At age 81, Gloria Stein is finally ready for her close-up at the 18th annual MiFo LGBT Film Festival in Miami Beach.
Stein — who lived her first 61 years as South Florida auto wrecker “Butch” — stars in the festival’s centerpiece screening, a documentary titled Uncle Gloria: One Helluva Ride.
“I’ll tell you something,” Stein says. “When I first saw it, it made me cry. That scene when I was talking about [my] kids, it really made me cry.”
Stein hasn’t had contact with her two adult sons in decades, not since Bernard “Butch” Rosichan “got involved with a stolen car ring” in 1966-67.
“They had me with 18 charges,” Stein recalls. “I thought, ‘I’m gone, I’m out of here.’”
Rosichan, divorced after about a decade, relinquished parental rights to his boys to ex-wife, Cookie. “I had given up my kids because I felt at the time I didn’t want these kids growing up thinking of me as a jailbird.”
As it turns out, Rosichan only got probation and moved on with his life. He had relationships with several women — and then the balding Butch began to get in touch with his feminine side.
One morning in 1997, Rosichan looked into a mirror and said out loud, “I don’t believe this. I’ll be a son of bitch! I am Gloria!”
Gloria Stein refined her look by observing women at Neiman Marcus in Bal Harbour Shops, undergoing hormone therapy, cosmetic surgery and, eventually, gender reassignment surgery, according to her nephew Steven Shulman’s website, MyUncleGloria.com.
“How can a guy who used to be the way I was — tough guy — look like this and be like this?” Stein says about her now-glamorous appearance. “Even today, it blows my mind.”
About 2002, Stein met Dan Friedman, a trans man who grew up in Miami as Debra.
“I love him but Jesus Christ, he can be a pain in the ass,” Stein says. “Dan is so afraid that somebody is going to say, ‘Oh, you used to be a girl? I didn’t know that.’ Today, who gives a rat’s ass?”
Stein — who at one time identified as a trans lesbian — says she’s most surprised she ended up with a masculine partner like Friedman, now 62.
“If somebody were to tell me many years ago that I would end up with somebody like Dan, I’d say you were out of your cotton-picking mind. I wanted a woman who looked like me — a lipstick lesbian,” she says. “I wanted someone who looked as good as me.”
Stein says she “can’t believe Dan and I are a couple. And it’s been 14 years now.”
“Do I love Dan? I don’t know. But I like Dan and Dan likes me. We’ve had more fun together for 14 years than others have had in 30.”
Stein has become a well-known Broward Democratic activist and poll worker. “I love early voting. I kibitz with people, I talk to people.”
At this point, Stein says she wants no contact with her ex-wife or middle-aged sons Kyle and Gary.
“I am quite sure that Kyle has heard about his father becoming a mother or whatever. As far as reaching out, I doubt it. After all these years, they probably feel the way I feel. There are three sides to every story,” she says. “I haven’t seen or heard from Cookie in a thousand years. She used to know me as a macho guy, now I’m a feminine woman. In this case, two and two don’t make four, they make five.”
Stein says it took two years to ready Uncle Gloria for release, partly because of a falling out over the film with her nephew.
Now she worries that in the face of reality TV shows like I Am Jazz (starring Broward trans teen Jazz Jennings) and the similarly titled I Am Cait (Caitlyn Jenner), the market for these stories is saturated.
“Who cares about this movie about another transgender person? Even two years ago, this wouldn’t have made such an impact,” Stein says. “But this story is funny, hilarious. And sad. And it did bring families together. But on the other hand, now we’re not talking anymore.”
Stein and Uncle Gloria director Robyn Symon plan to attend Wednesday’s 7 p.m. screening at Regal Cinemas South Beach.
The star has even postponed hip surgery so she won’t miss her hometown premiere.
“I’m afraid to wear high heels,” Stein says. “But the rest of me will be there in my glory.”
MiFo Executive Director Victor Gimenez of Miami says that because of its leading lady, Uncle Gloria is unlike any transgender documentary he’s seen.
“She’s a character,” Gimenez says. “My takeaway from this documentary: This shit only happens in Florida.”
MiFo LGBT Film Festival
▪ What: 2016 MiFo LGBT Film Festival, 18th annual Miami edition
▪ When: April 22 to May 1
▪ Theaters: Regal Cinemas South Beach, 1120 Lincoln Rd.; Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd.; Miami Beach Cinematheque, 1130 Washington Ave.; Wolfsonian at FIU, 1001 Washington Ave.
▪ Events: 10 p.m. Friday, Opening Night at Miami Beach Golf Club, 2301 Alton Rd.; 9 p.m. Wednesday, Centerpiece Celebration, Wolfsonian First Floor, 1001 Washington Ave.; 10:30 p.m. Friday, High Heel Party, Miami Beach Woman’s Club, 2401 Pine Tree Dr.; 9:30 p.m Saturday, April 30, Closing Night, Albion Hotel, 1650 James Ave.; Noon Sunday, May 1, Awards Brunch, Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave.
▪ MiFo’s Fort Lauderdale festival runs Oct. 7-16. For more information, including film details, showtimes and ticket prices: http://mifofilm.com