Susan Stanton listed maintaining the trust of those around her, being the center of a media frenzy, and her hair among her chief concerns Thursday as she spoke at a university for the first time as a woman.
One week after having her name officially changed to Susan from Steve and accompanied by a CNN documentary team, the former Largo city manager addressed Professor Janna Merrick’s State and Political Government class in the Graduate Student Annex of the Business building.
“This is the first time I’ve talked without a bank of 18 or 19 cameras,” she said.Wearing a sleeveless white sweater and black silky pants, Stanton outlined her personal history as a public official before talking of her transition to a woman.
Stanton began her political career as Steve, a recent graduate of the University of Florida. Following his degree, Steve left Gainesville to pursue a career in politics in Washington, D.C., with little success. After eight months in Washington, Steve had learned how to live out of a car, cooking meat on its engine block.
After helping to manage cities in Kentucky and Illinois and an airport in Alaska, Steve landed a job as assistant city manager in Largo where he eventually became city manager, a title he would hold for 14 years.
As Largo’s city manager, Steve trained with the SWAT team and the fire department. He prided himself on being a civil servant who spoke directly for the people he served. As manager, Stanton said he received almost universal support.
However, Steve had a secret. He longed to become Susan. One month before he was dismissed, this plan was made public. Though Steve had an in-depth plan in place to systematically reveal his secret to the community, Stanton said, the St Petersburg Times beat him to the punch.
“One day the Times called and said, ‘we have information that you’re planning to make an announcement,'” Stanton said. “They asked a direct question so I gave them a direct answer.”
When the announcement was made, Stanton said, the public perception of Steve changed completely.
“In one day I went from highly respected for the job I did to someone without integrity,” Stanton said.
The decision – which had plagued Steve’s whole life as his first thought in the morning and last thought at night – cost Steve his job one month later.
Though she was fired by the city of Largo, Stanton harbors no ill will toward the “City of Progress.” She is proud of what Steve was able to accomplish there.
“Seven out of 10 cities would’ve done the same thing, especially with the negative stereotypes concerning transsexual people,” Stanton said.
Now Stanton has become an advocate for transgender rights. She is living off of what she calls a generous severance package. She recently became a finalist for, but did not land, the job of city manager in Sarasota. She has begun to re-evaluate her options.
“I loved being a city manager,” she said. “But I may have heard a higher, different calling where I may make a bigger impact.”Stanton said she is excited about living as a woman, but there are marked differences that she hadn’t accounted for. The lack of respect afforded to women is endemic, she said. From a server at a restaurant who would only address the man she was with to her inability to protect herself, Stanton said she is finding out what it is to be a woman.
“It takes a real man to be a woman; it’s not easy,” Stanton said. “The hair, the hair is a b—-.”
Stanton encouraged students to enter the world of politics, calling it rewarding, but she also emphasized remaining true to one’s self.
“Make sure your passions are aligned with your spirit,” she said. “Be authentic to yourself, whether it’s working with your hands or becoming a member of academia.”