Thoughts on Coming Out

The last two posts I’ve talked about my coming out experiences. (You’d think that since I’ve identified as transgender for years, everyone would know already, but with my friends and family spread out all over the world, that’s not always the case.) I want to share a story of my coming out to a friend. For all my positive stories, this isn’t one of them. It happened awhile ago, at a time when I was unsure of my future. I was unemployed, and I’ve been in a bit of a rut. I was encouraged to come out to my friend, since in the past, he’s shown a lot of insight towards people in need. And I needed a sounding board. We agreed to meet at his place one night, after his wife and kids have gone to sleep.

I spent an entire evening rehearsing what I wanted to say, and I was assured that nothing bad can come out to this.

I never really got around to say most of what I planned, because what followed was the most incisive (my other description would be “ruthless”) psycho-analysis I’ve ever experienced. Except as insightful as my friend was, he wasn’t a therapist who could spot trouble. To have myself picked apart was not what I wanted…or gave permission to. I listened to his every word, then politely left, and started crying as soon as I was in my car. For the first time, I contemplated driving off a bridge.

I have no doubt that he meant well, but well intentions can’t guarantee that I won’t be hurt just the same. For many months I completely withdrew from my social circles. It took a lot of courage, at least a lot of convincing, that not all my friends want to analyze me.

Reflecting on that night, I wish I could say I’m glad that I didn’t drive off the bridge that night, but I couldn’t. I’m not the same person I was any more. I missed my bubbly outgoing self, but while I willed myself to stay on the highway that night, that Kate nevertheless died, and she will never come back. I still find myself insular when it comes to sharing my thoughts and feelings with people. I excuse myself from social gatherings even at the hint that he’ll also be there. My other friends have surely caught on already. “Luckily” for me, he’s so busy that he almost never makes it.

My high school mentor once said of my first break up, “recovered but not healed.” It’s an appropriate description of my recent state of mind.

I know that I’m not alone; many trans people go through much worse. if you’re one of them, know that my thoughts are with you, and even though many of us will never be healed from all the hurt levelled at us, whether intentionally or unintentionally, but in time, we can still recover.

Where Have My Friends Gone

A month ago I had lunch with my friend Rachael. Rachael and I have been corresponding on Facebook for awhile, but it was only the first time that I met her in person. We chatted about the joys and struggles of being transgender. And we shared stories of us coming out to people. One thing that struck me is that although every transgender woman has her own very unique journey and perspective, other people’s reaction to us coming out often fall neatly into a few categories. The list roughly looks like this:

  1. People who outright reject us. They either unwilling or unable to accept us for who we are. They stop talking to us, they don’t want to have anything to do with us. It hurts to find out thought you and not wanted in their lives any more, and the hurt is deeper if they had been close friends or family before. But at least we’re up front about what they think.
  2. But of course there are those who embrace us for who we are. It’s always nice to get an ally, whoever they are. Most of the people whom I think would react positively are, well, pretty obvious, but every now and then someone else that I think would fall into the former category turns out to be my closest allies. It’s often when I get those “Ah ha” moments when everything about me–my personality, my aspirations, etc—finally making sense to them.
  3. But the saddest is when people who just drift away, and never explain to me why. When I come out to them, they seem, at first, supportive. But almost immediately, I stopped getting phone calls or emails, stopped getting invited to gatherings. if I question them, they’d make an excuse just plausible enough to stop me from asking. I suppose they’re really in the first category, but couldn’t admit that to me or to themselves. I can forgive them, but it still leaves me without a friend when I’m at my most vulnerable time.

My challenge isn’t to figure out who’s in which category, but rather, the fact that people from one group interact with people from another because they too are friends. Unfortunately ,my friends now have to tread carefully between people who have abandoned me and those who have embraced me; it’s a position that I would never have wanted to put them in. I’ve resolved to stay positive, let the chips fall in place, and see what friends I still have when it’s all said and done. It’s fair to say that a lot of my friends do not value our friendship as much as I do and I’ve already been distanced by many people. But I hope that the bonds that were strengthened with other friends are more enduring, now that we’ve taken care of the elephant in the room.

My Coming Out Story Again

I recently came out to two friends, an elderly couple DK and NK. Despite having known them for a long time, I still had to muster a lot of courage to speak to them about this. It was hard to explain to them what it’s like being transgender all my life. Meanwhile, all these years they had no idea of the struggle that has been waging inside me. I tried my best to explain, and this is what I came up with:

Being a guy is like putting on a mask. My mask isn’t terribly uncomfortable, and after many years, I have become accustomed to it. Most of the time, I don’t mind wearing this mask. It isn’t a lie, but it hides enough of me that it keeps me from being marginalized, and allows me to be reasonably well integrated in society. There were days when this mask is utterly unbearable. When I was in high school, looking into the mirror everyday was painful. But sooner or later, people closest to me will have to know of this mask, and they need to finally know the person behind the mask.

