Monday, 9 April 2012

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 ...

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