Stephanie Vaughan was born intersex. Her genitals were modified at birth and she was unaware that the medical procedure had taken place until she was aged in her 50’s. As a result of medical issues Stephanie was experiencing in 2012, it was revealed she was producing high levels of oestrogen; the problem was she was male.
I was born in Yorkshire in 1961 to a well known farming family, the youngest of three boys and was christened Robin Vaughan Ullyott, and I spent the first 12 weeks of my life in hospital, supposedly because I was underweight. I was two weeks premature and weighed just two kilos. According to Reachout “intersex people are born with physical features, such as genitals, that don’t fit what doctors expect for either female or male bodies, this can mean that intersex children who are healthy may have to undergo physical examinations and surgeries, and take hormones, to make their bodies look more like those of typical girls or boys. Many people who have had surgeries and hormone treatments have been harmed by them, especially when they weren’t given a choice, all surgeries can lead to scarring, and to a loss of feeling in and around the affected body parts”.
When I was a child I presented as male, however I started having doubts about my gender at eight years of age. “It sort of started there, the doubting in my own mind; I started thinking something did not add up but I did not know what,” When I was around 13 years old I started developing breasts, I was developing as a girl not a boy, and the confusion got worse.
After an incident at school I realised I was different to the other boys in my class. I eventually spoke to my parents when I got the courage to do so. From there I was taken to doctors and specialists. It is all so clear in my mind – the first specialist examined me – he looked at his records and wanted nothing further to do with it. He gave us a referral to see a second specialist. My dad took me to see him – he examined me; it was really strange. He sat behind this huge desk with a cigarette in hand. He asked me to go behind a curtain and undress while he had a conversation with my father. He was very kind to me and caring but after examining me he just nodded, told me to get dressed and then had a conversation with my father which I could not hear. When I came from behind the curtain my dad was waiting at the door and when we got home I was told I had breasts because I was overweight.
I was put on a diet which did not make any difference to my physical appearance. There were two guys in my class who were a good deal heavier than me and they did not have breasts. And even if I had been stick thin it would not have changed what was going on in my head, I was teased and bullied at school so I would not go. We had a 40 minute bus ride to get to school and when the bus dropped us off I would often hide in the town until it was time to catch the bus when it was home time.”
When I left school I had no qualifications and worked on my parents’ dairy farm. I thought that would be an end to the teasing and bullying, and it was to an extent; but it did not stop the confusion in my head. I used to go to bed at night and hope that I would wake up as a girl. One night I thought to myself – if I do wake up as a girl what would I call myself. So I chose the name Stephanie when I was 13. My original name Robin could have gone either way, but I wanted it to be a complete contrast.
I thought i would spend my life on the family farm eventually taking it over from her dad, but in 1980 my parents announced they were emigrating to Australia; I was 19 at the time. My dad said I was welcome to go with them, but they were going whether I went with them or not. I was 19 and homeless but I had lots of help from friends and soon found somewhere to live. I hurt my back farming and found my way into the motor trade; a career which was incredibly good to me. That is how I found my way to Busselton – I was here on holiday with my partner in 2005. I was introduced to Ray Mountney, the owner of the local Holden and Nissan dealership, who offered me a job. It was a life changing opportunity.
I moved to Busselton, and some time later started experiencing thyroid problems after losing weight. After numerous blood tests to try and get to the bottom of the thyroid problem it became apparent that I was producing masses of oestrogen; much more than a female my age. The doctor first thought I had a tumour and I had every scan and test known to mankind. I was accused of self inflicting oestrogen by an endocrinologist, which really upset me. My GP had faith that this was not the case, and she was just absolutely determined to get to the bottom of it.
My partner and I went back to the UK for four months in 2015 and my doctor asked me to try and get my health records from the National Health Service. I remember her saying that she didn’t know what she was looking for but was hoping for a clue. When I was sent the health records, half of them were missing. They were not just missing they were blatantly covered up. They were handwritten notes that had been photocopied and there were pages that were half folded over to hide something. I was very suspicious and called the lady who had dealt with me. I thanked her for sending the records but noted that there seemed to be a lot missing and asked how I could obtain them. The lady told me I had been given what the Department considered to be in the patient’s best interest. If I wanted more I would need to go to court. But she told me to bear in mind they were not obliged to give me anything prior to the year 2000 when the Freedom of Information Act came into effect.
“When we returned to Australia I showed them to my doctor. She asked me whether I thought the missing records were suspicious. I told her yes, but I did not know what to do about it. Stephanie’s doctor went through her records carefully and referred her to a specialist in Perth. I went to his office and he was really lovely. I told him my history so far. He asked me if I always presented as male. I told him I presented as male in public and sometimes cross-dressed in private. He examined me and asked that I get dressed and return to his desk, when I got back on his screen were images of men who all had an L-shaped scar of varying degrees. He asked if those scars looked familiar, I said yes, I have a scar like that. He said, the problem with you being born intersex is that, 50 years later, it is impossible for me to tell you what degree of intersex you were born.
I asked him to repeat what he had said and he started saying it again and then realised that I did not know. He set about explaining what it means and how it happens. I left that room absolutely shell-shocked. I slipped into a downward spiral and by the middle of 2016 I was ready to throw in the towel. I must have been dreadful to live with but my partner and I talked a lot. She has absolutely been my hero; we got together at the end of 2012, and in August 2016 she told me that if I wanted to change sex she would support me. She told me I was her best friend and that she did not want to lose me. She also said that she did not know what it would do to our relationship but we would cross that bridge when we came to it.
I couldn’t believe what I had heard. It was what I had wanted, but felt I never had the courage to do. With my partners support it made things possible. After psychiatric and psychological counselling I was given the go-ahead to transition from male to female. I slowly revealed to my story to my friends and all were supportive. I found a surgeon in the Philadelphia (US) who performed gender reassignment surgery, and after Skype consultations with her, I travelled to America to undergo the procedure in 2017.
I am proud that I am now living as the person I should have always been and recently released an autobiography about my life titled Half Him Half Her. The book took me two years to write and a year to go through the editing process. It has been a huge, huge task. I did not go to school much, so my English is not fantastic. Thankfully I had some amazing help. Some days I would open my iPad and my mind would be blank. Other days I just could not type as fast as things came into my head. It has been a challenge and a big journey since I found out about my beginnings; it really affected my mental health.