• Stephanie Ashton

Rain on Me

Lady Gaga and Arianne Grande, Chromatica, 2020


Here is an end of year blog for the benefit of my genuinely supportive and lovely readers. I must confess that I had previously decided to stop writing because I had lost the thread of what I was trying to achieve. However, following sustained requests and notes of interest, I have sat down in front of the keyboard once again.


Now, there are vicious rumours circulating that I am only writing as a distraction whilst my PS4 game controller is charging for my next Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) gaming session. This is clearly a vicious slur, and I can assure you I am not welded to the screen playing ESO. Besides, I now have two controllers so could play non-stop if I desired :D


So, what pray tell has lured Stephanie into the online gaming world? Is it the underlying feeling that Covid has removed the Joie-de-vivre? Is it because I am happier living in a war-torn fantasy realm than the frankly boring tedium of modern real life? All good questions we will seek to answer, along with a supply of pictures from the past months.


Well, the truth is that the past six months have been topsy turvy. In summary, I am happy with transition, work, and the relationship with my cat. However, these are not my only pre-occupations and elsewhere life has not been so kind. To summarise the last 6 months, pretty much everything that had a chance to go wrong did go wrong.


But let’s not start the blog with negativity. Instead, let us roll back to a happier time in September.

Welcome to the Wasteland


After two years in conception the time had come to complete the Fallout vs Barbie photoshoot. I would like to say that I had been looking forward to the September shoot, but in truth the planning phase had been taxing and it had all become a bit of a bloody nightmare. For starters, the Microsoft project plan ended up longer than anything I would produce for work.


One of the key factors in this self-made carnage had been the Covid-19 interruption which had permitted me to expand the scope of the project from something simple into something quite difficult. Two costumes had blossomed into four costumes, along with an army of props. I did not set off to expand the project into the scale it finally reached but rather, with the additional time in lockdown I had just got carried away with the fun of making things. This of course would in turn lead to another problem…how on earth would I transport all the stuff to the other end of the country for the shoot at Murdermile Studios?


The solution would be to stuff my car with fallout paraphernalia and drive from the north of Scotland to London. Total madness I know, but then there is always a degree of madness in my projects. But it was okay – because I had a plan to make the road trip more fun. Learning from the intense nature of the previous shoots, I opted to drive down a few days in advance and install myself in a spa hotel in Cambridgeshire to rest and relax before the big day. This was possibly the best decision I made in 2021 as the spa in question was lush and it would prove important that I was well rested for the photoshoot – because it would be great fun but a long intense session.


Now I could drone on about the shoot but in summary; Cindy delivered sublime make-up, Tiffany took wonderful pictures, Maya ran after me with a smile, and I was a cranky bitch after eight hours of posing in costumes. Of course, that is not all that happened and there was a lot of fun, chat, and discussion about how best to do this shot or that pose.


There is also an epic story akin to the Apartment Fiasco lurking behind the scenes in which Vicki’s artistic talents completely saved the day. I am not talking about her talents as a make up artist either, but rather as a painter decorator…using only make-up. Sadly, the detail of that story is for another time when there is no residual risk of being sued by the studio :D


And so, the much-fated Fallout shoot was finally finished. It was an ambitious project but one that I was pleased to complete. I was delighted with the end results and some of the pictures are simply superb. For those with an interest, the complete gallery of Fallout vs Barbie photos can be found in the gallery on this website. Brownie points to anyone who can guess the right number of Fallout easter eggs in the middle picture above!


I was further honoured in December when Martin Daniels kindly interviewed myself for Integrity magazine and promoted the use of the Fallout vs Barbie shots in the article. I was delighted to have an opportunity to communicate a positive Transgender message to the world, along with seeing my pictures in print. The final sprinkling of fairy dust for this project was provided by Anna De Winter. As a Christmas present, Anna kindly did some wonderful background edits on some of the pictures and I will share these over time as they are fabulous.

London Calling


Love, hope, and company are all very well but what a girl really needs in her life is storage. Yes indeed, when you have over 250+ dresses, 70+ wigs and countless numbers of shoes it is not just useful but a necessity. So, upon completion of the Fallout shoot everything was neatly packed up and carted off to storage where it will remain until a suitable Comic Con comes around in 2022.


You will be glad to hear that I did not spend very long pondering the complexities of my storage situation and spent the rest of September in London having a very nice time, thank you. It was wonderful to spend time with my usual crew but also new friends including Suzi Foxx, Vicki Smith, and Sam Steel.


What is interesting is that during one 24-hour period in London, I managed to progress from the height of civility to somewhere…a bit lower than that. Yes, an evening at the Royal Albert Hall in our own box with champagne was wonderful and so was Magic Mike the following day. However, there were some distinct differences in the two experiences; for starters there were fewer groins thrust in my face during the French Orchestra session than there was in Covent Garden.