For the record, we spent about an hour talking about this. There was a lot of crying and hugging, but when I left, I have came to allies.

Hit By a Car While Trans

So, the unthinkable finally happened. And when I say “unthinkable”, I really meant the “inevitable.” Last Wednesday, while riding on my bike near home, I got hit by a car backing out of a driveway. Thankfully I wasn’t seriously hurt, and the man who hit me was kind enough to take me to the hospital which, thankfully, was only two minutes away. I had just flown back to Toronto a few hours before, and seeing that the weather was unseasonably warm and sunny for November, I decided to ride my bike instead of (the more prudent choice of) staying home resting.

Continue reading “Hit By a Car While Trans”

Village Bicycle

A friend asked me to build a bike for him for next year, but he didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it. He’s not a close friend, but we’ve known each other for a few years. He’s doing a 4-day fundraising ride in the USA next summer, and his commuter bike, however sturdy, is woefully unsuitable for the ride. As it happens, I’ve been building road bike that may just fit his needs. The original purpose for my bike was to build something—a mechanically sound machine that isn’t terribly expensive—that I can rent out to people via Spinlister, and use the money to fundraise for charity rides that I’m participating in. Now it seems that the bike will serve a slightly different purpose.

The bike starts with a steel frame. I bought this frame on Craigslist for a small amount of money. (I actually had a casual discussion with the owner of the frame about being transgender, and what kind of a bike a woman like myself should ride.) It’s a Steve Bauer Sirocco steel frame from the mid 1990’s. Considering that a used complete 20-year-old Sirocco still costs upwards of $450, I got a great deal. I stripped down all the decal and stickers and sent it to a shop to have it powder coated to a very beautiful off-white colour. In fact, I spent more money on the powder coating than the frame itself.

The next part is to install the components. I had two choices: I can either install “original” parts for the Sirocco for an authentic late-1990’s bike, or I can put in newer and more modern parts. To me, the choice is clear. A downtube shifter is perfectly functional, but no one riding modern bikes would prefer using them over integrated shifters. Especially if you have to ride around downtown Toronto. It’s the same with using a 18- or 20-speed drive train over a traditional 10- or 12-speed.

Think of it this way: a Victorian dress is mostly functional, and may even make me a rather attractive woman, but in the reality, that style of dress just doesn’t fit the needs of modern life. (Not that I wouldn’t mind trying out one of those once in my lifetime.)

So, it’ll have a 18-speed drive drive train using parts that I no longer use after I upgraded my other bike. The parts are still perfectly good; I am just obsessed with upgrades that’s all. The original headset bearings are replaced with sealed bearings. I had no experience with removing headset cups, so I had to take it to BikeChain (a DIY shop at the university), and that itself has been very educational experience for me as well. The ISIS bottom bracket (not original equipment; the last owner upgraded apparently) is also being replaced with a Hollowtech (or similar) bottom bracket. The bike is also getting a new handlebar (my frame didn’t come with it) and saddle, but the stem and seat post will still be original equipment. The frame is powder coated wot  an off-white colour, and it will be accent it with yellow and black. I hope it works out.

Here’s a photo of the frame after I have mostly stripped down everything.

So, if anyone in the Toronto area wants me to build you a road bike, let me know. It’s easy:

  1. You tell me what kind of a bike you want to build
  2. I tell you what parts to buy
  3. you buy the parts
  4. I supply the tools and a few hours of my time
  5. You get your completed bike
  6. You buy me lunch + $100 for my labour of love.

The Violin Teacher

I found this unpublished blog post from 9 or 10 years ago. It was from the first time that I taught violin classes as a girl. Back then I haven’t started calling myself Kate; “Tara” was the name that I used. I’m not sure why it wasn’t posted. In any case, I did a quick (i.e. it took me all morning) edit, and here it is.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me to substitute for his private one-on-one violin lessons for 2 days while he took a vacation with his wife. He knows that I’m transgender, so I curiously asked if it was okay to teach as Tara. I worry that most people have wild misconceptions about transgender women, and it can be tricky for the parents to leave their children alone in a closed room with one. So as much as I hoped that I can be a girl from head to toe, I also offered to teach as a dude to keep my friend out of any potential trouble.

“Meh, go as Tara, if they have issues, they can deal with me later.” That ended the discussion.

Preparing teaching materials was straightforward; my friend had already laid out his lesson plans in detail. All I had to do was review and follow them. Preparing my look, well, that took a hell of a lot more work than I could ever have imagine. I wanted to look attractive, but not too “pretty” that I didn’t look professional. At the end, I wore my white flower wrap dress on both days. It’s one of my favourites; it’s comfortable and feminine.

