Monday, 24 December 2012

The December Project

There's that old adage that a worry shared is a worry halved.

This is a shout out to a great trans community initiative this holiday season; the December Project was launched on December 1 as a support network for transfolks who, given that this season is a lonely, isolating one for many of us, would like someone to talk to. The Project, founded by Jennifer Finney Boylan, Helen Boyd, Mara Keisling and Dylan Scholinski, aims to: "raise the spirits of people in the trans community during what can be a difficult time of year".

Boylan elaborates on her site: "We are trans activists, homebodies, authors, parents, spouses, artists, and teachers, including a trans man, two trans women, and a loving spouse.  Here’s our pledge to you: If you feel low this December, and need someone to talk to, contact us, and we’ll call you on the phone.  Period."

See the rest of Boylan's post for more information. And to the December Project network, Good on you! Here's hoping that this becomes an annual project!

Do You Hear What I Hear?


Not to sound cliched, but time does fly. Already, it seems, at the end of another year and looking back, talking stock, counting my blessings (including all of my relationships with friends and the family I remain in touch with), and working on sending out compassion to those who are struggling or who have lost loved ones (many, many this year) and those who are alone, lacking love and friendship as well as food, shelter and clothing. This year, although I forget from time to time like anyone else, I remind myself that I have been very fortunate.

More than ever, on any day, not just December 25, I want to share my life with others, spend it in others' company, co-create with others.

To all, Happy Christmas, Solstice, Kwanzaa, or any way you choose to celebrate with yourself or your loved ones!


Friday, 30 November 2012

Happy Bajan Birthday!


Just a shout out to the birthplace of half my ancestry (all 431 square kilometres of it) which celebrates its forty-sixth anniversary of independence today. That fine, lush island has also given the world several famous luminaries such as pop star Rihanna, hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, hip-hop artist LL Cool J, veteran Lindy Hop dancer Norma Miller, actress Stacey Dash and writer (based in Toronto) Austin Clarke.

And I'm sure there will be many more in the years to come!


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Let There Be Light


Today is the 14th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance; TDOR, which began with a candlelight vigil in San Francisco to honor Rita Hester who was murdered in 1998, has been observed worldwide every November 20 since 1999.

It is a day to remember those, in every corner of the globe, whose lives have been brutally cut short simply for being who they are. Every trans* person is someone's partner, friend, son, daughter, parent, co-worker, colleague, teacher, student. We are all robbed when a trans* person is murdered, or when a trans* person takes their own life as a result of experiencing the isolation and despair that transphobia causes.

This past year, I am thinking in particular of two members of our local community who we have lost: Saige, in whose honour the Saige Community Foodbank was started, and January Marie Lapuz, who had been an executive member of Sher Vancouver, a support group for South Asian gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

It is a dark time of the year, but also one in which the hope of growing awareness and acceptance can spread like the lit candles in the cold, night air.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ready Or Not


Two firsts today; both in my work environment. One, my library just opened its new branch. It was a very busy, challenging day getting used to a much larger space and still roughing it in a sense as many of the finishing touches were still being added. But, ultimately, one only really knows how a new space will fare by giving it a test drive.

Likewise, with me coming out at work. I am not officially out, as in presenting as female at work, but management and most of my co-workers know. However, over the past several months, I have been slowly, steadily pushing the envelope, wearing less masculine and more feminine clothing. Today, I test drove myself; for the first time, I was dressed head-to-toe in women's clothes, although with black slacks, a turtle neck sweater and boots, I was still neutral looking. And reception-wise, so far so good.




Monday, 12 November 2012

Blue Note Boogie: The Week (On Progesterone) That Was


And now that the roller-coaster has come to a complete standstill, I can look back and laugh ... sort of.

This "week" actually began on October 30 when, at my latest medical check-up, decided to start taking progesterone. I had done my research and knew what to expect, but had heard about many who had had good results (physical of course) from it. My doctor decided to prescribe three months worth; I would try it to see if I got any of the benefits and would stop if the side-effects (radical mood swings, depression) were too much.

The following evening, Halloween, I spent handing out candy to trick-or-treaters upstairs with my landladies. Two evenings later, November 2, I had my electrolysis appointment (now every three weeks). I worked the following day and then, on the way home, picked up my prescription. I started taking it the following day, Sunday, November 3: a very somber day, with relentless, pouring rain. Later that afternoon, my father called (our regular, alternate week calls) and he updated me about my grandmother's burial arrangements; I already knew that there was not going to be a funeral and that she was going to be cremated. A melancholy conversation nonetheless. We also spoke about other things. I remember talking about how lucky I felt to be living fairly well, having lots of friends, living in an ideal neighbourhood with house owners who are also friends, being healthy, having a stable job and career, writing and creating, dancing, transitioning well. I did/do feel lucky; but, sometimes, I take things and people for granted.