So, how did I come to be at Magic Mike? Well, it was a girls’ get together that was a precursor to Tiffany’s party in September. I must admit the whole experience was huge fun and it was ace to be out with the girls. However, come 10pm everyone who had attended the show in the afternoon was worn out! All that excitement and groin thrusting had simply taken it out of us (or put it in us…not sure which…it was all a blur!)


For myself there were two big take-aways from the Magic Mike experience. Firstly, there can be no question I am attracted to guys (little voice - oh yeah). However, the ultra machismo thing…it just doesn’t work for me. Secondly, and more importantly, I also learned it is important not to be the last person to sit down at this type of event. I spent the whole show at the end of a row in a state of near panic that I would get picked off for something horrid by the one of the dancers/strippers. Overall, it is a great experience, if safely surrounded by other girls to protect you.

Changes


Come October I had been on hormones for nearly a year, and it was interesting how my thoughts on transition were beginning to change. The earlier pre-occupation with vanity and facial surgery was starting to give way to the realities of my own transition and desire to stop being two people and become one – as soon as possible.


In the totality of my transition the big sticking point now was the need to come out to my employer. This was largely my own fault as upon until June I had actively followed a policy of keeping Stephanie a secret for as long as humanly possible. This had seemed a sensible strategy for the most part. However, this was starting to become deeply problematic; partly due to my obvious change in speech and behaviour, partly due to physical changes, but mainly because of my desire to just be free as myself full time.


It is also true that living every day as a woman leads you to a completely different set of priorities than you can imagine from the position of being a crossdresser. The once all-important facial surgery is suddenly not so important. You cannot simply go into a cocoon and emerge as a butterfly so its more important to communicate that you are on a transition journey rather than launching into the costliest high-risk procedure.

So, during October I ripped up the old transition plan and started anew. My new transition priorities supporting my real life as a woman became weight loss, facial hair removal, voice therapy, and hairline replacement. In fact, facial surgery has slipped a long way down the list for two reasons. Firstly, I want to be on hormones minimum 24 months before I consider any work on my face. This will provide enough time to see what benefit I get from the hormones. And secondly, from a purely functional point of view a boob job is higher on my priority list as it will help passing and being able to wear sensible clothes in summertime i.e., low cut tops so I don’t cook to death like I have done in all the previous years.


Fortunately, I had already started to lose weight and was progressing with voice therapy through online resources and GIC support. Both will take time but are achievable. More problematic was my hairline. It had become apparent in June that after 18 months of living as a woman I was destroying my real hairline from the constant wearing of wigs. I had always thought this was more of a problem for ex-drag queens from wearing heavy clipped in wigs. However, I was wrong. The grim reality was that I had come to the end of my wig wearing days if I wanted to avoid damaging my real hairline. Wig wearing full time had to end, preferably with immediate effect.


So, I started to grow out my own hair post the Fallout shoot and in parallel, began researching options for hairline replacement. I do not need a lot of hairline work at this stage, but my bank manager will be aware of it, nonetheless. After much investigation I have decided to use the Whimpole Clinic in London and hope to get a procedure in early 2022, Covid permitting. There are many other good providers and dear friends have had excellent results at the Maitland Clinic in Portsmouth, and further afield at Facial Team in Spain.

The facial hair removal process is more of a saga. I have been getting laser surgery for the past 18 months and whilst it had worked well, I had come to the end of what could be achieved with that method. It was now time for the dreaded painfully slow electrolysis.


Fortunately, and in the nick of time, my dear friend Yanira came back from 2Pass in Belgium with wonderful reports of their 8-hour intensive electro procedure. Brilliant I thought. This would be the panacea for dealing with my remaining facial hair. It was immediately obvious I must follow her to Belgium for day long treatments so that I could reduce the time it would take to get through the electro nightmare. And so, I planned to travel to Belgium for 2 days in December.


And so, we come onto the final transition element…mind and emotions. Oh my, I could nearly cry just thinking about it. As we come to the end of the year just thinking about endings is nearly enough to make me cry and at times, I have been all over the place. This is not at all unusual when starting to take hormones and already I feel more stable than I did a few months ago. There have been times over the past six months when I burst into tears for no reason and had to tell people “Don’t mind me, I just have the emotions of a 13-year-old girl!”


When I saw the scene below at the V&A Alice in Wonderful exhibition, I immediately thought it was a fitting comparison of my male vs female emotions. I now appreciate a lot more about what females think and feel than I did previously, that is for sure.



Work is a Four-Letter Word


Am I allowed to admit that I am finding writing this blog hard work? I mean, we have got this far together so I figure we are close friends now and I can be honest about it. Okay, I will get on with the blog. Lets talk about coming out at work and just get that bit done.


