Friday, 30 December 2011

About Me, Part 8: Owner of a Lonely Heart

Starting grade eight, turning thirteen, I had some hope that things would get better. They did somewhat, but not before they got worse first. My grade eight teacher, in sharp contrast to my grade seven one, cared what happened to her students, all of them. She cared about how we got along, all of us.

The bullying in my home room was less, but I was still a deeply isolated, depressed person. The consuming, overwhelming nature of my crushes was something I struggled with. Looking back, I think a couple of things were happening. I was projecting my inner feminine side on to my crushes, hence I was trying to reclaim a part of myself. I was also trying to find someone to connect with as I felt almost no connection to anyone or anything by that point. When I was rejected, it felt like being annihilated. That November, 1983, I decided I would take my own life. I lived on the eighth floor of a twenty-three floor highrise. One day, late in the afternoon, I went out onto my balcony and looked down into the fog and mist that was so thick it almost obscured the ground. The neighbouring highrises were hidden above their seventh or eighth floors. With the TV on in the living room behind me, I closed the sliding door. My pet budgie was chirping away in the background. I then got up to sit on the balcony ledge. I sat there for some period of time before deciding against doing it. I made no mention of this when my mother got home from work.

Instead, I made an appointment with the school counsellor the follow day. I had a few sessions where I told her what I had almost done and what had been happening to me (minus the summer incident which I had buried in the back of my mind). I really did not want my family to find out, but my counsellor obviously thought my situation was serious enough to call my mother at work. She came home concerned one afternoon. We began to talk about how I was feeling although the "why" had become vague.

I would continue to struggle with depression and suicidal tendencies for years, but for the first time I knew I could get help. My teacher had become aware of my situation. One time, I was summoned on the intercom to the counsellor's office for a session. I left the class portable to go the main building. I heard later that someone had said something disparaging about me after I left. I also heard that the teacher had managed to get everybody to question just what they had against me; she told them what I had been going through. Everyone seemed to realize that they had none. Perhaps, at that age in those days, we could still feel some remorse. When I came back from the counsellor's office, I came back to a different class altogether.

My mother, meanwhile, had to be hospitalized that November for a cyst, the first of many increasingly complicated medical problems. I felt the sadness and fear that I might lose her. In mid-December, I she sent me back to Montreal for the holidays and she followed a week later. We were supposed to go back to Ontario after New Year's Day. But right after Christmas, my mother had to go into the hospital to had her cyst (apparently the size of a lemon) removed. It would take her two months to recover. My extended stay in Montreal would become one of the defining periods in my life; the introspection I was allowed would help me develop my inner creative resources in ways that still help me today.

To be continued ...

Edit: I will continue my autobiographical series in January as I will be preparing a post looking back at the events of 2011 over the next few days. Thanks for reading!  Vanessa

Thursday, 29 December 2011

About Me, Part 7: Time, Clock of The Heart

By the time Easter break in 1983 came around, I was a wreck. Severe anxiety made getting over a particularly bad flu a couple of months earlier worse and very difficult to get over. It moved from my chest and throat to my stomach. At one point, my sinuses and the tear ducts in one of my eyes were infected and I developed a rash on my eyelids. I had a coughing spasm, exacerbated by a bad fall on to my back at home, which lasted well into the summer.

While the bullying continued at school, my mother, at odds with my grandparents over having moved to Ontario, became emotionally dependent on me. One example of this was that I was expected to buy her birthday gifts; a card was not enough. On a couple of occasions, I went without dinner over this. In retrospect, I can see that both of us were under an incredible amount of stress, but what I mis-learned from this dynamic then was that I existed for others, not myself: a "lesson" I was learning at school too. At school, meanwhile, the bullying was occasionally turning into physical assaults. While walking down the hall one day, I was kicked hard by one of the class bullies. In addition, a "friend" I had made the previous fall, himself damaged goods after living in a series of foster homes, was becoming a tormentor in his own right. Verbal abuse was standard daily fare.

In late May, my mother and I left for Montreal for an extended vacation, with me getting permission to finish my school year early; I remember how anxious and desperate I was to travel back home. It felt like three-and-a-half months of recuperation. I had lost a great deal of wait: I made some of it back as my anxiety faded, at least temporarily. I hung around with some old friends who were now in high school. One traumatic event marred that summer, though. I was abused by a relative, something that I kept hidden for many years afterwards.

