Much of my memories of my younger years are surrounded by a fog inside my mind. Some of it is clear but much is just a haze of feelings, fears, and depressive outlooks. Perhaps it is the mind’s way of letting go of things that no longer serve us or perhaps it is just the normal effects of becoming an ageing woman?
It is painful for me to think about myself as a child, teenager and adult before the transition. It involves seeing someone I didn't relate to or accept. It's a bit like looking at a lie or a bad dream sequence that just happened to last for over 40 years.
I have no photos of myself pre-transition and I would not welcome any if they were offered to me. I fought very hard to break free from the shackles that kept me stuck in a life I felt was not mine. Dropping that persona, that old identity, was one of the easiest things I have ever accomplished.
I remember my childhood as a series of happy moments that always ended up ruined when I stopped and thought about how trapped I was in that body. I do feel sad about not having photos of myself as a child. It’s hard to not be able to enjoy seeing and sharing with others, like when on Facebook when others show flashbacks of themselves. I cannot take part because those are not images of me, not really.
I feel sadness and even an emptiness for not having old photos of myself as a child. It feels like some parts of me have ceased existing in a way, yes; but having such images around would be too much for me to cope with.
They would only serve to remind me of all the pain I lived through to get to where I am now. I have never been one to willingly hold onto bad memories through photos. I choose to not have painful reminders of a past I’ve left behind.
Shortly after transitioning, I saw a couple of older photos of myself and I felt so sad, so distraught, at the memories that it brought back to the forefront of my mind. Memories of dark parts of my childhood; the pain which was a constant for all those long years. There is simply no good reason to want to see them anymore.
There is a void, an emptiness, for not having any photos or mementos from my past. That is accompanied by a sense of loss that becomes compounded when others speak and share details of their childhoods. I’m reminded, once again, that it’s me on the outside, not fitting in; never fully able to participate in such basic human activities.
I cried so much, unable to endure the sight of those photos. I know that when I did glimpse them in the past, I felt like I was being sucked into a void of despair. I know that I have walked away from a big part of my past because those images only keep in place the sense of hopelessness that sends me reeling back to times of great darkness.
When I say I felt like an outsider, it isn’t just an expression or a play on words. I was pretty much always in that frame of mind. I was in a position of dealing with this horrible fate of being born into the wrong body and I was unable to articulate my thoughts about it at the time. I was powerless to do anything about it that wouldn’t have been massively destructive to myself. I considered suicide many times as well as using a knife to remove the parts of my body that I found most offensive.
Did I have a good childhood? That's a complicated question to answer. I did have some wonderful moments such as the way I felt when someone would compliment my skill at drawing; how my paternal grandmother would give me preferential treatment over my siblings and cousins was a special treat as well. There was also the time I got to help an archeologist over the summer.
I can remember being in my room as a young teen, drawing my heart out and knowing without any doubt that I was good at it. I possessed an ability that was all mine. I would spend hours at it, filled with such a wonderful feeling, knowing I could make something appear on a two-dimensional surface. I made things that seemed to jump off the page and gave the impression that it had depth.
Art gave me such great joy. I would giggle and laugh in excitement as a drawing would near completion or when I had succeeded in creating a certain effect; it was pure pleasure. It was in my art that I blossomed and began to find myself.
There were many good times I can point to in my childhood. My Dad would play hockey and broomball with us during Winter; playing softball and just sitting out on the front porch when the weather was nice, not that I was a big participant in these activities, mostly preferring to sit them out.
My mother was always there to console us when we were sick or hurt. I can close my eyes and recall how soothing her voice was to me as a young child. When I had more of her time, before so many others, she would sing softly to me as I sat in her lap. I remember listening to her as she sang “ Que Sera Sera “ and I could have listened to her singing all day. Nothing in this world is so soothing as a mother’s voice.
I was so in the moment hearing her voice. I remember feeling so secure in her arms and the warmth in her voice gave me peace and security, knowing nothing could hurt me. I felt comfort and protection when I was in her arms.
They were both good parents within the context of their economic and social conditions. I was quite neurotic at times as I attempted to hide the guilty feelings of being so different. I felt wrong as if I was bad. I was often envious of how others seemed so happy and normal. I would even get angry at the world for my difference, which I used to see as a shortfall.
