Sunday, 22 April 2012

We've Got the Whole World In Our Hands ...

I'm concerned with a number of issues, and like any other human being, I struggle within the confines of the short life we are given to address them as best as I can. One that towers above all of them, for me, has to do with our often frustrated attempts to make (or remake) our societies into vibrant, humane and sustainable ones. Frustrated because of the numerous, and diabolical, ways that the old guard of fossil fuel companies and lobbyists, climate change deniers, agri-business, fast food conglomerates and land developers have of stalling us, if not pushing us backwards.

Yet, I believe we must continue. With that I will head outdoors to begin this year's organic gardening and keep my eyes and ears open for new ways to get involved.

Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Go On In The House! Your Invitation To a Soul House Party ...

Those who have heard Shake a Tail Feather, my classic soul music program on CITR, over the past six years can now visit my new blog Come On In The House !!!! On it will be all my soul music related posts and, of course, related media tidbits.

Well, don't just stand there ... go on over !!!!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

If There's a Rock 'N Roll Heaven ... RIP, Dick Clark

John Springer Collection / CORBIS

Some of my happiest memories of being a child in the mid-70s were of spending early Saturday afternoons, after the morning cartoons were over, watching American Bandstand with my mother. I get my love of music and pop culture from her. Watching the bands and singers perform and the dancers dance and the host, Dick Clark, countdown that week's Top Ten hits while seated amongst a swaying, finger-snapping audience was great, light fun. On American Bandstand, I witnessed the arrival of disco with folks like Barry White, the Hues Corporation and KC and the Sunshine Band, pop acts like the Captain and Tennille, Elton John and the Jacksons, and early New Wave acts like Devo, Blondie and the Knack.

Today, just a few short months after we lost Don Cornelius, long-time host of Soul Train (the African-American Bandstand), Dick Clark, the host of American Bandstand from 1956 onwards, passed away at the age of 82. Clark was also, back in the day, host of the daytime TV game show, 25,000 Pyramid (another viewing staple around the house), the co-host along with Tonight Show bandleader Ed McMahon of Bloopers and Practical Jokes, and the long-time host of the annual Rockin' New Year's Eve countdown which included his broadcast from Time Square as the red ball descended marking the arrival of another year.

But, it was American Bandstand that put Philadelphia's pop acts on the map. Philly was known for its musicians and singers (jazz artists like John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott and "Philly" Joe Jones and soul acts like Tammi Terrell), but the rock and roll era brought forth new R&B and pop talent, largely in the form of vocal groups (Danny and The Juniors, the Orlons and the Dovells) and teen pop stars (Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell). Clark's show brought them as well as many others, particularly African-American artists, to a national audience.

Clark had not founded the show, that honour goes to former radio DJ Bob Horn who had started it as simply Bandstand, and extension of his WFIL-AM radio program Bob Horn's Bandstand. Horn hosted the show from 1952 to 1956 and was, then, succeeded temporarily by show producer Tony Mammarella before Clark took over. Clark ended the show's all-white policy on the music artists featured. Clark and Mammarella later co-founded the pop label Swan Records which helped launch Philly soul with groups like the Sapphires, the Blue Notes (years before Teddy Pendergrass joined) and the Three Degrees.

All three Bandstand hosts have now passed on.

I will always remember the simple joy of watching Bandstand as a child. Many thanks to "America's longest living teenager"! So long!

Monday, 16 April 2012

You Can Collect 'Em All! The "About Me" Series at Your Fingertips

Fifty-six posts long, my autobiographical series is about my life growing up, starting out on my own and, eventually, putting everything together. It was a pleasure (and deeply cathartic) to write it. I feel that I have had the opportunity to re-examine various crucial parts of my life. I also hope for two things: that my folks, should they at some point read my posts, not see me as blaming them for any of this as they, like any other parents and family, did their best raising me with what they knew at the time; also, that others transitioning, or about to, are helped by my story, but do not get stuck into it, or any other one narrative as the standard; we are all individuals. Should my hopes be fulfilled, then my coming out will have done as much good as it can possibly do for myself and for others.

A word about my use of YouTube music and old TV and movie clips. I thought early on in the series that using music and TV that I grew up with would create some context for the world that I was in at the time. As I continued writing, however, my choices became less about what was going on around me at the same time, and more about what I personally listened to, was interested in, and was feeling. I began to add subtitles that referenced both the music and a major theme of that particular chapter of my life. May it enrich your reading experience.

Here, then, is a list of direct links to each of the "About Me" installments. Please feel free to comment on any or all of them.

