Submissions wanted from LGBT and HIV communities

I’m a transwoman and my co-writer, a positive woman, are working on a project detailing how society treats members of the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities at the various stages of our journeys. A few years ago, I spoke with a psychologist at CAMH in Toronto who thought such a book would be a great benefit to them in their work.

We have our own experiences to draw on, but would like to hear other people’s experiences. No names will be used in this and any submissions will be checked to remove any clues that might give away your location. For example, if a submission from Toronto refers to “streetcars”, that would be replaced with the term “public transit” and any route names or number removed. Additionally, specific cities will be removed and replaced with either the name of your province or state, or a more generic term such as “midwest” will be substituted. We will do everything we can to protect your identity.

We both have friends in the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities, so can call upon them for information, but that would be quite localized in scope. We need to hear from others, not just in Canada, but from anywhere. We especially would like to hear from transmen, for their experiences would no doubt be much different from my own. If you have generally found acceptance, great! Please tell us for that may give those just starting their new lives hope that things will get better. If you’ve experienced discrimination, or worse, please share that as well. Others need to know what pitfalls and danger may await them. Either way, we would like to share your story.

If you are willing to share your journey, you can send it to us at the following email address: 1outcastsofsociety@gmail.com Please remember the “1″ at the start of the address as the address without the numeral is taken.

Thank you,
Cat.

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Bring him to justice – comment response

The following is a comment on “Bring him to justice – one step closer”:

Any word on this reprobate? This monster needs to be brought back to face justice. I understand the concern for his victims, but is it okay for him to get away with what he did and not have to pay in anyway? Does he have the right to live a free man in Jamaica while his victims have to live with what he did to them? Shouldn’t he pay for his crimes? If he gets away with what he has done, it sends the wrong message to others who may be infected with HIV and think they have the right to privacy. I think he needs to pay so it sends a loud and clear message to others.

Rather than respond directly to the writer, I felt it would be better to respond this way, for there is much to say on this.

This monster needs to be brought back to face justice. First, there is no further news on his return. I’ve been told through sources that his lawyer has filed suit against the Jamaican Minister of Justice claiming Flowers’s rights were violated by some action of the Minister. Until that case is heard, no further action on the extradition can happen. I know, I know. It doesn’t make me happy either.

I understand the concern for his victims, but is it okay for him to get away with what he did and not have to pay in anyway? No, it certainly isn’t okay for him to get away with what he did. But, look at it from the victim’s point of view. After their encounters with Flowers, many of these women were ostracised by their friends and in some cases, family. Some of the fortunate ones were able to either rebuild their lives or re-invent themselves with a new circle of friends who know nothing of the past. When (or if) this goes before a Canadian court, whoever Flowers retains to represent him will rip these carefully constructed lives to shreds, once again making these women victims.

Does he have the right to live a free man in Jamaica while his victims have to live with what he did to them? Shouldn’t he pay for his crimes? Well, he isn’t living as a “free man”. He is in a Kingston jail and as I understand it, he is in segregation so no, he doesn’t have the right. In the (extremely unlikely) case the Jamaican courts see fit to overturn the extradition order and release him, he will find his troubles have only started. Jamaica consistently ranks among the top of lists of the world’s most homophobic countries. Gays and trans people are frequently beaten and killed just for being who they are. If word gets out that Flowers, walking the streets of Kingston or any other Jamaican area, is HIV positive, or has AIDS, his taste of freedom may be brief indeed. And as this case has been covered in the Jamaican media he would find it difficult to conceal his identity.

If he gets away with what he has done, it sends the wrong message to others who may be infected with HIV and think they have the right to privacy. Back to what I wrote earlier, if he does face Canadian justice, and his lawyer does succeed in destroying the lives of the witnesses, what kind of message does it send then? Perhaps it would have the effect of keeping others from coming forward to authorities from fear of exposure in the media.

Cat.

We’re all stressed

Last night I watched a programme about the fatal collision Bruce/Caitlyn was involved in back in 2015. I can’t say when this actually aired, for I recorded it for one of those “I can’t sleep so let’s see what I’ve recorded” nights.

At one point, they had a segment with a psychotherapist – actually they had many segments with her discussing the situation – during which she said that part of the reason B/C hit the vehicles in front was that he was distracted by transitioning in view of the public. This comment caused me to exhaust my abusive vocabulary.

Granted, being part of the Kardashian circus places extra scrutiny on B/C during the transition (and that horrendous “I am Cait” didn’t help), but c’mon now – we all transition in public. We don’t go around having collisions with whatever vehicle we’re driving and some other object. Well, not unless we’re perhaps under the influence of some intoxicating liquid we don’t. Many if not most of us can’t afford to hide away in our dwelling place, only venturing out at night for bread and milk or, heavily disguised, to visit doctors, until we think we have transitioned enough to feel comfortable in daylight.

