Gender identity is in no way a lifestyle choice, but the role gender plays in society and on an individual often influences many aspects of lifestyle. The Muse’s Editor in Chief Malcolm Coady and Lifestyles Editor Karen Silver met with Gemma Hickey, Logan St. Croix, Dane Woodland, and Bella Ducey, four trans-identifying persons from St. John’s to discuss their own personal experience of transition. There is no single version of a ‘transgender experience’ and every individual who finds themselves on this journey will ultimately take their own personal route to their destination. The stories of the journey that each of our guests have begun can help others better understand the concept of gender identity, and with any luck also guide others who might be struggling with their own gender identity, and show them that they are not alone, that they deserve to be themselves.
G: I think I’ve been transitioning since the day I was born; you know what I mean – recreating – but officially I came out as trans a few months ago. I had to come out to my family and close friends before coming out to the community. I’ve been an activist for about twenty years so I really wanted to come out publicly, to the community. I felt that it’s very important to be visible and to always give back to people and I felt that coming out would be a way that I could help other people.
L: [I have been transitioning] for about a year and three months. I was always a tomboy or whatever growing up I guess, but I pretty much came out to my family and started taking hormones and doing everything right at the same time, there wasn’t any deliberation over it, it was like ‘this is what I am going to do, this is it.’
D: Similar to Logan I kind of did it all in one shot, like once I told everyone it was like, open the flood gates, here we go. I kind of came to my own realisation about my gender during the summer of 2014.I started taking hormones and came out in August of that year, so I have been taking hormones for a little over two years now and living openly as a trans person for that period of time as well. Kind of like Gemma said, it was happening throughout my life, almost like something that was happening under my nose. I had a very close friend of mine who said to me that if anyone was surprised by my transition at all, then they were not paying attention to me, because it actually came to the point that my peers were saying, ‘People are suspecting that you are trans.’ And stuff like that and it kind of took them telling me what was going on before I actually even had the nerve to consider it myself.
B: I came out five years ago as transgender. My transition was smooth but quick. Everything just happened at once, I realised that this is what I want to do, in one day I realised I was transgender. I cross-dressed a lot and stuff like that in my own privacy and then I was watching this YouTube video by this girl named Kim and she transitioned and I realised you can do that. You can take hormones and all that stuff. Within fifteen minutes I went upstairs and told my mom I was transgender.
D: Like Bella just said about not even knowing that [transitioning] was even a possibility, I can remember going to bed at night and wishing ‘Oh I just wish I could just wake up and just be a guy.’ I genuinely had no clue that that was even a possibility that I could pursue.
G: What I didn’t have was that, you know, one-on-one support that I eventually developed with Dane, and we became friends through that process. He was certainly there for me when I had a lot of questions and didn’t know where to look to get the answers. When I did my [Hope Walk across Newfoundland in order to bring awareness and increase services to victims of Clergy abuse], which was in the summer of 2015, I had a lot of issues come up from walking on the highway for long periods of time, and I just had to pay attention to my body in a way that I hadn’t before. I lost 75 pounds during the training just to do the walk and before that, I was covering my body up, I had weight on, so I just didn’t really pay attention to it. So when I stripped myself down physically and emotionally I really had to pay attention to what was happening inside.
L: I was working, actually, with a trans-fem person at the time, and that was probably my first real interaction with the trans community. She was amazing and I feel like at that point for me, it really didn’t click that it could go the other way. Then actually another person who I had been friends with and had kind of grown apart, had come out as trans. I remember when he had first come out, I asked him, ‘How did you come to this? What had happened in the time that we hadn’t been together?’ He told me that it was kind of a ‘do or die’ point for him. I was going through a pretty shit time personally, just trying to figure out what the fuck I wanted to do with my life, and I remember him saying that over and over in my head, it was like, ‘No, fuck this. I am going to do it.’ I don’t think anyone was terribly surprised. I kind of put it down to those two people, who really showed me the possibilities, and seeing what kind of pressure came off of them when they did it.
D: I remember it was in the first part of 2011, I had a girlfriend and she came back from this training workshop for training in gender diversity and sensitivity, and asked me, ‘Have you ever wondered if you are trans?’ And I was mortified. I didn’t even know what it meant first of all, I was like ‘I can’t believe you are even asking me this.’ But it kind of haunted me from that moment onward. It was kind of like dipping my toes in the water and getting comfortable with a more masculine representation and I was like ‘Wow! This is so great. I want some more.’ I started binding in 2011, but only on special occasions. I found myself telling myself I didn’t like my beasts in a dress shirt and stuff like that. Then I kind of shied away from it, and went back and forth.