About Me, Part 1: Black and White
About Me, Part 2: Old Days
About Me, Part 3: All Alone
About Me, Part 4: Transformations
About Me, Part 5: Upside Down
About Me, Part 6: Do You Really Want To Hurt Me
About Me, Part 7: Time, Clock of The Heart
About Me, Part 8: Owner of a Lonely Heart
About Me, Part 9: Total Eclipse
About Me, Part 10: Here Comes The Rain Again

About Me, Part 11: Let's Go Crazy
About Me, Part 12: That Old Emotion
About Me, Part 13: Head Over Heels
About Me, Part 14: Too Much To Dream
About Me, Part 15: Break On Through
About Me, Part 16: Strange Days
About Me, Part 17: Do It With Ease
About Me, Part 18: What I Am
About Me, Part 19: Lost In Space
About Me, Part 20: In Yer Face!

About Me, Part 21: To Be
About Me, Part 22: Where I'm From
About Me, Part 23: Up The Ladder, To The Roof
About Me, Part 24: Still Water
About Me, Part 25: Our House
About Me, Part 26: Stop! Look! Listen!
About Me, Part 27: Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling, Again
About Me, Part 28: Too Late To Turn Back Now
About Me, Part 29: I've Got Work To Do
About Me, Part 30: Drift Away

About Me, Part 31: What's Come Over Me?
About Me, Part 32: Show and Tell
About Me, Part 33: Touch a Hand, Make a Friend
About Me, Part 34: You Little Trustmaker
About Me, Part 35: Loneliest House On The Block
About Me, Part 36: This Masquerade
About Me, Part 37: Castles In The Sand
About Me, Part 38: You'll Never Walk Alone
About Me, Part 39: In Between The Heartaches
About Me, Part 40: Make It Easy On Yourself

About Me, Part 41: Turn Down Day
About Me, Part 42: Explosion In My Soul
About Me, Part 43: The Weight
About Me, Part 44: No Easy Way Down
About Me, Part 45: Going In Circles
About Me, Part 46: Approaching Lavender
About Me, Part 47: Shake a Tail Feather
About Me, Part 48: Lucky Me
About Me, Part 49: Got To Be There
About Me, Part 50: The Echo

About Me, Part 51: I'll Chase The Blues Away
About Me, Part 52: Let Me In
About Me, Part 53: Where or When
About Me, Part 54: Tidal Wave
About Me, Part 55: I Believe To My Soul
About Me, Part 56: There'll Come a Time

Monday, 9 April 2012

About Me, Part 56: There'll Come a Time

Turning forty was the last straw. A wake-up call to end all wake-up calls.

I spent from May onwards running and posting to a Facebook group on the year 1970, for those born that year like me. I had also been in Vancouver for fifteen years. So much had happened. The city and the country were changing. I felt that the month of my fortieth should be signified with a monumental vacation. I had saved up enough time to take the entire month off. It started Labour Day weekend 2010, after seeing a few films earlier that week with a bi friend at the annual Film Noir Festival at the Pacific Cinematheque downtown.

For my fortieth, I wanted to have a party at the community garden. The garden had a plaza with a stage and room for tables and chairs. The plaza had been left over from when the site had been used for a cultural exhibit during the 1986 Expo. I invited friends from every area of my life. Many could not make it that partly cloudy, mild Sunday. But, many others did including my friend from my first outing earlier that spring, who came back up from the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle early so that she could get to the party. A fun afternoon, outdoor potluck, I had also planned some entertainment. Not comedy this time, but music. A few weeks earlier I had seen a local gypsy swing, folk, cabaret band called Maria in the Shower playing at the farmer's market. The trumpet player played with the kind of earthy growl that made me picture a street band on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. I could only afford two of them, but also offered them any food available. I actually got three musicians for the price of two as one of them could play trumpet and accordion simultaneously. We were all wowed. I had asked for no gifts, although I did get a few as well as a large scroll on which people wrote birthday wishes. I wanted guests to donate non-persishable food to the local neighbourhood house instead: and we got a lot of donations. Together with the donated produce from the garden harvest that year, the donations were quite substantial.

On Labour Day itself, and my actual birthday, it poured rain. My landladies invited me upstairs for dinner. We also sat around listening to old LPs, some free jazz and soul as well as singer-songwriter. It had been an ideal birthday weekend, both social and quiet.


The first week of my month off, I spent settling into my own schedule: sleeping in, going out later, meeting friends for coffee. I kept in touch with one friend, the now former host of Queer FM, by Facebook as she was now doing a degree in journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa. One evening, I went to a drop-in dance lesson in the West End hosted by Not So Strictly Ballroom where I tried the rumba and the waltz. Given the choice, I preferred the rumba. It was another step forward in life, as it was my first time as a follow and enjoyed it immensely.

