These high points all came through her work at a centre for handicapped children near York. Every Tuesday, as a trusted prisoner, she was allowed out to spend the day with the children – helping them with their exercises, reading to them and giving them love and support.
As a transsexual, Stephanie was used to feeling like an outsider from society. She found she had a great affinity towards the children, who were also excluded through no fault of their own/ It was an affinity she had never really experienced before. She didn’t forget her experience with the children, and after she had won her freedom she continued with voluntary work for the charity Riding for the Disabled.
It took 3 long months before her appeal was eventually heard, and she was immediately released. The Appeal Court judges had been in no doubt at all that the sentence had been excessively harsh. Stephanie should have been jubilant, but the strain of being in prison had taken its toll. And once back at home, she had a business to run.
“Everyone suffers when someone is locked away like that. It was bad for me of course, and for Raiko who had had an even worse time of it. But David had been just left to carry all the burdens of the business alone, and to worry about me at the same time.
“He was wonderful, and without him and the commitment of our staff the business would just not have survived. Once I was free, I was determined to play my full part.”
Transformation moved up another gear, with the opening of more stores around the UK. By now, Stephanie was beginning to win the propaganda battle and a transvestite shop was more acceptable than before. Only in Scotland did they hit a brick wall. The Scottish laws are different from the English ones in a number of ways, and the legislators who wear tartan skirts and frilly shirts don’t understand men who wear floral skirts and blouses. Instead, Newcastle-on-Tyne proved the ideal compromise.
At the same time the company expanded its mail-order business in the USA and Europe, and especially in Germany. When she wasn’t working long hours in the office, Stephanie was on the road or in the air. She had always been a workaholic, but the wasted months in prison were driving her even harder, Her body just couldn’t take it. One Sunday evening in 1990, at the end of yet another weekend of paperwork and planning, Stephanie suffered a stroke that left her paralysed down the right hand side of her body. After intensive physiotherapy over several months, she was fortunate enough to make a full recovery.
“It was a warning that I couldn’t ignore. The doctors told me I was working myself into an early grave and it was an especially worrying time for David. I had to agree to a total change in lifestyle.”
“We moved out of the bustle of Manchester and bought a small holding in a beautiful and tranquil area of Wales. Here I could literally lose myself in the vast openness of the countryside, where David and I can walk together across the hills for miles and never see another soul.
I could also indulge myself in the company of animals. Dogs had always been my most constant and faithful companions, and this was their ideal environment. We started to keep sheep and now even have three adorable llamas. In times of stress there’s nothing more relaxing than being out in the fields with the animals. And in the lambing season it’s especially magical – that must be my favourite time of the year.
But you can’t keep a good workaholic down, and even the distractions of the countryside couldn’t keep Stephanie away from the action. She started commuting regularly into the office, and when she wasn’t there she kept in constant touch via fax or mobile phone. It wasn’t what the doctor had ordered. Again, the stress
took its toll.
Two further strokes followed over the next few years. Each time she has recovered, although the last one has caused some permanent damage to her sight. Next time, she knows she may not be so lucky.
“I know I should slow down, everybody tells me I should, and it makes perfect sense. But we’ve come so far in a relatively short time, and there’s so much more I would like to do. My problem is, I enjoy it so much I just don’t want to stop. When I look back at how we started against all the odds and how we had to battle to succeed, it’s an achievement I’ll always be proud of.
f508_1698.jpgThe growth of Transformation has been an astonishing one. It now has four stores in major UK cities. At the same time, it’s extensive mail order and online business serves customers throughout the world.
The Albany Clinic has helped scores of would-be transsexuals to come to terms with their condition, guiding them along the once difficult path towards gender reassignment. It has also provided the necessary counselling for many TVs, for whom the guilt of cross-dressing had become confused with transsexualism, to help them understand how they could learn to enjoy their femininity without any need of surgery.
Transformation’s greatest success, however, has been through its pioneering of the transvestite cause. Remember, before Transformation, there were no specialist shops in the UK catering exclusively for the needs of TVs. There was nowhere in the country that TVs could go to try on a skirt, never mind being able to dress as a woman and spend several hours in the role.
Manchester didn’t want us, and when the Transformation store opened in Birmingham there was an outcry in the evening papers. In the late 1980s, just a short while ago, transvestites were merely perverts in the eyes of good Midlands folk. It was Stephanie who showed them they were wrong. Now, cross-dressing is considered more quirky than kinky. You can hardly open a women’s magazine or turn on the television without some cross-dresser getting in on the act.
The one person you’re not likely to see is Stephanie herself. After years of campaigning in the harsh lights of media coverage, she now leaves that to others.
“I did it because I felt I had to, when no one else would. Transvestism was just swept under carpet and society didn’t seem to care about the effect this had on the TVs themsleves. And as for transsexuals like myself, we were just freaks of nature that no one wanted to know.
“We’ve got beyond that, thankfully. I’m still here fighting on issues, like the stupidity of the law that prevents me from being my husband’s legal wife, but from the sidelines and not from centre stage. I just want a quiet life.”
Stephanie has had a life with more than its fair share of ups and downs. Who could have predicted that the high-flying, macho marketing manager of the 1970s would in a few short years be spending time in a women’s prison? But then who could have predicted that she would have found a husband to protect and care for her; that she could have built up an international company; that she could have broken down barriers that had existed for centuries, or that she could have helped deliver a lamb.
It’s been quite a life so far. Only time will tell whether her dream of a quieter life for the future is the one fantasy that Transformation can’t turn into reality…