British novelist George Eliot once said, “It’s never too late to become what you might have been.” Nobody knows that better than Gloria Suzanne Stein. After living for more than six decades as Bernard “Butch” Rosichan, owner of a wrecking & salvage business in Florida, the father of two underwent a transformation via male-to-female reassignment surgery at age 67 and started a new life as a woman.
Stein went on to found the South Florida Gender Coalition and at age 78 is a leading advocate for the transgendered community. She lives with Dan Friedman, 59, her partner of 10 years who started out life as a woman.
Unlike many transgender people, Stein did not feel as though she was born in the wrong body. Bernard “Butch” Rosichan liked being man, albeit a man who had early encounters with cross-dressing. Gloria’s actual tipping point was legal trouble during an ugly divorce proceeding: Rosichan was held in contempt of court and decided to go into hiding as a woman for 60 days. She made that choice permanent in 2001.
“My Uncle Gloria,” Stein’s fascinating journey, is the subject of both a forthcoming memoir (with her nephew Steven Shulman) and a documentary.
We spoke with the ever-evolving Stein via telephone from her Florida home.
What does “aging with attitude” mean to you?
Well, I know one thing: I have plenty of attitude to go with my aging! I may be 78, but my mind doesn’t know that – my body may know it sometimes, but at 78 I feel like I did at 48, 38, even 28. I kibitz, I kid, I have fun, I go, I do, I chase… whatever. My age doesn’t stop me from doing anything.
Tell us about the transformation from Butch to Gloria.
I was successful in business, I was married and I had two children. I did everything normally; I never thought about doing what I am doing now.
When my ex-wife and I were going through the longest divorce in the history of the world, the court put out a writ of bodily attachment against me, which means ‘bring the body and put it in jail,’ which they did for 120 days. Then they put out a second one and I said, “no way.” A friend of mine knew that I had been cross-dressing and suggested that I go into hiding at his house and go full time as a female. The writs last for 60 days – if you aren’t taken in within 60 days it’s null and void. So that’s how I got into it.
I have always liked women – woman are the greatest thing since sliced bread – so at some point it’s almost as if I said, “Hey Butch, if you like women so much, why don’t you become one?!” Why not? I had lost everything and I wanted to keep Gloria alive, I liked her.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about being a woman?
That I could get away with damn nearly anything I wanted! Good-looking women, I have found out, can get away with murder. I never believed it until I became one. In traffic, people let me in; as a man, never. Doors are opened by total strangers, women smile, and men say hello.
What would you like people to understand about transgenderism?
There are a lot of people out there, believe it or not, who think that when a man puts on a woman’s clothing that he is doing it to attract little children That is absolutely ridiculous. But things are changing, and it seems like more people have come out of the woodwork in the last 10 years. Not many in my age range, more in their teens, twenties and 30s, but I am different. And Dan and I; isn’t that something? He was a she, and she was a he! We are a rarity, but it is pretty amazing. We go into some of the raunchiest bars in West Texas, and no one has a clue. A couple of times I’ve been asked to dance, and I did. We fit right on in.
What’s the thing you’ve been most proud of in your life as an activist for the transgender community?
Being able to ease a lot of the fear these people have. It’s a scary thing. Anyone who says they’re not scared is lying. My proudest moments have been answering the common questions that come to me: “What should I expect?”; “How do I use the bathroom?”; “Does it hurt?’ etc. During these transitions, it’s important to have someone on the inside that you can trust. I’m happy to be that person.
What do you do for fun?
I travel all the time and I am active in both my synagogue and a Universal Unitarian congregation. Gloria would like to sleep more, but I have white cat that is in love with me and wakes me up at 4AM every day with a kiss on the lips!
What do you know now that you wish you had known at 30?
I would have changed sooner. If the situation was different, and knowing what I know now, I would have done this ages ago. I made myself into the kind of woman I would have wanted to marry as a man.