I went to another appointment at the clinic during the second week to update my doctor on how I was doing. Restful, because I was on vacation, but anxious for all the usual reasons. And somewhat depressed still. I had already mentioned my history of depression to her. She recommended that we deal with the depression before we deal with anything else. I agreed. On my subsequent visit, during my last week off, I got a prescription for Effexor, what I had taken a decade earlier. I started taking it immediately.

The previous week, however, had been the best of my time off. As an urban gardener, I fantasized about living on an organic farm. The third week of September 2010, I got the chance. I stayed at Foxglove Farm, over 120 acres of vegetable crops and chicken coop next to Mount Maxwell Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island. I stayed in one of the original farm houses, now converted to a cabin for visitors. It was, like the other accomodations, furnished with rustic and antique furniture. I brought a few days supply of dry and frozen goods and got some fresh produce and eggs from the farm itself. Mornings, as the roosters crowed and the sun came up over the Straight of Georgia and the rolling farm property, included me cooking apple pancakes and lamb rosemary sausages for breakfast. Then came a walk around the farm. 

One day, I walked down to the town of Ganges to spend the afternoon there taking in the gift shops, the library and the many used bookshops. I also bought some mint tea at the health food store. The next day, one of the owners of the farm went to the tent where the hired students were drying beans. Everyone was having lunch and I was invited to join. Over a quiet meal, ideas and projects were discussed: urban farms in the inner city (the owner was establishing one next to the Astoria Hotel in the Downtown Eastside), sending organic produce over to the Mainland again. A couple of visitors, organic farmers from Washington State, came by to have a look around. It was endlessly fascinating. I could so easily picture myself as a farmers wife. It would be great. I held that image in mind as I came home that Friday in a virtual downpour. Back to Vancouver. Home from the forest.


On the first Saturday of October, I was still technically on vacation as I would be starting work again on Monday. I went to the Out In Schools fundraiser at the WISE Hall with a few friends. This time, I went as Vanessa. Afterwards, I walked home, one of my friends and I accompanying each other. When we got to my street, she got on her bike and rode off. I had taken yet another step.

And the next came the following weekend, on Thanksgiving Sunday, when I and a man I had met on OK Cupid went to a friend's Thanksgiving potluck dinner. My friend was the same one who worked at the clothing store that I bought most of my clothes from. She and I had become very good friends over the nearly a year since I had first walked into the store. When my new male friend came by my house to pick me up, I answered the door; when he saw me, his eyes popped. "Whoa!" he said, stunned. I laughed, but I also felt my face get hot. Flattered? You think?

That evening was a lot of fun. My nerves, jangly at first, eased as the evening wore on. There were a pair of cat ears circulating among the women at the party. When I put them on, everyone complimented me. My friend drove me home later. I guess I was a bit high, emotionally speaking, as I had never been out with a man before. We agreed to see each other again soon.


My love for writing resurrected, thanks to my book blogging at work, led me to register for a course at the UBC Writing Center. By hook or by crook, I would find myself back in a classroom again. I started my Creative Non-Fiction Writing course in October and it ran until the end of November. In it, began to write short pieces, mini-memoirs, essays, more experimental pieces. I felt that I had found my "jazz": an art form that I could jam in, exploring the fresh, new (at least, to me) ways of writing. I had not experienced that since I was a Creative Writing undergrad twenty years earlier. By the course's end, I had written a great deal more material and had met several fascinating people. We continued to workshop our writing for a little while afterwards before going our separate ways.

But, I did not stop there. I registered for the Freelance Article Writing, Part One course starting the following February, fully intending to write pieces for magazines and newspapers.


My radio show entered its fifth year, still going strong. I had done a five part theme on soul music in 1970 in honour of my fortieth. In the fall of 2010, I did a Halloween themed show, complete with haunted sound effects and YouTube B-movie sound bites. Creatively, it was one of my favourite episodes. In November, the CITR Fundrive only ran for one week, so in addition to my one Fundrive-themed show, I had guests on the entire month: special guest month. I launched that month with an interview with my swing dance instructor. I followed that up with a show based around a regular guest who was a local record collector, DJ and writer. The following week, I had my first phone interview with one of the DJs from the local soul music event, then called the Astoria Soul Club. The last week, I spoke to another soul DJ about music and his experiences as a youth in the Wigan northern soul scene in Lancashire, England. November was, singularly, the best month that I had on air to date.


