Some random thoughts

Riding the bus today, my mind wandered and touched on various items.

1 – The Region of Durham is doing some serious road work at a major intersection. This of course is causing massive traffic backups and pretty much throws bus schedules out the window. The irony in that is the construction is they are installing “bus only” lanes to speed up public transit.

2 – If you were to ask Canadians the origin of Canadian English, no doubt most, if not all, would say “England”. According to a documentary I watched, they would be indirectly correct. The documentary stated that the major influence on “Canadian English” actually came from the United States, which was settled in large part by the British. Pronunciation, definitions and some nuances are all courtesy of our friends south of the 49th parallel. Spelling is a different matter. In the 1870’s, Sir John A. Macdonald, the Prime Minister at the time was the head of the government that passed a bill that made the use of “u” in words such as colour the only official spelling. So when I use that spelling for neighbour and honour for example, I’m only following Canadian law.

3 – Watching some programmes on Germany before and during WWII. Am I the only one who sees irony in the fact that the Nazis ideal was a tall, blond, blue-eyed physical specimen while neither Hitler nor his inner circle were anywhere near that ideal?

4- This isn’t exactly a random thought, but was a private Facebook message regarding a string I was involved with, and thought about during my bus ride. I think it bears repeating here:

I am horrified by some of the postings I read from my American friends regarding their troubles with housing, medical care and employment. Granted I lost a job when I came out, but someone through church told me that if I could get my Pickering taxi licence, he’d hire me. I did and he did and I drove for seven years until I was injured. Perhaps it’s the Canadian psyche, but except for the young drunk men on Friday and Saturday nights in the cab, I’ve never had a problem. As an example of what appears to be the general view (and yes I know generalities can turn and bite me in the butt), during the last provincial election campaign, not one candidate; not one reporter from any media, nor any member of the public brought up the fact that Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, is lesbian. Everyone stuck to the issues. I think that had this been an American election campaign, her sexuality would have overshadowed the actual issues. By the way, she won and now heads a majority government. Based on my experiences over the past twenty years, I sometimes think that my brothers and sisters in the United States would consider Canada, specifically Ontario, a trans Utopia.

Not quite, but we’re working on it.

Since it’s Friday, enjoy your weekend and remember to hug an artist, we need love too.

Cat.

What you need, not what you want

Many of us, when we start our new lives, don’t have the advantage of surrounding ourselves with a circle of advisors unlike a certain former Olympian. Instead we either go it alone or listen to the advice of friends and acquaintances.

When I began my journey in the mid-nineties there was a great dearth of support groups in the part of Ontario where I lived, so depended upon the latter. Sometimes the advice I was given was good and many times I ignored it. There were very few people though who would give me advice.

I can’t say if they felt I didn’t need any help or if they were afraid of how I might react to being offered tips on makeup and clothing. Don’t know why they would be frightened. I don’t bite (as a rule) and if I did, being trans isn’t like a virus that my bite could transmit to them. These are people who would have no hesitation criticising any of their other female friends if they felt it was warranted, yet wouldn’t say a word to me. Instead they would tell me what I wanted to hear, not what I needed to hear.

Over the past several years I’ve been fortunate to have a friend who isn’t afraid to tell me what I need to hear. If I look good, she says so; if I don’t, she’ll say that too. She’s forthright, but does it in a manner that isn’t upsetting and I appreciate that. I must admit that the one thing she has been unable to eradicate from my wardrobe are my miniskirts. They’re staying. We’ve discussed attitude this many times and agree that part of the problem seems to be that people aren’t really certain how to approach a transwoman. They can’t seem to understand that we want to be accepted as, and treated as, any other woman, so the same way they’d talk to other friends would be well received by us as well.
If we look good, tell us, if we look like a hooker, ask us what corner we normally work. We’ll get the hint that perhaps our clothing is a little inappropriate.

As I wrote above, many of us have done this on our own, without benefit of support groups or friends not afraid to tell us the truth. As a result, we may not yet embody all the best visual qualities of being a woman. So please, tell us what we need to hear, not phony compliments. We’ll appreciate the assistance. Don’t be afraid of us – we don’t bite or, if we do, you can’t catch a trans virus.