I actually had a very private relationship as a trans man with a person who privately referred to me with male pronouns and a nickname over text-messages, just to see if I was comfortable. Then coming up to a New Years Eve party I went in and this person had introduced me as a nickname that could be gender neutral I guess, and I actually went in and reintroduced myself as my birth name, and used female pronouns, as to say, ‘No, I am a girl. You need to know this. Everyone needs to know that I am definitely not trans.’ I just totally freaked out, and then I shied away from it for a period because at that point, I was training for Canada Games, and I was going to compete as a woman and I feared that that would ruin my possibility of doing that.
After I competed in Canada Games, I decided that I wanted to compete in a women’s body building competition, and as I started to change my physique, my shoulders and my arms got bigger and I lost more and more weight, kind of similar to Gemma’s experience, I realized that I was loving the muscle and what I associate with a masculine appearance, but I was hating my breasts, and I was hating my hips and my butt and stuff like that and I could not stop fixating on it, no matter how much progress I was making, and that was around the same time that people were saying, ‘Alright, what’s going on? You’re clearly going through something.’ That possibility was something that I was aware of, and kind of dabbling in for three full years before I really had the courage to, you know, move forward with it. But it is kind of interesting when we talk about coming out, because I think we also have to come out to ourselves and that was something that took me an incredibly long time to wrap my head around before I could move forward with making a transition and more forward into the person I am today.
B: My experience was completely different. As soon as I knew I was transgender, I was like ‘I am doing this.’ So boom boom boom, I got my wig, everything changed in a day. I went from all boy to all girl in twenty-four hours. But I always knew. I was always happier this way; I just didn’t know there was a next step. So I just kind of jumped in.
G: When I would think about girls in high school, and I would fantasize about them, I would pretend I was a boy. I was always wearing men’s clothes, but I was a feminist. I was involved with a lot of women’s groups so I was very firm on the fact that I wanted to be called a woman, because I wanted to represent in solidarity.
I think I felt the strongest reaction from a couple of older women in my life who were former lovers, who are strong feminists and have had moments when I told them, when they would get really emotional. They are quite older than me and had been a part of that movement, some involved in protests where they had been arrested, you know, very strong feminists, very proud women in that way. When I told them, there were just very strong emotional reactions, but shortly after coming out to them, they got through it. It was as if they had been taking it really personally. I had made it clear that I wasn’t erasing anyone’s romantic history. I embrace my past. For me, it’s always who I’ve been. I feel like I’m just becoming more of myself.
L: I have actually had a fantastic time with my family. They were incredibly supportive the entire time. Again, I think they weren’t surprised. I am their only child too so I think they thought, ‘As long as you are happy, because we don’t really have anyone to fall back on.’ But they were great.
I was kind of more worried about my grandparents. They are still very religious. I grew up with my nan making comments about Brokeback Mountain. I had my first girlfriend when I was fourteen, and gay marriage wasn’t legal in Canada until 2005, and I was in that transition period where people were kind of coming around to the idea of it, but nan wasn’t. So I was really scared, but she has actually been amazing from day one.
D: I think I was almost apologetic [to my family] about being a lesbian as if it was the worst possible thing in the world. It was because I was like, ‘Hey, I am gay. Sorry.’ I think that created the avenue for them to think, ‘Okay, this fucking sucks!’ My family is pretty conservative, I was raised Salvation Army, went to church twice a Sunday, I was into it, I was president of a youth group. I think [my family] was kind of just coming around to the fact that I was a lesbian when I pulled the rug out from under them and was like, ‘Surprise! I am actually a guy.’
When I came out to my mom, this is something that haunts me, she is so far beyond this now, but one of the first things she said to me was, ‘Who will love you?’ I though that was very heartbreaking that a parent who loves their child cannot imagine how someone else would love them. She was really afraid for me, if I was to be ostracized and that sort of thing. I spent a long time separating myself from my family for the first little while. Not necessarily that I was angry, but that it hurt so much to be misgendered.
I didn’t have a pronoun during the awkward family dinners. If someone said, ‘Can you pass the ketchup?’ and they weren’t addressing anyone, I quickly came to learn that was me. They wouldn’t say my name. They wouldn’t say anything. If I did have a pronoun, it was, ‘She, sorry.’ Not even, ‘She, sorry he.’ It got to the point where I was like, ‘You’re not actually sorry.’
I went through a breaking point with my mental health as well. I had been diagnosed as bipolar, and my mom took that as perhaps my mental health had caused me to believe that this whole transition thing was going on. Those two are separate things. My family is almost more okay with it now than when I was a lesbian. My nan’s older sister had basically summed it up like, ‘She was a girl who was into girls, now he’s a boy who is into girls, so it’s all good, right?’ I have found a lot of acceptance through my family now, my grandfather gave me a tool box for Christmas and I thought that was kind of like, ‘Welcome to the boy’s club!’ He had me help him install windows and stuff like that. My mom has since done interviews alongside me where she has expressed her own pride, and has talked about her experience of kind of resolving things as well. I think that what it really took was indicating how I was willing to do this despite whatever consequences I might face.
