No, it’s not her

Jericho Beach

I spent the Victoria Day weekend home in Vancouver to attend a friend’s wedding. I haven’t been spending much time in Toronto in the last few weeks, but it’s still a great relief to be somewhere nicer than The Big Smoke.  And aside from a few minor responsibilities at the wedding banquet, I was on holiday. So, armed with my brand-spanking-new DSLR camera, I roamed around town taking pictures, as a girl of course!

Side Note #1: In case you’re wondering, no, I wasn’t called to be a bridesmaid.  I wouldn’t want to be one anyway.

Side Note #2: Those DSLR cameras are great.  But you should get some nice lenses.

Admittedly, it would have been more fun if I had someone with me to take pictures of me. But this works too.  Over the weekend, I went to Jericho Beach, then Granville Island, then the Richmond Olympic Oval, and then Stanley Park on Monday. I still have much to re-learn about photography. It’s been a long time since I took a photography course in high school. Anyway, on Monday morning, I spent some time walking along the Sea Wall at Stanley Park, snapping random pictures.

Side note #3: I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, wearing a simple sweater and dress pants. That worked in Granville Island, but when every woman around is wearing shorts and jogging shoes, at the beach and at the park, you do stand out a bit.

While I was near the Nine O’Clock Gun, a couple jogged past me. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw that the woman kept turning back to get a good look at me. (I thought she had read me, and was going to make a big fuss about it.) But then she turned around to her jogging partner, and said to him, “No, it’s not her.” I assumed that I looked like her friend….but then, she continued, giggling, “They really look alike from the back, but this one’s cuter.

So, whoever you are, you made my day!

Back from Sabbatical, With a New Name

For all my online and real-life friends who have wondered where I had been for the past…umm…year and a half, just want to let everyone know that I’ve been alive and well. Although my life has changed dramatically. (No. I didn’t rush to Thailand for SRS, or anything similar, if that’s what you’re wondering.)

Anyway, I’m starting something new, complete with a new name. You can call me Katie or Kate. Or you can continue to call me Tara as well, afterall, “Kate” is no more real/legal than “Tara”.

I have a new blog on Blogspot where you can find my new postings. I’ll stop posting on Yahoo from now on. My Flickr account still works, and I’ll probably continue to post pictures there. If I have any, that is.

Katie (a.k.a. Tara)

Re-Inventing Me: Call me Katie

Boy, how things have changed! (No. I didn’t rush to Thailand for SRS, or anything similar, if that’s what you’re wondering.)

Several years ago, when I first started going out as a girl, I called myself TJ. My friends I met at Take a Walk on the Wildside still call me that. It’s was a rarely used nickname that I acquired in high-school, when I was a very awkward tenth-grader. TJ is actually the initials of my real name. When I started posting online profiles to meet other t-girls, I filled in the letters with Tara Jennifer. I’m not sure why I needed a middle name, but it seemed to be very common with other t-girls, so I went along. Added to it is a surname Young, which is the anglisized spelling of the Chinese surname Yeung. It is not real of course, but I found it rather appropriate since I am Chinese (okay, only 98% Chinese) and I was a young-ish t-girl in my twenties.

My life was—and still is—full of striking dualities. Often I’m a girl, but sometimes I’m a boy; I’m shy but also chatty; I’m a science geek—background in physics, math & PhD in engineering, but dammit, don’t call me a nerd—and a reasonably accomplished freelance violinist; I’m a serious intellectual and a crazy flirt; and I’m very intelligent, but sometimes I do the dumbest things.

Two life-changing events in the past year or so had put me in a little bit of a sabbatical. And as I get back into things, I feel that I need a fresh start. So, to re-introduce myself to the community:

Hello! My name is Kate, but you can call me Katie too.

If you must, you can continue to call me Tara or TJ, I won’t mind. Afterall, “Kate” is no more real than “Tara.”  The nice thing about these “girl names” is that I can change it whenever I want to. Not that I want to all the time, but I feel that in this case it is completely appropriate. Kate, hopefully, is a more mature version of my former self: less crazy chick, more woman; less flambouyant, more polished, more gounded; and hopefully less of a flirt, more composure. Fellow geeks: think of Kate as an upgraded, debugged, cleaned up version of Tara.

