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.

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.

Making yourself official

If you were like me and wanted something issued in your new name, not just changed documents, you got a library card. Things have changed greatly since the mid-nineties.

Just before Thanksgiving of 2012 (early October in Canada) the Ontario government quietly slipped out a new piece of legislation. This act made it possible for transpeople to change the gender on their birth certificates without undergoing surgery, but with a doctor’s letter saying it is necessary. My adventures with this are chronicled in my posting “The 4,000 mile birth certificate” of October 21, 2013. The 4,000 miles refers to the total distance my documents travelled between my home and the office of the Registrar-General in Thunder Bay, Ontario before I finally received my new birth certificate.

Once I had the birth certificate, it was possible to change my health card and obtain an Ontario identification card, since I no longer have a driver’s permit.

In February of this year, the federal Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, just as quietly as their provincial counterparts, changed their rules so that transpeople can self-identify and change the gender on their federal documents – Social Insurance card; any old age documents, and anywhere else gender is recorded. This requires only provincial documentation showing the person’s gender. There is no charge for any of this except for the fee to change your birth certificate in the first place. Federally, the only exception appears to be the passport. This requires a passport renewal, which has a fee attached – I was quoted $160 but I believe that is for a 10 year passport.

I have visited various provincial and federal offices and have changed everything but the passport. When you’re on a government pension, an extra $160 isn’t easy to find. Does it make a difference in my daily dealings with others? Of course not. But knowing that I am officially recognized as female by both the province of Ontario and the federal government makes me feel better about myself. No more looking hot and having my papers show that cursed designation “M”.

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

Cat.

Where are their support groups?

If you’re like me, you ignore most of Facebook’s suggested groups as being of no interest to you. Tonight though, I noticed one I have no intention of joining, but couldn’t ignore either. It was called “The Caitlyn Jenner Support Group”. Now I agree that we could all use support when we begin this journey, so my objection isn’t to the existence of the group. I just wonder if this group was started from an honest desire to support Caitlyn or from some hope to perhaps share the Jenner/Kardashian spotlight in some small way because of her former life? I just hope for her sake that anything Caitlyn gets involved in doesn’t degenerate into a typical Kardashian media circus but that hope may already be misplaced.

But my real question is this: What of those other people who chose the day Caitlyn made her debut to decide they could no longer live the lie and took their first steps into this strange new world called Trans without all the television interviews and magazine covers? Where are their Facebook support groups? No, I’m not bitter or jealous for I’ve been Cat for 19 years now and am doing quite well, thank you for asking. We’ve read recently of people committing suicide, Leelah Alcorn comes to mind, because they had no support systems and didn’t feel they could cope on their own. There may be some support groups out there, but how easy are they to find? I know of none in my town or the two towns on either side of mine.

I recently changed doctors and this new doctor is very trans-friendly. One of the first questions she asked was “who’s in your village?”, meaning “who supports you on your journey?”. If asked that question, how many people can put a number to the people who they can rely on as they go through this? I’m fortunate in that I not only have some close friends in my village, but two of my three sons also support me.

As I asked in the title though, where are the support groups for these other people who aren’t athletes or reality television personalities? They are just as deserving as Caitlyn Jenner, if not more so since they probably don’t have the same financial backing.

Cat.

I’m at it again

In my WordPress profile I state that I enjoy upsetting apple carts on occasion. At the time I write this, I have no idea if this cart will topple or fall back onto its wheels, but I’ll keep you informed. The name on this particular apple cart is “Ministry of Health and Long Term Care” under the control of Dr Eric Hoskins, who is the Minister of Health etc for the Province of Ontario and the lever I am using to tip this particular cart is the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. As I wrote above, as I type this, I have no idea whether the Tribunal will say “yes” or “no”.

Under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), breast augmentation is classed as cosmetic surgery and as such is not covered. I felt this was discriminatory and therefore filed a human rights complaint on the basis of discrimination based on gender identity. My argument is this:

For myself, and no doubt many other trans*women, breast augmentation isn’t really a cosmetic procedure, but rather a psychological necessity. Whether we elect to have GRS or not, we are living as women and if we are fortunate enough to live in Ontario can change our birth certificates (hence other documents) to reflect that. Breasts are perhaps the most visible sign of a person’s perceived gender. Being on oestrogen is no guarantee we will develop breasts. Therefore my view is that for trans*women, breast augmentation isn’t really cosmetic, but psychologically necessary for us to feel and present as women, rather than as “some guy in a dress”, which is still a common view of the trans* community.