The following morning, before work, and right after my second dose of progesterone, I was confronted by one of my landladies about something (actually, a couple of things) that had completely escaped me over the previous several days. It was regarding our backyard garden, I had left some of my plant scraps in the wrong  bin, with dry leaves. I recalled leaving them there previous to being advised not to, but had forgotten to remove them. But, it was clear from the degree of her upstate, that there was more to this than the garden. Regardless, I apologized profusely before rushing out to clear things up. On progesterone things were magnified (I had woken up very drowsy and nauseous that morning); within minutes after coming back in from the garden, I was in a crying fit. All the old negative self-talk came back with a vengeance. I sobbed while doing the morning dishes and then, while putting my coat on for work. At work for the next few days, I felt sheepish, ashamed and very vulnerable. I was paranoid that I would slip up somewhere and get yelled at.

By mid-week, I had spoken to a few friends and asked a few online what to expect. I was ready to throw in the towel on those capsules any day. A few friends, having gone through this  in some form themselves assured that the depressive state lasted a few days only. The nail-biter presidential election in the US preoccupied me on Tuesday evening. When Obama won, I breathed a sigh of relief, although not without some anxiety about the bumpy road ahead politically speaking. I cried tears of joy during his victory speech. The clouds were beginning to part. Indeed, by Wednesday evening, November 7, I was starting to feel lighter. At a meeting for The Switch that evening, I was even feeling a little more like my creative self again. The next night brought a small set-back, however. DJing for a swing dance was something I had been doing for sometime, on monthly basis. Mere minutes before I was set to start playing, my laptop electrical cord burned out; its battery was also low with only twelve minutes of power left. Some quick maneuvering  by the dance organizers got a replacement, but the guilt I felt and the pressure of all of those sympathetic eyes. I realized how vulnerable I still felt in the local swing scene, the community that had lifted me up several times when I was down. Now, I felt that I had let them down. As I danced that night, it was likely that no one knew how bad I felt ... but, I did.

I woke up Friday morning somewhat refreshed (I had gotten home to bed earlier than expected the previous night) and went to work. At work, all of us were working on getting our new library branch open the following week (tomorrow), and I spent the morning at the new location getting acquainted before going to the main branch to work on the desk. But, it was the weekend that I was looking forward to.

I had registered for the annual Vancouver Jazz Dance Festival towards the end of the summer. I had also sampled last year's inaugural weekend festival and thoroughly enjoyed it. Each night had a theme: 1920s Prohibition Era on Friday night, 1930s Savoy Ballroom swing era Saturday night, and the early 1940s Sunday afternoon and evening for Remembrance Day on Sunday. After work Friday, I raced downtown to get the finishing touches to my flapper outfit (tights and eye makeup), grab a bite to eat and then, raced back home to feed my cat before showering, dressing, putting on my makeup and rushing out the door and over to the Russian Hall in Strathcona for the last 2-3 hours of the dance.

I missed the Saturday afternoon portion of the festival as I had a midday meeting for The Switch. I dressed late 1960s during the day, black mini dress and beret with stained-glass tights and then, after the meeting rushed over to a vintage clothing store in my neighbourhood to get an outfit for Sunday. Then I picked up a black skirt for the Saturday dance. That night, my dancing energy came back full force. The band cooked and so did the dancers ... the auditorium was broiling with heat. I slept well that evening.

On the final day, I dressed in a sailors jacket and high-waisted pants and tight sleeveless sweater with nautical stripes and had my hair in pig-tails. The whole look came together. I was proud. Sunday was a dizzying mix of film clips, laughing, dancing and shouting. I danced until I could no more and left satiated from all the fun, friends and festive jazz music. Hungry, I went for a fried chicken dinner on the Drive before going home.

Today, I slept in good and late while it rained outside. My cat Tatum couldn't have been happier. I felt tired and exercise sore both emotionally and physically. I talked things over with my landlady this afternoon. In one week, I had grown and it had hurt at times. I realized that I do sometimes take friends for granted and that I over-compensate by coming down too hard on myself. I do not blame progesterone for creating my issues nor do I credit it for teaching me the lessons that come from them. Transition is not an escape from your problems, but, like many other life challenges, it does provide you with opportunities to grow up and out.


An Extra Day of Remembrance


As Remembrance Day (Veteran's Day in the US) fell on a Sunday this year, today is statutory holiday: another day to remember those who laid their lives down for us in generations past as well as those who currently make the same sacrifice. Here's some family history.

My maternal great grandfather, born and raised in St. John's parish in Barbados, served in World War I with the British Army in Egypt; he was based in the ancient city of Alexandria surveying the area for military encampments. His son, my grandfather, was no doubt influenced by his father's volunteering for the military to volunteer himself during the Second World War, training in Canada before serving in England beginning in early 1944; bombing still happened over London and the English countryside.

Horror surrounded both of them, but at the same time their worlds, molded by spending their early lives in rural villages near sugar plantations, were expanded. My grandfather made the decision to move to Canada in 1946 and sent for my grandmother and four uncles. They settled in Huntingdon, Quebec, south of Montreal, before moving to Montreal itself. My mother was born in an old tenement apartment on Boulevard St. Laurent and Rue DeBullion in mid 1947, one of the first Canadian citizens (before 1947, Canadians were still considered British subjects). The following year, my grandfather, working as a redcap porter for the Canadian Pacific Railway, bought a veteran's bungalow in the Rosemont neighbourhood in Montrreal's east end.