As for those life-changing events, if you had read the blog carefully (I dare you!), you would have read something about a PhD in engineering. Yup. I just got one. The “Permenant Head Damage”, “Piled high and deep”…and whatever you call it. This has been a rather long and lonely intellectual journey. It had many ups and downs–more downs than up really—and had taken many different turns—some of them in the wrong directions. But at the end, it was very exciting to see all the pieces come together. It did mean that for the pat year, I hardly hung out on Saturday nights. Think: “Oh, it’s Saturday. I really should lie down in my bed and sleep.”

But as lonely a journey it has been, I never felt I lack companionship. Which brings me to my second life-changing event. I have found my life partner. My soul-mate. My best friend. And now we live happily together. We started out as close friends in my undergrad years..12 years ago, and after I moved to Toronto, we began a long-distance relationship, first through e-mail, then over the phone, and now we have a new life together.

Which brings me to the close of this blog. You probably won’t find me on Toronto’s Church St. as often anymore, but Tara….umm, Kate, is back!

Master Tara

I moved into a new apartment a couple of weeks ago, and last week, I finally had the chance to take some pictures of my new home. Most of them are sent to my parents in Hong Kong, but I did managed a few pictures of myself using a tripod.  My being in “girl mode” that day was more or less by accident: I haven’t had time to unpack all my boy clothes and I just ran out of things to wear.  At least this is the excuse, and I’m sticking to it. One of the pictures I took is with my newly framed Master’s diploma from the University of Toronto.

I actually got my degree back in the spring of 2004, but it was rather uneventful. I handed in my thesis on a Thursday morning, and I was already starting background reading for my Ph.D. work on Friday afternoon. It never occurred to me that even though I didn’t go to the ceremony, I should still get the diploma. Last summer, the university sent me a letter, reminding me to pick up the diploma, or else they would destroy it. The afternoon after I picked up the diploma, I bought a nice frame from the bookstore. Now it looks like I actually did something important in life!

I sure feel like a woman, but do I even look like one?

A week ago Saturday, after spending a great evening going to dinner and clubs on Church Street, Kim, Tiffany and I went to a coffee shop in the heart of the Gay Village, where we relaxed and chatted with one another. That’s when we overheard two gay men—both sat behind us—talking about us. Among the more polite things that were talking about were, “Who do these guys think they are? Dressing up like women.” “Who are they trying to fool?” “It’s not like they actually look feminine.” “Totally not passable.” “The Chinese guy, may be marginal, but the other two definitely aren’t.” (FYI: I was “the Chinese guy”.) And after picking out flaws from each of us, they started talking about someone else, “I know this guy, who likes to prance around at home wearing lingerie and stockings. He thinks that makes him feminine….[sarcastic laugh]”

I don’t mind looking “marginally passable”, but what was deflating me was having my appearance scrutinized in every detail by someone behind my back (literally), and having myself reduced to the sum of all those flaws, just so that they can conclude that I am not suitable to be a woman. I wanted to turn around and confront them, but at the end I decided against it. And hearing about it felt worse than when a bunch of teenagers yelled, “That’s a fucking man!” at me in the middle of downtown a few years ago.

Contrast this with the following Saturday when I was back to Wildside to meet up with those same friends for dinner. While I was there I made acquaintance with a post-op woman who was there waiting to catch an interview Paddy (Wildside’s owner) had with Mandy Goodhandy (a local shemale performer). When I joked about my appearance, she started asking me questions. “Are you post-op?” Nope. “TS?” No. “Intersexed?” Gosh no. I don’t even know what that means. “In transition?” No. “On hormones?” No. At the end, after we managed to sort out that I’m just a plain part-time crossdresser (a label that I detest), she said, “if you ever decide to transition…it’s like you’re there already.” She pointed out to me that my look and mannerism were very feminine, and that my skin looked like someone who has been on hormones for quite some time. I took that as a great compliment.

What is interesting is that when I’m in “girl mode”, I make a point to act, speak and behave the same way as when I’m in “boy mode”. (For example: I swear just as much as a girl; I’m just as aggressive as a girl etc.) But aside from having commenting that my handwriting is girly, no one has ever thought that my mannerism in “boy mode” was in any way feminine.

Anyway, drop me a comment, and let me know how much of a woman you see in me.

PS: The picture is taken at my new apartment. I took the day off work, and ended working at home anyway.

