Health & scienceTransformer
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Stephanie Angeline Loveless is knees-first on the center of her made bed, grinning coyly, comfortable in around-the-house lacey boxers and a purple baby-girl T. She removes from a wrinkled paper bag a gadget that looks like a prison built for a gerbil curved and straight hard plastic bars join at a clamp, which is then secured with a small brass padlock. This chastity device the CB-2000 cock-lock is used in bondage scenarios, in which the wearer is not “allowed” to come and is guaranteed agony in the event of a hard-on. Loveless pulls her boxers and full-back panties down to mid-thigh position, revealing pube-free privates and a limp penis. Her skin is pale and smooth, hairless and feminine; much younger-looking than her 46 years.
Aside from Loveless’ unwrapped display of sexuality, her lavender-favored basement bedroom in Ferndale is also telling. It’s organized and neat, chock-a-block with stuffed animals, mock Easter flowers in baskets, all-but-creepy knee-high dolls (mostly Victorian-styled) and at least one pink unicorn looking on picture a room decorated by a 14-year-old girl, circa 1974. There are a few exceptions: a guitar amp, a portable multitrack recorder, and neatly typed song lyrics affixed to a mic stand. Size 10 pumps are neatly arranged in suspended shoe racks. There’s a box of condoms here, various oils there, a TV, a microwave and multicolored chiffon nighties on hangers. Nail polish bottles stand like toy soldiers in a line on a shelf behind the bed. Glow-in-the-dark adhesive stars look down from the ceiling. It’s compressed and nearly airless, smells of skin lotion and freshly washed clothes. What’s more, her wife sleeps in an upstairs bedroom.
As she gently pulls her balls through the cock-lock’s “A ring” and slides it to the base of her scrotum and then, tenderly, affixes the rest of the cage over her genital area she talks.
She tells of once keeping the no-touchy cage secured in place for three weeks straight, even while pissing, showering and completing her daily tasks. “It’s arousal with no release,” Loveless coos, straightening her back, pulling her arms away from her crotch. The willowy Loveless is in model mode, and her face betrays no regret at having that particular body part to enclose and torment, or to show off. “My doms loved this,” she says voluntarily. “I became totally obedient, but it was three weeks without coming.” In a moment she looks down at her crotch and laughs, “though I did have wet dreams.”
Later, in a make-up cubby just off one side of the bedroom, Loveless, sans cock-lock, is dressed and seated in front of a portable, lighted makeup mirror. She’s tweeze-wrenching whiskers from her chin, which is attached to a sharp face, defined cheekbones and striking, deep-set green eyes. This excruciating plucking process a time-consuming morning routine could be avoided with electrolysis, which Loveless can’t afford. The question is sensed before it’s asked, and Loveless clucks with a barely detectable lisp, “Women aren’t terribly attractive when they look like a werewolf.” She explains how hormones and testosterone blockers “do little for facial hair well, this late in life, anyway,” and says without irony that she should’ve begun taking hormones when she “was 8 years old. We’re pretty lucky to be living in a time where hormones are available.”
Soon her voice which, normally, is adenoidal but female-gentle and precise is shaky and tears well in her eyes. “I lost my childhood as a girl. I deeply resent my cowardice I should have been braver, and the world should have been kinder.”
“It’s like he never existed. Almost like a dream,” Loveless says, changing from her leisure clothes into her workaday garb. She has a swimmer’s build, and her small, hormone-enhanced breasts could fill coffee-table candy dishes. (“They’re such a joyful surprise; I waited 35 years for these.”) Her teeth are imperfect, and her mile-wide grin unveils hints of tragedy and resilience, deep sadness and profound joy. It can be at once conspiratorial and shy. It’s often eerie, her past life forming imaginary serpentine ghosts about her face, about that beaming. The sensation of disbelief that Tom Ness could be breathing inside her somewhere is clear; he’s being exorcised.
Stephanie Loveless was Tom Ness, an assiduous, rabble-rousing supporter of local music and leftist causes, community radio and marijuana rights and other fringe-dwelling community issues that needed a loud voice. Ness and wife Susan Trescott kept their local near-weekly music-politics-culture paper Jam Rag up and running for 20 years. (Its last issue published December 2005; plans to sell have so far fallen through.) Loveless calls Ness “hypermasculine ... not knowing what a man is and trying to pull it off.” Ness, who came out publicly as bisexual in 1994, basically jump-started the Green Party in Michigan, which hit its zenith in 2000 when Ness ran for U.S. Senate, withdrew, so as not to spoil the Democrat’s chances, and ran for a U.S. House seat instead. Ness got 5,000 votes on a platform that included legalizing drugs. His bisexuality furrowed brows in political circles. More recently, after a long-winded battle, Loveless was admitted into the Green Party’s National Woman’s Caucus.