Today, I contemplate both of my forbear's decisions, without which I may have had a very different life if a life at all.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Une Pause Cafe


French for a "short break" which is what I will be taking from blogging and social media activity for a while. During the past week, I have lost both my surviving grandmother and a much-loved former co-worker. I have been reminded of the value of life and well-being and will be taking a break to recharge and get some sleep issues dealt with (one of my resolutions for this year).

I will be back early next week.

See you soon,
Vanessa

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Those Who Would Destroy Us: Thoughts On a Bully Culture


"It was a clear engagement between those who wished the fullness of their personalities to be met and those that would destroy us physically and psychologically. You do not walk away from that. This is what movement meant. Movement meant that finally we were encountering on a mass scale the evil that had been destroying us on a mass scale. You do not walk away from that, you continue to answer it." - Rev. C. T. Vivian, SCLC, speaking about the Civil Rights movement in Selma, Alabama in 1965

*

I have spent much time in deep thought this past couple of weeks; it has been a very dark couple of weeks in many respects. A twenty-six year old transwoman stabbed to death in her own apartment in the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster; a fourteen year-old girl in northern Pakistan shot for standing up for the right for girls to be educated; a fifteen year-old girl in the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam driven to suicide by severe bullying, including being threatened with death and being beaten; an elderly security guard in the city of Surrey, south of Vancouver, beaten unconscious by a gang of thugs; a man gay bashed in East Vancouver by another gang of young men.

Bully culture pervades us and our world, not just high schools. Sadly, most often, our collective apathy (fear of reprisals) allows it to do so. Bully families, bully bosses, bully churches, bully corporations, bully governments, bully nations. I think that, as we decide to combat bullying among the young, we need to speak truth to power, as adults, in the world at large. Youth, no matter how rebellious at times, get their cues from the adult world. Our acquiescence to predatory power speaks larger than anything we may tell them about how to regard themselves and each other.

We need to speak truth to power, bullying power, in all of its forms, political, economic, social, cultural: we need to answer it through taking back our communities, engaging our political systems, taking courageous steps forward and show that we are willing to live fully, bravely. Our bravery to take up space in this world will clear a path for those behind us. As we pay it forward, our youth will see that apathy is not inevitable, that there is a future for them, one worth living and fighting for.





Sunday, 7 October 2012

Thanks and Good Cheer

This Thanksgiving (in Canada) long weekend, I have taken some time to think of the many (countless, actually) things and people that I am very thankful for. In the quiet time I had this afternoon, I pondered how fortunate I am to be in good health, relatively young and that, thus far, my transition is going so well. That my domestic situation, living in the bottom floor of a house owned by two great friends that I have known for fifteen years in an open-minded, vibrant and colourful neighbourhood; that I live well, eating organically as much as possible, gardening some of my food; that I share my space with a healthy, energetic and affectionate house cat; that my job is secure and that I had come around to seeing my career as a vital, and often enjoyable, part of my life's work; that I write and that my writing has come back to me in spades; that I  dance and can express my love for music that way; and, most of all ...

My friends! All of them ... all of you! Thank you for being there, not just for me, but with me!

I am truly blessed to have you all in my life.


Thursday, 6 September 2012

Many Happy Returns!


Having a leisurely, colourful end-of-week ... a birthday long-weekend! This birthday, I plan to relax and enjoy myself, doing the things I like to do best (walking around outside on beautiful days, sampling new food in my neighbourhood, writing, gardening, swing dancing) and spending time, both online and in-person, with friends. All at my own pace.

At forty-two years, I have earned it.

And here are some other, famous folks celebrating birthdays today, enjoy!



Jackie Trent




Jo Anne Worley



Rosie Perez


Macy Gray



Michael Winslow



Jane Curtin



Alice Sebold



Natalia Cigliuti



Roger Waters



Dolores O'Riordan


Sarah Danielle Madison


Foxy Brown


Raven Riley


Kerry Katona


Ramiele Malubay


Pippa Middleton


Aren't we a diverse bunch? Happy birthday to us!

Late Additions (September 30, October 13):



Naomie Harris
 


Former Governor-General of Canada, Michaelle Jean


Sylvester

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Movies To Watch: Mia



Last year, it was Gun Hill Road; this year, it's absolutely Mia!

Another groundbreaking film dealing with trans issues and starring a transgender actress: in this case the Cordoba, Argentina-born Camila Sosa Villada. Directed by first-timer Javier Van de Couter, Mia has the cinematographic flow and powerful, but not overwrought scenes, that are usually the hallmarks of a director's later works. The supreme acting talents of Villada (as lead character Ale), and Rodrigo de la Serna and Maite Lanata as the grieving father and daughter, Manuel and Julie, respectively, gave the film both its heart-warming humour and heart-wrenching sadness in equal doses.

The film won the OUTtv People's Choice Award For Best Feature at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) last month as well as Best Film, Premio Maguey, at the Guadalajara International Film Festival in July. Mia will be showing at the 7th Annual Sydney (Australia) Latin American Film Festival which begins this Thursday.

Mia was sold out very quickly at the VQFF, but the (currently screening) Vancouver Latin American Film Festival (VLAFF) also screened it on September 1, as part of their inaugural queer film spotlight. This time, I, and a few friends, caught it. It was well worth the extra wait. With VLAFF organizers and Van de Couter himself in the audience, the film was introduced briefly beforehand.

