Two Transitions, One Year


Stephanie Garrett

Stephanie Garrett is transitioning. But not only in the way you might think.

Garrett describes her family life in Houston as chaotic, filled with drugs, alcohol and violence. “Texas style violence” she said scornfully. A heavy drinker by age 12, Garrett graduated to heroin, speed, and cocaine, whatever was available. Was it gender dysphoria or her family drama that caused her distress?, Garrett wondered out loud, answering, “I have no idea, I just stuffed everything.”

Garrett was diagnosed with AIDS as a senior in college. Told she had three to five years to live, she left college and committed herself to drinking and using, and over the next twenty years, journeyed in and out of jails, treatment centers, and half way houses, in the process, moving to San Francisco. With no hope, and nothing to live for, Garrett tried to kill herself, directly, and slowly, with drugs and alcohol. “I’m lucky I didn’t die in some back alley in the Tenderloin,” Garrett said.

But that was not what propelled her to her “bottom.” It was, instead, a rare disease, avascular necrosis, that blocks the blood’s flow to the bones, causing breakage and eventually bone collapse. Garrett found herself in the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, alone, frightened and in excruciating physical and emotional pain. It was there that Garrett had an epiphany, “I can die or I can live.”

“Most people never leave Laguna Honda,” Garrett observed. “But I had something to live for”: following her long buried wish to transition her gender. She called AHP and started to see a therapist who helped her navigate her gender transition. Within a short period she had stopped smoking, quit heavy drugs, and began to attend therapy and harm reduction groups at AHP. Stephanie felt her treatment at AHP helped her slow down, take things one step at a time, but keep taking the steps. It seems a coincidence that this time also marked Garrett’s other transition: her bone disease required her to adjust to being disabled, to taking those steps in a wheelchair.

Garrett’s motto is to set goals, meet them, and keep setting them. She now buzzes around town in a motorized wheelchair, claiming her mobility just as she claimed her life. She plans to go back to school and become an LGBT advocate. And she has a vision to start her own T-shirt business and even the caption for her first shirt, “Narcissistic Altruist.”

These days you can find Garrett at the LGBT Center attending Trans Life groups. If you were among the lucky ones to attend the Trans Day of Remembrance at the LGBT Center, you may have seen some of the work that she and other organizers created. Garrett is planning to stay connected, help others, and take advantage of this opportunity to live the life she never even dreamed possible.