Thursday, 5 April 2012

About Me, Part 53: Where Or When

As spring finally began, things were on the up. I had reconstructed my life. It included new friends, new interests, new goals. And the topper was that I had a new academic career to begin in the fall, assuming I got accepted. My reputation as a DJ, live and on the air, was on the rise. At the community garden, we looked forward to our first full year of growing. I was taking evening dance lessons weekly. My life was full and moving forward.

Then, in mid-April, I got a response from SFU. I had been rejected. It took a few days to settle in. Once it did, I followed up with the department on what my options were. I tried to get a more detailed response explaining what had gone wrong, or what had not worked about my application package. After weeks of trying, I got no response. Then, an email arrived explaining that my writing samples had fallen short academically. Also, my references were not seen as being enthusiastic enough.  The fact that I had been a Communications student once, that I also had a graduate degree already did not seem to help. The email also said to try another route, by doing a few courses to build up my work; it suggested that I meet with the coordinator again to further discuss the available options. I was interested and tried to follow up. I got no response, again for weeks, lasting well into the summer. Gradually, devastated, I gave up, feeling that I was being given the brush-off.

Had this happened on its own, it would have been disappointing. The fact that a new career direction had given me hope for a new future after the disintegration of my relationship made the setback into a total collapse. For the first time in years, I sank into a depression. Things came to a halt.


As I looked around, during the spring and summer of 2009, I others moving on to bigger and better things. New relationships, marriages, families, new careers. Meanwhile, I was not only stalled, but sinking. It was an unusually hot, dry spring. I had liked very warm springs and hot summers back east, but this one felt oppressive. Somewhere around mid-May, I was walking down Commercial Drive when I saw my ex coming the other way with a new boyfriend. I tried to put it out of mind, but could not. I had found no one since the break-up, and in my despondency, I began to ask where I had gone wrong. What bad decision, or decisions, had I made? I began to feel the withdrawal and isolation that I had felt during my depression at the beginning of the decade. As the dry spring became a dry summer, I knew that it was not Seasonal Affective Disorder.

My confidence in almost every area suffered. I began to feel as if others saw me as a fraud. Was I?

I took refuge in two areas of my life: my radio program and gardening. My program was actually going strong, with both my history of Motown and history of rhythm and blues series going well. I continued to have guests on my show, to enrich it, but also to have company in what was feeling like a lonely late night outpost. A few times, some of the other hosts expressed concern for me. I simply nodded, saying that I was okay.


Dances at the Legion closed for the summer as the heat kept people away. Trying to keep myself occupied, I kept in touch with a few friends for outings. Once to the mad hatters party at Trout Lake Park, another couple of times to Vancouver International Jazz Festival free stages: on Canada Day to Granville Island, that weekend to the David Lam Park stage in Yaletown. I joined a couple of swing dancers for an afternoon tea and dance at the Hotel Vancouver with the Dal Richards small band. The host of Sweet & Hot and I spent an evening at the home of a former CITR host and collector of 78s, listening to some selections and talking trivia. Nice outings, but the isolation I felt before and after them was difficult to bear.

I had stopped going to CODA meetings the previous December as they were not at a very accessible time or place by that point. However, I continued to go to therapy, once a month by this point. I talked about my increasingly dark thoughts in those sessions, but felt as if I was not being understood. Most likely, I was, but I had lost the willingness to let others in.

I spent a lot evenings out at a local music venue, listening to jazz, having a bite to eat and then, drinking, something I never used to do. I spent time reading Jungian psychology trying to somehow place where I was. Then, I felt some feeling, vague at first, welling up inside, some sense of being very disjointed. I became aware of just how much I hated my body. I always had, in and out of relationship; I felt a shame about it, but could never really figure out why. Sooner or later, though, there had always been a distraction. Now, there was nothing. I was left alone with a growing awareness of something very wrong, what I had really felt all these years, why I hated to speak up for fear of hearing the sound of my own voice, why I hated to move for disgust at how I was shaped and why I could not stand to look in the mirror and why others' compliments about the way I looked made my skin crawl.