After so many years of attempting to keep my employers in the dark about being transgender, it had become inconceivable that I would ever turn up at the office one day dressed as a woman. It is therefore unsurprising that I did everything in my power to avoid this moment. However, once I started down the transition path I always knew this moment would come and that I would need to make some sort of communication. What did prove surprising, even to myself, was what I eventually decided to message to my employer, in an attempt to help my colleagues assimilate what I am doing.


So, for approximately 18 months I have been living full time as a woman and have been largely off camera, except with elements of the UK business who knew I was transgender and were totally cool with it. Now that I conceived going into the office or travelling as Stephanie it was necessary to figure out what I was going to say to introduce the idea to my employer.

In this regard I am extremely fortunate that my employer has an excellent transgender / LGBTQ+ policy and I simply followed the guidance. But what is interesting is what I have told them so far. Initially I had thought to tell my work “I am a transgender woman, pronouns she/her/hers etc.”


However, when I thought about the practicalities of transition this simply made no sense. Describing myself as a woman would be strange as it would describe an end state, rather than the reality of what people would experience on meeting me over the coming months and years. The reality is that I am going to have to navigate some choppy non-binary / gender neutral waters if I want to complete my journey from male to female.


Therefore, I decided in the end to communicate to my work was that I am non-binary / they /them /theirs, and in the process of transitioning towards being a woman. To my mind this makes perfect sense as the message I have communicated reflects what people will see and hopefully help them to interact with me in a sensible respectful way i.e., not ask me weekly if I have had bottom surgery yet.


So, in November I went to the head office as Stephanie for the first time. I cannot deny that I had moments of WTF, but it went very well. I could go into a much bigger discussion on my thoughts about coming out since that time, but as I already have four pages of material on that subject alone, I think its best left for another blog.

Life goes Pear shaped


For anyone who has been at sea, it is a dreadful feeling when the vessel you are on starts taking on water. You are now at the whim of the sea, and she is a cruel mistress. Everything can go south quickly and there is nothing you can do. Ballast moves around, centre of gravity goes all to hell and you have no control whatsoever. And that is very much like November 2021 for me.


The month started with promise, and I had a lovely time with Tiffany in Edinburgh at the Taiwanese film festival. But the torrential rain over those two days was an ominous sign of what was to come. By mid-November I had a crazy volume of work to get through, along with lots of plans for catching up with much loved friends laid over the top. And then I got the dreaded Covid.

Starting with the positive, fortunately Covid-19 did not hit me hard. I am thankful to live in the western world and have access to double jabs and the booster which undoubtedly helped reduce the symptoms. However, having the virus literally screwed up my entire life plans along with leaving me very tired for weeks afterwards.


Plans to meet dear friends at great expense, weekends away, work plans, and my Belgium electro appointment all went in the bin as I sat at home grumpily with my cat. My biggest upset was that I had let down a lot of friends who I love dearly and had been looking forward to spending time together. Then, after I was negative and all clear, attempts a few weeks later to visit another super friend down south were scuppered when a storm blew up on the one day I planned to travel, and all the trains were cancelled, negating my advance ticket. Really...


Now this is where personal resilience is important or failing morale fortitude, a damn good distraction is required. So, I merrily turned on my PS4 and sat at home in near isolation gaming most nights with a dear friend. The extent of gaming since has admittedly got so intensive that the relationship with my cat has deteriorated to him just sitting looking back at me in disgust.


It was also around this time that I finally decided to make another big change in my life. It was time to start killing Stephanie Ashton.


As mentioned previously, it is important now for my own mental health that I become a single real woman rather than continue any longer as split personas. Sadly, ‘she-who-will-follow’ will not be presented to the court under the name of Stephanie Ashton. Why? Well, the issue is that there are too many transitional properties about Miss Ashton that a full-time woman would not necessarily want to be associated. The smart people in the room will be able to guess what I am eluding too but simply put – I have enough challenges managing my relationships in transition without having to explain my past or the behaviours of anyone else.


Therefore, I have decided to let my fb account atrophy and Instagram will be the only remaining home for Miss Ashton for the foreseeable future. The good news is that in the fullness of time I will re-emerge with another fb account, flying proudly under my female name. However, that is realistically some way off and it will not be that interesting anyway. It will be more of a private account for my real life friends and family, so they know what I am up to in my normal female day to day life :D



Final Remarks


So, well done for making it to the end of the blog. I have found it a challenge to write down the last six months, but we have happily made it to the finish line together. I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and that you are all fighting fit for what is to come in 2022. I have great hopes for next year and it will certainly be another year of big changes for myself whatever happens.


I hope you have enjoyed this blog and fear not, it will not be long before the next one. I have a blog on Coming Out that I want to write to share my thoughts on that experience so far.


Take care out there my friends and very best wishes for 2022!


Steffie xx