I went to the Halloween dance at the Grandview Legion, this time dressed in a female costume. I dug out one of my old wigs and bought a sexy nurse outfit. As the dance was supposed to be zombie-themed, I got some death make-up, complete with "dried blood" and "scars". My costume was actually applauded during the best costume contest. But, something more happened. Some people had begun to notice how comfortable and natural I seemed in costume: in short, I was not only dressed female, but also behave that way, naturally. Another dance asked me about this. All I said was that I crossdressed regularly. But, to the organizers of the dance, with whom I had become good friends over the previous couple of years, I finally came out expressing my fear that I would no longer be able to come out dancing. He assured me that that would not be the case. He, his partner, his partner's daughter, basically the whole family, supported me, hands down. I breathed deeply for the first time in a long time. 

About a month later, I was at the Calabash Bistro, a Caribbean restaurant on the edge of Chinatown, listening to a couple of my soul DJ friends spin that evening. My dance instructor and a few friends came by. I came out to them that night. I began to feel the pace of my life speed up.


After an autumn thinking long and hard about my next move transition wise, I made the decision to begin hormone replacement therapy. I could no longer stand to be housed in a body that had never really felt like mine. I took too much effort to keep it shaved, waxed and as feminized as possible. I got a medical requisition from my doctor at the end of November. The following Saturday, in December, I went to get my blood work done at the Fairmount Medical Building near the hospital. It had been a fasting test, hence I had not had breakfast that morning. After the lab visit, I rushed out for lunch, intending to go to Helen's Grill. On the Main street bus, I ran into an acquaintance from my tai chi class. I had begun to take classes again, with a new instructor back in 2007. I had stopped in 2009. Now, I thought about getting back into it once again. I followed my old friend to lunch at East is East on Main, where I met up with my new instructor. Explaining that I had just had blood work done, I came to both of them. They were also very accepting.

With a couple of weeks off for the holidays, I went to a couple of trans support group meetings as they were very difficult to make during a regular work week. I went fully dressed, as I had for some of my sessions with the gender specialist, although, I still cabbed it downtown. It was at the second of these that I announced that my blood work had come back all clear and that I would be starting HRT in January. As I said it, I felt a rush of excitement, and joy that I had finally found the missing piece of the puzzle that was me.

Things were delayed somewhat when a came down with a urinary tract infection on Christmas Eve Day. I spent that day, after I got antibiotics at my neighbourhood drop-in clinic, and the next few resting. I did visit friends close by, but kept a low profile mostly just to rest.

By New Year's Eve Day, I felt recuperated enough to go out for a waxing and mani-pedi. I was going to a burlesque New Year's Eve party that night at the Vancouver East Cultural Center and wanted to go in a sparkly purple and black vintage scheme. I did, but the cold that night made me freeze in my thin, billowy pants.

The first week of January 2011, I went back to my doctor, with up-to-date results, post-infection; I was all clear again. I got my first hormone prescription. Once I picked it up, I waited a couple of days before starting it. On January 12, 2011, I put on my first Estradot patch, took my first Spironolactone pill ... and stepped into my future.

I have not regretted it one bit.


Last May, after nearly four months on HRT, I decided to start this blog, inspired by the many blogs, vlogs and YouTube channels out there with the personal stories of transfolks worldwide. In my own country, we are more fortunate than most in the world today, but full civil rights for transpeople has not yet been achieved. The last federal election in Canada was ominous. Yes, the New Democratic Party became the official opposition, but the Conservative Party (social reactionaries among them) got their majority government, and we have gotten a taste of what that means, since then. With that election's results, and the end of the Trans Rights Bill C-389 when the old parliament dissolved, I felt that more us in the trans community need to be telling our own stories. This is how history is recorded and preserved, but more importantly, it is how everyone else will come to realize that we are human, with human dreams and human lives, just like them. We just seek to right a, perhaps prenatal, wrong. The more everyone else sees that we are part of the same world, at work, at home, at school, in line at the store, in the parks, in the outdoors, in traffic, in the street, the more everyone sees that they already share the world with us, and we with them, the more they will learn to accept, even celebrate us. Celebrating us, is celebrating diversity, celebrating humanity.

My blog has been, and will continue to be, an offering on my own individual story, here so that others can see that coming out can be a long, struggle, often with others, but also with oneself. And that assumes that someone is only dealing with one issue in life (lucky you!). I hope those who about to transition see that coming out journeys come in all shapes and sizes; they are not always the lightning bolt realizations that they are shown to be in the media.

It has been a great cathartic and grounding experience writing this "About Me" series, in a big way, the heart of my blog, but it will also be a relief to go back to short blog posts about facial hair removal and my favourite music and films for a while. Please feel free to comment about any of my posts in the comment sections below each one.

Thanks for reading!  Love, Vanessa.