If the psychotherapist’s comment was intended to elicit sympathy for B/C, it may have worked with people not familiar with the reality, but for those of us actually going through it, it gave us a chance to exercise our command of gutter English. Does this psychotherapist not think that any person transitioning feels stress and strain? Does she not think that for some of us, doing what we do in public can be tantamount to an invitation to violence? Does she think that for people who aren’t celebrities it’s all sunshine and rainbows? Or is she only concerned with finding an excuse for why B/C was driving too fast for the conditions and consequently hit one vehicle and pushed it into oncoming traffic, then hit a second vehicle?

Listen, sweetheart, every person on this planet is under stress and strain of some kind. For many of those people the reason may not be obvious but for trans people, the reason can be highly visible. So please don’t use the fact B/C claims to be transgender to excuse his/her involvement in a fatal traffic collision.

Cat.

I think it’s cursed

Twenty years ago, when I left the family home to begin my transition, I changed not only my first name, but my surname as well to give my family some privacy.

Now, two decades later, things have changed. My ex-wife has gone back to her maiden name and through research one of my sons learned we’ve been in British North America since about 1850. Given these events, I decided it was time to reclaim my family name and heritage.

In accordance with my mother’s wishes, I also changed my first name to that which she had been going to call me had I been born female.

In Ontario, name changes are relatively simple. The forms are available online and are the “fill and print” variety. Filled it, printed it, then ran around getting the necessary signatures and a stamp from a Commissioner of Oaths (cheaper than a notary) as well as a money order for the required amount and sent the whole mess to the Registrar-General’s office. I knew it would take about six weeks to get the new birth certificate under normal circumstances. My circumstances turned out not to be normal.. A month later a large package was in my mail. The magic fingers had mis-typed my address at one point and they also wanted a criminal background check on the name I had chosen. They didn’t ask for that on the form, but they wanted it.

Phoned the police department and spoke with a lady who does the checks and explained my problem: “how am I supposed to get a background check on a person who doesn’t exist?” She told me how to do it, so off I went to my local station, filled out the form and paid the fee. Two weeks later I received the form back, properly stamped and sealed by the police department. Repackaged everything and sent it back to the R-G. Two weeks later, the R-G sent it back. This time the problem was that the teller hadn’t signed the money order and enough time had passed that the Commissioner’s stamp and signature was stale-dated. Off to the bank for a signature, then over to Ajax Town Hall to have the Commissioner sign a new form. Packaged it again and once more into the mail to the R-G.

Finally, after almost a year, I received my new birth certificate and official change of name certificate. I next took these documents to a Service Ontario location (one-stop shopping for all provincial documents) in the county seat and applied for a new health card and Photo ID. The health card took about two weeks, but the photo ID never arrived.

After a month I contacted the office of my local Member of Provincial Parliament (state congressman in the US) to find out who I should talk with. The assistant said she’d look into it for me. She called me yesterday afternoon to explain the delay, and I must admit what she told me has made me slightly paranoid. According to her information, issuance of the card has been delayed because the Fraud Unit of the Ontario Provincial Police is looking into it.

My first question is this: If the criminal background check came back clean for both my previous and current names, and the R-G’s office didn’t find anything, why is the Fraud Unit looking into it? To my knowledge, I’ve never defrauded anyone of anything. My eldest son has suggested that perhaps that I’ve changed names twice in twenty years is considered a red flag. I don’t know. I just hope they do eventually decide to talk with me about this and say more than “you’re under arrest for fraud.”. Otherwise, I’m going to start thinking my new name is cursed.

Cat.

Why go?

Today is the final event in Toronto’s Pride Month, the Pride Parade. Yesterday was the Dyke March and Friday evening was the Trans March.

It’s the Trans March I want to discuss here. A friend of mine raised an interesting point when she said the following (and I’m probably paraphrasing): I thought the aim and goal of trans people was to fit in – to be indistinguishable from regular men and women. It that’s the case, why would you want to out yourself by taking part in the Trans March?

Good question, isn’t it? Now, I can see activists and those who claim to speak for the trans community taking part because they are visible anyway. (As an aside, there is at least one group claiming to speak for all trans people throughout the Greater Toronto Area [GTA], which includes the municipality where I reside. No, they don’t speak for me. I’m quite capable of looking after myself, thank you very much.) But, if a person is fully accepted as the gender in which they present, why would they risk being spotted by a co-worker or neighbour?

Can anyone offer any ideas, suggestions or reasons for this?

Enjoy your long 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.

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.