B: I was actually really blessed, there was no judgement really, I remember I came out as gay and there was no problem, everyone kind of knew. Four years after coming out as gay, I came out as transgender. I am a really impulsive kind of person, so I didn’t give it a second thought. So I went upstairs and I told mom, ‘Okay, this is what is happening, this is what we are doing…’ And she was kind of like, ‘Okay. Do you want to finish school first?’ I was like, ‘No, I am jumping in.’ There was a lot of support, and my dad kind of distanced himself a bit. I mean he was supportive, he never got angry or told me I should change, but my mom dealt with it right away, where as my dad didn’t deal with it until a bit later. He was kind of distant and I didn’t really feel like his daughter, until a couple of moths ago, he called me ‘dad’s girl’ and gave me a hug. It was just out of the blue, which was really big for him, so that was really cool, and I felt like, that was who I was.
G: That is so touching.
B: I dropped out of school when I started to transition, and later got my ABE [Adult Basic Education]. But I went to my school, dressed as myself for the first time and I saw this group of guys who I didn’t know. They approached me, and I thought they were going to jump me. I was scared. But they came up to me and told me that if anyone at the school gave me any shit they would have my back, that was really cool.
G: I’ve had a lot of negative experiences coming out as gay, but I’m finding now, coming out as trans, people are like, ‘Congratulations!’ It’s just a sign of the times, you know, things have changed. For the most part I’ve had really good experiences. People just want to understand. I maybe had one negative experience where a friend’s sister had asked me questions like, ‘What are you going to do with your genitals? Are you going to get a penis? Do you use a penis?’ I was like, ‘How do you like to have sex with your husband? And she got it, because that’s how personal it is.
B: Sometimes people just see you as this big genital. Walking, talking genitalia.
L: I came out at the end of July, and at the end of August, I was admitted to The Waterford. I was there for five weeks just after I had started taking hormones and that was a bit of an experience to say the least because I was male presenting, I looked very young, very baby faced, so I got a lot of questions about whether I was a boy or a girl, if I was sure I was supposed to be there because I looked too young, but the patients were actually relatively good.
The nurses on the other hand clearly did not get any training on trans awareness whatsoever. I think getting admitted was an eye opener for me. I remember one time on a weekend, and I was sitting outside the door of the ward to come back in, I rang the doorbell and someone said, ‘Oh that’s just Logan.’ And I could hear them on the other side of the door saying, ‘Oh I thought she came back forever ago.’ And someone said, ‘Oh no, she came back and went out again.’ And I am siting on the other side of the door like, ‘I am going to lose my mind when I go in there.’ And I mean, they had me in a private room because they didn’t know where to put me, which a couple of nurses kind of called me out on, saying, ‘You know this is kind of a special thing, because you wouldn’t want to be over with the women.’ And I definitely appreciated it, but I already shared the bathroom with twenty-five other men on the ward, and there were public bathrooms, but it was irritating at the very least. Then again It was a safety thing for me too, I don’t know what people’s opinions are, I don’t know how comfortable they are with [my] being trans, clearly some of the nurses weren’t.
D: One time I went to a walk-in clinic, I was having a lot of bad migraines, and I just wanted to get in and get out, get a doctor’s note. The doctor was reviewing my chart and she immediately stopped when she saw the testosterone and asked what was going on. I identified myself as a trans person, and then this whole conversation was suddenly about that. ‘Do you have a vagina? Do you still have to get paps?’ This would be like a guy coming in with a cold and they are like, ‘Tell me about your dick.’ How is that relevant?
Another thing that I have recently been thinking about a lot is that I am kind of a fetish for people. People will say to me, ‘You know, I am kind of bi…’ It is almost as if they are letting me know that they would do me the favour of sleeping with me. I find it really insulting when people approach me like that.
B: I remember when I first transitioned, like Dane said, a lot of people looked at me like I was a sex object. That was all people wanted to know. That was it.
About a month ago, I was at the doctor and he asked, ‘So do you have the boobs and all that?’ and I was just like, ‘What does this have to do with my throat?’ He said, ‘I want your other doctor to send over you chart because I want to see how you are developing.’ I was just not going there.