I guess I was continuously in a state of anxiety, fearing discovery and ridicule? Some event would happen, like maybe a birthday for a sibling or friend, any special occasion, and I would get a headache or just feel sad and stressed-out for no apparent reason.
Sometimes I would be so very happy and all was well. Then, I knew from experience that the fall would come. I knew I’d be sad because this is how it went on for me. Things just couldn’t be right for me for too long. It was as though I didn’t deserve happiness because I was made all wrong, or so I thought. It gave me a terrible inferiority complex, even withdrawing. I began to feel that everything about me was a fake and that if push came to shove, I would fail miserably. It was a fear that I lived with constantly; a burden that I carried like the weight of the world upon my shoulders from the time I was first cognizant of my differences from others.
As a child, I even hated photos of myself. I felt that my lips were bright red in comparison with my siblings and other people in the same photo.
I think this was me being self-conscious about my secret. Those red lips were a dead give away, in my mind, and even more so as a teen when I started growing my hair out. Each time I had to be in a family or school photo, I developed a habit of placing a hand over my mouth or moving in such a way as to partially hide behind someone else, thus camouflaging those red lips. To me, they were such a dead giveaway of my ‘otherness’ that I was sure people would know if they saw the photo.
I cringed at the mere thought of having a photo taken and felt utterly panicked inside. I always found myself hoping for something that would disrupt the need for me to be in any photos. For instance, for a Christmas family photo, when my mother insisted we all stand together next to the Christmas tree that stood in the corner of the living room, as it always did each and every year, I tried to beg off. I remember the usual excuses … saying how I didn’t feel like it, but that wasn’t working this time and I knew that mom was already feeling hurt because I was resisting.
I finally got up off the couch and walked to the back of my siblings. I felt trapped. , I was stuck feeling the pressure and, in my mind, I was freaking out. My stomach was getting upset, and I was overly fidgety, hoping this would pass quickly. I remember thinking to myself that maybe this set of pics would somehow not turn out and the evidence of those bright red lips would be lost.
So there I stood, attempting to hide my lips by raising my hand to my face when the photo was taken or by moving my body slightly to one side in order to hide behind one of my siblings' heads. It was the same thing any time a photo was required of me. I do not enjoy photos of myself to this day.
Seeing those images would set off dysphoria that I understand and am aware of today. Then, it was a feeling that I had no name for. It was a very heavy sense of dread, of feeling so uncomfortable in my skin, that there could be nothing I felt good about in that body. I would get quite anxious about my appearance to the point of hiding from having my photo taken, often disappearing just when it was photo time during holidays.
The intensity of the deep dissatisfaction I had with my body was, at times, so unbearable that I would find a quiet place to hide. It was often the bathroom where I would turn on the faucet to weep as silently as I possibly could, letting the sound of the water drown out the sound of my pain. The crying also made me feel better which was surprising but welcome.
At birthday parties, weddings, funerals and any social gatherings, I felt clumsy and out of place. My coping mechanism was to try and dazzle others with my knowledge of various topics and details about them. It kept me from dwelling on my condition. I am certain I often came off as being full of myself and an incredible bore.
That was just one coping mechanism I had. I also had my love for drawing and painting. I became the one who dove into strange waters head first, like Scientology, Paganism and anything else that was outside of the mainstream as I searched for answers to the puzzle of my condition; my difference; my otherness.
I spent a lot of my time hating my voice, my appearance, my nose as a teen; crying for nothing. Today I can cry when watching a movie and for some reason get triggered for no clear reason.
I was always intimidated by males, driven to excessive worrying about having to compete with males. Most of my reactions didn't jive with how a guy should react. I knew this. I wanted to hug and make friends, or at least be free to walk away from fights. That made more sense to me but sometimes I was forced into an inescapable fight. I would unfailingly lose. I couldn't bring myself to hit anyone. I just wasn't able to look at any part of someone else's body and find a spot I could be ok with hitting to cause hurt. It made me ill to just think like that. I mostly stuck with school friends who were non-violent and seemingly more intellectual. They were safer in my mind.