The director, clearly an ally to our community, drew upon his own knowledge and observations of the trans community in Buenos Aires, including the experiences of many of his friends and acquaintances. The "Pink Village" shanytown, that the both the gay and trans characters are paradoxically ghettoized and threatened with eviction from, is based on a real village which existed between 1995 and 1998 and again rougly a decade ago until 2004; the residents were evicted both times. In 2011, not long after Mia was originally released, the Argentinian Gender Identity Law began its journey through that country's parliament. This past May, it received senate approval and on June 4, it officially became law.

After the film, Van de Couter, with the help of a translator, fielded questions from the awe-struck audience. After questions, many gathered around the director to thank him for his powerful statement, including yours truly. Another excellent monument to the dignity of not only those of us in the trans community, but of the human spirit itself. "Thank you!" I said to Van de Couter, "Gracias!"







Thursday, 23 August 2012

All Hail Virgo Season!

The earlier nights, the slight chill in the morning dew (already? the west coast barely had a summer this year!), the ripening fruits and vegetables all must mean one thing ... it is now late summer ... Virgo season!

At 10:07 Pacific Daylight Savings Time on Wednesday, August 22, 2012, the Sun moved into the Virgo constellation; it will spend until autumn equinox there.

I usually feel a breath of fresh air around this time of the year and this year is no exception. I use this time to look at my progress so far in the year and think about how best to proceed with any untended commitments: whatever needs to be abandoned or rethought, I do so. Then, I focus on the attainable goals and move towards the last part of the year, which is usually packed with activities, work projects and social engagements. Again, this year will be no exception. With two large writing projects on the go, garden vegetables to harvest, a winter garden to plant (a benefit of living on the Pacific Northwest coast) and lots of household tasks (painting the washroom, getting rid of old belongings including male clothes), this fall be at least as busy as other s have been. Finally, there are transition-related goals: fully transitioning at work, getting my legal name change and the ongoing hair removal and voice training.

Me and my radio program both have birthdays coming up. More on that in another post!



Wednesday, 15 August 2012

More Trans-Related Films Screening in Vancouver


A little later in the season than last year's Vancouver Queer Film Festival post, nonetheless here is a breakdown of the trans themed films screening between this Thursday, August 16 and Saturday, August 26:

Romeos

Beginning with the Opening Gala film, Romeos, made in Germany, centers around Lukas a nineteen year-old transman who moves to the big city (Cologne, Germany in this case) in the hopes of starting anew. Lukas then struggles to maintain friendships and fit in with the cisgender gay male community. And, yes, there is a love interest to make things ... interesting.



Wariazone

A much anticipated documentary (I saw the trailer for this months ago) on the Warias ("men with the souls of women") of Indonesia. Released at the end of 2011, Wariazone is designed to take the audience on a powerful journey through the "wariazone" of the mostly Muslim country, featuring interviews and depicting the strength and steadfastness of a marginalized community.


Gender Like It Is

A series of short films from around the world dealing with transgender and genderqueer subjects and issues. Just over an hour in total length, the films are as follows:


- My Inner Turmoil 

- Ain't I a Woman

- Putting the "I" in Trans

- Transsexual Dominatrix

- The Multitude of Feverish

- Beauty and the Beast

- Face for Sale: Bitch, Bitch, Bitch


Mia

Of course, last year, all eyes were on the American indie production Gun Hill Road, which I was lucky enough to see.This year, if the sold out ticket status of this Argentinian feature is any indication, Mia is the must see ... if you have a ticket.

This film tells the story of a transwoman, via a deceased (by suicide) woman's discarded diary. As Ale, the one who discovers the writings, pieces together Mia's life, her own life comes together in unforeseen ways.



Angel

The lead character in this French documentary is an Ecuadorian transwoman living and working as a sex worker in Paris to support her family back home. Themes of family, acceptance and personal power are explored.


Funeral Parade of Roses

This year's retro film is a 1969 avant-garde piece from Japan centering around the gay and genderqueer subcultures of Tokyo. The earliest film to do so in any Asian country, Funeral Parade of Roses promises to be fascinating and a visual treat.


So, if you are in Vancouver starting tomorrow, and over the next ten days, be sure to check at least a few of these out. I know I will be.





Thursday, 9 August 2012

A New Dawn on Mad Men?


The last season of Mad Men, which ended this past June, broke new ground in many ways. One was to introduce a new, and more prominent, character in Don Draper's new secretary: and African American woman named Dawn Chambers played by the stunning actress Teyonah Parris.



She appeared briefly in most of season five's episodes, but her shining moment was in the scene with Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) in the very tense and disturbing episode called "Mystery Date". The scene, which illustrated the often awkward dynamics between black Americans and liberal-minded white Americans, was very well executed and seemed like the start of some major storylines featuring Dawn. Unfortunately, there was not much focus on her for the duration of the season.

The writers of the series have begun to meet to create season six and the actors are having their contracts renewed; I think that this would be an excellent opportunity to work in an episode or two featuring Dawn as a major character, or even give her a season long story arc. I do not agree with the various opinions out there that her character is a token. How can any series that professes to be an accurate portrayal of America in the 1960s not deal with the Civil Rights movement and its impacts on the workplaces and social life? Gender issues are covered. And 1967, and beyond, where the new season is likely to pick up from was hardly early for any of the movements in the country, and the world, at the time.

