• Stephanie Ashton

Just Another Girl

The Killers, Direct Hits, 2013

It has been a long time since I last wrote about the craziness of my life but fear not dear readers, for I have returned with stories aplenty. Indeed, the longer I put off writing this blog the harder it became because there has been so much going on. What would I write about or omit? For what purpose? Does anyone even remotely care?! Who can say, but I am quite certain that my cat thinks my writing is a complete waste of time and would prefer that I committed myself to feeding him chicken 24/7.

In this blog I will share with you my latest adventures and progress with transition. As a quick recap, I left you all at the end of my last blog in a state of recovery from the long slow darkness of the winter lockdown, that somehow managed to creep all the way into March. Over the course of April, I remained focused on work but held little hope for many of my 2021 plans coming to fruition. Being Scottish and therefore a total nihilist I felt comfortable, safe even, in the belief that everything would go wrong because of Covid. Not only would I be able to say “I thought it would go wrong” I could also feel safe knowing that I probably deserved a bad outcome, on some level or another.

And yet in the merry month of May, I was propelled back into my pre-covid life at high speed. This came as a complete shock to the system, and it took me some time to mentally come around to a life that did not involve petting my cat every night from a position of total comfort. The time had come to put my heels back on and go and be sociable…what a notion.

Stephanie in the merry month of May

The first opportunity to return to some sense of social normality was a weekend arranged to go shopping in Glasgow late in May. The day out started in a predictable fashion with shopping and lunch and then spontaneously became huge fun when invited two nights running for dinner at a dear friend’s house. Naturally, even I was amazed after the first evening that anyone would be fool hardy enough to consider entertaining me a second night.

And yet even accounting for work anxiety that I could not shake off going into that weekend, it was a lovely break away from life in the company of kind and open minded people, reflecting on views and feelings about the world. Even against a backdrop of rising covid cases and rampant Rangers football fans, it was a lovely weekend and helped to ease me back into my social life. I left Glasgow that weekend with a newfound resilience. Not a Katy Perry ‘Roar’ type resilience, but a calm and unyielding determination under the guise of polite words and a smile.

It is just as well that I started to get my mojo back because after that weekend my life got even busier with the easing of Covid restrictions. My employer was now expressing an interest in letting UK staff travel again, I wanted to travel down south to see friends and have fun, and most excitingly I finally got at invite to my first appointment at the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC). This is an important step on the transition journey so worth a few lines on my thoughts and feelings about it.

Smart and casual…dressed up for F2F work meeting and dressed down for shopping trip

So, what would I say about the GIC appointment? Well like a good girl guide, I went prepared and it turned out perfectly. I say went prepared like I attended a hospital or clinic, but in truth I had a pre-arranged video call with the assessors which was perfect on many levels. A video call meant there was no travel involved, no excessive lost work time, and I could attend looking immaculate (ahem, as always!) It also meant I could have my carefully crafted written statement on my laptop in front of me which was a real bonus. Written statement I hear you say…what is that about?

So, in the world of business it is important to prepare for meetings if you want to succeed. Given the importance of the GIC appointment to my wellbeing, I therefore applied the same principles to maximise the opportunity for a successful outcome. Before the meeting I did my research online and consulted many friends about the questions I would be asked at the appointment. I then carefully drafted a statement that I could give to the assessors that would tell them everything they could possibly want to know…and maybe a few things they did not. The reason for doing this was in case I got nervous or in error missed something that might later prove to be critical.

On the day of the GIC call, I got up in good time, made sure my IT was working okay and made every effort to ensure that I looked the part. Nervously, I logged into the call but was immediately put at ease when I met the young male doctor on the call; he was calm, positive, and very respectful. Like a professional salesperson, I could almost smell the opportunity in air and presented my case in full, ensuring that I did not miss anything. Life a-la-Steffie was detailed at length from beginning to end with frequent reference made to all the evidence of my female life over the years.

There was only going to be one outcome and thankfully after 45 minutes I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, along with a recommendation of being put on hormones straight away. At this point I burst into tears and was a useless mess for the rest of the call…but that did not matter as it was mission accomplished.

Stephanie shortly after getting official prescription for hormones...yaay!

Now there may be some who will object to this outcome and say, “well that is not how the process works after a first GIC appointment.” And they would be right – it is not typically how the process works. However, as I had presented evidence of 27 years of dressing, 2 years of living as a woman AND stated that I was self medicating…well they had no option but to give me the desired prescription for hormones as recommended by the World Health Organisation for transgender people who have started to self medicate. Where there is an indomitable, quiet, and polite will - there is a way.

