In most ways, Aiden Stockman is a typical 18-year-old guy.
The Yucca Valley resident recently graduated from high school. He is just getting his driver’s license, and he’s debating what to do with his life.
However, attendees of Palm Springs Pride’s Harvey Milk Breakfast, held in downtown Palm Springs on May 22, know Aiden is far from typical: He and his mother, Kelli Drake, spoke at the event, and had many attendees in tears as they told Aiden’s story of struggle—and surprising acceptance—in Yucca Valley as a transgender youth.
Of course, transgender people are all over the news these days, thanks to the success of Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox, the Golden Globe win for Jeffrey Tambor playing a transgender woman on the Amazon.com series Transparent, and, most notably, the journey of Caitlyn Jenner.
However, Aiden—who was born Victoria Stockman—was dealing with what’s called “gender dysphoria” well before anyone had heard of Laverne Cox, Transparent or Caitlyn Jenner. While his journey was far from easy—in fact, it almost cost Aiden his life—he said his Yucca Valley High School classmates were incredibly supportive when he finally told them he was transgender.
“Everybody at school was like, ‘OK, cool. That’s what you want to do?’ he said during a recent interview with his mother at the Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs. “I got Homecoming Prince during my senior year, and I was on the wrestling team, so people didn’t really care. Your classmates vote for Homecoming Prince.
“I dealt with some pricks here and there. I was sitting at a table one time with friends at lunch, and all of a sudden, these guys threw a bunch of food at me. They called me a faggot, and I was like, ‘All right, whatever.’ Obviously, it hurt my feelings, and I just started to walk away. My friend Jared and my friend Kevin asked me what was wrong, and I told them; they went up and got up in their faces and yelled at them. My whole family and my cousins messaged them and got in their faces, too. The next day, they came up to me and said they were sorry.”
While some may find the support that Aiden received from classmates to be a welcome surprise, nobody should be surprised by a recent graduation honor his classmates bestowed upon him.
Aiden was voted “Most Changed Since Freshman Year.”
As she looked over photos of Aiden as a child, Kelli Drake noted that Aiden always showed off a masculine side.
“I think when me and Aiden’s stepdad got married, it was a fight, because we wanted him to wear a dress, and he was like, ‘I’m not wearing that!’” she said. “So we had to settle on a pair of brown skorts. He was mad that we even made him wear that.”
While Kelli Drake can laugh at memories like this now, Aiden’s childhood at times was downright painful. She talked about how Aiden spent almost an entire school year in and out of the Loma Linda University Medical Center, dealing with depression and behavioral issues. It was during this time she learned Aiden was binding his chest with an Ace bandage.
“We didn’t know he was doing that until we took him to Loma Linda, and they were doing admitting,” she said. “They do searches and go through all their stuff. The lady brought it out, and I asked, ‘What the hell is this, and where did it come from?’ We had no idea. It wasn’t until after that we saw what was going on.”
Aiden said he can remember when he decided he wanted to transition.
“It was probably during seventh-grade when I started going through puberty. It was kind of a wakeup call, and I was like, ‘This sucks!’” he said. “During my freshman year, I went to the hospital in Loma Linda, and I was there for a couple of months back and forth. … They just loaded me up on medication and were like, ‘OK, there you go. You’re fine.’
“I remember I came out to my mom as transgender during my sophomore year, and that’s when I started going to a psychologist, and I got the paper from the psychologist saying it was necessary for me to start hormone therapy, because I had gender dysphoria.”
At one point, Aiden tried to kill himself.“I remember my mom and my stepdad went somewhere, and my brother was home with me. I just took all of the pills. I was having a dysphoria kind of day. When my mom came home, I told her I took them all, and I felt bad I did it in front of my brother. I went to the hospital, and my mom stayed with me all night.”
Aiden and his mother have learned the hard way that insurance companies often don’t deal well with the issues transgender individuals face.
“We would call up the insurance company and get a representative over the phone and say, ‘OK, this is the deal: My son is transgender. We need to find an endocrinologist and hormone-replacement therapy,’” Kelli Drake said. “They would put me on hold and wind up e-mailing me this letter with a thousand different doctors on it—and they’re all doctors that are trying to get him pregnant. It was very hard to find doctors that dealt with this, and even the doctor we see in Redlands now, Dr. (Victor) Perkel—Aiden is the first transgender person he’s ever treated. He usually treats people for diabetes and stuff like that, not for this.”
However, Kelli Drake said Dr. Perkel has been supportive of Aiden’s needs as he goes through the physical transition from female to male.
“We made a few phone calls at first and made sure he knew why we were going there,” she said. “When we went there, we already had the letter from a therapist saying he had been through therapy and basically had his brain picked, and this is what he wants. Surprisingly, Dr. Perkel was fine with it and said, ‘Wow, this is great; of course I’ll do it.’ The first couple of months, we had to go down there because of the shots, and now we’re to the point where he writes a prescription and calls it in, and Aiden injects himself once a week. It’s a relief. We also had to get a letter from him because we found a plastic surgeon who does this kind of top surgery, and he basically wanted a letter from Dr. Perkel saying that Aiden understands the surgery is irreversible, just to cover his butt. (The plastic surgeon) got a letter in the mail a week later recommending the surgery, saying that it was medically necessary.”
Later this year, Aiden will have that chest surgery, or “top surgery,” as it’s called.
“I’m not nervous about it at all, and I’m really excited,” he said. “My cousin wanted to go to the U.S. Open of Surfing tournament this summer. I told him I’m not going, and he asked me why, and I said it was seeing guys with their shirts off, and I couldn’t take mine off. He didn’t know it, but last year, it sucked for me.”
Earlier this year, Aiden had his name and gender legally changed.
“It went through on March 23,” Aiden said. “The judge was all like, ‘Good morning,’ and I said, ‘Hey!’ He asked if I wanted the name change and the gender change, and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and then he said, ‘Congratulations! You’re a young man now.’ And I yelled, ‘SWEET!’
“We walked out of the courtroom, and my mom said, ‘You’re supposed to be polite and say, <em>Yes, your honor</em>.’ It was my moment for a second, and he got me happy.”
Despite some great moments, Aiden is still struggling with a lot of issues related to his transition.
“I want to join the Army or the Marines, but they said I couldn’t until I’ve fully transitioned,” he said. “They would call my phone, asking for Victoria Stockman, and I would answer like, ‘Yeah, this is her.’ I was thinking about going to college and getting my prerequisites done, but I don’t really know, honestly. I’ve just been hanging out.”
It’s all too common for transgender individuals to face challenges regarding unemployment. A 2013 report issued by the Human Rights Campaign showed transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed, and that four out of 10 transgender people who do have jobs are underemployed.
“I would try to get a job, but I would go into places, and my stuff wasn’t changed yet, and it says ‘Victoria Stockman’ on it,” Aiden said. “People would give me an application; I would fill it out, go back in, and they’d look at it and be like, ‘Yeah, OK, we’ll call you.’ … It’s a cold shoulder. It sucks.”
However, Aiden has found comfort in sharing his story.
“Through the (Yucca Valley High) Gay Straight Alliance, Palm Springs Pride, and the Harvey Milk Breakfast, I’ve talked to a bunch of kids, and I’ve shared my doctor’s information,” he said. “If someone older than me could have explained it to me, I wouldn’t have had to go through all this myself.
“If they want information, I’m really open about it. I talk about everything, and if someone wants to know something, I tell them.”
Below: Aiden Stockman today, and pictures from his childhood.Aiden’s mother, Kelli Drake, said Aiden—formerly known as Victoria—showed a masculine side even as a toddler and a young child.