She dates men, women and couples, and has had sex with some of them in various combinations, with consent from her wife. She’s been open about this and her suicide attempts, frequently broadcasting the tales on her MySpace blog and e-mail list. What’s extraordinary is Loveless and Trescott have been partnered for 24 years, married for 20. Loveless calls the relationship an “open marriage,” says it’s “stronger than most married people.” Trescott is a bit more on the fence about the current health of the union.
Marginalized groups, subcultures and individuals are often challenged to square up with the bigger cultural forces around them, and two years ago Tom Ness stepped from his closet. This was after years of sexual role-playing that saw him increasingly delve into what he considers dehumanizing aspects of his sexuality. Reborn as Steffie, his blood was pumping female hormones, and he was wobbly on thrift-store pumps.
Loveless is a pre-operation male-to-female transsexual a human in transition who has been disowned by her family. She is also an unyielding sexual explorer and a songwriter who plays guitar, writes and sings with aplomb. There’s certain dissonance to the word “transsexual,” a stigma applied to those who don’t adhere to traditional gender roles. For years the word has suggested a kind of perversion, a psychosomatic or emotional illness. Now it’s more commonly seen as rooted in biology, a physiological condition, not a psychological one.
There are tens of thousands of transsexuals in the United States, and most stay under the public radar. They’re culturally exploited in one way or another, whether it’s Evil Angel’s gnarly, popular fetish-porn series Rogue Adventures or the overwrought sentimentality of major-indie film TransAmerica. The first transsexual cultural signposts were erected in 1952 when Christine Jorgensen became, arguably, the first transsexual to have reassignment surgery. (“Ex-GI Becomes Blond Beauty,” screamed one headline.) The 1953 Ed Wood film Glen or Glenda? unintentionally made a joke of transgenderism. Lou Reed’s Transformer brought it confusingly to the kids in 1972, and professional tennis player Dr. Renee Richards became a woman in 1975. A year later, she was denied entrance into the U.S. Open. A lawsuit ensued, and in 1977 the Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Locally, Affirmations Lesbian and Gay center in Ferndale offers support for transgenders.
Though Loveless still maintains a driver license, affixed with an “M” in the sex box, she uses women’s restrooms in public. She’s a 24-hour-a-day woman in every sense, lacking only the operation to anatomically transfer to complete womanhood.
“I can’t function as a man,” she says. “I’ve chemically castrated myself. I took the first hormone pill on Sept. 9, 2004, but who’s counting? I will say that was a little scary. Coming out as bisexual took courage, but nothing at all like coming out as Stephanie.”
But Loveless is not just out, she’s out. If she had a bulb for each time she’s been called a freak show queer she could light up Halloween. (“It’s not cool to be a racist, but it’s totally cool to make fag jokes.”) If she had one for each time she’s been called fabulous, she could do same.
But it’s hardly Halloween for the self-effacing T-girl. Tom Ness began using the name Stephanie Loveless in May 2004, and she changed her name legally in June of last year, the same month she symbolically renewed her wedding vows. Loveless strode the outdoor aisle in a white wedding gown. Her wife wore pants. And two months later Loveless’ mother died.
As the afternoon commences, Loveless pedals her bicycle (she gave up cars years ago in protest of their harmful effects) and moves at a surprisingly swift clip she’s in good physical shape toward downtown Ferndale, her purse and briefcase dangling. Her pastel outfit gives the impression of a Carter-era Midwestern third-grade teacher. She sings her own songs loudly, swinging her head and shoulders side-to-side as she peddles, and is soon dodging the occasional pedestrian on the sidewalk along Nine Mile Road. She recognizes about every other person she sees; her chirpy hellos and hasty waves are constant. She’s the Princess of Ferndale.