Going into June it now seemed as if everything in my life went into lift off, because of the GIC diagnosis and covid restrictions being eased further in England. Suddenly, I had lots of plans to meet up with friends old and new, visit Boys Will be Girls for some retro fun, plans unfolding for my next big-themed shoot, and this troublesome thing called work that kept getting in the way of it all. It was time to arrange a week of fun and frolics in London and I could not wait.

Returning to London in June, it was quite a surreal experience as the city was quiet by pre-Covid standards. However, it was not all empty streets and long faces with Soho laid out café style in the street and a vibrant happy buzz around the area post lockdown. More importantly, I had a brilliant time catching up with many wonderful people who I had missed being part of my life.

Stephanie at Boys Will be Girls for day of retro passion

Once again, it was great fun to visit Boys Will be Girls and have a catch-up with the ladies that evening over dinner at the wonderful Ivy Asia, St Pauls. I then popped out of London for a few days to meet lovely Vicki and Sam before heading back into the smoke to meet up with Tiffany and Maya for a day of shopping, dinner, and theatre. Much silliness unfolded in Camden and Vauxhall that afternoon/night and we certainly made an impression at the theatre. Suffice to say, we were so busy shopping in Camden we managed to nearly miss a complete theatre production, seeing only saw the last 8 minutes because of our complete inability to manage our time or Maya's drink order :D

My final day in London was a mixture of pain and fun. Pain with a return to facial laser treatment and a lot of fun at night, going out on the town with a super lovely friend I met on a night out in Brighton 2 years ago. No trip to London would be complete without the fun of flying and so returning home the following morning, I had the task of going through Heathrow as Stephanie for the first time in a very long time. Normally this would be an interesting experience but as terminal 5 was nearly devoid of people it was a muted event. As always, all the staff I encountered were pleasant and polite and on-board the plane I got the normal “Madame” treatment along with my Bloody Mary, which was nice.

Out and about

Typical to my life, I was no sooner home and through the front door than my boss requested that I come back down to London a few weeks later for further seemingly unnecessary meetings. In truth, I suspect my boss has a case of ‘any-excuse-to-escape-my-house’ after a year of being locked up and enjoys dragging us into their plans. However, I am quite happy to be involved in her escape plans when it presents the opportunity for fun. In my head, paid business trips to London equate to free fun in the evenings.

And so, within two weeks I was back in the town meeting up with yet more friends for nights out after some rather dull and pointless work meetings. Whilst the second trip to London was short, it was good fun and travelling was also starting to feel less alien, less like something that I maybe did in another lifetime.

Nice walk in Hyde Park and away to get my nails done

The remainder of June then proved quite busy at home. Work became overwhelming with a seemingly endless cascade of emergencies and business continuity issues. In my spare time, I was also busily trying to finish several cosplay props or as I prefer to think of it, time spent trying not to stick my fingers together or paint myself head to foot in air spray gloop.

Transition also became a major focus in June thanks to my young and very keen medical General Practitioner (GP). Showing great empathy for my long wait for the GIC appointment, my GP took a proactive approach to drive all the other medical services from who I needed appointments, post diagnosis. By mid-June I had a flurry of transition related appointments including bloods, Endocrinologist, Voice training, and even a booking for my initial appointment for sex re-assignment surgery. Along with a hair transplant appointment I had arranged privately at the Maitland Clinic my transition journey seemed to be moving at pace.

Transgender healthcare is often criticised in the United Kingdom and honestly, I do not have enough information to be able to say what is true or not about these views. Yes, we read about the cases where people do not feel supported and the long waiting times for GIC appointments. But how many people write about the positive experiences that they have with the healthcare system? All I can say is that in my case I have been unbelievably fortunate to have a supportive GP full of empathy for my situation. To say that my medical GP has been amazing is an understatement. Indeed, I have mused that he seems as keen for me to transition as I am…maybe I need to tone down how I dress when I go to see him in future.

Sam and Steffie in Swifts, Soho

It is from here the story of the past few months just gets plain silly. Amidst the total carnage at work and personal life, I got asked to go back to London yet again. This time the trip was for a competitive market meeting and despite not having a clue what that meant, I set off on my merry way once again. I still have no idea what that meeting was about and if anyone has any clues or can justify the cost, then please explain it to me. Regardless, it was back out on the town again with the funniest closing story for quite some time.

As shown below, I had gone out with a lovely friend in Soho for dinner wearing grey and black as shown in the pictures below. On returning to the Hilton hotel at 11.30pm I proceeded to the front desk as I had somehow managed to lose my room card and had not got the digital key thingy…that was too technical for me to figure out. Anyway, as I am standing at the reception waiting to be served, a middle aged guy who had been sitting in the lobby stood up, came over to me and said in a thick US accent, “Are you here for me?”