On June 25, I was at work in my cubicle when I heard a small commotion in the next office. "Oh my God!" I heard a co-worker say, "Michael Jackson!" Part of me knew what had most likely happened, but I went online to check for myself. The earliest reports of his death were just hitting the wire. Soon enough, they were confirmed. "OMG" I typed as my Facebook status, shocked like most others were. The following night, Friday, I dedicated half of what would normally have been my all-Canadian soul music Canada Day episode to the late great pop star, concentrating on his earliest material with the Jackson 5 and the various groups that influenced them, like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and The Five Stairsteps. I found episodes of the Jackson 5 cartoon on YouTube. I was invited on to Queer FM a couple of days later to discuss his life, his identity issues and his eccentricities. Still dealing with depressive symptoms, I bailed on the show, feeling immensely guilty for doing so. I owed my friend one.

The third weekend of July, I went to the Folk Music Festival with a friend from work with whom I was smitten at the time. It promised to be a great show on the Sunday evening stage as Mavis Staples would be headlining. Towards the end of the afternoon, I saw my ex and her boyfriend near the main stage. I got the distinct impression that they were following me. When my friend decided to leave, during the Mavis Staples set, I followed her, not wanting to stay on the festival grounds with my ex there.

The following weekend, I made plans to go to the Illuminares Lantern Festival with friends. None of them showed. Then the sun set through layers of haze and thunderstorm clouds giving off a demonic red glow. Soon the downtown fireworks and the bolts of lightning were competing in the sky. Then, the downpour started. I went home, drenched in body and mind.

The week after the storm, my mood descended further. Around this time, I began to have suicidal ideation, envisioning the different ways that I could remove myself, always imagining an uncaring, even joyous, response from others. I imagined others despising me and part of me wanted to join them. In desperation, I searched online for a Suicide Anonymous support group. The closest one was in Washington State. I had some correspondence with someone from that group via email for a while. My therapist was on vacation for most of the month of August. I was stuck.

The last week of July, the show hosts at CITR swapped shows as they had the previous year for the first time. The previous year, I guest hosted the psychedelic program, Stereoscopic Reboubt. This year, I hosted the Wednesday night Folk Oasis show and played a lot of roots music.

That Friday night, I volunteered at the second annual bi cabaret. I did not perform this time, but instead, did front of house. I made an early evening of it as I was set to work the next day. I was given a lift home; we listened to my own show being guest hosted by the host of the country music program Blood in The Saddle. I went to bed soon after getting in. The following morning, I could barely get up as I had a dizziness and nausea that were overpowering. Something I had ate the previous day. I called in sick to work and stayed in bed, making frequent trips to the washroom. What's more, I had been schedule to DJ for the UBC Swing Kids dance that night. I had no phone number with which to call them. I crawled across my suite to the computer and tried to reach someone via Facebook. Finally, late in the afternoon, I got a response, saying that it was okay, they would schedule me for the following week and get a replacement for that night. Relieved and still very sick, I went back to bed, listening to CBC Radio as I tried to sleep.

That night, I squirmed and shivered, constantly trying to find a comfortable position. There was one more thing: I had promised my friend from Queer FM that I would join her in picketing at the Pride Parade the next day. We were supposed to be calling out VanCity for funding Lu's Pharmacy who, at the time, were refusing to serve transwomen. I believed passionately in taking a stand on this issue, but I also felt that I owed my friend one for bailing on the Jackson tribute. So the following morning, I got up, got ready and went out. By the time we found our places on Beach Avenue across from Sunset Park, I knew that it had not been best idea healthwise. Under the sweltering heat, I was still shivering. When the Happy Planet float went by, my friend got an energy drink and a smoothie. As "Satisfaction" blared from one of the floats, I felt my energy coming back. I felt better for about another two hours, during which time we followed the end of the parade down into the festival grounds, pickets in hand. Eventually an organizer pressured us to put the signs away. We dealt with some hostility from some of those attending the festival as well. I knew that I had no energy to fight, if it came to that. When I got home, I collapsed and fell into a deep sleep. I used the stat holiday, the next day, to fully recover.

My friend left for a month long trip to France and the UK that week. Concerned by some of recent, and disturbing Facebook statuses, she asked another of our mutual friends to give me call and arrange an outing. I remember it being at a time that I was working.