About Me, Part 55: I Believe To My Soul

I chose my name back in late August 2009, when I was a drowning transwoman grasping at straws. My birth name had never felt like mine; I always had the surreal sense, while saying it, that I was actually referring to someone else. I looked through the baby name section at work for ideas. In one book, reading the meanings behind "Vanessa" and "Tara", I decided to use them as my first and middle name, respectively. My last name I had no problems with. I told very few people about, save for some at the Haven, for months. I began to with the photographer and with the crossdressing society. For the rest of the year, my name, just like dressing in women's clothes, stayed a secret shared with a small number of people. 2010 would be different.


I had actually voted against the Olympics coming to Vancouver back in 2003, when the city voted on the issue in a referendum. Being from Montreal, I knew what could happen to a city and its local economies and neighbourhoods after the Games had come through town. in late 2009, when I was bidding for the next year's vacations on the new schedule at work, I decided to take the last two weeks of February off and stay home. The city was certain to be in utter chaos.

When the unusually warm month of February 2010 arrived, I began making preparations to perhaps go out of town, maybe bring some "clothes" with me to live as myself on a kind of gender vacation. Urban chaos-wise, the arrival of the Games were anti-climactic. The opening day had a few minor disturbances in my neighbourhood while a surveillance helicopter circled overhead. Then, came the very legitimate community rally and festival downtown, complete with choral singing, speeches and other performances. The came the torch runners through town up to the lighting of the Olympic fire. That was it. No meltdown. There was a brief malfunction of one of the mechanical torches in BC Place, the biggest controversy of the day. People would remember William Shatner, Betty Fox lighting the torch and K. D. Lang singing "Hallelujah".

I found myself coming out my hibernation prematurely. I began shopping for more clothes. I connected with a local make-up instructor who specialized in transgender make-up. I hung out with a friend of mine (host of Queer FM) who was doing some Olympic coverage for Out Cue, an LGBT satellite radio station. She blogged each days events from the LGBT community center in the West End, recently renamed Qmmunity; it had been made into the first Olympic Pride House in history. One of two, actually; the other was in Whistler Village in the reception lounge of one of the Pan Pacific Hotels.

We went up to Whistler Village on the Wednesday of the first week, stopping at Squamish to park at her relatives before catching a shuttle bus the rest of the way. Aside from watching some of the skiing events, we sat in the hotel lounge as reporters came in from the BBC and various European news media to interview us. Around mid-afternoon, after viewing the LGBT athletes photo exhibit in the lobby, I went out to get some take-out lunch, came back and ordered a glass of white wine to go with it, ate and then, promptly had a nap. We headed back to Vancouver after dark.

Later that week, at the Vancouver Pride House, I decided to volunteer as a Pride House ambassador. Something about the fact that athletes were coming out all over the world, event under very oppressive circumstances, inspired me to begin my coming as well. One of my friends journalist acquaintances, also gay, was risking his life doing a news feature in Uganda where the military government was trying to bring in the death penalty for LGBT citizens. What risk would I be taking by coming out? Some obviously, but how much, next others in the world? Wearing my ambassador shirt and Pride House pin, proudly, I fell right into greeter mode, doing duty at the welcome (reception) desk and in the library. I, also, took the opportunity to research gender-related topics and get information on local support groups.

The week and a half that I spent at Pride House Vancouver were filled with meeting guests from all over the world, celebrity sightings, burger and chocolate shake lunches at Hamburger Mary's, late night dancing to oldies at the Honey Lounge (Ice Cream Social) in Gastown and the Biltmore Cabaret (Classix Dance Soul Party) in Mount Pleasant. I hoped for an opportunity to guest DJ at one of these regular events int he future. Flash mobs and cultural events peppered the city, night and day. It was a golden age for insomniacs, and being one of them, I took in a lot. A friend and I went to the art exhibits and installations on Granville Island for the very Expo-like Cultural Olympics. The dances at the Legion thinned out considerably during those weeks and one of the dance organizers was away working at the airport as an event coordinator. I DJ'ed one of those dances to a lightly populated auditorium.

Back at Pride House, we all spent one day getting the main room ready for Stephen Colbert's arrival that evening. By the time evening came around, Pride House was packed solid. Finally, after hours of waiting, two huge (and very cute!) bodyguards showed up. The guest of honour was at the downstairs entrance. When Colbert made his way through an enthusiastic crowd along with a camera man and the guards, the air was celebratory. At one point, I shook his hand and introduced myself. The routine he did with the executive director was classic. We all looked forward to the segment airing on television.

On the last Saturday of the Games, I went for a make-up tutorial at the artist's apartment, near Patterson in Burnaby. I learned a lot more about subtlety and natural colours, relieved that I was finally moving away from the garrish colours of my drag performance days. I made mental note of the many tips I was shown and then, made my way home, feeling very optimistic that I had taken yet another step.