The lessons were at my friend’s home studio across town; I went there early to familiarize myself with his house. Then the students came. The students on the first day were all kids who had played the instrument for a few years. If there was ever a great confidence booster, it was seeing them. Every one of them were polite and…cute, and they either called me “Teacher Tara” or “Miss Tara” or “ma’am”, which was very reassuring to a woman who hasn’t been a woman for very long.

The kids also had their quirky sides too. One young girl, while twirling her hair (and not playing the violin as she was told to), told me that I was very pretty. Then she told me that my voice sounded like her dad’s. Another boy just stared at my face, and after what felt like forever (I’m sure it was no more than 5 second) he giggled and said, “You’re wearing makeup.”

The five hours of teaching just breezed through. I love those kids, they don’t judge, they don’t get offended, they aren’t threatened by my gender. If they thought I was pretty, then I was pretty. If they thought my voice was funny, then it was. I was quite happy when I locked up my friend’s house that night.

The second day was a bit different. This day the students were all adult men. They were polite too, but there seemed to be slight hesitations when interacting with me. I suppose that was understandable, since during the lessons I often have to tap the students’ shoulder and hands and back to correct their posture. For a middle-age married man, being in a room with a young single transgender woman can be a bit disconcerting (let along being “touched” by one!), especially if they have never interacted with other transwomen before. There were the usual awkward questions “to break the ice”, about what washroom I use, and whether I’ve had my surgeries, that sort of things. But although I don’t appreciate those questions, I wasn’t really offended either. (Okay, may be I was a bit annoyed.)

So overall, the experience had been a very positive one, and I hope my friend will ask me to substitute again. That will of course depend on the feedback from the students and their parents. If there was anything that I have learned, it is that there is a difference between kids and adults when it comes to gender issues. People’s discomfort with transgender women is learned from society and not something natural.

Well, I’m going to go back to my research work now. There is lots of programming to do, and my computer isn’t going to program itself.

Saying “Meh” to the Preacher

I was at a church service a few Sundays ago. The guest preacher (minister was away that day) started his sermon by talking about the dangers transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner poses to God’s kingdom, and how society is so accepting this of perversion to a point that we now encourage kids to become transgender. He said that people like Jenner are not new, and that these men who choose to live like women have been around in Thailand for decades, and that they often work as prostitutes. (He used a derogatory term in Cantonese for transgender women, which literally means “human demons”.)

After the service, a woman remarked that she didn’t know that this church is still against transgender people. I replied that the preacher didn’t speak for the congregation, and that he was probably pandering to parishioners who have left the church unbeknownst to him. As a transgender woman, the sermon made me very sad. Actually, before the preacher even finished his introduction, I had already tuned him out.

I consider myself staunchly Christian, and I work with/for Christian organizations on sex-trade and human trafficking issues in Toronto. Yet whenever I step inside most evangelical churches, my identity and worth (or as they say, my “lifestyle”) are being marginalized. If you say your sin is with money, or greed, or idolatry, or just about anything else, they will embrace you and your flaws. Let the Holy Spirit change you, they say. Tell them you’re transgender, you’ll lose your friends, your credibility, and your place at church. For a Jesus that spent so much time ministering to the marginalized, we sure don’t look much like his disciples.

That’s why when I go to church, I go to more “progressive” churches, or as a pastor at evangelical churches used to say, the “liberal churches that no longer care about Jesus, or God, or the Bible”. I want debate theologically with them about LGBT issues, but I realize that it’s nearly impossible.

But I’m not losing hope. A small group of friends from an evangelical church have been keen on learning about transgender people, and are beginning to rethink their church’s anti-LGBT stance. I’m not sure if they will ever be able to accept a transgender person into the Body of Christ, but I know that they’re the leaders of tomorrow, and being open minded doesn’t hurt a bit.

(I am half way through translating this post into Chinese. If that’s the version that you prefer, then you may have to wait a while.)

Today’s Rant

smooth-legsToday’s Rant: All these years I have felt that shaving my armpits and legs are a bit of a chore that no woman should ever want to do. Now I realize that when someone whom you love puts his* hands on your legs and enjoys the <ahem> smoothness of it, and it excites him, it’s all worth it.

(*It could be her hands too!)

Lucky

I went out last Friday night. Even though I spend much of my time as a woman (and therefore I’d “go out” all the time) I rarely interact with other people in the transgender community, so it was nice to finally go out to the twice-monthly “Girls’ Night Out” at the Bouncing Bomb pub in Oakville, just east of Toronto. Sianna Foryu (a transwoman that I became acquainted with on Facebook, and someone that I consider a friend even though we haven’t met in person until Friday) had been inviting me to go for over a year, but I never managed to find time for one reason or another. Having no excuses this time, I decided to go.

