This story was originally published on July 1st, 2016, and we're bringing it to your attention again in honor of Transgender Day Of Visibility.
Sal Steiner can remember the first time he knew he was a man. As a shy 6-year-old, he would watch kids on the playground, noticing the typical heteronormative dynamic between boys and girls.
"Personality-wise, I just wasn’t like the girls,
and I was attracted to them," the now 34-year-old told Refinery29. "I saw the boys flirting with the girls, and I was like, I am that."
Thanks to less-than-stellar sex-ed and a religious home where his anatomy was never discussed, Steiner spent his early teen years expecting his penis to come in — it seemed natural to him. He didn't get his period until he was 17 and his vagina never bothered him, but once he started developing breasts in his late teens, he started to feel a real disconnect with his body.
"I remember, like all of a sudden, I was curling my shoulders in, so that my breasts weren't as prominent," he said. "They were beautiful, but they just didn’t feel a part of me. They felt like they were outside myself."
This feeling of estrangement from his body continued, even as Steiner married a man, got divorced, and eventually came out as a lesbian and finally trans at the age of 30. He's now living in San Francisco and working as a roastery manager. He considers himself very fortunate to be surrounded by both an open-minded, supportive community and a loving family.
In 2012, Steiner finally got top surgery, a gender-confirming procedure to remove his breasts. We spent a day with him in New York City recently to learn more about his story and his path to transitioning. The photos, taken by Tim Soter, capture many of the daily routines Steiner has incorporated into his life post-transition and they depict a man who is finally at peace with his body and how the outside world views it.
Steiner's journey, of course, is unique to him. But sharing stories like his will help put faces to the hundreds of thousands of trans people (
and counting) in the U.S. Ahead, Steiner opens up about letting go of societal judgment, the realities of testosterone injections, and how his life changed after getting top surgery.
"At home, I'm always in my underwear with my shirt off; and I live with five other people, so I'm pretty comfortable showing like...you know, like just being normal with my shirt off if I'm at the beach or wherever. [My scars] don't bother me. When I look at them, I'm like,
Wow, I got cut there. At first, I was like, I'll get tattoos and cover up the scars, but now, I think scars are cool.
"The biggest challenges in this transition are dealing with the outside world, dealing with how people see me now. I was dealing with that before, but people saw me as like a dyke, a lesbian, or a really masculine woman. And they have their ideas about it and I don’t care, but it's interesting to me going from that and being viewed as a woman and then being viewed as a man."
Photographed by Tim Soter. More
"I feel lucky in the sense that I've gotten behind the scenes in both genders. Or if you believe that two genders exist — I don’t believe that there's two separate genders — but I'm just speaking in our world that we live in. In America, there are very definite genders.
"The way that people speak to me [has changed], especially as a white man. I therapize myself a lot about how the outside world is affecting who I am and who I want to be perceived as. At first, I was super into it and then I was like,
Ugh, I'm not into this. I don’t always like being a part of the boy's club. I just want to be a human, you know?
"The way that [many men] speak behind the scenes about women...mmm, not into it. Not all guys are like that, of course, but the mainstream dudes, they're just...god, they say the raunchiest shit and it's just very degrading — just stereotypical trash. I think the best thing about being part of the guy's club is it allows me to actually stand up for women more."
Photographed by Tim Soter. More
"I love my body. I mean, there are a few things that I think about [that make me insecure]. I'm like,
I need to get more buff and be like this ripped guy on the cover of Men's Health. All normal stuff." Photographed by Tim Soter. More Read More
"Every two weeks, I take 1 cc of testosterone. It's usually mixed with some sort of oil. Different people decide how much [testosterone] they are going to take, depending on if they're gonna take it every week or every two weeks. I have a lot of tattoos, but I'm not really into sticking myself with stuff every week. It feels weird to me. I've only been doing it for, I don’t know, like three years, four years, maybe? So, it's still pretty new.
"I didn’t think that I was gonna take T at first. To be honest, I was like,
I just want my boobs gone — I don’t know about the hair situation. And then, my surgeon said, 'You should start taking T before you have the surgery, so you can develop your pecs,' and all this jazz. So, when he said that, I was like, Why don’t I just go for it instead of tiptoeing in? So, I did. Then, I felt so much better. I immediately started to feel more comfortable in my body." Photographed by Tim Soter. More
"My first nurse who showed me [how to give myself a shot] told me I could put it in my butt, too, but it's better to put it into muscle. And she told me to switch over to a different hip [each time]. When I do it, I get hungry about 10 minutes after. I have a kind of regimen now, since if I know I'm going to inject it, I'm going to have to eat something right away.
