As the conversation about gender identity continues, kids are coming out as trans younger and younger. But for some, transitioning comes later in life—much later in life, in the case of Gloria Stein, who underwent gender confirmation surgery in her 70s.
Director Robyn Symon has been working on Uncle Gloria: One Helluva Ride, about Stein’s life, for more than a decade—well before the advent of Transparent or Time magazine declaring our culture’s trans “tipping point.” Much of what Symon captured is a less-than-ideal way of discussing trans lives, though we can’t invalidate that it is Stein’s life—and her story to tell.
She shares her own truth, even if she doesn’t use the language most trans advocates prefer.
Prior to transitioning, Stein owned a auto-body shop in South Florida and fell into legal troubles. She initially posed as a woman to escape the law, but discovered it was her true identity and began taking the steps to transition fully.
“It’s like I woke up one day and thought ’If you like women so much, why don’t you become one?'” she tells the camera. The footage was shot over the last two decades, and many of the discussions on her decision to transition are uncomfortable, as they are different from most ideas about transgender identity. Stein speaks of her transition like it was a decision she made that ultimately benefitted her because, as a man, she was unlikable.
But this is her journey to herself, and she’s happy to share it. Like how she taught herself how to smile—men don’t smile, Gloria insists, but women do—and how much calmer and nicer she feels with less testosterone in her body.
Yes, Uncle Gloria is problematic, but it is Stein’s story, and this is her truth. She lived the majority of her life in a time when transitioning was was never part of the conversation, so she made it up as she went along. Perhaps the documentary is best viewed through the lens of a time capsule, of how things used to be for trans women before they created the language and agency to experience a truer existence.
In this exclusive clip, Stein comes out to her nephew, Steven, who she hasn’t seen in several years. Although he says he was initially “repulsed” by the idea of his aunt’s surgeries, he later became an advocate for her and even helped her to secure health insurance after she was given the runaround.
Uncle Gloria: One Helluva Ride is in theaters November 3.