I’m just Stevie by Madelaine Empson
Stevie Hancox-Monk (they/them) is a non-binary performer, improviser, and artist. From their award-nominated performance in David O’Donnell’s Hamlet to delivering comedy gold with improv company Tiny Dog to commandeering a cardboard box puppet in A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs, chances are you’ve caught them on the stages of Te Whanganui-a-Tara. For your next chance, there’s Joy, a collection of monologues by six female and non-binary playwrights on from the 8th to the 10th of September at BATS Theatre as part of the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance.
From the age of 12, Stevie writes, they’ve felt like an alien in their own body. Unable to get on a public waitlist that’s already decades long, they are currently trying to raise $25,000 to have private top surgery via a Givealittle page called Cut off the Titties, the introduction of which reads “It’s like medical philosophers NSYNC said: I wanna see them out that door, booby bye bye bye”.
When did you develop a passion for the dramatic arts?
I think there are two defining moments for me and performance. The first was when I was maybe eight years old in primary school, and I got to do an anti-smoking campaign presentation for the entire school in Greytown. And because of the way that I presented myself, everyone congratulated my brother on the performance, but it was me! I guess that was when I first felt the rush. And the other one is when I was 12, I won the Wairarapa Science Fair, which is super random. I was convinced that I was going to become a vet and I just switched really quickly. I realised that as a vet I would have to put animals down, and I just didn’t think my little heart could take that.
What is it about performing that you love?
I love the ability to put on a different skin. And I guess to be seen by people in different ways. As a person I usually think of myself as quite invisible, like I can just be forgotten like that. But onstage I don’t feel that way.
How have the arts helped you in your journey so far?
I think if I wasn’t involved with theatre and performance and creativity, then I would be a way more subdued version of myself. I have always grown up with the feeling that I needed to be a specific person, and doing improv, meeting arts people who are so open and generous and kind and loving and supportive, means that I feel able to be myself around them. And I can practise being myself for me.
What’s the situation with the surgery? You were declined for public funding?
Yeah, I actually found out on Trans Visibility Day that I was declined – even to be seen, even to get on the waitlist, which was a bit of a blow. I actually took several months to get to the next stage because I felt so knocked back by that. But I had another meeting with my doctor and said, ‘Can you do it through the private system?’ That has been relatively smooth so far. Tentatively, it’s [on] the 24th of November. I just need to have one or two more appointments, like a psychological assessment, to be approved. Basically to have somebody say, ‘Yes, this affects you badly enough to get a surgery but your mental health isn’t so bad that you’re making the wrong choice’. It’s kind of convoluted.
What’s the broader situation – why weren’t you able to get on the waitlist in the first place?
The broader situation, if I’ve understood this, is that there’s just no capacity. The people who are already on the waitlist are waiting 10, 20 years to actually get the surgery.
What would you like to see change in the healthcare system to make the process easier?
I mean, everything about it. When I first applied to even get on the waitlist, I had to fill out a form where I rated how I felt about myself and my body in different situations. It really felt like a test. It was one to six or something, and I thought if I said six for everything, it would be like, ‘Your mental health is too bad’. Or if I said three or four for some things, then it would be like, ‘Well, your need isn’t great enough’, right? I just feel like people should listen to people who know their bodies better than strangers.
There are so many great places out there, like Gender Minorities Aotearoa, InsideOUT. As a medical practice, you can hire them to come in and do some education around it. At my GP I get misgendered every single time I go in, and they can’t put non-binary in the system. They don’t have a space to input pronouns or anything like that. I’ve given them feedback several times. Everyone’s lovely, everyone’s trying really hard, but it’s also a thing of like, ‘Oh, well, you know, this is just how the system is’. There is a general complacency, and a lack of spark to fight for the issue.
On an individual level, how can we do better?
You can practice using different pronouns and de-gendering your language when you first meet somebody. Examples of that are if you’re at a restaurant, and the server comes out and says, ‘Hey, ladies, what can I get you?’ Just replacing that word can mean that there’s not one or two people at the table that are going to feel anxious because of the way that you’ve spoken. And then practising they/them pronouns as a singular. It seems to be really hard for some people, but at the same time, everyone in my life is so good at it, including some much older people. And so I’m like, ‘Hey, if those people in their seventies can do it, you can do it too. You’re only 30!’ I think it just takes a little bit of work and there are websites where you can literally practise with different pronouns.
What is it going to cost to get the surgery?
It’s going to be $25,000 – that covers the surgeon, the anaesthetist, the hospital stay, and the medical supplies that they use. And then I’ve also got about one to two grand worth of doctor’s appointments, specialist appointments. So that cost doesn’t include me getting the income to support myself while I’m healing, which will be about six weeks – it’s case by case. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I’m pulling as much of my income as I can into a savings account at the same time as running the Givealittle, which has just gone over $7k. I’m honestly blown away by how loving and supportive all of my friends are and my community. It’s amazing.
What will it mean to you to have the surgery?
Oh my god. I just can’t wait. It’ll mean that I don’t have showers where I physically try not to look at my body. I can go out in summer and swim in the ocean and not feel panicked. I’ll be able to stand up straight. I’ll be a way better actor because I’ll be able to use my body. At the moment, every director says to me, ‘Hey, you’re hunched over, you need to stand up straight’. I just can’t do it. I know it sounds weird because like, I could just stand up straight. But there’s an emotional thing attached to the physical feeling. I’m so excited for all of the work that I’ll be able to do now, and I'll be able to create my own work because I’ll feel like myself.
When I grew up, I never knew that the surgery was even an option. Instead, I got, ‘No, you have to wear this type of garment’. Or going to a school where you have to wear little dresses and skirts as a uniform and just being like, this is not right. For any young people who may be sitting with these feelings, just to have another person out there going, ‘Hey, this is possible. It’s possible to do what you feel and have confidence that what you feel is right’.
I have a piece of writing I found from my mum when I was two and a half years old, where she wrote down what I had said. Whenever anyone called me a girl, I was like, ‘I’m just Stevie’. That’s so powerful. When I was two and a half years old, I knew that I wasn’t any of these things.