"When I first started injecting it, I was like,
Wow, I'm really, really hungry right now. And every now and again, I'm like, Is this making me feel different? When I first started, the first few years, I really could feel a difference. Now, it's very slight, but I always wonder if it's, psychologically speaking, just my psyche saying, I feel different. I don't know." Photographed by Tim Soter. More
On his chest tattoo: "I was born on the seventh of July and I've always had a weird thing for the number seven. I know it's a really popular lucky number, but I wouldn't say it's my lucky number. I would say it's a very important number to me. And I'm not sure why, but I kind of get nerdy when it comes to signs or symbolism.
"For instance, I was born on 7/7/81; and one day, I got super into how numbers are really important in the universe. And I was like,
Oh, 81 — eight minus one is seven, so there's another seven. And then I looked at my mom, my dad, and my brother. My dad was born on the seventh, my mom was born on the 29th, and my brother was born on the 18th, and all of those are sevens or they subtract to seven. That’s kind of weird.
"It could not mean anything, but it means something to me, you know?"
Photographed by Tim Soter. More
"My [insert] is fairly new and it's very interesting. There's several places that make things that you can pee into, like if you go camping. Especially for women, it always sucks pulling your pants down. So, I've used those a couple of times, but never in a urinal setting or anything.
"I was researching and I was like,
You know, it would be really cool if I could have this piece that I could use for peeing and for sex at the same time. So, I found Peecock and I ordered the size that I wanted, the color that I wanted, and there's like an insert that you can put in there that makes it erect and moves it around. When I got it, I was like, Whoa, now I have a detachable penis." Photographed by Tim Soter. More
"It's helpful going to bars, since some don't even have stalls in the men's rooms — some urinals are, like, troughs. So, it can be really interesting when you go in and you're pulling your pants down and the dudes in there are like, 'You don’t have a penis, what's happening?'
"I mean, I've done it where I'm just like,
Fuck it, I'm going. I'm going to hover over the fucking trough, and I don’t really care what you think of me. I'm not really that shy when it comes to that stuff. I don’t really care what people think of me, because I've spent so much of my life worrying about that and not being myself. So, at this point in my life, I'm like, Eh, I don’t care. I think that’s part of age, too. As you get older, you kind of say, 'You know what? Screw it.'
"What's fascinating is I haven't used it yet for sex, so I feel like a virgin again. [I feel different when I'm wearing it], because I notice that there's something there. Some days, I'm like,
This feels good. Other days, I'm like, Wow, people have to deal with something down there all the time? I go back and forth. I don’t wear it every day. I'm learning now when to wear it and when not to wear it." Photographed by Tim Soter. More
On how he discovered the concept of being trans: "When I was 23 or 24, I joined a drag troupe in Omaha called The Kingsmen and it was awesome for me. My character was this really angry goth character and it allowed me to channel a lot of inner anger that I had from living in this town that I didn’t want to live in and just like dealing with my childhood baggage and my gender problems.
"So, I had joined this troupe and I met two people who were transitioning — or actually, you know what was interesting is one had transitioned into a guy and then back into a woman, and I think now he is a he again. I know a few people [like that]. They’ll start to take T and transition, and then they’ll think about their gender a little bit more. It's very fluid, you know, the gender possibilities.
"But anyway, I met these two people and they told me all about it. And I was like,
What? I had been thinking about [this idea] in my head, but I hadn’t actively investigated...I was like, Wow, this is a big thing. So, I continued to research it and I thought about it for a good solid six years before I took the plunge." Photographed by Tim Soter. More
"I would say that I'm still transitioning. But at the same time, I view life as that. Like, I feel like we all need to transition at one point or another, or many points during our lives. So, I'm just the same as everyone else. I'm just doing different things."
Photographed by Tim Soter. More Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here? 8 Common Misconceptions About Gender Reassignment Surgery For Me, Plan B Meant Baby 18 Powerful Tweets For Transgender Day Of Visibility