Women’s History Month: Spotlighting Women Who Make a Difference

Dr. Stephanie Dykes has many of the same concerns as middle-aged women all over America. She worries about finding love in middle-age, coloring her hair, and mammograms. She worries about the economy and her personal finances, as she was displaced from her Vice-President position at the bank formerly known as Wachovia on October 1. She has had to deal with a very messy divorce and issues with her ex.

Dykes differs from other women in that she spent the first 32 years of her life living as a man. At the age of 32, she was formally diagnosed by a physician with Gender Identity Disorder, and has been taking female hormones since her mid-40s.

Dykes is a male-to-female transsexual.

She grew up as any boy would, although she first knew that she was different at the age of 11. Her favorite toys were her toy M-16 and plastic soldiers. She was aware of her attraction to women. In her thirties, she had what would be considered the normal white, middle-class, male life-she was married, had a son, a mortgage that was too big, and lived in the suburbs of Charlotte.

But she was distinctly aware of a lack of congruence between what she knew to be true and her everyday reality. The question of transitioning was one of authenticity for Dykes. At mid-age, mortality became a reality for her, and she did not want to go through this life never having been herself. The decision to express her female identity did not come without consequence for her. It led to the end of her marriage and alienation from ex-wife, mother, and 15 year old son.

Dykes has endured, however, and continues to be a transgender speaker and consultant. She has spoken in Wisconsin and at WCU. She first visited Cullowhee last year, when she spoke at the annual Gender Conference. She also recently spoke at the Unity-sponsored Transgender Panel, and is the keynote speaker for this year’s Gender Conference, titled “Gender, Family, and Work”.

She found Western’s campus to be very accepting, and has found a sort of chosen family here at WCU. Here, she met Kaleb Xander Lynch, who, along with others, identifies Dykes as a mother figure. Although her relationship with her biological son was severed as a result of her transition, there are several men on campus who refer to her as “Mom”. She says that she imagines that if her relationship with her biological son is repaired and he ever meets her various “trans-sons,” it is likely they will say “your dad was the best mom we ever had.”

When asked her definition of a woman, Dykes replies that it is “more about what you feel inside you.” She feels gentle, kind, caring, and compassionate, and altogether like a woman. She also poses the question, “Who gets to call themselves a woman?”

Womanhood cannot be specifically defined by any set of criteria, just as gender cannot. Stephanie urges people not to buy into any stereotypes regarding women. With manicured nails, she played football with two of her chosen sons over Thanksgiving, and this did not detract from her womanhood. Her attraction to other women also does not.

In the future, Dykes hopes to reconcile her relationship with her mother and son, although she knows that regardless of this, her chosen family will be by her side. She hopes to once again become gainfully employed. Ideally, she would like to make a career of speaking on transgender issues, but her 13 years experience in marketing research makes it likely that she will be returning to that field. She would also like to find love and a partner although she is cautious in this, saying that “being married taught that there are worse things than being alone.”

Dykes is a woman of exceeding personal strength and resilience. She is a role model not only to women or transgendered people, but to anyone who understands the sacrifice that is sometimes necessary to be genuine. She expresses her wish that “everyone (transgender or not) can find happiness in their body, and find love.”