And besides, Teyonah Parris needs more room to shine on the series. I am keeping my fingers crossed.









An Evening With Kate


Over the past number of years, I have to grown to love the month of August in Vancouver for a few reasons. As far as social and cultural events, the month starts off with Pride week (my posts about this year's are below). Later on in August, there is Out On Screen's Queer Film Festival which has promised and delivered on fantastic LGBTQ films from around here and around the world for years. In between and overlapping with both events is the Queer Arts Festival, a series of exhibits and performances, held at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown.

This year, the sole event I went to see, with a group of friends, was Wednesday evening's performance of monologues by transexual artist, activist and gender theorist Kate Bornstein. The last time I met Kate was eleven years ago at the 2001 North American Conference on Bisexuality and Gender Diversity. Unfortunately, I did not get the opportunity to see her perform, but I did buy one of her books (Gender Outlaw) and got her autograph which she signed "To a beautiful spirit!"

I have never forgotten that moment, nor any of her books that I have read. I eventually bought a copy of her My Gender Workbook and, a few years ago when I was not in a good way, I bought her Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws. The voice of that last book felt like that of a tough, street wise aunt with a huge heart, the kind who would invite her teenage niece in from the rain for a nice warm, bowl of soup and an afternoon of chatting and watching TV. The stunted "inner teenage niece" in me felt safe enough to come out while I read through the book which I could not put down until I had finished it.

Just over a month ago, I heard Kate on CBC Radio's Day 6 and found out that she had written a new book, a memoir called A Queer and Pleasant Danger which I have now added to my wish list. Seeing her performances about her life, family and various struggles was very moving. Her presence was a gift that I was treasure for years to come.

Thanks for your visit, Kate! Hope to see you again, someday!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Happy BC Day!

This extra day off in the middle of summer always hits the spot, this year is no exception. A day to do some garden maintenance, work on writing projects, or just rest easy with my cat while listening to CBC Radio 1.

I am however, very interested in the history of British Columbia and love talking about local history with friends over tea. This is a great day to do that.

I also use today to acknowledge the hard work that went into, and continues to go into, making this province what it is. I also remember that huge portions of urbanized and developed BC, such as the Greater Vancouver area, are on unceded First Nations territory: territory that, at the very least, we should be treating with respect and in a sustainable matter. I am a huge supporter of urban agriculture and independent, organic farms and farmers' markets. To the southeast of the city, lies the Fraser Valley, one of the most arable areas of land in North America: the quality of life for future generations in this region lies not in strip malls, big box stores, condos and subdivisions, but in safe, healthy food and reinvigorating natural spaces as well as vibrant neighbourhoods and communities. BC history helps me regain some perspective on these.

Perhaps we need to ponder these things as the powers that be debate running an oil sands pipeline through this province and sailing hundreds of tankers along its coast.


Rainbow Woman


This past long weekend (in British Columbia) will go down in history, or at least my corner of it, as one of the most action packed and, ultimately, rewarding.

It started when I left work Friday afternoon to go home and get ready for the Trans and Genderqueer March. The march was a success and a few of us took the good vibes with us when going out for a bite to eat and drinks at a nearby pub.

Sunday, however, was the apex. Early to rise followed by walking in the Pride Parade through the West End in mid-30s temperatures. Again, a fantastic though scorching event. I walked with members of the Trans-Alliance Society, sometimes carrying the banner, sometimes the pink, blue and white transgender flag, but constantly putting feminizing voice to the test by a steady round of whooping and cheering.

When the parade ended, I left right away and walked over the Burrard Bridge, something I had not done for years, since I lived on the west side actually; I definitely felt my age afterwards. I headed out to UBC to do my radio program at CITR for three hours. Then, I headed home to get ready for a dance on the east side called Unicorn Born: Genderfest's East Van Queer Pride Dance Party. It was a late night dance party capping off a week of organized social events running parallel to the official pride events. Rum and cokes and fierce dancing followed as the DJs spun almost hallucinatory beats until two in the morning. By that point, I had left, in a zombie, crying for bedtime. I actually fell asleep in the shower, standing up.

Today, I got up early to fill in for a radio colleague from eleven until noon, doing an hour of vintage reggae tracks. After that, I was interviewed by the station's magazine, Discorder, on my show turning six next month, my favourite soul artists, my personal journey and my hopes for the show in the year's to come.

My hopes in radio, like elsewhere in my life, are to be role model: to live my life authentically and then, to pass the torch so that others may do the same.


Saturday, 4 August 2012

Goodbye, Norma Jean ... Fifty Years On



"And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did."
                                                                    - Elton John, "Candle in the Wind"

Fifty years ago exactly, right about now as I write this actually, between 9 pm and 1 am August 4-5, a much loved icon, a luminous stage presence, a gifted and still young actress, a wise beyond her years lonely, wounded woman, died of a drug overdose in her Spanish style home in the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood.