Loveless publishes the bimonthly paper Ferndale Friends; she sells the ads, writes, edits, lays out and hand delivers to 5,000 Ferndale homes. The paper, which launched a year ago, averages about 40 pages, 70 advertisers and a circulation of 9,000. It’s grueling, time-consuming work involving DIY promotion and sweaty chutzpah. The circulation is increasing but the paper doesn’t provide a good living. Today she has no money for food, and she’s sweating as she bicycles to meet and hustle advertisers for the next issue.
The first stop is a hair salon, the next a sign designer, followed by a framer. She can sell herself, certainly, as well as ads for the paper, without self-humiliation, and exudes a kind of preternatural charm to which these Ferndale business owners respond. She uses the time simultaneously to pimp her upcoming solo acoustic gigs, cordially handing out show fliers with winks and bend-at-the-knee thank-yous.
Conversations with Loveless are nearly effortless; they often spring from nowhere and quickly take a personal tack. They’re equal parts self-defining polemic and confessional the former informs her laughter, the latter her tears.
The exchanges are colored with sudden and innocent affectionate gestures: a hasty shoulder touch, a passing leg pat, a laughing lean-into. It’s as if she’s looking for contact, or a congenial attachment to something, which, in specific cases, is usually a woman to be her “mother figure.” She’s in constant search of a new mother. She’s self-aware to a fault melodrama threatens to invade her words at nearly every turn, and most times she catches the hyperbole and adjusts accordingly, sometimes not in the latter cases she’ll offer an apology framed in laughter. She has an acute sensitivity to the moods of others, and, moreover, she likes to be dominated, not just in some sexual sense, but in an emotional one. She’s well-versed in the archaic female stereotypes vulnerability, neediness, vanity and emotional infirmity, all of which are themes running through her conversations and actions.
She doesn’t sleep much, four or five hours a night, and seizes her waking moments as if she’s hell-bent on killing ennui her forward momentum is tiring to observe; a Loveless stand-still could trigger a downward spiral into thoughts of, even attempts at, suicide. “It’s the trans experience,” she says, dismounting her bike and walking into a client’s business. “It’s the ups and downs people wonder why we’re so nervous. It’s life at 900 miles an hour.”
It seems she needs all that velocity to subsume and erase the Tom Ness identity. It’s difficult to imagine Loveless as Ness, as much as it’s hard to picture Loveless as girl but every woman has her girlhood, one way or another.
That girlhood is a long way from Oak Park, Ill., where Loveless was born 46 years ago, the youngest of four children (two brothers and a sister). The American-dreamy Ness family packed up for Troy when Loveless was 5, and soon upgraded to better neighborhoods in Bloomfield Township and then Rochester Hills. Loveless describes Dad as a college-educated, self-made working man who “provided for us really well. He began by working in factories and wound up in investments. We had a very privileged upbringing, I’d say.”
Her upbringing was a strict Lutheran one, which she conveys in confusing ways her voice either recedes to hushed tones and her head drops, or she’s cheery, within seconds depending on the memory. The family, Loveless says, was “extremely close-knit, warm and friendly very much so.” She chooses the word “close” to describe her former relationship with her siblings.
Loveless even attended the elite Cranbrook private school in Bloomfield Hills for seventh grade. “It was such an idyllic environment, and I had these classes with eight or nine students. I didn’t want to be part of that privileged ruling class. Little Lord Fauntleroy going to the private school,” she laughs. “My dad was furious when I didn’t want to go back to Cranbrook.”
Cranbrook was her first glimpse into status and class separation; she wanted no part of it. Ness eventually quit high school in what she calls her “first little political protest.”
Loveless has an unspoken warmth toward her father, but the memories aren’t always there to support this. (Her father and siblings could not be reached for comment for this story.) She recalls Dad’s fierce reactions to her budding sexual orientation: “I was always in my mother and sister’s clothes my parents would find panties under my pillow, it was really humiliating. It was deeply traumatic; I remember sinking into a dream state.”
“And I began to have an obsession with that,” she continues. “I began to duplicate it. I was looking for dehumanizing experiences. I was entering puberty and the whole world was opening up. I was thinking about cruelty and humiliation, even in eighth grade. I really had a schizophrenic side. I read about sex changes when I was 9 or 10, I’m sure it was Renee Richards. I knew that was me and I knew I was going to do that one day. But one side of me didn’t want that. What, am I going to tell my friends or my parents? I don’t think so.”
