Sal Steiner can remember the first time he knew he was a man. As a shy 6-year-old, he would watch kids on the playground, noticing the typical heteronormative dynamic between boys and girls.
"Personality-wise, I just wasn’t like the girls, and I was attracted to them," the now 34-year-old told Refinery29. "I saw the boys flirting with the girls, and I was like, I am that."
Thanks to less-than-stellar sex-ed and a religious home where his anatomy was never discussed, Steiner spent his early teen years expecting his penis to come in — it seemed natural to him. He didn't get his period until he was 17 and his vagina never bothered him, but once he started developing breasts in his late teens, he started to feel a real disconnect with his body.
"I remember, like all of a sudden, I was curling my shoulders in, so that my breasts weren't as prominent," he said. "They were beautiful, but they just didn’t feel a part of me. They felt like they were outside myself."
This feeling of estrangement from his body continued, even as Steiner married a man, got divorced, and eventually came out as a lesbian and finally trans at the age of 30. He's now living in San Francisco and working as a roastery manager. He considers himself very fortunate to be surrounded by both an open-minded, supportive community and a loving family.
In 2012, Steiner finally got top surgery, a gender-confirming procedure to remove his breasts. We spent a day with him in New York City recently to learn more about his story and his path to transitioning. The photos, taken by Tim Soter, capture many of the daily routines Steiner has incorporated into his life post-transition and they depict a man who is finally at peace with his body and how the outside world views it.
Steiner's journey, of course, is unique to him. But sharing stories like his will help put faces to the hundreds of thousands of trans people (and counting) in the U.S. Ahead, Steiner opens up about letting go of societal judgment, the realities of testosterone injections, and how his life changed after getting top surgery.