On the last day of the Games, I spent midday at a fellow gardeners house in a membership renewal meeting. I, then, headed to Joe's Cafe to watch, along with some friends and a packed house, the final hockey game of the Olympics. We won, to a volcanic eruption of cheering. I hurried home as crowds packed the streets in the neighbourhood and downtown.

That evening, while the closing ceremonies were on, CBC radio ran a documentary on 60s LGBT soul artist Jackie Shane. I felt my heart sink as I had been thinking of putting together such a documentary of late. It was a bitter lesson that ideas do not make waves alone: they need to be paired with action and hard work. It was yet another reason to continue to come out, in as many ways as necessary.


Work became more interesting that March. I became the editor and contributor to the library blog, called IWasToldThere'dBeCake. It was an opportunity to write reviews and, through that, discuss ideas, something I had wanted to do for some time. The blog was launched officially on March 10 with a small party in which I and a co-worker performed a swing dance to the tune of Georgia Gibb's 1950 pop hit "If I Knew You Were Coming, I'd Have Baked a Cake". And with that, I got back into writing, falling in love with it again.

At the end of March, a few of us went to Portland, Oregon for the Public Library Association Conference. The sessions I went to were enlightening, all about issues related to serving marginalized groups and doing innovating library programming. One session I went to was hosted by the LGBTQ Roundtable of the American Library Association. It focused on young adult literature and services directed at LGBTQ youth and their allies. During the session, the main speaker, a librarian from the Los Almos Public Library, New Mexico, mentioned a couple of book titles that I took note of: Julie Ann Peters' Luna and Brian Katcher's Almost Perfect, both about transgender teenage characters dealing with family and coming out.

That night, I headed over to Powell's Bookstore, a multi-floored labyrinthine store with colour coded rooms for each subject area. I spent a few hours reading the Katcher book. I did not buy it or the Peters' book that night, but, instead, bought a few books on music and a memoir by Jennifer Finney Boylan called She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders. When I got back to my hotel room, I showed my books to my gay co-worker. Not out to anyone at work, I quaked as I showed him the Boylan book, hoping to subtly hint at who I was.

The rest of my Portland stay was much lighter and very enjoyable. I explored the Pearl District and the Downtown area. The amount of vintage clothing stores in Portland made my nostalgic heart swoon. So did the many neighbourhood restaurants, music stores, and delis. Or own hotel, the Hotel Vintage Plaza, had an Italian bakery and restaurant called Pazzo (curiously, "fool" in Italian) with delicious food all around. When our last day, March 27, came around, I was actually sad to leave. Even the weather was great. The City of Roses was actually ten degrees warmer than Vancouver, at twenty-five degrees Celsius.


In early April, Easter Sunday in fact, I decided that I could no longer hang out, dressing at home. I got a hold of a friend and planned to go out to Cafe Deux Soleils. That evening, after I spent two hours getting ready, my friend and I headed down my street in the mist, through McSpadden Park to the Cafe, my heart pounding the whole way. When we got to the Cafe, it was packed, but we found a seat in a front corner window seat where we stayed for a couple of hours sipping tea and talking while the musicians for that night began playing. We had planned to meet up with another friend, but they were eating at another restaurant several blocks away. I did not have the courage to walk that far that evening. Eventually, that friend that I was with biked home while, still frightened of walking around en femme unaccompanied, took a cab home.

My next outing was in early June. That day, I had participated in a lindy-hop flash mob downtown with my fellow swing dancing friends. I got home just before supper, ate, and then, got ready to go to Queer Bash at the Hungarian Hall on Kingsway. An old friend from Queer Dharma gave me a lift there. Once there, I also met up with the friend I had gone to the Cafe Deux Soleils with. I felt completely safe at Queer Bash, dancing for hours, uninhibited. Earlier that day, while swing dancing, I had felt robotic; that night, I felt alive, very natural. My way forward was becoming clearer every day.


My therapist had been indispensable during my recovery from my ended relationship and through the trials of trying to stand on my own two feet again. But, in standing on my own two feet, I had finally figured out whose shoes I should be wearing. Also, my therapist had limitations; he was not infallible after all. His experience with transgender clients was limited to two people. At first, he was skeptical that what I was feeling was what I thought it was. I had presented myself en femme for him the previous December. Over the next few months, I asked if he could refer me to a therapist who could help me understand what I was experiencing: I just needed to hold my experience up to that of others who had transitioned, or were about to. Failing that, I needed the feedback of a therapist, or counselor, to help me confirm what I was feeling. By June, having had no information from my therapist despite hours of sessions that year, I decided to end our work together. I needed to seek elsewhere the information, confirmation, that I needed.

