Monday, 19 March 2012

About Me, Part 42: Explosion In My Soul

Beginning in the summer of 2003, I decided to give acting/modeling one last shot. I felt that I had not much to lose. As my Miss Penny routines were winding down, I was anticipating doing something much more elaborate and challenging, lip-synching in other languages, developing routines into mini-musicals ... I felt that I needed more theatre in my performances. Hence, when I bid on, and won, a gift certificate to an acting class at a silent auction that summer (I also got a set of nice, glazed dishes) I followed up on it immediately. The classes were given at someone's home in the northeastern part of Vancouver, between the PNE and Boundary Road. After the initial session, which my certificate had covered, I paid for weekly classes through the remainder of the year and into the following spring. I learned some method acting, script memorizing, improv, and character development. All in all it was a lot of fun. But no actual acting opportunities were forthcoming.


My thirty-third birthday get-together was the least the enjoyable one that I had ever had. Only two guests showed up at the Reef Restaurant on Main Street; and they were both on the way somewhere else. I tried to take it all in stride, you can't always get what you want. An event earlier the same day provided a positive contrast; I had been asked by the founders of the Queer Dharma study and practice group at the Shambhala Center to take over as coordinator. I accepted. I began leading the Thursday night meetings the very next week. I brought in taped talks by various Buddhist teachers and we began each meeting by meditating. In the beginning there was also an agreed upon topic of discussion for the evening. The renewed practice centered me and also gave me the feeling that I was contributing to the well-being of the local LGBT community. As autumn began, I felt like my life was settling into place once again.

I also continued to do some personal growth work that fall. I signed up to do the sequel workshop to the Mastery, called The Next Step, at the end of September. It had taken me two years to take it, as it kept getting rescheduled. The workshop weekend was exquisite; I stretched myself much further than I had doing the earlier workshop. I also used some of the material that I was working on in my acting class in the workshop. I used my monologue, about a deeply repressed transperson, to tap into my own sense  of self-hate and shame. It was painful, but I think, a worthwhile experience. The follow-up meetings happened three times after that, in October, November and January 2004. In the last one, I came up with some goals around becoming more centered in my sexual awareness and developing more confidence in relationships.

In November, I had one more modelling experience, this time for a fashion show fundraiser at the (now defunct) Odyssey nightclub. It was a strange, disillusioning experience; I had begun to find the whole modelling world very superficial and off-putting. After the show ended, I went home relieved that it was over and vowing to never model again.


I had Christmas with my acting coach and her family and neighbours. There was a lot of laughter and felt a great deal of gratitude towards them for having me over. I had tried to have another orphan's Christmas that, but no had voice interest in it. I had come perilously close to spending the holidays alone. I did spend New Year's Eve alone, but that was not as big a deal. I had had a small Christmas potluck in my apartment for Queer Dharma, complete with colourful desserts, my Christmas tree and holiday tunes from a doo-wop CD and the Phil Spector Christmas album. I had also had someone from the Shambhala Center offer paint my living room in a bright, clean white egg-shell coat (another silent auction in which I bid for a painting job). Just after New Year's I went to an world clothing and textiles shop on West 4th Avenue and bought a Nepalese tapestry. The shop was going out of business and the fabric was 50 % off. My large living room now looked very comfortable indeed.

During a cold snap during the second week of January 2004, I flew back to Montreal for a week. Eastern Canada was, at that point, in the midst of a deep freeze with and average daytime temperature of minus 25 degrees Celsius plus windchill. I had prepared by buying a new winter coat, gloves and long underwear. Walking out of Trudeau airport and into the cold was a shock to the system. It had been a long time since I breathed in cold air, only to have my nostrils stick together.

I spent the week at my father and stepmother's new apartment a couple of miles north of their previous one, in Chomedy, Laval. We did visit my maternal grandmother one afternoon. My mother's mother's health had begun to deteriorate since she had moved back to the old neighbourhood in St. Leonard. She had begun to forget taking her medication or to cook her own meals. The family were discussing plans to move her into a home, but nothing had been finalized yet. I felt some sadness when I saw that a loaf of Christmas cake, one of her staple recipes, had been left for me with my name in icing on the top. A couple of nights later, we went to my father's mother's apartment, nearby, to have dinner. One of my aunts joined us. Outside, the temperature had dropped to minus 40, with the windchill. Drifts of snow blew all night. 

The next night I met my old high school friend downtown; she had driven from Guelph via Ottawa and parked on a side street. We went for a bite at a diner in the Gay Village on east Ste. Catherine Street. She gave me a lift home; on the way, we drove past the old high school. Long faded images of our group of friends hanging around outside the school or in the park across the street on lunch break filled my mind; the songs we listened to, the things we joked about, the long distance we had traveled since then. We talked about me coming out to my folks, which I had not done. One thing I like was that my friend never pushed me to come out to them until I felt that I was ready. And I was not yet ready. She said hi to my folks when she dropped me off, exchanging a few words with them, before leaving. I left for Vancouver the following day.


