Monday, 5 March 2012

About Me, Part 41: Turn Down Day

By late August 2002, things were getting very stressful. Still reeling from two break-ups, I was now dealing with severe anxiety because of a project that I had taken on at work. I began to have difficulty sleeping. I tried to counter things by getting enough play in the rest of my life. After doing a performance for a going away party for someone in the Shambhala community, I did another one at Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial Drive, opening for a local band; the band Something About Reptiles was led by the woman who ran the vintage clothing store that I frequented. I remember it being a very hot summer night and we had to close all the windows after 11:00 pm due to noise bylaws. The cafe became a cooker and my make-up began to run. To top it off, the sound system gave out in the middle of my act; it came back on, but only after a couple of minutes.

For my thirty-second birthday, I had several friends over to my apartment. I had invited the friend who had worked on my theatre troupe logo, although I had given up on the idea of starting a troupe. A colleague came from work. So did one of my neighbours from across the hall. Another friend, from France, that I had met through t'ai chi and the Shambhala Center also came as did someone from an LGBTQ meditation group at the Center. The group, Queer Dharma, was one that I had attended for nearly a year after someone had told me about it. In the aftermath of the Aaron Webster murder the previous November, a number of us in this community felt the need for some healing. I enjoyed going through the practice and teaching with a LGBTQ perspective, and in those days, we were a very sociable group.

I took a couple of weeks off in October, partly to take a breather from the project at work, which was supposed to have ended after six weeks. I had been doing some therapeutic breathe work sporadically for about a year and had been processing a lot of buried trauma. The abuse I had suffered during that summer nearly twenty years earlier resurfaced again (it had during therapy five years earlier as well) as did much grief about all the losses that I had had. A curious memory came back to me when I went for a session at the clinic on Boundary Road and Canada Way. I remembered when I was toddler, having a mysterious stomach ailment and being in the hospital for a while. At one point, I was under an x-ray machine which was pressing on my abdomen and I was screaming and crying. As the memory came up and the bodywork therapist guided me through it, I began to sob uncontrollably. I had felt cut in half with a lot of tension in the pit of my stomach; my anxiety and grief went there automatically. After this session, I felt a great deal of physical and emotional relief. I dosed off on the short trip west on the new Millennium SkyTrain line.

I also took a brief hiatus to review the Mastery workshop once again. This time, I worked through the same issues that had come up during my breath work session. It was just what the doctor had ordered.


In November, I and a comedian friend that I knew from the Mastery decided to go see Dame Edna perform at the Center for Performing Arts downtown. We both went as our stage personas, walking from parkade on Seymour to the Center a few blocks away. I felt very nervous as it was hockey night and I knew we would be on very crowded streets at some point. We did get to the show without incident. The show itself was funny and, after the show, we did get a photo behind the theatre with Barry Humphries, Dame Edna's creator. Afterwards, we headed back along Georgia Street in the post-hockey crowds, me with my heart in my mouth, to the parkade. I breathed a sigh of relief when we got back to the car. Back at my apartment, I had snuck through the back of the building as there was a huge crowd of parties outside the front entrance, I paid for my ticket by writing my friend up a cheque. While sitting in my living room in my silver lace 60s dress and fully made up, I felt so incredibly natural that it actually scared me. I handed my friend the cheque and tried to put it out of my mind.

I spent that Christmas with my French friend and her brother, sister-in-law and nephew at her brother's apartment on West 8th Avenue, not far from where I had stayed when I had first arrived in Vancouver. It was a calm, sleepy afternoon and evening, again just what the doctor ordered. The New Year's Eve party that I went to was a bust and very forgettable. Over the winter of 2002-03, my gender dysphoria began to intensify. I continued to groom myself, all-body shaving and nail painting, as I had for a couple of years, but it no longer seemed enough. To counter my feelings, I tried to butch up by growing a moustache and goatee and growing my hair out somewhat. My butch moment lasted until the spring and ultimately dissipated. This and my work-related stress worsened my insomnia. In March, my work project finally came to an honourable close and I began to decompress.


In November, it became clear to most that there was another impending invasion of Iraq about to happen. Memories of my anti-Gulf War activism in the early-90s came back as I went to the first Vancouver-area anti-war march that month. In December, I bought my first television (I had survived this long without one!) and kept it tuned to the news as skeptical as I was with its coverage. In January, there was a massive march downtown from the Burrard Bridge to the Vancouver Art Gallery which I was in. There were other rallies and protests outside the American embassy through the month. I missed the massive day of action in February as I was working that Saturday, but caught other demonstrations later that month and into March. By the third week of March, the war began to look inevitable.

As history was busy repeating itself, I found myself at another Something About Reptile show at the Main Bistro on Main Street one Saturday night. This time, I was not a performer, but rather just an audience member. I remember getting tipsy and making out with someone; the next day I felt quite ashamed. Dating was something I was not whole-heartedly into at the time. I chalk it up to being very unstable inside at the time.

In early April, I did a round of shopping for new Miss Penny clothes. A friend had informed me of a garage sale of theatre costumes on Granville Island and we went on a very rainy Saturday that month. I knew this friend from Queer Dharma. I had a chance to wear some of my new finds at a performance that I did at the Milk Bar. It was my last show at that venue as the organizer discontinued the series soon afterwards and moved to Montreal, and then Edmonton.

In May, my father flew out to see me. I had repainted my kitchen and gotten some new furniture including a table, four chairs and a hutch. I had also bought a DVD player and had begun to rent films at, the now dearly missed, Videomatica video rental store. We spent a lot of time watching television and DVDs. As I had joined the Mastery Choir for the spring season, he came to see one of our rehearsals. Most of the time, it felt kind of empty and sad. I wished that I could explain to him what I was feeling and the dysphoria that I was experiencing, but our last conversation on the subject had not gone so well. I felt very repressed while he was around and, sadly, breathed easy when I he left. The spring choir concert was the last one that I participated in.

That summer, 2003, I volunteered with the Public Dreams Society's Illuminaries lantern festival at Trout Lake Park. I helped set up the lantern installations around the park and got to ride around in the caddies as a result. As a team of volunteers, we all had a communal lunch and dinner. I left before the actual festival to go to a cabaret performance at the Wise Hall. It was hosted by a local celebrity impersonator who I had met the previous summer at Cafe Deux Soleils. She invited me to perform at the Silvertone Pub on Commercial Drive just south of Broadway.

It was an interesting show in which I performed Petula Clark's "Cat in the Window" while dressed as a female cat. There was also an Elvis Impersonator Convention going on that weekend in Surrey. One of the delegates came to perform "Suspicious Minds" for us. My performance was significant for two reasons. I met someone in the green room who would become instrumental in my transition years later. Also, save for one five years later that I did as a favour, this was my last drag performance on stage. It was no longer adequate for me to play a character. I, somehow, needed more.

To be continued ...

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