By the summer, the reality of living one way at home and another way at work and elsewhere was becoming very stressful. I began to experience the dip in mood that I had had the previous year: the isolation, the sleep problems, the depression and, newly, mysterious digestive symptoms. I did not have it in me to weather yet another year of battling unstable moods.

Finally, in addition to seeking some naturopathic help with my digestive problems, I decided to seek assistance through a counselor at a community clinic in the downtown south area. The transgender health program there had a number of resources including support groups and doctors. I had printed off virtually every brochure on trans issues that their website had.

I met with the counselor a couple of hours after my naturopath appointment. Scared, but wanting answers, I told her my story thus far. She shared hers as well. Recognizing what I had heard, but in a strange way, not wanting to fully let it sink in, I was able to confirm what I had felt for so long. I had always felt female; my face, my body, my voice had all felt like a huge betrayal. I had always felt his, but the feeling was so overwhelming that I had long ago forced it underground, likely before I had words to describe it, hence I could never describe it. But, it had always been there. When I left the session, I added my name to the waiting list to see a gender physician. It was likely to be a three month wait, enough time for me to contemplate what I might be doing.


In mid-July, on naturopathic remedies, my stomach and bowels began to feel better. Mentally, however, I was still brittle. I went to a Thursday night trans support group at the clinic downtown. I introduced myself and listened to the others` check-ins. I was mostly there to listen, so when it was my turn, I only briefly mentioned my situation. The facilitator asked how I would like to be addressed. I said as Vanessa, feeling the disconnect between the name, my short hair and man`s summer shirt and pants, not to mention the rest of the physical me. I also booked another session with the counselor (who was also the facilitator). At my second session, I told the counselor about the depression and anxiety I was experiencing. I further confirmed that I wanted to see a physician, so I stayed on the list.

When a physician did contact me by phone, only a month had passed. I was a bit taken aback. My session with the doctor was early one morning on a day when I started work in the afternoon. With him, I reiterated my story, talked about how I was feeling, my dysphoria was still there, and agreed to follow up with him in a couple of weeks. My work and schedule and his were not compatible, so my second session was with another specialist. 

I told my story again and updated her on how I was feeling, nothing had changed, the second doctor writing copious notes in my file. Afterwards, she encouraged me to come back in a couple of weeks and we booked the next appointment. By then, I would be on a month-long vacation for my fortieth birthday. There would be plenty of time.

To be continued ...

Saturday, 7 April 2012

About Me, Part 54: Tidal Wave

The last UBC Swing Kids dance of the summer happened at the end of August 2009. I hot, sultry night, most of us were lounging around outside the Student Union Building party room near the water fountain to cool off. I came back into the room just as a song ended and the DJ said, "And everybody, let's have a hand for the host of CITR's Shake a Tail Feather!" There was a huge round of applause followed by the Marvelettes' "Please Mister Postman". I was very flattered. The DJ had been toasting a number of people in the swing community that night. It was a huge, and much needed treat.


A month later, having returned from the Come Alive workshop at the Haven a couple of weeks earlier, I was scrambling around for women's clothing and accessories. I bought two wigs and a pair of breast forms, then went to MAC for make-up. I began shaping my finger nails. I immediately felt better. There was movement within me: a damn had broke. I was being carried away on a tidal wave.

At the beginning of October, I contacted a local photographer that one of my bi friends had recommended. I wanted some photos done as I took the next step in exploring my gender. I met with him at his apartment in the West and we discussed ideas. He tended to do Diane Arbus type portraits, usually in black and white. I was looking for colour pin-up style. I agreed to send him links to some examples of some transwomen doing retro pin-up that I found on the Internet. We discussed all kinds of things including gender identity, psychology, music, my radio program and classic Hollywood film. We had a great rapport and decided to work together. I could not wait to start.

That Halloween, I wore my last male costume, going to the Legion dance dressed as Napoleon with a sparkly blue masquerade mask on. When I got back home later, I wrapped up the outfit and packed it away for good. No one around the swing community what I was going through. I decided to confide in one person, one of the organizers. She became my confidant in the swing scene for the next year.

At work, I told one co-worker in another department and we talked about what I was going through on a regular basis. Having a few people to talk to made a huge difference. But, I needed to go further. In mid-November, after finishing an evening shift I took my usual bus in the direction of the SkyTrain line home. On the way, I got off at a Tim Horton's and went inside. I had arranged to meet the head of a local crossdressing society. She arrived after me and we found a table and sat down. When asked to, I described what I had experienced earlier that year as well as how I had felt for most of my life and the experimenting I had already done and how it had not been enough. We had a lot in common. She had begun to transition herself. She was a couple of decades older than I and had retired. I turned out, there were many in the crossdressing community who were transitioning, and many who had transitioned who had once been in the society. I felt that, for now, this community was where I needed to be. I agreed to pay a membership fee and join the group. Their annual Christmas party would be happening in early December. Something else to look forward to.