The reason why I'm going on at length about this is that I feel it's necessary to see how I lost myself, or better yet how I was robbed of myself repeatedly in so many ways, in order to appreciate what a gift it was to rediscover myself later. I simply did not have an identity then of any kind, hence I had no awakenings to my gender identity or orientation. Crushes on boys were something I suppressed by amping up my crushes on girls. And I fell in love the way many girls around me seemed to. For now, what it all meant was lost in the din of other peoples projections and agendas.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

About Me, Part 6: Do You Really Want To Hurt Me

Toronto, or more specifically Mississauga, was for two-and-a-half years, hell; it is where I developed into the ill-formed, self-hating individual I would be for years afterwards. To start with, I had not chosen to move there, in fact I was never asked. The temporary relief of being reunited with my mother was overshadowed by a deep grief at the loss of my childhood setting and friends. I resented her deeply, although looking back, I now realize her need to start her own life away from her side of the family's sphere of influence. I just didn't understand why my world had to be shattered for it. This overshadowed for the next few years, ages 12 to 14, any awakening I could have had. My sense of myself was stunted. Missed by the rest of my family and had very close by my mother, I was now over-protected on two fronts. Ironically, I was also under assault ... at school.

In 1982-83, there was no Trevor Project, no "It Gets Better"; in the face of bullying, one simply "had to toughen up". The first couple of months of grade seven were uneventful. But, at some point, probably around November that year, the bullying started. It had been enough time for a few guys to pick up on how quiet I was, how aggressive I wasn't. As a sad, lonely pre-teen who only vaguely realized how sad and lonely I was, I was easy to push around. What's more, my home room teacher ignored it ... that's right, the name calling, the threats, the torments were all allowed to happen. For that first year at my new school, I had no resources, and did not feel emotionally safe enough to talk about this at home. At Christmas, one of my tormentors, said "Merry Christmas" followed by a snide "Just kidding".

Relief came when I went home with my mother to Montreal for the holidays. The rest of my year, early 1983, would be worse.

To be continued ...

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays ...

Just a short post to say "Happy Holidays" in any, or no particular, tradition you choose to celebrate them in. I for one, have learned to value friends and chosen family greatly over the past year and look forward to spending time with them. I also look forward to chatting long-distance on the phone with my father and step-mother despite that I am not out to them yet (one New Year's resolution to make).

I get very nostalgic and misty-eyed this time of year and its all good because it opens my heart. Much appreciated.

Again, all the best to my readers over the holidays and in the new year!

Monday, 19 December 2011

About Me, Part 5: Upside Down

My pre-teen years were very turbulent. My parents marriage became rockier; they separated once and then divorced in 1980, the summer before I turned ten. For the first time, I felt the kind of heartache and loneliness that accompanied a major loss. A year and a half later, my mother and I moved into my grandparents house as she prepared to move to Ontario in search of work and where most of her friends had moved away to as head offices packed up and moved to Toronto. She moved in January 1982. I followed that September, just before I turned twelve.

The effect of all of this was like having my world smashed repeatedly, a world that had consisted of friends and a familiar neighbourhood. My sense of myself was very vague. With so much going on around me, I didnt really have a clear sense of myself. At twelve, having been raised by overprotective family (who no doubt saw me as being weak and as an appendage), I was quite naively about most things. My friends (in grade six) had begun to mature and their conversations were about things I had never heard before. When I moved to Ontario and entered Senior Public (middle) school in grade seven, this gap between me and my peers who were growing more sophisticated would be much wider.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

About Me, Part 4: Transformations

Most of my "heroes", as a child, were actually heroines: Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, Isis, the Bionic Woman, Pinky and Leather Tuscadero from Happy Days. There was one notable exception. I was completely taken with the Incredible Hulk ... perhaps because he seemed a projection of how angry I was, but mostly, I think, because that he, like most of my heroines, went through a transformation. I was completely obsessed with transformation as I grew up, maybe a repressed desire to transition (I did have dreams in which I was changed into a girl).

Here are some of my favorite TV hero/oine transformations from yesteryear:

About Me, Part 3: All Alone

When I think about how easy it is to give up my personal boundaries whenever I travel back home, I wonder: how exactly did I survive without them intact for so long? Going home is always an experience in time travel, back to a time before I lived on my own, had career, worked a regular job, paid my own bills, had my own beliefs and priorities, had any relationship experience, had a self-defined gender identity and sexual orientation: back when I was the over-protected appendage of "The Family."

Growing up, I learned not only not to trust myself (my own instincts), but even worse, in order that my folks found as little reason as possible to get angry with me, I mis-learned that their feelings were mine (eg. parent or relative: "You don't really like that shirt", me: "Hmmm, you're right I don't."). It took many years of therapy and assertiveness training as an adult to get this skill that others around me, outside of my family, seemed to have. However, learning how to melt into a crowd without a trace did not protect me from harshly critical wors both in the family and outside. I was too slow, too skinny, to sensitive, too smart. I was learning to hate myself.

As I went through elementary school age I gradually became the little, scrawny weird kid who cried when bullied or hurt in game sports. I had no siblings, but a growing inner world where I felt I could survive. I had a few friends, not many. I read books, was fascinated with science for a while. I wrote my first book, several pages of blue paper stapled together with a story about a stick-figure astronaut who travels to the moon and back.

I mention all this to show some of the barriers to self-awareness that would later be shattered so that I could finally begin see, and then reclaim, myself.