I’ve always had a very vivid imagination. The city workers had dug a trench on the side of the lane just off of the sidewalk next to our flat when I was about six years old. I was on the small wooden balcony, looking into the trench, it was getting dark when I noticed lights in it. I think the lights were those orange hazard types of flashing lights. I kept staring and all of a sudden I saw what appeared to be people jumping over steeples like those used as barriers on road work.
The little people I saw, in my mind’s eye, kept jumping over and over and then disappearing into the wall at one end of the trench. I got frightened and turned around but when I ventured another look, there was nothing there.
I remember thinking that I could never speak about this to anyone, not because I wouldn’t be believed but I knew it would add to my strangeness and I just couldn’t handle the thought of people having one more reason to judge me.
I knew this was my imagination and nothing else but that time it surprised even me. I was often daydreaming as a young child. It was my escape and a coping mechanism, I know. I still have this tendency as an adult, which I usually keep to myself for fear of judgement.
From the time I was about six or seven, I do clearly remember taking walks away from my home. At first, I wouldn’t go far at all, maybe a couple of addresses down the street? Eventually, I grew bolder. By the time I was twelve, I would keep walking until I didn’t recognize where I was. Only at that point, would I turn around and go back home.
Once, when I walked from our flat on Albert street, I was upset about how I looked. I knew that I was supposed to be a boy, it’s how I appeared physically and how everyone treated me. I surmised they must be right and became upset; so upset. I cried and cried but I also hid my tears. I waited for them to stop before showing myself again.
The idea struck me that I need to leave and run from my life, so I just walked out the front door of our flat. It was summer and we are all home from school, which made my walking out not a big deal. No one would immediately notice.
I remember my heart racing. I was feeling so distraught about my life. I started off towards a large main street called St. James. When I got to the corner of St. James and Fulford, I decided to turn right. toward the east. I remember becoming apprehensive, uncertain, and even afraid because I don’t really know that part of the neighbourhood.
It began to feel dangerous but the pain I felt is real and deep. I was preoccupied with my feelings and started crying again. I was sniffling and my walking was clumsy because of this. I tripped and fell to the sidewalk, scraping a knee and ripping the pants I was wearing. Now I had a small bloodstain, my knee was stinging and it throbbed to the beat of my heart.
I kept walking and walking. I began to notice that things were not familiar anymore. I started to think about turning back but my determination pushed me forward. I had been walking for some time by that point and I cannot say if it’s been thirty minutes or a lot more.
Even people looked a bit different from those in my neighbourhood. Many of them were dressed in suits. The traffic was heavier and even the smell had changed. It was smoky air compared to what I was used to. Suddenly I saw a small park area with a water fountain.
I was very thirsty and decided that I could use this fountain for a drink. It was actually the front area to the Montreal Planetarium on McGill street. It was not miles and miles away, but for a child, it was still a good stretch. I sat on the grass to rest, thinking about how I could maybe wake up one morning and be a girl just like I know I am.
I knew that it wouldn’t happen though, it was just a dream and I knew that I was just some sort of a mistake － and mistakes like me couldn’t be fixed. I felt that I was a terrible person because it would make my parents' hearts break and make God sad as well.
My guilt arose and I began to worry about how everyone will feel if I go missing for too long. Not wanting to be scolded, I made my way back toward home, following the way that I had left and made my way to the fountain.
I don’t know if I was trying to muster the courage to run away or if I was just testing how far I could walk, maybe it was a bit of both? It became something I did to work off the stress I was feeling. Maybe I was trying to distance myself from the boy I kept seeing in the mirror? Perhaps I hoped that I would find something different? Maybe a world where I fit in?
I was beginning to see my body go through changes that were foreign to me. It was apparent that I was becoming something on the exterior that I did not feel inside. It’s difficult to explain the confusion, frustration, anger, and grief that you feel when your body doesn’t match your mental image of self.
Not only did I cry while walking, but if I was sure to be alone, I would also cry in my bed at night. I would hide my face in my pillow, to drown the sounds of my sorrow and sob my eyes out. Sometimes I would cry until my pillow was completely soaked; drenched to the point of having to turn it over. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that at such a tender age I was already buckling under the pain I felt and seeking an end to that pain. These bouts of crying would often continue until I just couldn’t shed another tear.
I think I felt like I was being betrayed by my own body?
