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 ...

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