I have long been a fan of Marilyn Monroe's films, since I was about twelve, actually. It was not just her image, but something about her poise: brave, dignified underneath all of the roles she was forced to play in front of the camera and despite severe childhood trauma and a series of damaged relationships throughout her adult life. It was her dignity that always fascinated and held me, even before I was old enough to understand why. But, it may have been like that for many young women, whether or not they appeared to be young women to the outside world, Marilyn seemed to reflect both the sorrow and joy back to us.

I was always drawn to her later years, specifically her last year (her work on the film "Something's Got To Give", her birthday wish to President Kennedy, her acting classes with Lee Strassberg, her last photo sessions), for her struggles with herself and her determination to start anew in life. And she seemed so close, so close to overcoming her demons.

Life is so delicate.

We miss you, Marilyn ... even after all of these years. Where would our popular culture have gone if you had lived?

May we illuminate each other the way you illuminated us, before our candles burn out, too.









Thursday, 12 July 2012

A Year and a Half!

Eighteen months ago, I began hormone replacement therapy. I had done enough reading, enough research, enough soul searching. It was time. I could not wait another minute. My adolescence and much of my adulthood had already passed and I now had to make the best of the rest of my life.

A year and a half later ... I simply have no regrets. Day by day, I am growing more and more into myself. Finally!



Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Back Home, Days 5 - 7: The Rest of The Story


First, my apologies for dropping out of sight for the past several days; aside from the whirlwind that was my trip back home, I have taken the past few days, since being back in Vancouver, to emotionally regroup and gain some perspective on my latest experience with my family.

Mama Didn't Lie

The day after Father's Day, we went to visit my surviving (paternal) grandmother, whose was of English ancestry, at the care facility she was living at. Similar to the situation with my now deceased grandmother, this grandmother had spent some time shuffling around between different facilities and battling severe health problems. In this case, however, Alzheimer's did not seem to be an issue.

The senior's facility was in an old hospital building in the nearby neighbourhood of St. Michel, about ten-fifteen minutes away. My grandmother's room was on the top floor of the sixth floor building. Hardly any staff (a few custodial workers and one care worker) were to be found and the hallways and help desks were generally empty and unoccupied. Although very clean, well lit and quiet, the atmosphere was still eerily isolated. When we got to her room, it took a moment for my grandmother to realize who we were, and in particular, who I was. Once she did, however, she seemed very pleased that I had come. She was just finishing her lunch on a tray which a staff person soon came to collect.

As we chatted over the next couple of hours, mostly about the wedding (which she had not been well enough to attend), my grandmother asked me the usual questions: "Still working at the same place?", "Have you gained any weight?",  "Are you eating meat, now?" Something else she said nearly threw me off: "You're wearing a scarf in your hair, the way a lot girls are wearing them these days." My stepmother pointed out that a lot of guys were wearing their hair that way, too. I nodded, swallowing the irony of the situation.

The surrounds became a little disturbing when a elderly woman a few rooms away began screaming in anguish. There was also an elderly man in a wheel chair who kept trying to get into my grandmother's room. Apparently, he was notorious for barging into everyone else's quarters on that floor, even sifting through other people's belongings. My father put up the velcro barrier over the doorway to the room to keep the mam out.

My grandmother generally seemed content, expressing only minor complaints about things like not having a breadbox for keeping the sliced bread that one of my aunts brought her. Folks at the end of the lives, like my mother and other grandmother had years earlier, tend to find contentment in simple things.

Later that afternoon, when my father, stepmother and myself were out for a smoke meat dinner several blocks from our apartment, I thought about what a good visit we had had. I had also planned to have the Conversation over dinner. But, it somehow just did not seem like the right time. I could not resist kicking myself for my perceived failure of nerve. On the way home, through the Italian flag wavers and honking drivers (Italy had just won against Ireland at the Euro Cup in Poland), I tried to put it aside for the time being.

Kettled

The omnipresent heat wave, even unusual in Montreal in mid-June, and the resurfacing of our old family patterns and roles made for a very cooped up experience. My folks seemed quite paranoid about going downtown for fear of being caught in the midst of a student demonstration (which the local media had already suggested was becoming less and less common) and they tried every way to convince me that going too far away was dangerous. I had also forgotten my father's tendency to become obsessed with gloomy news reports and histrionic call-in talk shows. It was the household atmosphere of my youth. We left the apartment together, shopped together and came back home together. When I bought anything, my father rambled on about what it cost. At home, I began to retreat into the spare room that I slept in, playing songs on Accuradio or YouTube for escape. I was reverting to old patterns.

Fortunately, there were two outings on Tuesday to go to. One was a lunch get-together with an aunt and uncle at a nearby Italian restaurant; my father and stepmother had received several gift certificates for the restaurant among their wedding gifts. The food was fantastic; I ordered a linguine dish in an arrabiata sauce (my favourite) with mushrooms, Italian sausage and Kalamata olives. My father and uncle each had the all you can eat mussle special (in a marinara broth). The wine was also flowing. When tipsy, I tend to crack jokes. At one point, I leaned over to my stepmother and, pointing at my father, said "Well, you wanted a guy with mussels, and there he is!"

A great lunch was had by all.