When I was around the age of 7, we moved from Blake Lane to Quesnel Street in Little Burgundy; a neighbourhood in Montreal, known in French as La Petite Bourgogne. It was only a two-minute walk between both apartments.
This new dwelling was a small flat. I do not remember if there was a backyard, though, I do recall there being a small front fenced yard.
It was springtime, I remember this clearly as it was also my first communion. We, being a Catholic family, participated in all of the rituals that were expected to be observed by those in the Catholic church. First Communion is a ceremony in some Christian traditions during which a person first receives the Eucharist, most common in the Latin Church tradition of the Catholic Church, as well as in many parts of the Lutheran Church and Anglican Communion.
Some extended family members came for the little gathering at our flat, following my communion. There were uncles, aunts, and cousins in attendance. It was sunny outside, the small fenced-in front yard had patches of grass but it was mostly dirt. I remember the smell of Spring in the air and the smell of old dust lingering. There was a light breeze that carried upon it a chill that served as a reminder that it was not yet summer.
I had just arrived back from church with my family. I just want to tear off the clothes I was in. The communion ordeal didn’t do anything to make me feel holier or absolved of whatever it was that kept making me feel hopeless. I can still smell the stench of the thick incense that had attached itself to my clothes. It was oppressive to my sense of smell; it made me feel insecure.
The reason why I remember this all so vividly is that I was dressed in boy's clothes. We always remember our traumas most clearly, don’t you know? I was so uncomfortable in that suit. There I was, and I just wanted to run away. I knew it would be impossible to do that though. Instead, I resigned myself to doing as I was told and I did what was expected of me, very begrudgingly.
My cousin, Louise, who was about three years older than me, had on a lovely white knee-length dress with cute pink and red flowers along the bottom hem. Her white shoes had straps that could be adjusted like a tiny belt.
I coveted those shoes, that dress, all of it. It was like having salt rubbed into an open wound for me. There I was, on my day, forced to dress as a boy while my cousin was able to wear pretty clothes that I longed to wear myself. It was so unfair! My heart was broken once again as I was reminded yet again that I could not be like her. My mood grew darker and I began feeling horrible inside. My confusion and mixed emotions brought me to complete despair. It was utter sadness and heartbreak I felt to be unable to be seen as my cousin Louise. At my first communion, I began only wishing to disappear.
I felt completely devastated because I had to wear boys' clothes. I kept dwelling on how unjust it was because all I wanted to be wearing was that dress with those shoes. I was suddenly overcome by my grief. I remember crying under the little dining room table, just sobbing my eyes out. It was the only place I could find in the tiny flat that was filled with people that day.
I wanted to yell, to scream that this was all wrong, that I was a girl just like my cousin. Then I hated myself and felt so trapped. This was, when I look back, the moment that I started to fall inward. I withdrew into my mind and began to hold onto my thoughts about how I truly felt. I would keep everything to myself from that point on, or at least until much later in life.
It is this fear of rejection that everyone in the LGBTQ+ community understands all too well. This was the day I stepped into the closet. I was a mere 7 years old, yet I felt alone in my grief. Even while surrounded in a room full of people, I had no allies, no one that I could trust with my horrible secret. I was overcome with the sudden realization that I was not in the right body and I couldn’t tell anyone.
I was completely alone yet surrounded by people. Later in life, I would remember this and I would think just how much like a ghost I was. This is the invisibility that so many others would later characterize in the fight for equality and justice for all in the equal rights movement.
My parents didn't understand why I was crying and I was too afraid to tell them. They must have thought I was overly tired? Children behave badly when they are overstimulated at big events. I wasn’t just tired though. I was coming to the realization that I wasn’t in the right body and I was stricken with grief, knowing that no one could ever understand. I was feeling hopeless, devastated, and very alone.
My parents were blissfully unaware that the ‘big event’ was me feeling like an otherworldly creature, magically stuffed into someone else's body, speaking the language of my host body, even though it seemed foreign to me. It was as if I was watching myself drowning in slow motion, able to make no sounds as they were muffled by the imaginary water I was drowning in.
I didn’t understand anything about sex or gender yet/ I didn’t know about transsexuality and the only thing I could think in order to cope a little was that I was being punished for some reason. Yes, God was punishing me for being naughty for some reason. Or perhaps I was simply a mistake, never meant to have been? One thing was certain, a mistake had clearly been made, a horrible mistake. I had done nothing in my mind to deserve such retribution and that meant that it could only be a mistake.
