit like men: slumped back with their legs wide apart. Their hair is short, their clothes loose. But close your eyes and most of their voices are still female. Several brought supportive women - wives, fiancees, partners - who give a hand to hold. They sit with their legs crossed.

Nick Singer, 43, brought his partner Stacey Leone. Things were hard when Nick started going to work as a trans-man in January. But they got harder these last few weeks.

Supervisors at the insurance company are noticing mistakes they didn't used to, he said.

"It's like being pecked to death by hens," he said.

He just started "T." His voice is starting to change. That's all that matters, he said.

When 48-year-old Mick Siroy of St. Petersburg first read about Stanton, he thought: Finally, a role model. "Someone who can bring this out in the open and show that there are a lot of us."

It was a call to arms for 31-year-old Josh Goldman, a grad student at the University of South Florida.

Goldman heard people on the radio making fun of Stanton. He has been crying about it, thinking about what he can do to make Largo's issue a national one.

"We need to do something," Goldman said. "We need to do something to be a part of this movement."

The members of this group are grateful for these meetings, free of discrimination and judgment.

"How do you convince the person who says, 'If Jesus were here . . .' ?" Josh asks.

Tiffany McGill, a 22-year-old from St. Petersburg, came to support her fiance, 25-year-old Tariq Banks. She had an answer.

"Tell them angels have no sex, so they are transgendered."

Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at 727 445-4181 or tel-khoury@ sptimes.com.