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.

It’s Like an Arcade Here

It’s hard to imagine that it has been a year since I made any meaningful updates to my website. Well, WordPress has had some major changes during this time, with new features rolling out with each new version, so it’s natural that I do some updates myself, starting with installing a new theme. The new theme is called Arcade Basic (Basic, because I’m not paying for the premium version) and it has many of the nice bold features that I am accustomed to, like big graphics on the home page etc. I will be digging into the CSS files in the near future to customize it the way that suits me best, and I’ll be adding new contents as well!

Let me know what you think of the website!

Lunch with DD

church-streetI had lunch with my friend DD (her initials, not a reference of her bra size) on Church Street (aka Toronto’s “Gay Village”) recently. This used to be “party central” for my weekends, but as time passes, I don’t come here as often as I used to. That said, I still find the area very open to transgender people like myself, and it’s generally open to a diverse range of gender expressions. I continue to recommend the area to newbie crossdressers planning their first trip “out”, because you can be certain to feel comfortable no matter how you dress or look. Take DD for example, she is, well, not particularly “passable”. May be it’s because (by that, I mean “it probably has lots to do with”) she has an incredibly well-groomed moustache, which is awesome as a man, but can draw a lot of unwanted attention as a woman. Continue reading “Lunch with DD”

The Published Author

Some of you know that I have a Ph.D. in engineering from the University of Toronto. In getting my degree, I’ve had a few papers published in respected journals. My thesis supervisor cared more about his own reputation than his students’ job prospect, so he makes sure that every paper we publish can be “earth shattering”, and indeed, every paper I’ve written have been very strong, but his philosophy hurt the number of publications under my name, which ultimately impacted my “employability” as a professor. The fact is that each of my journal papers could have easily been broken up into 2 or 3 shorter but more focused papers and still have them published.

Continue reading “The Published Author”

Professional Help…with Photos

A few months ago, I  mentioned that wanted to have pictures taken by a professional photographer. Well, as it turns out, I did get a Groupon deal for just that. Not only that, I didn’t have to pay for it; it was given to me as a gift by a sibling!

Campus Girl
Yeah, this outrageously gorgeous and sexy backless formal dress!

The photographer’s name is Jennifer. And she had made clear from the get-go that she was comfortable with working with a transwoman. (Yay!) We discussed for awhile the kinds of photos I’m comfortable with, and where we should go for the session etc. After some e-mail exchanges over many many weeks, we settled on the details. So earlier this afternoon, I met with Jennifer at Richmond Green north of the city in Richmond Hill.

I wore my outrageously gorgeous and sexy backless formal dress that I’ve only worn once in Vancouver a few years ago, and I felt incredible! I also felt incredibly nervous too. After all, we were in the middle of a park in the middle of a Friday just before the biggest long weekend to end the summer holidays. To say that “there were people there” would be a bit of an understatement. To Jennifer’s credit, she made the photos look like I was the only person around, and she made an otherwise nervous trans girl feel very comfortable.

There were many nice spots in the park to take pictures, even an area called the “Wedding Garden”. No weddings today, but there was a young Indian couple nearby doing an engagement video. There was also a small bridge, a waterfall, a few old brick houses (being used as offices now) and some nice open spaces. It was weird carrying my violin in a park, and some of the poses that Jennifer had me do with the violin were a bit… unusual, but we think that we got some very spectacular pictures at the end. The mid-day sun made for some harsh shadows in many cases, but I trust that Jennifer had taken all of those things into account! We went back to my car so that I could change out of my dress into something more casual—a purple summer dress, and we went back out around the park and took more pictures before calling it quits for the day. The funny thing is that it had to stop just as I was getting very comfortable with being shot by Jennifer.

Jennifer will be editing my photos over the next few weeks, and once they’re ready, I’ll post them here, on Facebook and on my public gallery.

New Pictures Will be Posted, I Promise!

One of the reasons that I haven’t posted any pictures online in more than a year is because I have been very self conscious about my appearance. One of the factors is my hair. In the past, I have always worn a wig whenever I’m out. For the past few months though, I have stopped wearing it most of the time. Now, my own hair is very short, and not at all feminine—If you must know, I intend to keep it that way for now. On one hand, this I-don’t-want-to-deal-with-it style is obviously much more comfortable in the hot summer months. On the other hand, I do get weird looks from people very frequently. Before you say, “oh Katie, that’s just because people think you’re so pretty,” let me point out that I know what I look like when I look into the mirror, and I’m certain that they stare at me for different reasons. Thankfully, I haven’t been harassed by anyone…yet, but sooner or later, there will be some asshole on a busy street who will make a big fuss about it. That said, I will continue to go out with my decidedly boyish haircut in the near future. I will also have my pictures taken with a professional photographer very soon, and yes, you will see my short hair; you can decide for yourself if I look cute or not. In the mean time, let me repost an older picture from a few years ago. I loved this halter dress, and I had a chance to wear it recently. But that’s another story!

My favourite black halter dress, from the days when I wore my wig(s). There aren’t too many things in my wardrobe that makes me feel sexier.

O Katie O Katie, Where Art Thou?

The few of you who pay attention to my online presence would surely have noticed that I haven’t been very actively lately. I haven’t posted new pictures on Flickr, and I haven’t written many blog entries in the last year. There has only been the occasional post on Facebook and Twitter. It is safe to say that there has been many significant changes in my life during this time. Because of some of these changes, I am constantly busy with things. Also, some of the pages on this website have been taken offline for the time being, so that I have time to properly write a new version that more accurately reflect the current state of my life.

For the sake of my sanity and my narcissistic tendencies I hope to begin writing my blog more frequently. After all, there are always exciting stories to tell.

Tona Brown at Carnegie Hall

Tona Brown
Tona Brown

The story of Tona Brown had been getting a lot of attention in the LGBT community lately. (The Huffington Post writes: Meet The First African American Transgender Performer To Take The Stage At Carnegie Hall) I wish her concert goes well, but I also wish that the media had a more accurate coverage. That said, I feel a little bit of ambivalence about the story altogether. What bothered me about the coverage is that no one seems to realize that at the end of the day, Carnegie Hall is just like every concert hall: you can have whatever concert you want there as long as you can pay the rental fees. It is not a small amount since its a union house, and the Huffington Post article even talked about she had to raise the money. The coverage in the LGBT community made it sound like she’s the first African-American transgender musician to have “made it to the top”. But to me, it’s probably more accurate to say that she’s the first African-American transgender person to have “paid the rental fees”. I don’t want to diminish Tona Brown’s accomplishments; the music business is downright nasty. Tona is an excellent musician—just watch the YouTube video of her singing. But not only did she have to be talented, she had to overcome many obstacles to become the musician that she is today. I myself couldn’t stomach the stress of being a musician, and I went to study engineering instead.

I started feeling this way after I had the chance to perform at the Tchaikovsky Hall at the Moscow Conservatory many years ago with my youth orchestra. If I had been brave and identified myself as transgender during my teenage years (instead of trying to fit in), I might had been the first one too. My orchestra wasn’t particularly good; and I wasn’t a very good soloist either. We just…paid, that’s all.

So if you want to be the first [ethnic/social group] [instrument] person to perform at [concert hall name], find a day when the hall isn’t booked already, pay the rental fees, and there you have it. And after you have made your booking, you should go home and practice…unless you don’t really care if you embarrass yourself. After all, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!”

Wait, I didn’t really mean that. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Pay rent, pay rent, pay rent!”