The spring of 2004 was very eventful. I went to the first anniversary anti-war march (it had been a year since the invasion of Iraq), in March. Thousands of us marched over the Burrard Bridge, through downtown south and down to Sunset Beach where we listened to Noam Chomsky speak to us from the roof of the custodial building in the park. It was a great speech on the anti-war movement in general and the necessity to keep up our protests..

In everything that spring, I tried to incorporate work in the world as part of my approach to life. Those of us in Queer Dharma decided to volunteer for the Friends for Life program in the West End. Friends for Life was an organization which offered health and well-being programs to those suffering from chronic and terminal illness (initially AIDS). They operated out of a community center in a converted Queen Anne style house, named Diamond House, and offered a meal program on Sunday evenings called Dinner with Mom. We offered to cook dinner for twenty-five people including salad, a main dish and dessert. We decorated the dining room table with a table cloth and flowers. The dinner guests were a great group who offered their thanks with a signed card, but, card were not necessary; we were honoured just to have the opportunity to do something good for our community.

The last Queer Dharma meeting of the season, in May, was a potluck at a member's apartment near Hastings and Nanaimo Streets. It was a nice, light end to a great year of practice and social engagement and we looked forward to more again in the fall.


Two major figures in the Buddhist world came to visit us in 2004. The first was the Fourteenth Dali Lama himself. It was the first time he had been to Vancouver and he was coming to give a few public talks. In late April, he took part in a panel at UBC. He then gave a both a private talk to Buddhist practitioners and a public one at the Pacific Coliseum on the PNE grounds. I was on a team of volunteers at the Shambhala Center's information table. I helped hand out flyers announcing the visit of the next major figure, the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, son of the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and head of the Shambhala community.

The Sakyong came to visit during the first week in May. Myself and another member of Queer Dharma were interviewed on CITR's Queer FM radio program about our group and our thoughts about Buddhist practice. The Sakyong gave a community talk at the Unitarian Church on Oak Street. He then gave a public talk at the Chan Center on UBC campus. In my brief interview with him at the Unitarian Church, I told about my ongoing battle with insomnia. He said that it, being up at night, was a great opportunity to practice meditation. I took note. After his talk (in which he mentioned the issue of sleep) at the Chan Center, I had him sign my copy of his new book. "That talk about sleep was for you," he said as he signed. I thanked him, glad that I had received some much needed guidance.


My acting classes ended in May; I had had my fill and had learned a lot, but had decided to put acting to rest as a serious pursuit. I had given it a fair shake and it was time to move on. The only public performing I did that year was as a roving clown in that summer's Illuminaires Lantern Festival. I still shaved my face and body and painted my nails happy for the opportunity to present in feminine fashion, but my costume was just that, a costume. After a fun evening and night, I packed costume up and gave it back to the Public Dreams Society from whom I had borrowed it and, en drabbe, I headed out into Trout Lake Park to get a gelato at one of the vendors' canteens. A wave of melancholy swept over me as I felt the dysphoria of being in the body I had.

The previous week I had gone to Vancouver Folk Festival with a friend from the Mastery. We spent the whole weekend taking in performers like Odetta and Janis Ian. That summer was a scorcher and Jericho Park felt like a frying pan. The music was memorable, it was one of the best festivals that I had seen since being in town.

But the highlight of the summer was the Pride Parade that year. My Illuminaires gig had gotten me another one in the parade courtesy of a member of the Carnival Band. They had been hired by the Co-op Housing Federation of BC to play behind their float. The band needed a few extra dancers and asked me if I wanted to be one of them. I agreed. Of course, it was a carnival theme. I went in one of the gaudiest get-ups I had ever worn. The parade was also a scorcher, broken only by the nice cool breeze off of English Bay as the parade rounded onto Beach Avenue. Afterwards, I met up with some friends and we went for lunch on Denman Street. A few pictures of me were taken there and on the way to a friend's apartment to shower and change. Vividly, I remember feeling the same dysphoria when I changed back into my "regular" clothing afterwards. A picture of me (which I still have), without make-up or outfit, shows me looking very glum indeed.

In August, I went to a couple of film events. One, with a Mastery friend, was of a new print of Fellini's La Dolce Vita. The other was a showing of a film about sexual fluidity set in Dublin, Ireland called Goldfish Memory which I went to see with a friend from the bi community. I found both films entertaining and fascinating. But the thing I remember most about the Out In Screen Film Festival that year was filling out a survey in which I had the option of indicating my identity. I did. In addition to selecting "bisexual", I placed a check beside "transgender" before hastily folding my survey form and dropping it into the raffle box. I hurried away trying to put my selection out of my mind.


At a work retirement party that long, hot summer, I was sitting around with some co-workers in the host's vast backyard garden when a discussion about music led to me having one of those light bulbs come on in my head. What if I had my own radio program? I was listening to a lot of vintage Jamaican music at the time, so I imagined doing such a show at either CFRO Co-op Radio or CITR UBC Radio. I would eventually do a show, but my idea would undergo a few changes first.

To be continued ...

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