Tales from the driver’s seat

As I approach my seventy-ninth birthday, I’m looking back and wondering “with all the stuff I did, how am I still around?”. No, I remember Arthur C Clarke’s observation that when my past becomes more fascinating than my future, I’ll officially be old. I still want to know what’s over that next hill, or around that next bend in the road, so no fears, I’m not getting old yet.

But I was thinking back to the turn of the century (yes, 2000 really was over 20 years ago) when I was driving a taxi in Durham Region east of Toronto and some of my more memorable calls.

I got my start in the cabs through a friend who was a taxi dispatcher. That I am trans didn’t bother him and he and his wife would invite me over for dinner after church on Sundays. I have a transportation background and understood his problems. He eventually told me that if I could get a taxi licence for the municipality he worked in, he’d hire me. Well, I did, he did and I began my latest foray into transportation.

Just a little detour here: it seems transportation in some form or connection is the “family business”. My grandfather was a diver who worked on the building of the current Welland Canal. Various other family members have worked in the transportation/travel industries, as did I, and my eldest son is carrying on the family tradition.

The only call that stands out from this first company was one to an address in the western part of town, in which the address was followed by the instruction “see the officer”. I don’t know the details, but I ended up taking a very upset and crying young lady to a relative’s home in Toronto. As I wrote above, I’m trans and many of the other drivers felt I was affecting their business. I learned through one of the few drivers who would speak to me that most of the fleet was going to withdraw their services the following week unless I was fired, so I quit.

After several months, and the intervention of the Human Rights Tribunal, I began working at the other, smaller taxi company in the same city. After about two weeks, the owner – a short, greasy-looking character a couple of friends and I began calling “the eighth dwarf – ‘Sleazy’” decided to make me the night dispatcher. He also had the day driver train me on the wheelchair van. The idea was I’d dispatch from the office until 2 in the morning, then transfer the phone to the company cell and dispatch from the road. A couple of calls stand out from time in the cab, and a couple from the dispatch desk. First, the cab. I was given a call to a restaurant for someone who wanted to go to the airport. This gentleman (used loosely) was either drunk or on something when he got into to the cab. I was in the handicap van that night. No sooner had we left the restaurant parking lot when he offered me weed. When I refused, he offered “chemicals”. I refused that as well. Next, he expressed doubts this was a “real” cab. Obviously he’d never seen a wheelchair capable vehicle before. Then he stated he didn’t think I was a real cab driver and demanded I take him to the nearest police station so they could check the validity of my licence. By now we were in Scarborough and I knew there was a police station a couple of blocks from our location. So I drove there. This was a substation, closed at night, which I didn’t know at the time. I walked up to the door, accompanied by him and the door is locked and the lights are out. I tell him I forgot my licence in the cab, went back, closed the rear door, walked around to the driver’s side and as I was getting in, said “have a nice night” and left this man who had offered me weed and chemicals, sitting on the front steps of the police station. Had he not been such a pain in the ass, I might have been kinder.

The second call also involved someone under the influence. I got a call late at night from Durham Regional Police to pick up someone at the local station. The officer escorted a man from the station into the cab and gave me the address. He reeked of alcohol so it was obvious he’d been stopped, then charged with impaired. Whatever his drink of choice was, it definitely affected his ability to think. On the way to his place he was ranting about going back and blowing up the station. Idiot! He threatened to destroy a police station in the presence of another person – a person who has your address.

Two calls stand out from my time in dispatch at this company. One made me angry and the other was very sad. First, the anger inducing call, and this one was repeated many times during my tenure with this company. Usually Friday or Saturday night, just at closing time I’d get a call from a local bar. The caller was always young and male. They’d give me the name of the bar and follow that with the instruction “don’t send me no effing {insert nationality of your choice]” and my response was always the same: “call someone else” then hang up. Maybe I was wrong, but I felt that as night dispatcher, in essence night manager, part of the job involved was making sure my drivers were safe. With a call like that, I didn’t feel I could guarantee that safety. The other call was heartbreaking. Durham Regional Police called about 11:45 one night and asked me to send a car to a certain address and added the instruction to see the officer. Now calls like this usually mean a domestic incident and someone is leaving the home. I’ve dealt with these calls before, both as a dispatcher and a driver. But what made this particular call so sad was the date: December 24. That’s right. Quarter to midnight on Christmas Eve, someone is leaving their home after a domestic dispute.