At this point I thought I had maybe misheard him and said “sorry?” to which he then repeated, “are you here for me, Ill be here when you are ready.” My brain had denied the truth of what I had heard the first time but now it could not deny what was going on when it was repeated a second time. With mock surprise I responded, “excuse me I am a guest of this hotel, not a prostitute, thank you very much.”

Throw out the dresses and lingerie...apparently this is what to wear if you want picked up by randoms in your hotel...

This happy American sex tourist was not put off however and I almost wanted to applaud him for the sort of misguided determination that has got myself into so much trouble over the years. It was like watching a fellow idiot make a complete tit of themselves. There was no doubt he was delighted to have sighted a lesser spotted Stephanie Ashton in her native habitat and was determined to capture this rare bird. He said, “well, I will be down here if you are interested.” What?! So, in summary if I go up to my room and in the next hour or so decide, hey I might fancy sex with a complete stranger then we are on? Right….

The interesting truth about this funny little story is that for all the joy of being my true self, part of the reality of being transgender is the increased sexualisation of those of us brave and confident enough to do as we please. We are almost assumed to dress because we want sexual attention. Yup, being transgender is not easy; it is not all dancing care-free through spring flowers singing with the birds. It is not an endless row of dress shops, cocktail bars and beauty salons…much the shame of it.

The honest reality is that being transgender means we will always have a mixed bag of experiences, not all of which will be positive, validating, or supportive of our cause. In this situation I was just amused and suitably offhand with this silly man who got the message and shuffled off back to his seat in the lobby. How dare he approach me…he had not even come with a vetted list of fixed and disposable assets for me to inspect before considering if he might be an appropriate suitor ;D

Made it to July and rewarded with some sun

It was now time for July to make an appearance and back in Scotland the round yellow orb in the sky that we rarely see decided to visit for longer than is normal in what we erroneously call summertime. Indeed, I would even go so far as to say it was “hot” and “sunny” on more than one occasion. These two words are so unfamiliar in the Scottish lexicon when referring to the weather that it is barely credible. Even more unlikely, I had to unpack my holiday summer dresses that are normally reserved for beach holidays and I merrily wore them for work.

True to form, I finally completed my cosplay outfits at the height of summer and decided to do my trial fits on what was possibly the hottest day of the year. The purpose of the trial fitting was to see if the costumes a) did not look terrible b) were comfortable and c) will stay together long enough for Tiffany to photograph them. I was also keen to understand if the Fallout “assault” style would be durable enough to wear to a Comic-con in the next year or so. Overall, the trial fit was a success because I discovered loads of problems that I then spent days fixing to improve the quality.

The pictures below are a sneak preview of what is to come with my Fallout cosplay having completed all my costumes. Truthfully, this project has been loads of fun to plan and put together. However, due to my interest in making so many props, it has also been an expensive and time-consuming hobby this past year. There have been many occasions I have made mistakes and had to start again…the combat armour breastplate for example has been made three times.

I really cannot wait until the shoot in August is complete and we see the results in print in September. After the shoot I have promised myself no more playing Fallout 4 as I need to move on with my life. I already have four other projects stacked up behind this one and am keen to get them started.

Talking of which, did I mention previously that I have also taken commissions from a few people to make cosplay props for them? This is quite exciting and although it is just a side project for now, I can see this interest growing in time, maybe getting my own shop online. I see an excuse to buy a 3D printer on the horizon.

I have also started another new hobby learning about making and modifying wigs. After watching endless Youtubes about it, I have been started playing the with the red wig below by adding blond and orange highlights to it. The plan is to braid the final wing and style it in the fashion of the character Aloy from the console game Horizon Zero Dawn. Guess what one of my future cosplay outfits is going to be...

In truth I love playing with hair, so this new interest is a natural extension of my creative interests. It is incredible that in the space of a few years nearly all my male interests have drifted away to be replaced with female interests, many of them creative in nature. I guess this is partly a function of thinking about being a woman all day, every day. Then again, maybe it is an outcome of allowing myself to do the things that truly interest me, rather than what the society of my youth taught me to be acceptable.

Final remarks

It has been a busy old time and hopefully somewhere in this blog there is something that you might find useful or inspiring. If not, then I hope you enjoyed the pictures.

It is true that life is never perfect, but it is important to enjoy the good moments and there have been plenty these past months. Progression with GIC has been a huge relief but getting back out in the real world and seeing my friends has been the really big improvement in my wellbeing and quality of life. There is a lot to look forward for the rest of the year and cannot wait to see what happens.

Take care everyone and be your best self,