Cat.

Be aware of your surroundings -always (addendum)

A friend who read “Beware of your surroundings – always” suggested this addition: You also have to be careful with whom you speak. What you may consider a casual
conversation could be given a deeper meaning by them.

Say you’re waiting in line somewhere and the person behind you makes a comment about the speed with which the line isn’t moving. You turn around to answer, but before you do, you quickly size them up. If they seem “odd” to you, trust your instincts and say nothing. They may impart a deeper meaning to that flippant comment you had ready. I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk to anyone, or smile at people, just be aware that your innocent actions could have unwanted consequences.

When dealing with strangers, trust you instincts. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t because, let’s be honest here – not everyone is as mentally stable as you or I.

Be careful out there.

Cat.

Be aware of your surroundings – always

I haven’t posted this in a couple of years and with spring (in theory) upon us, I think it bears repeating, this time with a new title. This is the time of year we begin to shed our bulky winter clothing and by doing so, we may attract unwanted attention.

Over about the past six months I’ve twice posted “Don’t think you’re safe”, about being safe. A friend, who has read that piece, suggested I post it every four to six months just to remind people, not just women, to be aware of their surroundings. Like me, she is a photographer, so is constantly looking around for scenes to capture with her lens, but she has told me that after reading that posting, she feels she is now also more aware of things that may affect her personal safety. I like her idea but feel that posting the same thing over and over will cause it to lose its effectiveness.

Summer is fast approaching, which means we’ll all be spending more time outside, with our bulky winter coats but a memory. Keep in mind that no matter what you look like, there is bound to be someone who finds you attractive. I’m 5 11″, usually in heels which boost me well above six feet, and transgender. That did not stop someone who found me attractive from stalking me for at least two years. Keep in mind that if you see the same person twice in the same location you’re in, it could be coincidence. Three times or more could be stalking. And no, I don’t mean your usual cab driver – I mean strangers. If you think you’re being followed or stalked, take that person’s picture. As I wrote above, I’m a photographer so usually have a camera with me, but most cell phones have very good cameras as well. Don’t be afraid to use it. Often the fact you’ve photographed them will be enough to discourage them. If that doesn’t work, go to the police.

Something else to consider. If you think or feel you’re being followed, use reflections in car windows or mirrors or store windows to check behind you or watch your shadows. If the sun, or a streetlight, is behind you it will cast a shadow before you. Use that shadow to determine if someone is closing in on you.

To borrow what became the catchphrase from “Hill Street Blues”, “be careful out there.

Cat.

Adolescence for trans 101

This could very easily be subtitled “Things I’ve learned over the past nineteen years”.

No matter what your age, when you begin this journey and start hormones you will revisit what may not have been one of the more enjoyable parts of your life – adolescence. Some people experience the wonderful affliction known as acne (ugh). I’m not an expert, so I’m not going to discuss that. But there are other areas where I may be able to provide advice and/or information.

Let’s start with makeup. A good rule of thumb when it comes to makeup is “less is more”. Keep in mind that the use of cosmetics is to enhance one’s natural beauty, not create a mask. If necessary, ask a friend for advice and help. Have her show you how to apply it properly. I have been fortunate in that my best friend did hair and makeup in the Toronto film industry and has been extremely helpful. If you are unable to find a friend to help, consider going to a stylist for tips. Personal observation – I know some makeup artists will tell you that you need foundation, but keep in mind that most foundations will clog your pores.

Okay, we’ve got your face made up, now to decide what you’re going to wear. I’m not going to bother you with a lecture on dressing in a style appropriate to your age. I can’t, unless I want to be a hypocrite. I’m 71 years old and very fond of miniskirts (much to the chagrin of my BFF), so all I’ll say is wear what you feel comfortable wearing. In defence of my minis, I drove a cab for seven years and found I did much better on tips whenever I wore a mini. Also, dress appropriately for the weather. If you live in Canada or the northern US, you’ll probably find that in winter fashion goes out the window in favour of comfort.

Wait, you’re not ready to walk out the door just yet. There’s a couple of things you still have to practice and master. First, your voice and speech patterns.

