Susan Stanton debuts in D.C.

She will join a large group to lobby Congress today for transgender rights.

Published May 15, 2007

WASHINGTON - After months of notoriety in her hometown for wanting to become a woman, Susan Stanton found for the first time Monday what it's like to be one of the gang.

Swarmed as she stepped into an evening reception at the National Press Club, Stanton smiled and chatted with the media and other transgender people.

Some she had come to know since March when the Largo City Commission fired her, as Steve Stanton, from the job of city manager. Others she had met since arriving in the nation's capital Saturday as one of more than 120 people who will lobby Congress today for transgender rights.

But in the end, Susan Stanton's formal debut as a woman on the national stage Monday night required nothing more than to be present. She gave no formal remarks at the reception, hosted by the National Center for Transgender Equality. Dressed in a lacy, gold-and-sage tunic over an asymetrical sage skirt, she merely showed up and socialized.

"It's amazing how many well-adjusted, well-accomplished, happy, interactive people there are at this event," said Stanton, as she nibbled on olives toward the end of the reception. That fact had surprised her, she said, making her realize she had harbored some of the same biases about the transgender community that people in Largo had about her.

"It's been a learning experience for me, too," she mused.

Building bonds

Stanton arrived in Washington alone Saturday morning, without her wife or son. Since then, she has dined and chatted with other transgender people, including authors whose work has guided and inspired her.

Each conversation has a recurring theme: How to tell their stories and avoid stereotypical media renditions of their experiences. Stanton is writing a book about her transition and is currently working on the section where she was fired as city manager of Largo.

Before she came out as a transsexual, Stanton didn't feel a kinship with other transgender people. She had the same sense of awkwardness that some people had expressed about her.

Now, she's meeting professional, stable transgender women like herself and building bonds with them.

"I thanked her for dealing with things she dealt with, with such grace and courage," said Donna Rose, a transsexual woman who wrote about her own journey and met Stanton on Sunday.

Stanton, who has undergone hormone treatments and electrolysis to remove body hair, began her public transition to being a woman in earnest last week after she posed for a portrait for a story that ran Sunday in the St. Petersburg Times. She plans to undergo gender reassignment surgery in the future and has also applied and been accepted as a finalist for the job of Sarasota city manager.

A blow dry, manicure

Monday night's reception capped a busy day for Stanton, who awoke about 2:50 a.m. She couldn't sleep, so she wrote in her journal for an hour and a half.

About 5 a.m., she went on a run to the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Capitol. Later that morning, she changed hotels after a scheduling conflict, checking in for the first time as Susan Stanton. She had to travel to Washington as Steve Stanton.

Later in the morning, she had her first professional blow dry and manicure.

For the day's events, her hair was styled fluffy on top with wispy bangs in front. She chose a soft rose color to accent her sporty nails. She admired herself in the mirror.

"I could get used to this," she said, as the manicurist massaged her hands.

Lunch was a salad followed by an hour of media interviews with local and national outlets. The afternoon took her to a closed-door training session with others about how to lobby Congress today, when more than 140 appointments are scheduled for the group.

After the training, Stanton retreated to a bar across the street for a light supper of appetizers before getting ready for the reception. Maryanne Arnow, a professional chef from Germantown, Md., approached her.

Arnow, also transgender, had never been politically active, she told Stanton. "But it was what happened in your life that sent a lightning bolt in me," she said, surprising Stanton. "I knew it was time. I had to start getting involved."

The two women hugged.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 727 445-4155.