In my submission I suggested applications could be controlled in a manner similar to that instituted for changing the gender on documents – a letter from an Ontario licenced medical practitioner stating that person “X” has been trans* for whatever number of years apply and the procedure is psychologically necessary. I also suggested OHIP could impose restrictions on the size of the augmentation. The cost of anything above a certain size would have to be borne fully by the patient.

As I wrote at the beginning, I have no idea if the Tribunal will accept or deny my complaint, but I’m hopeful. Either way, I’ll provide an update.

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

Cat.

It seems to be open season

Over the past two or three months, it seems the lunatic fringe has decided it’s open season on trans* people. Here are some examples I’ve come across:

On two separate occasions, one a radio interview and the other a print article, the speaker/writer referred to trans* people as “mental”. So, I know a lot of cisgendered people who could be considered mental as well. On that basis, these people are saying trans* people are just like everyone else. Too bad that isn’t really a valid viewpoint.

In a recent posting on Facebook, someone posted a link to an article (which I couldn’t find when I went looking for a second time) that stated trans* people were possessed by demons. Uh huh, that’s what they claimed. Of course this article was written by some hard core Christian and bears no relation whatsoever to reality. Then again, on a couple of occasions when I’ve spent the night at a friend’s, she told me she found me floating above the bed, but when she smudged me, I settled down again. Just kidding, just kidding.

There was an interesting posting on Lexie Cannes State of Trans (lexiecannes.com) from another Christian writer who stated in part “Members of the sexual anarchy movement have in their cross-hairs anyone who publicly opposes their tyrannical agenda…”. What agenda? I must have missed that memo.

Then we come to the tragic story of Leelah Alcorn. This is the 17 year old who stepped in front of a tractor-trailer just after Christmas. If you don’t know the story, here’s a brief synopsis. This young lady, born Joshua, came out as trans* to her parents and was told by her mother “It’s just a phase” and “God doesn’t make mistakes”. Her parents pulled her out of school, sent her to Christian therapy and cut off all access to social media. In short, they isolated her. I don’t know the full extent of what happened in the Alcorn household, but eventually Leelah decided it wasn’t worth living and took her solitary walk across a busy highway. In interviews following Leelah’s tragic and wasteful death, her parents shamefully insisted upon using her male name and referring to her with male pronouns.

I recall reading something on Facebook quite a while ago that has stuck with me: Parents of a child who comes out as gay or trans* haven’t failed that child. They fail by not accepting them. I think that well describes the Alcorns.

Regarding Mrs Alcorn’s comment that God doesn’t make mistakes, when I first came out, I was attending church in Whitby, Ont. In a discussion one Sunday after services with a friend and the assistant rector’s wife, I mentioned that one of the more common questions I’m asked was “why?”. The wife of the assistant rector promptly came back with “Tell them ‘because God wants it this way’.”

So, according to these supposedly intelligent people, if you’re trans*, you’re mental; possessed by demons; going through a phase and have a tyrannical agenda. By the way, if someone has the memo on the agenda, could you send me a copy because I don’t think I got it.

Cat.

I’m torn on this

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/story/2013/05/02/sk-bridal-shop-transgender-130502.html

This is an interesting article from the CBC news website today.  And while I find the circumstances upsetting I find myself unable to get too worked up over it.   In Ontario, where I live, trans people are now protected by law from the kind of discrimination displayed by this shopkeeper.  I can’t say whether the laws of Saskatchewan offer similar protections.  I would suspect that even if not specifically spelled out, the Human Rights Commission of Saskatchewan would cover the situation.   There is also a bill up for third reading in the House of Commons that would grant that protection federally.

My ambivalence in this is that while this lady does have the right not to be discriminated against, as guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the shopkeeper also has the right to determine who she will and will not serve. Keep in mind this took place in a private establishment, not a public space.  Of course, since the incident has now received national, if not international coverage, the possibility exists she will lose business from the adverse publicity.

The reason I don’t feel I can comment further than I did above is that since I first began to transition in 1996, I have never faced this kind of discrimination.  In fact, I can’t think of a single incident of being refused service for being trans.  Whether that I live in smaller communities rather than in a city like Toronto has any bearing on it I can’t say.  Logically one would think I would have experienced less discrimination in a cosmopolitan area.  Perhaps just my size – 5’11” without the heels – had a dampening effect on any potential problems.  Or it could be that I was just careful about the establishments I’d frequent.  Even when driving a cab nights, the only problems I ever had were two occasions when male passengers got too friendly with their hands.  Both of them got left at the side of the road.

The shopkeeper was within her  rights when she refused service to this lady, but the reason behind that refusal was not only wrong, but illegal.

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love (and freedom from discrimination) too.

Cat.