Unless your normal voice sounds like Barry White, you can probably get away with just raising the pitch of it. I was fortunate in that my normal voice wasn’t that deep, so I can get away with very little modification. I tended to stutter, so had adapted the technique of using a more breathy voice and a slower tempo when I spoke. This had the advantage of greatly reducing the stuttering. A speech therapist noticed this and said I should keep it up for it also made my voice sound more feminine. Something else you have to consider is speech patterns. You may not have paid much attention too it in the past, but women don’t use the same speech patterns as do men. As a writer, I’m constantly paying attention to speech patterns as well as dialects whenever I’m out for possible use for a character. Listen to women speak and you’ll see what I mean.

Next, men are usually more aggressive than women and this shows in their gestures, which tend to be “large” for lack of a better word – more sweeping and aggressive. Women don’t tend to do that, so you’ll have to learn to dial down the aggression in the movements. This will take practice on your part and you’ll have to monitor your actions carefully until the more refined movements become second nature. Yes, there are women who do use grand gestures, but they are usually considered less than ladylike.

Something else you will have to work on is the way you walk. Men usually have a longer stride than women and walk at a faster pace. This too will take practice and constant monitoring on your part. I found one way I was able to slow my pace and reduce the length of my strides was to wear heels. I just couldn’t walk as I used to while wearing heels without putting my ankles at risk.

Hair is another area you may have to consider. If you’re able to grow your hair out, more power to you. I couldn’t do that because I started in my mid-50’s. My hair was reasonably long, but wouldn’t grow out any more. Since I’m not fond of wigs (they feel like hats) I went for weaves. Yes, they can be expensive and have to be replaced every two months at most, but they do work. When they got to be too expensive for my limited income, I did have to resort to wigs. The estrogen seems to be affecting the growth of my hair and it is now growing at a rapid rate, so after consultation with a friend who does hair and makeup in the Toronto film industry, and my hairdresser, we decided to let my own hair grow, then have it shaped into a bob. Once it reaches an acceptable length, we’ll colour it.

Please, please bear in mind that much of what follows is applicable in the Province of Ontario only. Laws and requirements will vary with your province or state of residence. Since you now look like the person you always knew you were, it’s time to change name and gender on your documents. In Ontario, it is possible to change the name on your driver’s permit simply on the strength of a letter stating such change is necessary from your doctor.

The rest of the documents require government forms and a lot of patience. Changing the name on your birth certificate requires sending them all kinds of information – the names of your parents; information on both your financial history and criminal background. This latter information is to make sure you’re not changing your name to avoid criminal prosecution or escape bankruptcy. They will also ask why you want to change your name and what name you want. Once you have the form filled out, it must be notarized. **HINT** Most lawyers will charge between $75 and $100 to notarize a document. Most town and city halls have a “commissioner of oaths” on staff who can do the same thing for much less. In Ajax, where I live, the cost was $20. When you’ve followed all the steps, you need payment of $137 then send everything to the Registrar-General for the Province of Ontario. And you wait.

In October of 2013, the government of Ontario changed the requirements for changing the gender on birth certificates. Surgery is no longer required. Another government form (and payment of $97) along with a letter from you doctor stating the doctor has treated you for “x” many years and the change is necessary. After notarizing this, it to gets sent to the Registrar-General. And more waiting. They usually say 6 weeks.

On the bright side, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration quietly announced in February 2015 that citizens would be allowed to change their federal documentation on self-identification. So once you have your Ontario documents, you can change any federal documentation at no cost. Except the passport. This will require applying for a new one in your new name and gender and paying the appropriate fee.

 

Surgery is a very personal decision and I won’t try to influence you one way or the other.  Personally I will say the clinic declined to operate on me for other medical reasons.  If you decide the surgery isn’t for you, or like me there are other medical conditions, there are some alternatives to the full SRS.  There is an operation called an orchiectomy, or orchidectomy, that removes the testes.  This greatly reduces the amount of testosterone the body produces.  There is also a version of this surgery that also removes the scrotum.  Either of these will leave you with what is effect a catheter made of your own flesh.