I finally decided to leave Sleazy’s company and told a friend, an independent driver, that I’d given two weeks notice. His response, and the reason I have so much affection for him, is that rather than ask if I wanted to drive for him, was to ask when I could start. Driving as an independent was so much fun. Aside from the fact I was actually making money – he had more business than Sleazy’s company – I met two people who are now dear friends. There are many stories from that two year period, but the one that stands out is the woman who was positive she was being followed. I picked her up at a home in the southern part of one of the towns along Lake Ontario that make up Durham Region. She gave me an address in the next town to the east. I noticed she kept looking out the rear window and at one point told me she was sure someone was following us. I had seen no vehicles on the street where I picked her up and while a couple of vehicles had followed us onto the highway, I wasn’t concerned as this was a common entry point to the highway. Nevertheless she was convinced there was someone after her. When I arrived at the exit for the town she wanted, she told me to take some side streets to lose the tail. I didn’t mind, after all she hadn’t asked for a flat rate so the meter was running. After circling a couple of blocks, she was finally satisfied I’d “lost” the nonexistent tail and she instructed me to take her to her destination. Because of my diligence in losing her “follower” she gave me a great tip and this story.

There are other tales, but these ones stand out for various reasons. So remember, if you use taxis or a ride-sharing service, you could be providing your driver with some good stories to tell.

Also remember to hug an artist, we need love (and good stories to tell) too.


Echoes from the past

I just watched a documentary on PBS called “The Lavender Scare” which began during the Eisenhower era. Much like the House Un-American Committee led by Joseph McCarthy, which rooted out Communists in government (the “Red Scare”), this group was devoted to uncovering homosexuals in government positions. Thousands lost their jobs over perceived “deviant” (their word) behaviour. It wasn’t until 1995 that President Clinton signed an order banning the practice.

Based on current events I see echoes of this, beginning with the banning of trans people from the military. I don’t think it will end there, at lease not with the current administration. This is a pessimistic view I know, but has been shown in the past couple of years, there doesn’t appear to be any depth to which they will not sink.

While not on a governmental level, such discrimination does occur in Canada. In the sixties and seventies, I worked with two people at different times who were fired for being gay. In the late ‘90s, I lost a job for being trans. I wasn’t fired outright, the company just made it impossible for me to do the job. At the time, I worked in a position that required a government licence. After I came out to my employer, when the licence was due to be renewed, they declined to give me a new application and when I insisted, they did, but then refused to submit it to the appropriate government body. The Human Rights Tribunal had fun with that one.

So even though the “Lavender Scare” is officially over, it continues in a lighter shade.


The gov’t giveth – sort of

Back in mid-April, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal issued an order to the Ministry of Government Services, specifically the Office of the Registrar General, to find some other criterion for changing the gender on one’s birth certificate.  The Ministry was given 180 days to do this.  Until now, the only way was for the trans person to have gender re-assignment surgery and provide a certificate from the surgeon.  Someone who couldn’t have the surgery felt this was discriminatory and took the Ministry to the Human Rights Tribunal.   The Tribunal agreed and the result was the “you’ve got 180 days to come up with something else” ruling.

As it worked out, the 180 day period expired on Monday October 8, which was a holiday (Thanksgiving Monday) in Ontario.  Without any fanfare or announcement, the Ministry of Government Services quietly made the forms available on the government website on Friday, October 5. I learned of this through a friend’s posting last Saturday.  So, as I wrote (with abbreviation) in the title “the government giveth”.

Now, the “sort of”.  The requirements are extremely restrictive.

The applicant must be 18 years old and born in Ontario.

A letter from a “practising physician or psychologist” authorized to practice in Canada, and on the doctor’s letterhead. This letter must state the following:
 – the doctor is a member in good standing with the appropriate governing body.
 – the doctor has treated the applicant.
– the doctor must confirm the gender identity does not accord with the sex designation on  the birth registration.
– the doctor is of the opinion the change of sex designation is appropriate.

Now, some people don’t have a regular doctor who could affirm these requirements, so they wouldn’t qualify.  And if the person is a minor or not born in Ontario, they too would be shut out.  Oh yes – the doctor will have my letter ready next Tuesday.

The fee for this is $97.  That’s for processing the application, plus copies of the short form (wallet size) birth certificate and a certified copy of the birth registration.  Many trans people are either in low-paying jobs, or not working at all, so this fee is in itself another barrier to  them making use of this ruling.  And there is a Statutory Declaration to be completed stating that I’m the person named and I want to do this.  Naturally there is also a fee for having this Declaration sworn, so the total could be as high as $120, which may be beyond the means of many trans people.

So while the Ontario government did indeed obey the ruling of the Human Rights Tribunal, there is a sense of “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it” about the whole thing.  This is from the same government that, last spring, also passed a Bill guaranteeing trans people the same rights and privileges as the rest of the citizens of Ontario. Their actions on this would seem to belie that Bill.

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