Stargazer Lily's Singer Formerly Known as Steph Hayes Shares Story of Becoming a Man

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 7 | Posted Sep. 28, 2011

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Photo by jeff fusco

It’s a hot summer night on South Street but it’s cool and dark inside Tritone bar, where the lineup is a rowdy variety showcase of GLBTQ acts. Musician Steph Hayes hangs out offstage, waiting to be introduced. It’s a bit of sly showmanship, really—everyone in this bawdy crowd already knows Steph.

In the years since first breaking out in the early 1990s with seminal Philly band Stargazer Lily, Hayes has graced almost every local stage and countless others across the country while playing in different projects: There’s the solo stuff, sometimes with back-up band the Good Problems, plucking bass with Chris Schutz and the Tourists, plus a regular gig singing back-up alongside Stargazer Lily co-founder Sue Rosetti for slide-guitar impresario Slo-Mo.

Socially, a relaxed rock-star swagger and a chiseled porcelain face has long made Hayes a heartthrob to lesbians in this town.

But while almost everyone in Philadelphia knows Steph Hayes, it’s just now becoming common knowledge that for years, Hayes struggled with a secret burden.

The drum rolls theatrically. With all the gusto of a commenter calling a boxing match, the host announces, for one of the first times ever in public, the artist formerly known as Steph Hayes.

Introducing Mr. Stephan Hayes!” the host trills.

As Hayes starts to play, the physical changes from seven months of hormone replacement therapy are noticeable: The shape of his face has changed; its skin is rough. He’s broader and more muscular from a regimen of push-ups to build up pectoral muscles. In more ways than one, Stephan Hayes (pronouced Steph-in) is a new man.

The 37-year-old singer straps on his signature Guild acoustic with the blue-star-studded guitar strap and rips through catalogue favorite “Big, Big Dreams.”

I live inside my head with the part of me that’s dead and my big, big dreams,” he sings. “I feel left out but I don’t want to come in.”

He careens through the song, throwing each line off like it might smother him if he didn’t.

His eyes close. “I can tell you a secret but it requires that we barter and I don’t know what you’ve got,” he sings. “It’s impossible to be me.

The crowd whistles and hollers. When Hayes finishes singing, the host teases him.

“Honey, I thought you said, big dick dreams!”

Hayes laughs, grabs his crotch Michael Jackson-style and shouts back. “I have those too!”

A few nights after the Tritone show, Hayes is hanging out where he’s been every Monday night all year: hosting open-mike night at the Grape Room in Manayunk. He’s off tonight, but decided to pop in to say goodbye to the staff and the regulars. If the show at Tritone was an introduction to the new Stephan, tonight is a goodbye, in a way, to the old Steph. In a few days, he’ll undergo a mastectomy and recovery will take a full month. “It’s a bilateral mastectomy, double incision,” he explains, fingers sweeping across the front of his rib cage. “It actually looks pretty brutal, but I’m having a male sculpting done, [in which] they trim the nipples, and re-place them up higher.”

As Hayes and Majesta Bianco, his fiancee, hang out upstairs at the Grape, the music from newly minted musicians downstairs figuring out how to be on stage bleeds up through the floorboards. Like most professional performers, Hayes says he feels more comfortable on stage than anywhere else. But off stage, he insists, he’s shy. Then he throws his hands in the air in mock exasperation and smiles. “No one believes me when I say that. I don’t know why. It’s true!”

Meanwhile, because he is a musician in the public eye, he’s had to talk to hundreds of people about an extremely personal issue. “There’s just no way for me to drift into anonymity with it, you know?”

Over the last few years, as he started presenting a more masculine appearance to the world, his natural shyness gave way to anxiety as strangers reacted dramatically to his increasingly androgynous appearance. “Going on tour, going around the country, it was a real problem,” he says. “I was terrified of restrooms. Not only could it be uncomfortable, it could also be dangerous if I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

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Comments 1 - 7 of 7
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1. EmmKay said... on Sep 28, 2011 at 12:11PM

“Really well done profile of a wonderful person. I am an acquaintance who has been a fan of Stephan's songwriting for years. I was really moved by this piece and the courage it took to be true who he really is. I wish him all the best.”

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2. The Grape Room said... on Sep 29, 2011 at 03:58PM

“This is a wonderful article. Steph is a long-time friend of the club and its owner, Stargazer Lily drummer, Scooter. We wish him all the best in his new life. Don't forget to come visit us, Steph!”

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3. Patrick said... on Sep 29, 2011 at 06:41PM

“Without question, Stephan is one of the most beautiful and honest people I've ever known. Sometimes simply stepping up and being yourself can be a defining act of courage and bravery. Bravo, Steph. You will always be loved and admired for who you are, and I can't wait to see the things you have yet to experience and to achieve through your eyes, your words and your music. You are truly a gift to those of us whose lives you have touched.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Sep 30, 2011 at 04:00PM

“Same issues but M to F, in Phila. Gender's the last frontier: men hated you and were dangerous physically. Women dismissive. Androgyny frightens people like nothing else.

Go for it while you can!”

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5. Joseph said... on Oct 13, 2011 at 07:37AM

“Outstanding article! I've been privileged to know Stephan and his music, and what Patrick said so well echoes my thoughts, also. Stephan is an incredible artist, and this profile provided even more depth and understanding for me.

Hopefully this link containing images from Steph and The Good Probems' great recent Theatre of the Living Arts performance will come through.”

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6. Katie B said... on Oct 28, 2011 at 12:54PM

“WOW. To realize all of the ramifications of such a change, not just as a woman to a man, but as an artist, and as an artist who knows that their mode of expression will be changed. The complexities are overwhelming. Hayes is one very brave man.

This was a beautifully written story, thank you.”

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7. Anonymous said... on May 10, 2012 at 03:17PM

“Thanks for a great story, Tara. I've known and been inspired by Stephan since high school but haven't run into him since he transitioned. Hope to see & congratulate him in person soon!”


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