Make-up artist Jamie Bratslavsky fixing my make-up.
Make-up artist Jamie Bratslavsky fixing my make-up at the Bouncing Bomb on Friday night.

There were about 25 other transwomen there that night; some were crossdressers, but few were well on their way in their transition. There were also a few male admirers, and at least one transman as well. I spent a lot of time chatting with them, ranting about fashion, cosmetics, jewelry, life as women, and well, finding love, that sort of thing. We drank a lot (beer and wine for them, ginger ale for me) and joked, and flirted a little bit too. A Toronto-based makeup artist named Jamie (a gorgeous cisgender woman) was also there doing demonstrations. She even helped me clean up my lazier-than-usual make up job.

Overall, I had a great time.

As a couple of girls and I compared the jewelry on our hands (actually I didn’t wear any jewelry that night, and that was the point), something struck my mind. I have long forgotten how lucky that I am “built” the way I am. My hands are fairly delicate, and my facial and body features are quite neutral for both male and female. I’ll never be mistaken as a hot chick, but I can still pass as an average woman. And although I wear size 12 dresses, most people think that I’m smaller than I really am.

And there lies some of the challenges of being transgender. Our society expects women to look and behave in a narrowly defined “feminine” way. For transwomen, unless you blend in as at least a moderately attractive woman, you’ll still be ridiculed with terms like “men in dresses”, “sissies”, “drag queens”, “shemales”, “he-she”, “not real women”…or worse. (Sadly some of these insults are hurled at us from other groups in the LGBT community.) One time I was in the supermarket, a man who (probably) suspected that I was transgender followed (stalked?) me for 10 minutes, looking up and down every inch of my body from head to toe. Luckily I think he was “satisfied” that I was just a woman, and eventually left me alone. I can only imagine the fuss he would have raised if I had bigger hands, or more muscular arms, or broader shoulders…visual cues that I saw in other transgender women that night at the Girls Night Out. Indeed even some cisgender women are not particularly feminine; I can’t even begin to emphasize the jokes and ridicules they faced all their lives.

So for now, I consider myself very lucky…

Sally Ann

Fine with me if you don't want to donate to the Sally Ann, but are you sure about the reason?
It’s fine with me if you don’t want to donate to the Sally Ann, but are you sure about the reason?

It’s almost Christmas again, and this is when the Salvation Army sets up booths all around shopping malls in North America to solicit donations. I know many in the LGBTQ community have misgivings, or mistrust, or downright hostility towards the organization—or more accurately, the church, but I digress—often for the right reasons (e.g. their policies in the United States regarding gays, same-sex marriage, transgender rights etc), but sometimes for the wrong reason also (e.g. being duped by doctored photographs of volunteers protesting gay rights). It’s sufficed to say that “Sally Ann” does not have a stellar reputation among the transgender community.

But before we paint everyone in the Salvation Army as bigots, I want to share some of my experiences. For years, I volunteered with a Salvation Army group that runs an outreach program to sex workers in Toronto. One area that we target is Homewood Ave., which is where most transgender sex workers work. And the reason that we specifically target them is because the incredible suffering that they face. Most transgender sex workers we meet are from Caribbean countries. They come to Canada—often illegally—to escape persecutions, violence and harassment against them, the extend of which we’d never see in the US or Canada. Once they’re here, they have little job prospect aside from the little bit of money that they make as prostitutes. So we help them leave the sex trade, and to find temporary housing, immigration lawyers etc. In the time that I was in the program, I have never felt that their gender and sexual orientation was discriminated against.

Nor mine.

Being a sex worker is nothing like in a Hollywood movie, especially if you're transgender, you're very likely to be abused.
Being a sex worker is nothing like in a Hollywood movie. And if you’re transgender, you’re very likely to be abused.

It’s one thing to outreach to the sex workers, but it can be totally something else to have a trans woman among the ranks of the volunteers. So I should point out that I myself never was looked down upon. I was welcomed into the tight-nit group of volunteers just like all the women (and a few selected men) and I was valued just like everyone else. The work that I have done had been empowering to say the least.

I can’t say if my experience with the Salvation Army is typical among all the volunteers who are not anglo-saxon-English-speaking-white-Christian Americans/Canadians, but I would like to think that if we in the transgender community get angry by people assuming that we’re the worst kind of freaks and perverts, we probably shouldn’t do the same and assume that they’re all the same homophobic and transphobic bigots just because they’re part of the Salvation Army.

I think that’s enough ranting for one day.