One grade-school classmate peered through his veneer. “In fourth grade, a girl called me out on it. I so loved her. And remember, we were in fourth grade; She said, ‘You are a lesbian because you are a girl who loves girls.’ I was crushed. I loved her so much, and she just laughed at me.”
She continues, “I thought about sex in unusual ways. In sixth grade, if people ever found out what was going on in my brain, I’d be in a lot of trouble. All my sexual fantasies were about being a woman. You can’t kill off femininity.”
Loveless’ parents always wanted their son to “think for himself,” but didn’t expect him to reject Christianity, develop a fondness for pot and become a girl. At 15, he picked up guitar, wanting to be rock star.
He played sports too, including Little League football (as a lineman) up through eighth grade. “I loved to smash up against the guys it was part of that hypermasculine thing; most kids thought of me as the toughest SOB out there. Part of it was to earn my father’s love and to have him be proud of me, the other part was to show the world how tough I was. Years later I learned that that’s very common among transsexuals. You know, there’s a high percentage of transsexuals that come out of the Marines. ...”
Loveless often repeats the transgender given that a girl was festering inside of him, growing, yearning to make her debut. The longing, she says, was excruciating and never faded. He compensated instead.
“I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I was desperate. I always really wanted friends. I was one of those making fun of T-Girls, oh, absolutely. The best defense is a good offense. Before people start suspecting you ...” her sentence trails off, and she adds, “It’s pathetic.”
One song that “saved her” as a boy was hearing the Kinks’ “Lola” on late-night radio, a song that tackles transgender curiosity in an innocent, nonpatronizing way. “I learned that there are places in this world where people like me are accepted and even loved.” As in the fleeting minutes of a song and the Frank Baum book The Marvelous Land of Oz (Books of Wonder) in which the Princess of Oz lives her childhood as a boy.
Her brother Scott, who was gay, died of AIDS in 1990. “My parents never recovered. It was very important that the world didn’t find out he died of AIDS. But it wasn’t a secret.”
She continues, “When my brother called me on his deathbed, he said, ‘Tom, don’t waste your life.’ I knew I had to do something worthy.”
Loveless talks quietly about how much her father has aged, about her mother and her death a year ago of heart trouble. She feels partially responsible because of the pain she put her family through.
That pain surfaced in the Ferndale home Loveless and Trescott moved into in 1987; though the couple contributed to the mortgage payments, the Ness parents held the title as landlords. After helping to support them for years, the couple says Mom and Dad kicked them out when Tom Ness became Stephanie Loveless.
Then, she says, her family said she was the death of their mother. Loveless secretly visited her near the end and managed to find absolution from Mom moments before surgery.
“We had to sneak into the hospital to avoid the family we got there five minutes before she went under,” she says, and begins to cry, “Mom looked at me and she said about the transsexuality, ‘I guess this is something that we’re going to have to get used to. ...’ All they ever wanted was to be good parents. Oh, god, now I can’t stop crying.”
The family barred Loveless from the funeral. She attempted suicide with pills soon after. That was her first “serious” attempt.
She talks about her multiple suicide attempts, and why they failed: “I’d think I was a freak and I couldn’t take it anymore, but I’d think about Sue and what that would do to her.” But, she says, “You can always do it tomorrow. Last December I tried desperately to drink myself to death.”
Whatever resentments or anger festered toward her family have been replaced, she says, with a sort of calm resolution: “Not for a moment over the last two and half years have I had the even a flicker of doubt about my new life only deep regret and resentment that my first 44 years were wasted and now gone forever. At the same time, I carry so much guilt about what has happened. Embracing my femininity is the single worst thing that ever happened to the family. It never occurred to me that my family would desert me. My father has grown so old in this short time. Mom died, and there can be no doubt that the stress over me contributed to her quick decline.”
She’s pleased about a phone message Dad recently left: “I’m glad he called last week. But we won’t be seeing each other. My mere presence in his life is deeply upsetting, and he has gotten so old in the two years since Stephanie was born. I’m glad to be at peace with him but Dad is gone, and for good.”
Her tone turns confessional, and to the very idea of this story. “I’ve confessed these things knowing full well my family will be horrified and embarrassed. It’s a decision I’ve made the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, and articles like this help change things for tens of thousands of transsexuals and their families. My father will agonize in embarrassment but it is a small price to pay in terms of the big picture.”
