Stephanie Mott knew there was something different about her from the time she was a young child.

Stephanie Mott knew there was something different about her from the time she was a young child.
She said she remembers sitting in the stairwell of her family’s rural Eudora home searching through the encyclopedia trying to understand what made her feel the way she felt.
Stephanie was born in Lawrence in 1957, and her parents named her Steven Michael. She was raised as a boy and lived as a man until she was 48 years old.
“I had a very beautiful and blessed childhood, but every day I entered into a play where I pretended to be Steven. It was not me, and it was not something that defined me inside,” Mott said.
Mott and Alexander Earles were in McPherson Saturday on behalf of K-STEP, a transgender education group, to present a forum about people who are transgender.

Living a lie
Mott said when she was growing up she knew two things for sure.
1. She felt like her sisters on the inside, but she knew she was more like her brothers on the outside.
2. She could not talk about her feelings. She said she knew members of her family thought people who where like herself were abominations to God.
As Mott became older, she found it more and more difficult to live within the gender she had been assigned.
“I can’t explain how horrible it is to pretend you are someone you are not, every day of your life,” Mott said.
When Renée Richards, a transgender women, tried to compete in the women’s U.S. Open tennis tournament in 1976, Mott said she knew for the first time it was possible to transition between sexes. She did not know the word transgender until she was 35 and did feel transitioning was something she could do until she was 48.
To dull her pain, Mott started drinking and using drugs.
Depression is common among people who are transgender, Mott said. About 41 percent of people who are transgender try to commit suicide some time in their lives.
Mott tried to live the life of a heterosexual man. Mott was married to women twice, but both relationships ended in divorce.
“I thought about what I could do to be a better man. I thought if I could find the right woman ...” Mott said. “It was never going to work. I could never be that person. You can’t have a relationship with a person if it is not on a solid foundation.”

Rock bottom
By 2005, Mott was still living as a man, but was drinking heavily and homeless. She called her sisters to ask if she could stay with them until she got back on her feet. They said no.
“They were tired of watching me kill myself with alcohol,” she said.
Mott ended up in a rescue mission in Topeka. She entered into substance abuse treatment.

New birth
She began going to a church and eventually became a Christian. She was introduced to a church where there was a transgender support group. Meeting other transgender women gave Mott the courage to start living as a woman.
She couldn’t dress as a woman at the mission because she knew this would cause her to be met with violence. The threat of violence toward people who are transgender continues to be a major concern. One transgender person per month is murdered in the United States because of who they are. At the time Mott started living as a woman, the murder rate was twice as high.
A friend took her to a thrift store and helped her pick out a dress and the perfect set of earrings. The first time, she dressed as a woman, she changed in the church’s women’s bathroom while someone stood outside to prevent her from being interrupted.
She signed her name for the first time as Stephanie Mott in the church attendance book.
Stephanie now lives and works opening as a woman.
“I am a real woman. I am a natural woman. Mother nature was in the birth room when I came into this world,” Mott said.
She is an advocate for equality and people who are transgender. She has given more than 250 lectures on transgender. Mott said she sees telling her story as a privilege. She does not seek to change people’s minds about transgender, but she hopes to lessen the hate.
“What I hope is people will see my humanness — that I am a person and individual and they will not discriminate against me or think there is something wrong with me,” Mott said.

Identical, but different
Alexander Earles, 24, also spoke at the forum Saturday in McPherson.
Earles was born as a female with an identical twin sister in Illinois, but his family moved to Kansas when he was young.
Earles said he knew something was different about him when he was in the third grade. He went to get his haircut and was disappointed when the stylist handed him a book of girls’ haircuts. He wanted to be like his brothers and wear his hair in a buzz cut. He settled for a pixie cut.
Earles continued to favor boys’ clothing. As he grew older, it was more difficult for him to make excuses why he wanted to appear more like a boy.
When he was 16, he rented the movie “Boys Don’t Cry,” which is based on the true life and murder of a transgender person.
“I cried at the end of it,” he said. “I watched it over and over.”

Downward spiral
When he was 18, Earles came out to his family as a lesbian. Even though his mother had been involved with a woman, she and the rest of her family were not accepting of Earles’ announcement.
Alex finally told his mother about his desire to live as a man, this news also was not met with acceptance.
Earles attended community college and then entered the military, where he served as a woman.
During his time in the military, Earles was sexually assaulted. He felt trapped, he couldn’t tell anyone about being transgender, because it would have meant a dishonorable discharge from the military.
As Earles tried to come to terms with his gender identity and the assault, he spiraled downward.
Multiple suicide attempts and psychiatric hospitalizations followed.

Finding peace
Earles finally received a honorable medical discharge from the Army and moved back to Kansas. Seven months ago, Earles started taking hormones and living as a man.
“I look at it this way. I either live life as myself and have a chance I might be murdered or I hide who I am, and life is not worth living,” Earles said. “It keeps me going. I have to be OK totally with who I am.”
Although Mott has come to peace with her sisters, and says she has a better relationship with them now than she has in years, Earles said he still struggles with his family relationships.
Earles’ twin has not expressed any tendencies toward being transgender, and this has made it more difficult for Earles’ family to accept him.
Mott said her family had to go through a grieving process. They had to grieve the loss of their brother before they could embrace their sister.
“This is just a vessel,” Mott said. “I am still in here. I am who I am.”