Everything was garbled and far away. I was trapped and slowly slipping away, right in front of them. I was drowning, but they could not see, nor did anyone lift a finger to save me because no one knew. I thought I was screaming. It felt like I was screaming; I was sure I was screaming yet no one could hear me.
I recall thinking about telling my parents, especially my mother, that it felt like there had been some sort of big mistake at the hospital; that I had been given the wrong body (though I’m sure my thoughts on this weren’t that precise).
My memory stops there but these feelings would only intensify over time. I was also in an environment that wasn’t very encouraging for an inquisitive child who was questioning everything. This was the day I went into that closet that you hear so much about. It’s a dark and lonely place, where the feeling of being disconnected from everyone around you is normal.
There is no room for anyone else in your closet, it’s small, dark, and coffin-like. Sometimes you watch the world go on about its business from your closet, detached from your own life as if you are only a spectator, incapable of controlling any of it. It is confining, stifling, and so very depressing when you find yourself in this closeted way of living. Sadly, this is common at just such young ages for LGBTQ+ children. When we should be thriving, growing, and flourishing, we are learning quite the opposite. There is a reason that suicide rates are so high in the LGBTQ+ community.
We’re hiding our true selves, stifling our emotions, and crying tears until there are none left to cry into our pillows at night when we are sure that no one else can hear us. We surround ourselves with walls that keep us safely distanced, in imaginary worlds where we can be who we are.
Being the eldest of the nine siblings, I admit that I was sometimes mean to the others. I had four brothers and four sisters. Likely, I was acting out and they were the closest targets for me to unleash my anger on? Mostly, I just wanted to not have been born. It was becoming more and more clear to me that I was in the wrong body. I was out of place and unhappy. I’m aware that I sometimes took it out on them, to my great shame and sorrow. I would sometimes act as if I was tough but I couldn’t pull it off all that well.
My parents were good people. I never doubted their love for me, but also knew there were some things that they wouldn’t be able to understand. They were very loving and kind but they had very little education. As I said, we were Catholics. Therefore, the large family was quite normal based on Catholic views on birth control. Most families in the Catholic church were very large. Sadly, this contributed to poverty and made feeding large families quite difficult in those days.
We didn't have much in terms of possessions, We had no car, no house, mostly hand-me-down clothes and relied on some free things on occasion. What clothes we did manage to buy were bought on store credit.
My mom would take me and my siblings to the store on Notre-Dame street in Little Burgundy. There, she could buy clothes on lay-a-way or credit. Sometimes we got clothes on credit at a store called Brown's, on St-Lawrence street. It was the only way to dress everyone in the family and still be able to pay for rent and food.
My parents never quite understood my inclination toward art. Even though I always knew they loved me, they just weren’t always the most supportive people. Perhaps they simply couldn’t relate to the dreams of an artist or dream of a life different from their own. Maybe it was simply that they were often overwhelmed with caring with such a large family?
At any rate, if they couldn’t understand art, I had no hope that they could understand a boy who was a girl. This, combined with my slow realization that I was also subject to the dangers of my situation, left me with extreme anxiety all of the time. All of the pressure was killing me. I couldn’t talk to my parents. I was unable to talk to anyone. I felt very much alone. Lost.
I keep trying to recall the very first time I knew I loved to draw. It seems like it was always a part of me. I know of no other way to express this since no one in my immediate family is an artist. It came to be a way to ground myself and find a place of calm in my otherwise chaotic mind. Art was the thing that saved me and gave me solace.
When I was drawing I felt happy. I could get lost inside my mind and temporarily forget the reality of my life, setting aside my pain and sorrow. Drawing and painting, which would be learned later on, became how people perceived me. I was an artist. It afforded me some eccentricities, without being too ostracized for them. I dare say that I am still getting by with some eccentricities which may be blamed on my creative mind and art.
To think, I was only 6 or 7 years old and these were my thoughts - dying because of my situation. I was so utterly sad and depressed that I turned increasingly inward. I became angry and withdrawn … and so I was an artist and I walked.
I would walk and walk and walk, never really going anywhere.