Breast enhancement is another area of concern for many trans women.  In Ontario it is considered cosmetic and not covered by the provincial health plan.  But, there are certain conditions that will be covered. One of these is called “aplasia”, which basically is lack of growth of breast tissue. If you’re not happy with your breast development, discuss these possibilities with your doctor, but I warn you, many doctors are not aware of the conditions or that they are covered under OHIP.  I have in my possession (somewhere) documentation from OHIP that describes these covered conditions.  Send me a personal message and I’ll send you copies of what I have to show your medical practitioner.

I hope the things I mention in this essay will help you avoid some of the pitfalls and minefields as you embark on your new life. If you live in Ontario this may help you navigate the government requirements. And the federal information may also prove helpful.

Enjoy your new life – you’ve earned it.

Cat.

The Ontario paper chase

For trans* people in Ontario, changing documents is a strange combination of easy and cheap and difficult and relatively expensive. I say “relatively” because much depends upon your income. As a senior on a government pension, for me it can get expensive. Let’s look at the various documents and the hoops through which the government will make you jump to achieve your goal.

The driver’s permit is probably the easiest (and I wish I’d known about this when I drove): A letter from your doctor stating the change is necessary is sufficient. Cost is apparently zero. Nice.

Before you can change any other documents such as credit cards and any other non-government form of identification, you need to change your name. Most places I contacted with insisted upon a driver’s licence for id. So, first you need a new birth certificate in your chosen name.

The forms are available online. These are “fill and print” documents so you don’t have to worry about messy printing. But since you’re dealing with a government website, finding the documents can be difficult. I found the best way was to go into “search” and enter “application to change an adult’s name”. That “adult” is important for they have several different forms for various reasons the change is required. You will be asked the usual questions; name; address; telephone number. Then they want the name you want to change to and the reasons. Once you’ve answered these, there are a series of questions regarding your criminal and financial information. This may seem like prying, but they’re trying to determine if the name change is to escape either prosecution or bankruptcy. When I answered these questions I was struck by the fact I’ve led a very “white bread” life, for each answer was “no”. Next you must find a guarantor, that is someone from a list they provide who can swear you’ve lived in Ontario for the past 12 months and that they’ve known you at least five years. Now you need a cheque or some form of payment for the $137 fee. Once you have all this, you must have the application notarized. Most lawyers charge between $75 and $100 for this service. But, most town and city halls have a person called a “commissioner of oaths” on staff who will be much cheaper. The town of Ajax, where I live, charges $20 for five signatures. Now it’s off to the post office and sending the application to the Registrar-General for the Province of Ontario located in Thunder Bay. Then you wait approximately six weeks.

In late 2012, Ontario quietly passed legislation allowing trans* people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates without requiring surgery. It may be advisable to do this at the same time you change your name (it all goes to the same office in T Bay). Once again the forms are available online. For this you will require a letter from your doctor stating you’ve lived in your chosen gender for “x” many years and the change is necessary.
The fee for this is $97. This money gets you both the long form (original) birth certificate plus the short, or wallet size, certificate.

Acting on the hope everything gets done at once, when you get your new documents (which, unless things have changed, will be sent to you under your birth name) you can visit the Department of Motor Vehicles and change your licence. For your health card and any other provincial id you may have, you will have to visit Service Ontario as the DMV agent can’t make those changes for you. There is no charge for these changes.

One more thing trans* citizens should be aware of: In February 2015, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (aka “the feds”) quietly passed legislation that allows trans* people to change their federal documents (SIN card, etc) based upon self-identification. Again, there is no charge for this. Your passport is a different story. You must reapply under your new name and gender and pay the appropriate fees.

Catharine.

An open letter to Caitlyn Jenner

This was dictated to me by a friend who doesn’t have access to a computer. This friend is not trans, nor lesbian, so qualifies as a disinterested bystander.

Dear Caitlyn:

Despite what you may hear from the media and the costume makers, you are not a superhero. Despite all the media attention, know that you are the wrong person to be designated a spokesperson for the trans community. The reason is simple – you haven’t paid your dues yet. Had you completely embraced the idea of being trans, you wouldn’t refer to other trans people as “they” or “them”, but would use inclusive pronouns such as “we” and “us”.

From what I’ve seen on “I am Cait”, you live in a protected bubble in your gated mansion and have no idea with what the average transwoman has to deal. A short visit to speak with ordinary transwomen does not qualify you to speak on their behalf.