The masochistic tendencies surfaced as far back as 1983. Loveless says his wife allowed him to pursue an S&M lifestyle and first escorted him to a dominatrix session in the early ’90s, an experience that was, Loveless says, cathartic. “Because the dom called me a pussy. It was like a burden being lifted. Sue was horrified.” She adds that “one time she beat me so hard that I lost it, just exploded at Sue.”
For Loveless to maintain an erection, to get sexually charged, she’d picture another man having sex with his wife where “I was in the room.”
It became apparent that his libido was inexorable (“The woman couldn’t be denied. I had to be a woman somewhere”), and he’d dive deeper into his sexuality.
“I was providing sexual service for men, sucking their cocks,” Loveless says. “I began to really enjoy it in a wonderfully feminine way. This was about sorting out issues inside a very confused mind.” She balks at the idea that money was exchanged before, during or after any tryst.
The scenarios evolved, sometimes turning dangerous from the cruelty of BDSM (“I’d be black and blue, sometimes the bruises would last two weeks”) into forced feminization and servitude.
“In the late ’90s there were long-term, forced chastity sessions, maid service was a main one,” Loveless says. “There might be breaks in there for an hour or two, but it would go on for three weeks. It’s hard for the dom or the sub to live on that side for so long without any humanity.”
She continues, “I did have this strange feeling when a guy went down on me like I was a woman; in my brain it was cunnilingus. My whole life I was horribly anxious about my femininity; I didn’t want anybody near my penis. I had some sensitive lovers who helped me through it. But I’d get a hard-on when I’m doing womanly things, when I go down on a guy. I got off the few times I did anal, when the fellow was inside me in this supremely womanly way. It’s a supremely womanly act. What is strange is it didn’t feel at all like I had a penis.”
In December 2003, a time Loveless calls the “height of her kinky sexual activity,” she met Baby Doll, a transsexual who changed life as she knew it. “I saw through her that I could live as a woman with pride. She begged me to not do it. She said my life would fall apart. But she lived with a sense of dignity, a man who lived as woman 24 hours a day she raised two children from infancy that way. I remember her telling me how hard it was getting barred from her mother’s funeral. And a year and a half later it happened to me.
When Ness became Loveless, her desire for humiliation and degradation disappeared as if suddenly purged from her system. Through the years, her trysts were kept secret to all but a few people. She says she’s had perhaps 18 lovers total, including ”some rather trifling experiences.
“And now I’m bored with sex. Me. I’ve lost the desire for sex. The songs and the songwriting are the most important things for me now.”
There is no set blueprint for the Trescott-Loveless marriage, at least not in any traditional sense. The union seems impossible to comprehend. Through the years, Trescott stood patiently by her man, through his mind-warping sexual journeying, the S&M beatings and bruises; through watching her husband morph into a woman, change her name, attempt suicide, and the crushing side effects of family disownment. She ultimately supported Loveless through all the confusion, personal turmoil and visits to four different psychologists. Each says she loves and can’t live without the other.
Ness and Trescott met in 1984 as fresh-faced students studying music at Oakland University, fell in love and quickly gelled into a couple. Trescott says she eventually gave up her studies to be a partner. After living with both sets of parents, the pair moved out, and in few years got married.
“I think we had been dating for about eight months and my father had passed on,” Trescott says. “I started having a lot of family troubles.”
In 1985, Ness was giving guitar lessons and playing in bands, the most prominent of which was the rock ‘n’ roll band Mystery. He took over the managerial duties for a few years at Detroit’s Falcon Lounge on Van Dyke and Seven Mile Road. Jam Rag was hatched at the Falcon as way to promote its shows, and, Loveless says, “It just grew out of that.”
Some have said that Tom Ness with Jam Rag did more to promote local music than anyone, before or since. It was a thankless job. “I started Jam Rag because I needed to make a living,” Loveless says. “We lived on pennies, and the local music scene is never going to make anyone rich.”
Early publishing days were difficult; the couple did everything themselves, sales, layout, writing, even printing. “It would be like three or four nights of no sleep and putting printing chemicals in the bathtub, just everything you can imagine,” Trescott says. Jam Rag was the couple’s unsteady livelihood for 20 years, and ended because they basically outgrew it.
The Royal Oak-born Trescott is Loveless’ polar opposite she’s shy, shuns attention, and is, in a way, Midwestern matronly. Her soft ash-blond mane suggests she’s older than her 42 years. Her smile is grandmotherly gentle. She talks with reserved, graceful accuracy and only offers personal things when pressed. She works in home health care and spends time caring for her ailing mother. You couldn’t imagine this woman losing her temper.