No More Chopping Trees Down for Violins

I flew home to Vancouver for a visit earlier this week. No, I wasn’t insane enough to catch the flight while en femme, although I thought that if it had been possible, it would have been fun. Anyway, to everyone who suggested that I changed from boy to girl in the lavatory during the flight (you know who you are), you’re all crazy.

That’s not why I wrote this though…

While I was lining up at the check-in counter at Westjet, (I forgot to bring my confirmation number, and apparently they don’t let you self-check-in using your credit card at Pearson Airport anymore.) I saw a metal frame that shows the maximum dimensions allowed as a carry-on luggage.

As usual, I was flying with my violin, and I’ve known for years that my violin case was far larger than the maximum allowable size. Luckily, the girl at the counter only casually asked if it was a violin, and then asked me if I wanted it as a carry-on. That was it. But back in the days when Jetsgo, Skyservice, Harmony, AirTransat, Westjet, Canjet and Air Canada all operated regular flights between Vancouver and Toronto, everyone–quite literally too: from the check-in counter to security to the cabin crew–would harass me about the size of my violin case. “It’s too big, you’ll have to check it in…” that sort of things. I would always get it into the cabin eventually, but not without some (1) clever logic, (2) begging, (3) threatening words, or (4) any combination of (1) (2) and (3). And that was just my travelling with my backup French violin. I would have been way too scared to bring my expensive 200-year-old Italian instrument on board.  Although I haven’t been asked to check in my violin for quite some time, it always worries me that the cabin crew is entitled to flatly refuse to let me board the flight with my violin.

But perhaps the days of having to worry about damages my violin during a flight is over.

No, there isn’t any new technology in the horizon for an ultra-safe violin case. My high-tech foam case is still difficult to beat. Rather, the new technology is how the violin is built in the first place. Or more precisely, the material used: carbon fibre. Behold, the Luis and Clark violin, from Boston, USA! (Okay, look at the picture now.)  I had the chance to try out a demonstration model in Toronto recently, and was very very impressed by it. It was easy to play on, it sounded really robust (great for chamber music and gigs), and it was made of carbon fibre! It’s almost indestructable! How cool is that! Anyway, I’m little over a year away from completing my PhD, and I’m supposed to have a nice job after I graduate. When that happens, the first thing I’ll do is buy me one of these. Right now it costs only $4900 USD. While it’s nothing to sneeze on, it’s still cheaper than my backup violin, and it’s much nicer.

My dream: take the carbon fibre violin, a carbon fibre bow, put them both inside a carbon fibre case, and toss all of them inside the plane the next time I fly to Hong Kong for a recital. (Now I’m only missing the violin, the bow, the case, and a reason to do a recital in HK.)

But seasoned musicians will know that travelling with a violin on the subway is infinitely more stressful than on a flight. You always have to keep an eye on the shady characters, the drunk guys about to topple over your violin case, the absent-minded university students, the careless kids, the oblivious teenagers etc etc….and if you’re a chick, the over zealous flirts who want to use the violin as an excuse to start a conversation. At the end, every interaction can draw attention to my expensive instrument, and any attention is a bad idea. Having a less expensive (okay, relatively less expensive) violin that can take the bruises and bumps without needing any maintenance is definitely a plus when I travel on the subway with my instrument violin at least 3 days every week.

There is one more thing I can do with a carbon fibre violin.

When another drunk moron on the subway asks me, “Hey, sweetie pie, is that like, a machine gun, or like, a rocket launcher, like, inside that case?” I can open it up, take out my violin, beat him silly with it, (of course, I’d beat him up in style, and without wrinkling my skirt!) and go home and practice a Bach sonata.

Future of Wireless Technology?

I was trying out some new dresses on Friday night when I accidentally tripped over a stack of books laying in the middle of my bedroom. That prompted me to get off my ass and finish (really, start) the long-overdued cleanup of my apartment. Part of the reason for the cleanup in the first place is that all the “girl clothes” I have accumulated over the years are beginning to clutter up my closet. Some items I don’t even remember existed. But then I realized that the clutter extends to my desk, under my desk, my shelves, behind the shelves, my car, my trunk….

Anyway, while cleaning up my bookshelf I found an old newspaper clipping from Toronto Star back in March of 2002. It was about a (then new) Nokia phone that streamed video. At first I wasn’t sure why I kept it, then I saw the picture on the screen.