My best friend is a 71 year old transwoman and lesbian and has been for 19 years now. I’ve known her for 11 of those years and right from the beginning I saw her simply as a woman – no thoughts of “he” or “it” or “he/she” – just a very beautiful and likeable woman. Unlike many people, I never asked her what her name was; she volunteered it after about ten years. When she visits, my husband who knows of her past life, treats her as the lady she appears to be. She has been accepted whole-heartedly and without reservation by my own family. Over the time I’ve known her she has told me much of what she’s gone through – the discrimination in employment; the hurtful words heard on the streets and other less savoury things. To me, she is the superhero, not you, for she’s lived through a lot in her quest to be her true self.

If you truly want to live up to that “superhero” billing and become a true media spokesperson, donate some of your money to trans causes. Try living as an ordinary transwoman and see what real life is like. Then we can discuss your status.

Chris.

Caitlyn, cabs, caution

I’ve tried, but I find I just can’t watch “I am Cait”. Her life bears no relation to any other trans* person I know. Most of us do not come from privilege, instead we have to work and fight for everything we have or hope to have. Yet the media seems to have made her a spokesperson for the trans* community. Maybe if she would get out of that bubble she appears to live in I could take her more seriously. For example, she is reported to have said “lower income transwomen are lazy.” I honestly hope that was either misquoted or taken out of context. In my case, I had the good job, the paid-for house, the kids, the pets, the cars and I left it all behind. I spent 12 hours a day driving a taxi trying to make ends meet. I’d hardly call that “lazy”. In my opinion, the media have made her a spokesperson because they want someone with a recognizable name and right now Caitlyn Jenner is that person. A better person would be Jazz Jennings. She is young and the family support she receives is absolutely amazing. As she goes through this process, she is probably doing more for trans* awareness than Caitlin Jenner could ever hope to do.

 
There was a shooting at a night club in Toronto this week in which two people were shot and killed. One of them was a man “known to police” to use their phrase and apparently he shouldn’t have been anywhere near that club on the lakeshore, but rather at his home some 30 miles away under house arrest. The other victim was a young lady who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She and her friends were trying to get a taxi from the rank outside the club to escape the gunfire. Not one cab would take them because it was only a short run, about $8. The drop in a Toronto taxi is $4.25, so this was obviously only a couple of blocks. As I wrote above, I drove a cab for seven years and never once turned down a fare because it was a short run. The way I looked at it, the run was short, but it was money in my pocket and the fact it wouldn’t take long meant I’d be available again in no time at all. According to the Toronto taxi bylaw, drivers can refuse fares if they deem the destination to be dangerous; the person won’t give them a proper destination address; the person owes them money from a previous ride, or the person is “disruptive” (read “drunk”). I know from talking with friends that Toronto drivers have also been known to refuse fares because the destination is too far. A friend hailed a taxi outside her office one winter night to drive her home to Pickering, a trip of some 20 miles. About half-way there the driver realized how far it was, took her to a nearby coffee shop and left her there saying it was too far. Fortunately for her she had my number and called me. Despite the bad weather, I drove from Pickering and picked her up, so she got home safely. But, had she not had my number, or the number of another cab driver, she’d have been stranded. No, no. You can’t turn down a run because you don’t think it’s worth your while.

 
Aah, summer. Time we shed our winter clothing and wear as little as decently possible to stay cool. We walk out of the house, feeling cool and looking hot, taking in the admiring glances from men we pass. Keep in mind however that not all those looks may be admiration. Some of them could be from men assessing you for other reasons. I’m talking stalkers here. Just because you couldn’t be Beyonce’s body double doesn’t mean someone hasn’t taken an interest in you. I was stalked for over a year. Yeah, me – 5 foot 11, about 185 at the time and trans*. Yet someone decided to make me prey and stalk me. It was frightening and in my case was made worse by the fact my stalker was an EMS supervisor and would use his work vehicle to stalk me. This vehicle carried the same colour scheme as the local ambulances, so whenever I saw an ambulance coming, I’d search for a place to hide not knowing if it was him or an ambulance.

