An oft-repeated quote from F. Scott Fitzgeraldusually taken out-of-contextsuggests that "there are no second acts in American lives." Local activistand, as of lately, model Stefanie Clark has been putting a lot of effort into disapproving that maxim lately.
Since transitioning in her early seventies, Clarkoriginally an accountant by tradehas been speaking publicly about her experiences living as a transgender senior, calling attention to issues faced by individuals who contend with societal challenges around both their gender-identity and age.
"There are very few of us trans older seniors," Clark said. "You get Mama Gloria [the late activist Gloria Allen] and meI'm [now] the oldest. I didn't get her mink coat, but I got the responsibilities."
Last year, she doubled-down on the idea of raising trans senior visibility when she got the opportunity to work locally as a fashion model.
One day last August, her daily meditation prompt was, "You can be anything you want to be."
Clark said she stood up and said, "I want to be the most visible 79-year-old transgender model. And then I humbly said: 'in the Midwest.'
A friend with connections had taken her to a fashion show at Water Tower Place. She called and asked if she could walk the runway once at the next show.
Three hours later, she got her answer: "Yes, be at Water Tower Place at Wednesday at 11."
When she arrived, she was told she'd be doing two days of fashion shows, with several changes of clothesincluding a wedding dress. She closed several of the programs, essentially occupying the most-coveted spot in the shows.
"How's that for a lark?" She said, laughing. "It's a now a business career."
Indeed she has now has representation from a modeling agency in San Francisco called Celebrate the Gray, specializing in models over the age of 50.
"Whenever I see a photographer post on Instagram now, I say [to call me], 'If you ever need a unicorn,, as defined by a 79-year-old runway model who has a 5'11 frame, 46-inch shoulders, reasonably height-weight proportionate, and can carry any loose-hanging garment.'"
On May 20, Clark took part in the Trashion Revolution fashion show at Macy's. She was one of 50 models intended to showcase "the diversity of humanity"; the event centered pollution and climate change as its theme.
"Chicago nor the world has never seen anything like it," Clark said. "Pre-sales were such we had to seek a new venue. With our move to Macys State Street, [we] more than doubled our capacity and ticket sales sold out."
Being visible and staying active has long been foremost on Clark's mind. Following coming out as transgender in 2016, She did some-soul searching, and was eager to make a contribution to the LGBTQ+ community.
"I joined [Human Resources Professional] Britta Larsen's speakers' bureau," Clark recalled. "She had gotten a request from SAGE USA for some of the seniors to talk about the additional challenges LGBT seniors have when accessing healthcare."
It was the perfect request for Clark, who'd faced numerous such challenges over the course of her transition. She publicly spoke on the matter over two dozen times over the course of four years. In 2021, she became active, alongside Pride Action Tank Executive Director Kim Hunt, with the group Storytelling for Advocacy.
"All I knew about was transgender issues, stuff on data collection and stuff like that," Clark recalls. "We had 11 issues to advocate for, that year, and all of them became law. I touched on four of the 11, such as telehealth."
One issue she's passionate about is finding competent physicians, which is a challenge shared by transgender folks of all ages.
"That's not easy, because they don't put rainbow flags after they list 'M.D.,'" Clark explained. "Our healthcare systems don't make it any easier, since everything now involves some kind of provider network. So you have go through the morass of your insurance carrier to find out who you could even consider, without knowing whether they're culturally competent or not."
Clark works extensively on housing issues as well. She has been involved with Center on Halsted, Howard Brown Health, Equality Illinois, Illinois Masonic, The Village Chicago (a large social community for people over 50) and has sat on numerous advisory boards and councils. She'll also be a subject of an upcoming Peacock documentary, which she she said is still on "the ground floor."
Manyif not mosttransgender individuals wish not to use the name they had before transitioning. That's not the case with Clark, who notes that she's "a Gemini, a twin spirit." As such, her male persona, Stephen, still lives inside her, she said.
"Stephen had his way for 68 years, and now he's in the background," she said. "Now Stefanie is dominant, driving this unicorn. But one of the other runway models one time said, 'Stefanie, don't ever forget Stephen. As good as you think you are, he carried you for 68 years.' So now both Stephen and Stefanie live inside me."