I think the picture speaks for itself. The future of wireless technology was about streaming videos of fat naked men. (Reminds me of some of the creepy t-girl admirers around town.) I can only assume that in the years since 2002 things have gotten much worse.

Finally winter! (Well, sort of.)

Last weekend another transgender friend from Muskoka visited Toronto. She was in town for the weekend, and we had a great time chatting over dinner on Saturday night.  We talked about everything from music to sports to politics to transgender issues. After having breakfast together on Sunday morning, she was kind enough to snap some casual photos for me while strolling around Allen Gardens in downtown Toronto. (Allen Gardens is two blocks east of the Gay Village; during the day residents from nearby apartments often walk their dogs there.) We just had our first snow fall on Sunday, and I thought it provided me with a reasonable backdrop. Unfortunately my friend was not very proficient with my idiot-proof point and shoot digital camera: of the ~100 photos she took, only 9 worked out.

While on the the subject of photographs, you may notice that my new pictures are far less revealing than my previous albums. Having pictures taken in my summer dress was a lot of fun, and also a great confidence builder, but it did have its downside. It seems that even marginally provocative photos undoubtedly attract old creepy male “admirers”, who immediately fantasize about me in sexual acts that are probably illegal in most of Canada. Then my Inbox begin to clutter up with suggestive e-mails, describing these acts. Seeing that at the moment, I am not lacking in self-esteem, I can safely say that there is no reason for me to show off any skin in -11°C windchill to feel good about myself.

Sorry boys, this girl is all covered up.

And for anyone who are still reading, let me point out that being a confident and attractive girl (especially a t-girl) is not determined by how sexy you look in fancy clothes. Besides, I still wouldn’t call myself “unattractive”, would I?  By the way, winter did arrive in force on Monday, with freezing rain and heavy snow. My morning commute was hell. At least I didn’t have trees falling on me, like they do in Vancouver.

Cutie Pie?

I was walking around town in Toronto last Friday evening. A man riding a bike approached me from the opposite direction. He was a fairly large man, and was obviously drunk (or worse) and his bike was two sizes too small, which made it difficult to ride on a straight line. Thank goodness the sidewalk was wide enough and he wasn’t close to hitting me. Anyway, as he rode past me, he turned and said, “Hey cutie pie, waatttttup girl?” I looked around, and saw no one else.

A drunk guy hitting on me would hardly have been amusing, except for one detail: I wasn’t dressed. (Okay, I was clothed, just not dressed as a girl.) I had just left the music store where I taught violin, wearing black pants and a jacket. Without my wig, make-up, fake boobs and fake hips, no one had ever thought that I looked like a girl before. I know my facial features are not overtly masculine and I get away with a lot, but this is crazy! I remember reading the blog of another t-girl named Aubrey Frost some years ago, when she had a similar experience. But never in a million years would I have imagined this happening to me as well.

I think I’ll put this story in my looney bin…

(Last edit & photo added on November 27, 2012 )

Huh? Is that really you?

My Halloween Costume

Awhile ago, I wrote about my first time out on Halloween, and the attention I got from people on Church Street in Toronto. For the past two years, I’ve gone out on Halloween nights, rather conspicuously dressed as a normal girl. It was a lot of fun, but as I get more accustomed to going out as Tara, “just being Tara” is no longer enough for Halloween.

So instead, this year, I decided that I would wear something that one may consider a real “costume”. This Halloween, I’ll be “the horny catholic schoolgirl”. By horny, I mean like the devil has horns, and not to be confused with the state of arousal. (It makes a fun joke though, doesn’t it?) Admittedly it is out of character for me to wear something so closely associated with male sexual fantasies, but at the end, a costume is just a costume. I still won’t have sex with anyone, catholic schoolgirl or otherwise.

When I started assembling my costume, I was merely looking for a good plaid skirt. Then I went to Value Village, and found that they actually have real used uniforms—from local catholic schools—on their racks. It was quite a pleasant surprise, and I managed to try out several skirts. The one that I eventually picked was, unfortunately, hopelessly unflattering and I had to shorten it by 6 inches. I hope the previous owner doesn’t object to my modifying her skirt in such un-ladylike manner.

A friend of mine took a few pictures of me in this costume (minus the horns, which I still have to buy/find), and they turned out a little bit better than I’ve hoped. I’ll post them on Yahoo shortly.  Think of this as a “test drive” to make sure I’m comfortable wearing this.