If you see someone who appears to be following you and it isn’t in a place such as a local shopping area, be careful. If you see them twice, it could be coincidence, but three times is probably stalking. My suggestion if this happens, is take their picture. Don’t try to be subtle about it – just hold that phone or camera up in plain sight and snap that shot. If they are indeed stalking you, that action may deter them. Always, always be aware of your surroundings and who is around you. To borrow a line from “Hill Street Blues” – “be careful out there”.

Cat.

Changes, changes

I’ve been thinking about all the changes in my life over the past 19 years. First, and most obvious, is the change from “him” to Cat. As a sidenote to that, I was the other woman in my own divorce.

Changing my name was a bit of an adventure as well. First, I had to decide upon a name. Some people choose to go with a feminised version of their male name. That didn’t appeal to me. Being left with having to choose a new name, I remembered my mother telling me that had I been born female, she was going to call me “Catharine”, so I decided to go with that. The city in which I lived had, as an acquaintance observed, had a “high redneck quotient”. Keeping in mind my sons were all in school I decided to change my surname as well, just to offer them some degree of separation from me. One more change I’m thinking of making is to reclaim my original surname. It’s been twenty years and the boys have moved away from that city, as have I.

Obviously my appearance has changed. I’ve also noticed a couple of minor changes in things as well. As “him” I would never wear shorts and I insisted upon always wearing shoes, even around the house. Now I much prefer miniskirts and never seem to wear shoes or socks when home. And I love my fishnets. Just minor things as I said, but a complete turnaround from before.

What else has changed? Well, I couldn’t find employment in my chosen field, so I drove a taxi for seven years until I got injured as the result of an accident, not an assault in the cab. Now that I’ve retired, I’ve become a photographer and writer. I write mainly blogs such as this one, as well as short fiction. I’ve also written my autobiography. I decided to end it with the new provincial documentation showing the new gender on my birth certificate. My life is, to be blunt, very white bread, so nothing would be gained by carrying it on further.

There are probably more changes, but at the moment I can’t think of any worth writing about, so, I’ll finish in my normal manner:

Enjoy your weekend and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

Stupidity reigns supreme

It’d obviously been a long hard winter in more places than southern Ontario judging by some of the articles in various publications recently.  I say that because sundry politicians, would-be politicians and ordinary citizens seem to have taken leave of their senses and
aimed their paranoia at the LGBT communities.

Where to start?

I suppose overseas is as good a starting point as any.  Today I read an article in Pink News UK about a caller to a radio show somewhere in England.  This person is of the opinion that bisexual people are giving people HIV/AIDS with the aim (intended or not, he didn’t say) of destroying the white race.  Umm, I have several problems with this pronouncement.  First is the assumption that all bisexual people are positive.  Second is the supposition that only white people would be affected or would be involved with someone who is bi.  As any intelligent person knows, HIV/AIDS knows no racial boundaries; respects no variations of the gender rainbow.  It seems to be a case of someone adapting an unusual and unpopular stance strictly for the attention. He can’t really believe that crap he spouted, can he?

And now we call the bathroom police.  I think it is Texas that has passed, or is discussing, a bill that would make it illegal for a trans* person to use a washroom that differs from their genetic gender.  So even though all my documents show me as “female” I could be charged should I go to the ladies’ room. And apparently the building manager could be fined and jailed if they permit a trans* person to use the restroom agreeing with their presentation. Since the L and G part of the LGBT acronym appear to have won some major victories, it seems to have become open season on trans* and bisexual people.

Finally, California (where else?).  Some lawyer has filed papers and the $200 fee, and is now trying to get the 365,000 signatures needed to have added to the ballot a proposition that homosexuality be banned and punishable by death.  According to this lawyer, doing so would avert God’s wrath from the state of California. I think that last statement is very telling of this person’s views and a good indicator of from where this idea sprung.

As much as I try to stay positive, I must admit I despair of ever seeing a day when LGBT people are treated as people, rather than aberrations or freaks.  And the more I see of things like the three incidents I mentioned above I feel that day may never happen.  In today’s society, we have freedom of expression and can express ourselves in any manner we choose, within legal limits of course.  Only the small-mindedness of mainstream society prevents us from so doing.

Cat.