That same day, a good friend of mine who was studying journalism at Carleton University drove down from Ottawa to do some freelance business and also to touch base for dinner that evening. When, she came by, I introduce her to my folks; I had already told them how important this friend had been in helping me through my bad patch a few years earlier.

My friend and I went to a Chinese-Japanese-seafood buffet in a strip mall a couple of blocks west of the apartment. While there, I filled her in on how difficult it had been trying the breach the subject of my transition to my family. I actually could not believe that they could not see a change in me: my face, my lack of facial hair, my longer head hair. They had asked me no questions, none. Though my friend made a valid point, that usually parents do not think of their "son's" subtle physical changes as evidence of "him" transitioning, I still had trouble believing it. I had no idea if I was even going to be able to tell them. One thing became clear, that staying with them had meant a loss of my personal boundaries; I no longer felt safe to have an important discussion about anything.

Catching up at the buffet, however, was great fun and I was glad that my friend could make it down. That night, for the first and only time since I had arrived, the temperature was cool enough to sleep well in.

Go Where You Wanna Go

My last full day in Montreal had nothing scheduled, so we had lunch at a local Italian bakery/cafe and then, walked over to the strip mall to do some window shopping. While in a kitchen store, I suggested my father think about getting his mother a breadbox. "It would make her happy," I said.

That night we had macaroni in homemade sauce, the way we used to years ago.

The next day, I packed my two bags and we left for the airport around noon. We spent a few hours at a Tim Horton's nearby, during which I was certain that the Conversation was imminent. It was not. And maybe just as well. I decided that I could only do this from the safety of being across the country, in my home of seventeen years with most of my friends and my support network. I could write and blog without the sense of and eye looking over my shoulder. I did not have to hide taking my hormones or other medication. I would be better this way after all.

I hugged my father and stepmother at the Domestic Departures drop-off at the airport, wishing them well and knowing full well they were missing me already. This was how it had to be.

I sighed with relief as the plane lifted off over the West Island through the layers of extreme heat and haze. When I landed back in Vancouver, it was chilly and cloudy. But, it was home. It was mine.




Sunday, 17 June 2012

Back Home, Day 4: Colour Him Father


Not one, but two special days in a row. The day after the wedding was none other than Father's Day, something I had pointed out to him over the phone when I was first invited back east. I had blown my gift budget on the wedding gift (a handmade table cloth with tiny mirrors sewn in, from India, two similarly made linen napkins and two handcrafted napkin rings), so I sought out a card for Father's Day instead.

Today was actually much hotter than yesterday, with a daytime high of twenty-nine degrees, but there was also a gentle, cool breeze. I woke up very well rested (although the tension in gut was also alive and well) as I had, like everyone else (my father and stepmother as well as their pets, a budgie and a guinea pig), slept in.

I gave my father his card just before having breakfast. The front of it said "dude" with a print of a sporty convertible followed by "dad" with a more practical 4 x 4. "You STILL rock!" the inside said. We hugged warmly and firmly. My stepmother looked on, pleased. I kept myself in check; this day was for him.

After and errand, we took a long walk in the sun to the neighbouring muncipality of Ville D'Anjou, stopping at the public market for lunch before heading to the Galleries D'Anjou shopping center across the street. I had been there often as a child, many of those times with my father, and had not been there since I was about eighteen.

Walking through the mall, I could see how much it had changed and much of it was (is) under renovation. But it was the memories of going grocery shopping at Dominion or Steinberg's with dad, going to Laura Secord's chocolate and candy shop for an ice cream cone with, being handed to Santa Claus on his throne in front of Eaton's by dad and getting a toy bought at Toyworld by dad. All of these places now gone.

This evening, after my father and stepmother showed their photo album from their trip to Italy last August, I treated my father to dinner knowing full well that he has treated to much much more over the years. I may have shown much gratitude, but here it is, dad. And, yes, you still rock.

Shall we take the next step?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Back Home, Day 3: All You Can Eat


Prior to waking up on my third day home, I had a strange, feverish dream. I was back in Vancouver, dressed as female and making out with a male friend of mine. I left the room to get ready for more action when, suddenly, two very stern psychiatric nurses arrived with a kind of beige slime which paralyzed anyone that got near it. The next thing I heard was my friend suffocating. I began to feel myself slowing down, but overpowered the slime and the nurses. It was a hollow victory, though, as I survived alone.

*
So the day finally arrived. After twenty-five years of being together, my father and stepmother got married officially. The wedding itself was happy and low-key with close relatives from either side of the family.

Most of today, leading up to it, was spent hanging around the apartment in the sweltering heat and haze. The tension of the previous day having eased somewhat. Still adjusting to the time zone change as well as the difference in climate, my appetite was sporadic: a light breakfast followed by a snack for lunch. I had moisturized my hair so that straightened out and lay flat on my head. I then pulled it into a pony-tail and held it in place with one of the thick bands I bought yesterday at the drug store. I stayed in shorts (cut offs) and a t-shirt for most of the afternoon. My head was swimming, knowing that once this wedding was over, the space would open up for the Conversation to happen. My thoughts swirled. Between this and the heat, I felt fatigued and took a mid-afternoon nap.

