Dolan Kneafsey and Steph have been friends for close to 15 years. Kneafsey says they bonded over the shared fantasy of becoming men almost from the beginning.
The friends’ transition stories are so intertwined that neither remembers who said it first.
“Very early on, some drunken [night], one of us said it to the other … And the other was like, ‘Oh me, too,’” recalls Kneafsey. “Neither of us thought we’d ever actually do it because who does that? It’s such a weird thing.”
“For years, for some reason, [Kneafsey] egged me on,” says Hayes. “Saying, ‘You should just change into a guy. Wouldn’t that be awesome?’”
Hayes says at first, he didn’t realize switching gender was a real thing that people actually did. “I never heard trans,” shrugs Hayes. “I never heard the phrase.”
They challenged each other to “go first” for years, but it was a stalemate.
In a way, it was Hayes’ love for making music that held him back. “How will this affect my voice?” he wondered.
In the story of nearly every person who considers sex re-assignment, there is fear and loss on the road to resolving what Jennifer Finney Boylan, local author of She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, succinctly titles “the being alive problem.”
Voices change and body parts are amputated. Sometimes marriages end, and family and friends disown. There’s no avoiding loss. But there comes a time when everything that can be gained is worth the risk, no matter how great.
Kneafsey says it was becoming a father that made him unable to stall transitioning anymore. He felt his beautiful baby deserved a happy parent instead of a depressed one. He already had a long-term committed relationship going for him, but he knew telling his family would be a “huge ordeal.”
“I said to Steph, ‘Look, I have been waiting for you [to transition] and you’re not doing it,’” recalls Kneafsey. “Steph had told his family and everything and had been talking about it for years.”
Kneafsey suggested they do it together. Hayes said no.
“I wasn’t ready,” says Hayes.
So Kneafsey did it without Steph. He told his family, took time off work and returned a new man.
It inspired Hayes. “I knew it was where I wanted to go,” he says. “To watch [Kneafsey] have the bravery to do it [made me wonder] what’s stopping me?”
Still, he agonized another two years. Finally, after getting a peek into what life could be like living as a man while in China visiting Majesta, he started taking hormones when he got back. “You get to a point where you can’t handle life the other way,” says Hayes. “The best way I can describe it is that I felt like I was on fire as a woman.”
“Steph almost seemed like he was like, ‘I don’t care anymore. I just need to do this,’” says Kneafsey. “That’s where you end up if you get to a place where you’re like, ‘If I don’t do this, I’m going to die. I need to do this to live.’”
Growing up in the working-class suburb of Glen Mills, Delaware County, Hayes remembers feeling different. He always had crushes on girls.
“When I was growing up there weren’t any lesbians. I didn’t know any lesbians. There weren’t any on TV. It meant the same thing as like, Icky Person,” he says. “In school, it was something you called somebody.”
In retrospect, the first red flag that Hayes was transgender appeared in fifth grade. It was the day the class split up to learn about the birds and the bees: boys to the gym, girls to the library. The other little girls giggled nervously while teachers explained breasts and periods. Hayes panicked.
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Dinner with Luke Palladino