D: For a long time, I didn’t travel because of the possibility of a physical search. The first time I took a significant trip was when I traveled to Mississauga for my top surgery. On my way back, I was actually chosen for that random search. I was covered in bandages, and I thought it was going to be a huge thing. I told the guy I had just had surgery, he asked where, I indicated my chest and he just avoided that area. I was really impressed at the way they handled that, I really thought they could have easily just passed it off as a likely story, but they were really good about that. My gender marker was not changed on my identification as I was traveling. I was passing it over thinking, ‘Please don’t notice, please don’t notice.’ But no one said anything.
L: I got my gender marker changed on my license because the woman serving me at the DMV thought they made a mistake. She said, ‘It says F on this, I am going to change that. This is like the third person that has happened to lately.’ I am sure trans people all over town love her.
B: I love ancient Egypt. I want to go to Egypt. I am so into it, I love the mystery, the pyramids, the aliens, all of it. I was planning on going to Egypt in a coupe of years and I found out that they will probably kill me over there and I was heartbroken because I want to go so bad. My boyfriend and I were looking at honeymoon destinations and we had to scratch almost 70% of the world out. It was crazy.
B: When I was really young, I called myself a he-she. I named myself Josie. I didn’t really place gender-norms on names, but I remember wanting to be seen in a more feminine way. And Joey is a fairly gender-neutral name, but I had an association with being a boy with that name. I remember asking my dad why I was a boy and he told me I was here to fix stuff, be a man, and get a woman and all this stuff, and I thought, ‘I so do not want to do any of that ever.’
D: I remember as a kid, I asked my mom what she would have named me if I was a boy, and she was going to name me Dane. So when it came time that I was choosing a name, that was the obvious easy choice for me. I always really liked that name because I associated it with, if I was born this way, this would be my name.
There was a really strange experience I had. I was at an after party one time, and this girl asked me my name and I said, ‘Sarah.’ And she said, ‘No it isn’t.’ and I said, ‘Yes, it is.’ She said, ‘Well you don’t say it like it is your name.’ and I was just like, ‘Wow.’ Completely punched me in the gut and knocked the wind out of me.
L: My birth name is Danielle, and when I came out and told people I was going by Logan, they were all like, ‘Why not just go by Daniel?’ Because I have basically been called that my whole life and I don’t like it. When I was a little kid, I remember my gym teacher would nickname everyone and he nicknamed me ‘Dan the man.’ I was super cool with it and it wasn’t until I got to the next grade that I realised that no one else thought that was cool.
D: My middle name was Eva after my great, great aunt and it was a big deal that I was her namesake and she died before I transitioned. So I made my middle name Evan so I am still making that tribute to her and still respecting her in that way because she was important to me.
B: That seems to be a reoccurring theme, people would ask why I didn’t go with Jodie or Josephine or whatever. I just didn’t want anything Jo-related at all. My middle name is Elizabeth, and so is my sister’s, so is my mom’s, and my grandmother’s. I spent a long time looking at names, and I came across Bella. It has nothing to do with Twilight.
G: I like Gemma. I really do. I asked my mom what she would’ve named me as a boy and it was Mark, and I thought, ‘Nah, I like Gemma better.’ I am me. I like my name.
Offerings of Advice
D: I would advise any trans person, or person struggling with gender identity to not give up. There is no one path in determining your gender. No one can tell you what that experience will be for you, and the beauty in that is you can make it what you want to make it. You have the currency to move forward in whichever way you choose. There is no script to follow and I think this is a very freeing feeling.
B: Everyone has different coping skills. All that people want from you is you. That authentic placement of yourself, whether you are a boy or a girl or in between or whatever, all people want from you is that authentic placement in your soul. When that comes out, people want to be around you. They want more of it. All the other stuff is crap. There will be bad days and there will be good days. Love always wins in the end.
L: With the internet and social media, it is a lot easier to connect to people that you might not be able to in person. I spent a lot of time reading different people’s stories and different people’s experiences. A big thing is patience. Don’t compare yourself to the progress of someone else. If you aren’t comfortable, or you don’t have a supportive family, find someone. Just have someone you can go to so you are not doing it by yourself.
B: I just want to say to anyone who needs to hear this, because it is awesome, you never get it done, and you can’t get it wrong. Don’t try to be perfect. Perfection means done, and none of us will ever be done. So relax, and be yourself, and be right now.
D: People don’t often realize that we can relate to each other through the human experience. We all have the same struggles as humans, and I think that if we break down those barriers and make it about being human and not about what your gender is, then we can all support each other and move forward together through that understanding.
B: And if someone is happy, transitioning or not, let them be happy.
G: We have to fight for our lives like we fight for our rights. Sometimes that means standing up on the steps in a rally, and other times that means just getting out of bed. We have to fight every day. No one is going to give us our lives. We have to make them. That means doing what it takes to be happy.