That Saturday, I did my DJ gig at the UBC Swing Kids dance to great applause, much needed at that. But, my mood remained feeling like fatigue at this point. The next day, I went to the Burnaby Blues Festival to see Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings followed by Smokey Robinson. My original plan was to interview them for Discorder magazine. The artists declined interviews, but I got in free with a press pass anyway. The shows were great and I reconnected with a couple of folks from the Shambhala Center community. Queer Dharma had long since folded and I had stopped going altogether just over a year earlier. It was a mini reunion of sorts. I updated them on my life, telling them about my show. A week later, one of them sat in the studio as I co-hosted, with the host of Stereoscopic Redoubt, an episode on psychedelic soul. They seemed quite impressed and I felt like a mentor, an unusual moment of pride that year when happiness itself seemed elusive.


At work one day, I finished a question and headed back to the information desk. On the way, my eyes caught a book on the shelves called Transparent: Love, Family and Living the T With Transgender Teenagers. I had seen it some time before, but this time, it stood out. I borrowed it and began reading it over the next few days. I had never lived on the street, been an addict or was involved in sex work like the youth in the book, but their perceptions of themselves, their feelings, the deepest most secret thoughts, I recognized. It took me back to trying on make-up as a toddler, to trying to "marry" one of my friends when I was a child, to feeling very soft around boys my age and feeling out of place as a cub scout, to not being to look in the mirror, to falling in love "the way a girl would" as a teenager and a young adult, to not feeling right in masculine clothes, to the strong feelings of femininity I had as I realized that I was also bisexual, to the drag performing and not wanting to go back "to regular clothing" and shaving my face and body closely, all the time, and to shopping for real women's clothes the previous year. I was hit by a lightning bolt. The time I had put a check beside the "transgender" box, furtively, at the Out On Screen festival survey five years earlier. The looks of embarrassment I often got from relatives when I was growing up. The time I got mistaken for a girl by a substitute teacher in ninth grade. It all came together.

Relief was not what I felt, but extreme anxiety. Others would surely hate me for this. What would I do? And on top of everything else, it was too much to bare. I began looking for ways to do away with myself. Life had already stopped, now I was starting to implode.


Haven-by-the-Sea was a personal growth retreat on Gabriola Island; its origins had been among a community of human potential types on Cortes Island in the 70s. For years, they had offered a week long workshop called "Coming Alive" which was just that, an opportunity to reawaken, to unfreeze yourself. I had heard about it through my Mastery workshop friends. During the summer of 2009, one of my landladies, concerned about my well-being, recommended it. Begrudgingly at first, I eventually registered for a the next workshop which took place the week following my thirty-ninth birthday.

In fact, the first day, when I arrived on Gabriola in the pouring rain, was my birthday itself. That night, in the cafeteria, I was presented with a red velvet birthday cake; it was very soul food of them. I was charmed.

The week itself felt much like the two week dathun that I had done five years earlier, only not as contemplative or silent. This felt like a softer, longer Mastery workshop. It was very confrontive. Boarding with a man brought my dysphoria to new highs; I felt that I did not belong there, that I would be discovered and attacked. One afternoon, while we were all sitting in a circle, I broke down. Sobbing heavily, I described my feelings to one of the facilitators. Later, another facilitator told me that she had heard about me and that she knew someone on staff who I could talk to. This staff member who worked in the kitchen and front desk, crossdressed. I arranged to meet them over dinner. I explained my situation to them; we had a lot in common. At the time, I felt that I wanted to transition, but also wanted to make sure that I felt it strongly enough. Comparing notes, to me, was vital. I became clearer throughout the week. I had a rebirthing experience on the second to last night I was there. When I came to, with members of my group around me, I described my experience as such. "And it's a girl," one of the other participants said, to a chorus of gentle laughter.


I got back to Vancouver on a gorgeous, sunny Friday evening, feeling not so much changed as clearer about who I was. I was determined to do a number of things. Begin to work through this in therapy. Begin to dress in women's clothes more regularly and network with others who did as well. Research others' lives and stories, those were transitioning or who had transitioned, to see how I compared to them. Mostly, I was determined to get to the bottom of a very deep well and discover its source.

To be continued ...

1 comment:

  1. My daughter, Sydney, was 7 days old when he died. Since she was still up the whole night, I remember watching the coverage on cnn...

    btw Hi, Im catching up on your blog ! :p