To be continued ...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

11 Months and Counting!!!

Tomorrow, December 12, will be eleven months since I started HRT. Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'  ...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

About Me, Part 2: Old Days

My first day at school, September 1976, was traumatic in its own way. Home had been a cocoon and school felt quite scary, as I'm sure it did, and does, for others on their first day. Being socialized as a boy was deeply traumatic. Rough team sports, to put it mildly, were not my thing, yet they were mandatory. Not that there weren't any girls who could play sports, there were. But, I was already feeling quite alienated from the boys. I cried more than they did, I had softer mannerisms and I was already being treated with hostility in gym. I did have a few friends, and my experiences were nowhere near as harsh as they would be in middle and high school, but they were awkward to say the least.

During family gatherings, I played with my cousins, all of whom were girls at the time, and who played with dolls. I had no problem with this whatsoever. However, the grown-ups certainly did. There were relentless attempts to get me to play sports. I refused.

On television, I readily identified with heroines and female characters (with a couple of exceptions which I will get to in my next post). One traumatic incident stands out from this period. Somewhere around this time, I decided to wear my raincoat like Little Red Riding Hood would wear her hood and cape. My father came into my room and saw me and ordered me to take it off. I wouldn't. I was spanked. I felt violated. The birth of shame.

To be continued ...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Happy Belated Birthday, Barbados!!!

I intended to post this last week.

On November 30, 1966, Barbados gained its independence, joining the Commonwealth of Nations; it had been a British colony since the 1600s. Barbados first Prime Minister was social reformer Errol Walton Barrow of the Democratic Labour Party. Half of my ancestry goes back to that island, hence this post. On LGBTQ issues, Barbados, although as conservative as much of the Caribbean is, seems to be liberalizing somewhat, as this November 7 article in the country's Nation News suggests. It still has a long way to go.

In any event, Happy Belated 45th Birthday to the "bearded isle"!!!

Edit: Find my tribute to my Italian ancestry here.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

About Me, Part 1: Black and White

As this year draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on my progress this past twelve months as well as my life as a whole. 2011 will go down in history as a year of revolution ... my own life no less. A year ago, after much inner turmoil around who I was and after a couple of years of general disillusionment, I made the decision to transition. A year later (I began HRT on January 12) much has changed: obviously I look different, even without make-up, most of my friends know and I'm out to most people at work. I'm also out to my radio show's audience and to others at the station, ditto in the local swing dance and at the community garden. Going out as my authentic self even at night, and briefly, was terrifying; now I go out in the day time, on public transit, downtown. To shop, I once stuck to a few well chosen clothing stores; now I go anywhere, even downtown to shop for jewelery or undergarments. I'm now on the verge of two momentous steps: legally changing my name, and coming out to family. At the end of 2011, I stand on the edge of a precipice.

Two things, a long-distance phone conversation with a parent this afternoon and a couple of YouTube videos, led to me starting a little mini-series on how I got here in life, why I've made the decisions I've made, and how many layers have had to peel off of me in order for me to finally see myself. So starting at the beginning:

I was born in Montreal on Sunday, September 6, 1970, at about ten after four in the morning: apparently a few days early according to doctors. My slightly early arrival caught a few of my folks off-guard: one set of grandparents was out of town at a wedding and had to rush back.

I have many, although vague, memories of early childhood. Music features prominently, I remember songs vividly, even though I didn't know who the artists were, I remembered the melodies, the rhythms. I remember television shows, cartoons. Households were different then, no computers of any kind, no microwaves, no cell phones or similar devices. One, maybe, two televisions (usually a large colour set in the living room and a small black and white one in the kitchen), small radio in the kitchen and a stereo in the living room. That was entertainment. We lived on a small, quiet east end street a block away from the Metropolitan expressway, and across the street from my maternal grandparents. We moved about half a mile away a couple of years later, and then, after a fire, we stayed with my grandparents for a month before moving into a second floor apartment in a block on a busy main street in the same neighbourhood. A lot of moving around in a few years.

My sense of myself was fairly neutral, or at least I don't remember anything until somewhere between three and five years. In the early 70s, women still wore wigs when they went out; both my mother and her mother did and make-up was a huge deal. I would them getting ready, fascinated. On one occasion I asked my mother to make my face up. She did. I remember a sense of lightness, and relief. But, when I asked a second time, on another occasion, she refused. At that point, I was told I was a boy ... that boys didn't wear make-up ... I remember my grandmother chiming in that God wanted me to be a little boy, not a girl. I was disappointed, even confused; why was it so wrong.

From then on, the older I got, the less confident I felt, the emptier I seemed. This could have been any  for any number of reasons, but I can't help thinking that maybe, developing into a young boy, externally, never made much sense to me at some basic level, although obviously, I had no idea why. As I went through daycare, preschool and first grade, I felt more comfortable with friends who were girls. I felt our emotions were the same. Again, I had no idea why. I was sometimes mistaken for a girl. I would answer that I was a boy, although inside the feeling was hollow.

To be continued ...