When December arrived, I got a great surprise. I had not, according to management, taken enough vacation for the year. So, in addition to the two weeks that I had booked, I got two extra just prior to it. I found myself, all of a sudden, with a larger period of much needed rest and relaxation. During that time, I had my session with the photographer which lasted most of the day. The session consisted of us chatting about a wide array of subject while he had me pose standing, sitting and reclining in a couple of my new outfits.

I had bought them at a clothing store in my neighbourhood. I had walked in, very nervous, a month earlier having planned for a week how I would go into the store and cautious look around before introducing myself to the owner, manager or whoever was there. Fear gripped me as I walked down to the store. I zeroed in on a staff person who working that day; I needed some kind of emotional anchor. The woman I spoke to seemed vaguely familiar. I later found out that we had met years earlier when I had performed at the nearby Silvertone Pub, now replaced by another establishment. She was very warm and welcoming, going through outfits with me and then, after I picked some, hanging them up at a changing room. She assured me that I was welcome back any time. It was a huge relief. I have shopped there loyally ever since.


On December 4, 2009, I concluded the last history of rhythm and blues episode for Shake a Tail Feather. I had been a rewarding musical journey for me as it had for a growing number of listeners. I would conclude the Motown history series the following spring. Two huge accomplishments that I am still very proud of. My show was one of the few things that had kept me going all year and I was grateful for the opportunity to host it. It had afforded me my sanity, but also, while broadcasting, I would chat on Facebook with friends, catching up with old ones from back east. I came out as transgender to two of them, one of them being my lesbian friend from high school. "Luv ya, kid, no matter what," she had replied on Facebook chat.

The same night as my last rhythm and blues episode, the UBC Swing Kids held their Hepcat Holiday dance. It was the first night of my vacation and I spent some time at the dance first. Partway through the evening, I recognized my ex dancing with her boyfriend in the midst of the crowd. They had come to a couple of the Legion dances over the fall. I found out that they lived in New Westminster, that my ex had found a job and then got laid off with the recession, that her cat was now at her sisters and had feline diabetes. I was actually quite irked that they had shown up as she had known that I went swing dancing. I felt, rightly or wrongly, that they were trying to make me uncomfortable. I tried to ignore them at the Christmas dance. I, then, went to do my show. I never saw them at a swing dance, or anywhere, again after that.


At the end of November, Catherine White-Holman, a social worker and major advocate for transgender health care died in a float plane crash near Saturna Island. I had never met her, but wished I had. I felt that I could have asked her many questions regarding HRT and other medical treatments and procedures. She had written a standards of care guideline for transgender youth and frequently lectured at the UBC Medicine Faculty. There was a public memorial for her at the WISE Hall the week after my photo session, in mid December. I attended and took part in the candlelight vigil outside that cold, clear night as the procession made its way down Victoria Drive to Adanac and turned west at the corner to go into the hall. It was a very sombre moment. There were many there who I knew including the photographer that I had worked with the week before. The experience sharpened my resolve to live authentically from this point onward.

Onward included the Christmas party hosted by the crossdressing society that I had joined. The party was out in east Maple Ridge. I prepared by shaving and putting my undergarments on and my foundation. I packed my outfit and accessories for the night in my backpack and taking the long bus rides out to the party. The party, itself, was hugely refreshing and I made several new friends before the night was out. I got a lift back home afterwards. I looked forward to more social events with the community. In truth, it would be months before my next one.


Christmas itself was very quiet, I had dinner upstairs as I had come down with a bad cold and cough. By New Year's Eve, my condition had improved enough for me to go to a Sin City fetish dance at Club 22 in Gastown. My bi friends and I had our pictures taken at the club and bought prints as souvenirs.

On January 2, 2010, I went out to buy myself a laptop. My intention was to finally throw out the bulky desktop computer that my ex had left behind when she left. I had already subscribed to a new telephone, cable and Internet service by then. My new laptop would make computing a lot easier. I was spending more and more time researching transgender lives and transition via blogs and YouTube vlogs. I also wanted to create a playlist from my music collection from which I could DJ without the bulk of carrying my CDs around with me.

I had spent the last few days of the old year hanging out with friends and reflecting on a very strange decade indeed. One friend was the woman that I had dated just before my ex who had since become a great friend. I had come out to her at the Out in Schools fundraiser a couple of months earlier. I expressed my sadness that I could not go back in time and get back the years that I had lost living a hollow life. As I did, I realized that I had made, or better yet remade, a precious, valuable friend.

To be continued ...