Trescott who says she didn’t really know in their initial years together that Ness was bisexual, or was at least in denial about it wished “many, many times and many years” for a way out. “But I didn’t really have enough support in my life at that time. I think I did go into a sort of depression after a number of years.”
Ness wasn’t exactly a prize to live with there was rage and frustration, which both claim was symptomatic of repressed womanhood. The repression, Loveless says, had everything to do with Ness’ “Superman complex,” as did the over-the-top, nonstop activism, political lobbying and sex.
Trescott would interpret his actions as torment, and later accepted them as actions borne of him “pursuing Stephanie’s interest, although he was repressing her. I look back at it now and I’m just really happy that things are better. It’s not to say that Stephanie doesn’t have problems now because she’s still very emotional. It’s just expressed differently.” She laughs hesitantly, and adds, “It’s not quite as rageful, and there’s not as much destruction.”
“Although, there was sort of a relapse when she had had some contact with her family,” she continues. “When all this came out and things got really bad with her family, I tried to keep them separate. I saw a trend that there was something about her relationship with her family that triggered some of the explosiveness.”
As bad as things were at times for Trescott, she’d find “incredible sadness” at the idea of leaving. “Tom was always a really special person who had a lot of insight and even sensitivity that was, I thought, unusual. There was always something there that was a bond.”
It’s difficult for Trescott to talk about certain things, particularly the couple’s sexual relationship that saw Ness become increasingly aware of his submissive side thus thrusting Trescott into a dominant role. “We always experienced it as more of a kink,” Trescott says. “It was part of his submissive nature and just part of the ‘humiliation’ game.”
Trescott wouldn’t feel comfortable in the dominant role, “but there was a lot of coaching from him as far as what he needed, even pictures of what was a turn-on to him. In a way, I did get into some things that were destructive for me. It was Stephanie’s desire to be with men that would ... when you’re a woman and you’re in a relationship, you don’t really want your man to tell you that he wants you to be with other men. I found that very emotionally I don’t want to say devastating, but I didn’t really understand it. I guess at first I felt that maybe he didn’t love me. I couldn’t see how someone who loved you would want you to be with other people, or would want you to be in situations that you were so uncomfortable with. My family was very conservative. I grew up with a lot of guilt and shame around sexuality.”
The liabilities of extramarital “play” weigh on her, and one fear is she’d never find a committed relationship as long as it involves Loveless because “of the strangeness.” Loveless hopes Trescott will fall in love with a man who’ll accept Loveless and be a part of their lives.
“That’s something I’m still trying to sort out. How do I have a close relationship with somebody without having to separate from Stephanie? I guess I’ve been kind of confused myself because of her need to be with other people, especially when there’ve been other people she seems to be almost obsessed with.”
Oftentimes Loveless will embrace and hug other women in public as if she’s half of a couple in love. She files the actions under “neediness.” Trescott’s unsure.
“That’s been probably the most difficult for me. Basically it’s a situation where we will go out, say to a show of Stephanie’s, and she’ll be cuddling up to a different woman. And it’s been a little strange to me, and a little rough. It’s like she’s dating other people she’s says it’s all about needing a mommy. And it’s still hard for me to really grasp at, especially when the mommy is quite a bit younger than me and quite a bit younger than her. It would resemble to an average onlooker probably a male midlife crisis where he’s pursuing a woman half his age. I’m trying to have trust. And she’s expressed to me fear of me leaving her. So I think it’s kind of counterproductive for her or self-destructive in a way to be pursuing other people, because I might interpret that as it might be a cause for separation.”
And the idea of being married to “a woman” has forced Trescott to address her own sexuality: “People have been asking me why I’m still with Stephanie. That’s really a hard thing to answer. She’s very attractive, and I do find women attractive. I’m not saying I don’t. I think that I’m more drawn to men. And there have been times in my life that I wish that I wasn’t. I’m confused that’s my middle name.”
The extended Trescott-Ness family discomfort with transsexuality runs deep; not only is Loveless banned from seeing her nieces and nephews, but Trescott’s banned from seeing hers. “And Stephanie feels responsible for this. I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. I can’t really foresee what’s going to happen in the future because there’s always been a curve ball thrown in.”