Soon afterwards, a few of my stepmother's relatives arrived to help her get ready. Groggy, I got up and went on to the balcony for some fresh air. After about fifteen minutes, my energy had come back and I went to get dressed. I had packed my white linen jacket and pants along with a short-sleeved, beige cotton shirt. Surprisingly, and by complete happenstance, most of us seemed to have some combination of beige, white and a darker colour (blue or purple) on. In my case, my shoes, belt, hair band and watch provided the dark contrast.

When it was finally time to leave for the restaurant where the wedding was going to take place, I calmed my mind and followed my father and stepmother out the door. As the restaurant was only two blocks east of the apartment building, it was only a short trip. My stepmother's relatives were gathered outside the restaurant, my father's were already seating themselves inside.

Meeting everybody was, in 60s parlance, a real trip. I was great to see everybody for the first time  in four years, since my last trip home; there were even some folks I had not met in years, or decades. Kids had grown into adults, adults had become seniors, former children now had children of their own. I felt my own age pretty acutely.

But the most awkward part was being complimented on what "a handsome man" I was. I smiled, trying to look appreciative (I probably came across as shy); inside, I felt very uncomfortable. My suit began to feel like armor: the evening's heat began to close in. I decided to use a mental technique I had learned years and years earlier: I shut myself down, cut my awareness off from the neck down. I, then, could carry on through the night. Afterall, this was my father and stepmother's night: my moment could wait, for now.

I took pictures of the short ceremony, including the marrying couple, the officiate (a notary), two young relatives who were holding flowers and bearing the rings, and an aunt and uncle who were witnesses. Then, I sat down and drank and ate with my family (new and old), sharing laughs, and catching up as best as I could (leaving out some big details, of course). At some point, my father made a brief announcement thankinh everyone who had shown up. Then, the meal courses were served, the cake was cut and handed out and the pictures continued. The favors, candied almonds in paper boxes shaped like grooms in tuxedos (for the guys) and brides in dresses (for the ladies), were handed out to guests as they left. I hugged each relative goodbye, promising to keep in touch. By 9:00 pm, it was all over, and my father, stepmother and myself, all tired, headed back home.

Back at the apartment, I nearly tore my jacket off in desperation. I sat down at the computer for a while and did some of what I call YouTube therapy, playing favourite songs on the various channels as a DJ would mix tunes on a turntable. Then, I took a shower and put on the sweatpants and oversized t-shirt that I have been using as makeshift pyjamas. Secretly, as I have been the past three nights, I popped a Spiro pill with some apple juice (I changed my Estradot patches last night) and sat down at the computer again. I began to write my next post, feeling slightly bloated and very drained.

As always with food and emotional issues, I knew how to pack it in when I wanted to, but you can only eat for so long.

To be continued ...

Friday, 15 June 2012

Back Home, Day 2: Crossing The Falls



As I write this, Nik Wallenda is about to cross Niagara Falls on a tight-wire. Apt metaphor, n'est-ce pas?

Today, I got to soak in my old, but rapidly changing, neighbourhood. My father and I took a walk to the bank to settle a few things (I had some bills to pay), before walking over to the supermarket so that I could buy some produce for the rest of my week. Then, I got some things to keep my growing hair in place for tomorrow's wedding.

It was a very hot, humid day (summer at last!). As I continued to rehearse the Conversation in my mind, I got a glimpse of my father in a way that I had not before. Always quick to both joy and anger, it struck me that he was (is and may always have been) a prisoner of his own rather harsh judgements of others. I no longer so much saw someone who was tyrannical, but someone sad and in need of fresh air, in the emotional sense.

I grew in the shadow of his explosive emotions, as well as those of the other side of my family. Yet, I was always supposed to be the quiet one. It had never occurred to me, however, that any of them may have been prisoners to themselves (my mother was the only exception to this).

And not as if I have never been there. I know that freeing yourself can be a death defying tight-wire walk. Necessary, maybe, but I can also understand someone's hesistation to step out into the vast chasm of new relationship possibilities.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Back Home, Day 1: Touchdown



And so, after a smooth flight over the mountains and prairies, and a very turbulent one over northern and central Ontario, I landed in my hometown at 4:45 pm Eastern Daylight Savings Time today. By contrast with the damp, grey delayed spring of the Wet Coast, Montreal was (and is) sweltering. As I type this, at 11:00 pm, it is twenty-one degrees and partly cloudy.

I have been going over and over in my head for weeks, months, how to not only come out to my folks, but how to make a new, adult place for myself in my family: that is, if it is truly possible to do so. I hope for the best. But, old habits and perceptions die hard. This afternoon, as I was waiting for my father to pick me up outside the airport arrivals area, I felt every bit the lost, small child with bags packed, and father coming to the rescue. We were on the expressway not five minutes, in the sweltering heat no less, before becoming entangled in rush hour traffic, something my father does not take kindly to. Out came the expletives (English, French and Italian). I found myself marvelling at how different our worlds actually were and wondering how I would ever get my message through to him. How would I do it? I knew when (after the wedding, of course), but how? We spoke, literally, quite different languages (although I have been known to swear a blue streak, here and there).

This thought nagged me for the rest of the afternoon and evening, through dinner and, later, as I presented my folks with the wedding present I had bought them. And until I have the Conversation, I will be sleeping on it.

To be continued ...