Trescott lately has been getting closer to a man she met through Loveless Loveless is elated and sees the courtship as one that might progress into an ideal family of sorts.
“It’s like, you know, to a guy, a little strange,” Trescott says. “My teenage daughter who used to be my husband is going to crawl in bed with us because she needs cuddling right now.”
“I really need a new mom, desperately,” Loveless says.
“I don’t know why. Why not? OK, I’m trying to replace my mom and my big sister too. And I don’t see anything wrong with that. A T-girl needs more love, and Steffie needs more than that.”
Loveless’ main “mom” interest and obsession is 35-year-old Jenn Goeddeke, a tall, articulate and attractive redhead who has two small children. Goeddeke first met Loveless on a personals chat site about a year ago, and though the two are close, both say their relationship is nonsexual. Goeddeke and her partner, David Staniszewski, publish the Jam Rag-inspired In Flames.
Her initial attraction to Loveless was curiosity. “I’d never gone out with a trans before, and I wanted to know what she was all about.”
It’d be hard to underestimate, much less understand, the role of Goeddeke in Loveless’ life. What’s more, Goeddeke’s the muse in nearly 20 of Loveless’ catalog of 31 songs written since her mother’s death (Loveless only started writing songs again for “personal therapy” last year after a 20-plus-year break).
It’s a relationship fraught with dramatic turns, most of which are brought about by Loveless’ infatuation. At one point, Goeddeke, out of frustration, pulled from Loveless’ life and stopped returning calls and e-mails, crushing her. But Loveless has come a long way in the last year, Goeddeke says, in terms of personal balance, self-reliance and female identity.
She seems to genuinely care for Loveless, in contrast to those who want Loveless for sex but are ashamed to actually be seen around her.
“It’s just ugly and, yet, I can see why she really feels the need for human comfort,” Goeddeke says. “But she does get a lot of attention; I mean she’s a very intelligent and good-looking person. My kids really like her. They recognize that she’s a good person. They like to listen to her songs. They’ve asked questions, they understand that she’s not a natural female. I’ve explained to them that some people are born as a man but feel like they should be a woman, that it’s like a birth problem. And that to become a woman they have to take hormones that they have to take medicine to become a woman. I feel it’s been an education for my kids. I think it’s important for kids to learn about individual differences.”
It’s obvious Trescott isn’t so keen on the connection between the redhead and Loveless, and Goeddeke says she didn’t at first know Loveless was married. “And then I ask Steffie does she [Sue] know about us? ’Oh, no, she’s fine with it. And then right after she [Sue] met me she instantly was jealous. I don’t blame her. But when I got that reaction from Sue, I felt like pulling away. Not many people want to step into a marriage.”
“Sue appreciates Stephanie as a female,” she continues. “And Sue and I are similar, I think, because we like men who don’t mind expressing their feminine side. Sue loves Steffie so unconditionally that she basically wants whatever is good for Steffie. I mean, think about what an unselfish love that is.”
During a solo Loveless set at a local bar, Goeddeke sat motionless at a table in the sparsely attended room, often plucking digits on her mobile phone. Goeddeke’s reactions to the songs these loud-but-gentle and hurtful epistles to her are mixed.
“Unfortunately, the first couple times I heard Steffie perform, Sue was there,” she says. “I found it very hard to have Steffie performing to me with Sue there. I knew that most of the songs were about me and I felt very awkward. To be honest, the songs are brilliant and I think she’s extremely talented, but I can’t help but wonder what is Sue thinking? But I don’t really take her songs to be about me so much as about that I’ve become this concept, this kind of symbol for her. And most likely it is related to the loss of her mother. At the very end her mother accepted Steffie for who she is. But Steffie didn’t get to enjoy the acceptance, she got all the rejection. I think I did actually step into her construct of mother.”
Loveless has been called many things in her trans life, including “insane.” In truth, she’s living in herself in the now. Her exclusive transgender world isn’t defined by outsiders passing random judgment; rather, it’s defined by her secluded circle her loves and pals, her current mommy-issue crushes and her wife. Most of her friends are a mixed bag of intelligent fringe folk: artists, activists, S&M photographers, T-girls, a dominatrix or two and those she chooses to meet secretly through online singles boards. Her life’s purpose is, at this point, self-expression, whether in song or in typed words, and to help other transsexuals in similar situations.
Her sexuality is her flag of conflicted rebellion. In a way, it’s about her need to be strung up the pole and let fly. And personal expression is her sexual identity; her own public, if not potent, brand. Her randy MySpace blog is crammed with sometimes wince-inducing personal communiqués and exploits that drip of sentimentality. But Loveless can write. She’s very punk rock in essence because she doesn’t give a shit outside of her current crushes what anybody thinks. She uses her blog postings as a way to project her individuality, or, as she suggests, to keep her from getting beaten down by society. In one blog entry, she details losing her anal virginity last year (“The boy could have been a lot more gentle and sensitive, I must say, for my first time! But it was wonderful just the same, and my Precious Mistress held my hand and smiled at me the whole time, so I was OK [screamed a lot, though!]”). She also details her various crushes, political lobbying efforts, mother figures and breakups.
Loveless is at once an unflagging, all-is-well self-promoter and a person who breaks down in a fit of despondence and disgrace stemming from guilt over “breaking up my family and the feeling that I destroyed Sue’s life” and “the suicidal anxiety of shame.”
“Writing songs, spending time with Jenn and Sue and smoking pot” are the three things Loveless half-jokingly says are most important to her now.
As for the sexual reassignment surgery, she has no plans at the moment because she’s broke. Hence the cheeky title of her self-released CD Steffie Sings for Her Sex Change. It’ll cost her a “minimum of $8,000 in Bangkok, and I’d need to have $18,000 on hand in the U.S., although it might only cost like $12,000. It’s just not on the immediate horizon, unless I have some really quick success with the music.”
On an August night I arrive to pick up Loveless at her Ferndale home, which she shares with Trescott and a boarder. The house is tucked away in a neighborhood that’s classically Ferndale quiet, well-kept and permissive. Loveless’ bedroom and office occupy the basement, but now and then, Loveless says, she crawls into bed with Trescott in her room upstairs.
The man who says becoming a woman was a huge payoff akin to a religious experience is in a good mood she small-steps girlishly on spiked pumps with a happy, gymnast’s bounce. Her tinted ashy-cherry hair atop her silver-glittery dress looks like a waning Hollywood Hills brushfire.
She’s booked to play in Hamtramck tonight. As we load her guitar and gear into the car, Loveless explains that her name was chosen because it’s a reminder for the “politically scorned, the religious minorities or anybody who’s an outcast in society. Sue hated the name and insisted that ’Angeline’ be in the middle, after ‘angel.’”
A nagging question rises: Why did she marry Sue if she knew she was a woman trapped in a man’s body?
“Part of me knew, but part of me rejected that because I couldn’t accept the consequences. I married Sue because I loved her.”
Forty-five minutes later she’s setting up, and soon it’s a transgender on a barstool, opposite a mic and an empty dance floor. The man-to-womangirl, singer-guitarist juxtaposition is startling and in an instant she commands stage and scene, talk-shouting into the mic “How are we doing tonight!” and settling in to play.
The acoustic ditties blast one into the next, and you quickly forget that she’s solo her right hand supplants a real rhythm section, the booming strums power Bowie-Kinks chord changes. She sings “Every Woman Needs a Wife” about Trescott, “41 Days“ for Goeddeke. The lyrics condense the personal side of her blog undressed, ballsy even, rich in pop songwriter necessities: melodrama, chorus and narrative. Her reedy voice, in its top-end and vibrato, crosses into feminine-sounding Marc Bolan and Roy Orbison territory. It’s fat enough to secure ears in the back of the room.
The woman is good. She quickly disarms even the skeptical with demeanor and songs that are strangely charismatic and charged; her enthusiasm for performing transcends even the most uncomfortable of performance situations, like she’s been doing this all her life.
And the light plays sympathetically over her features, as if it’s hers and no one else’s.
Upcoming Stephanie Loveless shows:
Thursday, Sept. 14, at Jacoby’s, 624 Brush St., Detroit, 313-962-7067.
Saturday, Sept. 16, at the Masonic Temple, 500 Temple Ave., Detroit; 313-832-7100. A dominatrix benefit. 9 p.m. doors. No cover.
Wednesday, Sept. 20, at Mephisto’s, 2764 Florian, Hamtramck, 313-875-3627.
Saturday and Sunday, Sept, 23-24, at The Dirty Show, Bert’s Warehouse, 2739 Russell St. in Eastern Market, Detroit; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian Smith is features editor of Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.