Meeting Your Heroes

Tags

, , , , ,

Before delving too deeply into this topic, let’s define the word hero, as provided by my favourite reference work, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED):

Hero:  noun. 1 A person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

I felt it best to begin here as the overuse of the word hero has led to the dilution of the meaning behind it. People have tended to throw it around in modern usage, both mainstream media and social media circles, to the point where the fact that you still draw breath and have a regular pulse is enough to meet the watered down definition. You’ll see why the true definition is my preference by the end of this post.

I believe that I have been very lucky, some would say blessed, in that over the past decade I have regularly been able to meet some of my greatest inspirational people in person. There is no cookie cutter template for them, they are all inspiring and heroic in their own ways and in various fields and endeavours.

And, in the typical Canadian fashion, every single one of them are thoroughly humble and some are downright bashful about their accomplishments in making a difference in the world for others. These are not the people who go in search of fame and piles of awards and media coverage, and get off on being a media star. No, these are the people who quietly, confidently, and by being totally unstoppable, cause positive change to happen in the world, which affects the lives of countless others. While this may not be their original aim, it is the result of their tireless efforts. These are the people who have to be convinced to do an interview, pose for a picture, etc., because they just want to do what they do best, and keep making the world a better place.

The last exercise that I do with the students in our lectures at Ryerson University (past tense, the professor we worked with will not be teaching, going into the research side next school year) is “the hero exercise.” It is something I quite literally created off the cuff, in the moment, calling on my previous teaching experience to do something that would leave an impact. It all starts with a conversation about the Maya Angelou quote in this graphic:


Simple, right? Making this world a better place for all people. Being selfless in giving of yourself.

This began some months back, when a mutual friend suggested we should talk. Another mental health warrior who is really making a huge difference for everyone. “Who is she?” I asked. @ParamedicNat1 is her Twitter handle, check her out and introduce yourselves! I remember at that time, Natalie was getting quite excited, her first book was due to be released in the coming month and everybody was all abuzz about it. I honestly don’t know what it is, it seems that those of us who battle PTSD and the various issues that go along with it, we seem to have a sixth sense with each other. What began as a simple conversation turned into us being like best lifelong friends instantly, and we were fascinated with all the details of each other’s lives and worlds.

We discussed the people we met during the recent Bell Let’s Talk campaign, an impromptu support group that arose from conversations that day, why it was so vital to tell our stories and be open about our own battles with PTSD and mental health issues.  I loved her outlook, they are not illnesses, they are injuries.  My point of view that I have explained on numerous occasions, look, you go to the dentist to take care of your teeth, you go to an optometrist regularly to check your eyesight, you see an audiologist to check your hearing, plus various other specialists that are just part of growing older, so why the hell would you let your mental health go without a checkup?  We started sharing our stories from the classrooms from when we had gone out to deliver seminars or guest lectures.  Earlier this year, my friend Lee Harrington was in Toronto and we met for a coffee and conversation and got to sharing our tales from the classroom as well.  No matter how serious/significant the topic may be, there are still laughs to be had from the experiences.  Well, Natalie wanted to see Danielle and I in action delivering one of our guest lectures, and one of the dates worked out perfectly, she was due to host a book signing that evening at Indigo Eaton Centre.

In the meantime, Natalie’s book launched and literally was an overnight bestseller! Could not find a printed copy for love nor money anywhere in the city, they were snapped up by pre-orders before they even had a chance to be placed on the bookshelves in the stores.  Damn!!  Ah, then the eBook version of Save-My-Life School was released on the Apple iBooks store, and the day it was posted, I bought my copy, downloaded it, made a pot of coffee and devoured it from cover to cover.


I did not tell Natalie that I had planned to review her first book for one of the magazines I am an editor and writer for, Queer Voices, but she knew I had finally gotten my hands on a copy, and while having a quick break had sent me a message asking what I thought of her work.  I simply said to her, “that first section, I swear you are describing my life too.”

If you want to read my review posted on Queer Voices website, you can find it here.

I did have one thought afterward, eBooks are nice, and easy to carry, but how the hell do you get the author to sign it?

The day of our guest lecture, Natalie solved that issue for me when she placed a signed copy of her book in my hands prior to our starting. The inscription moved me beyond words:


Now, I must tell you, I was not half excited that day! My best friend Ashley would be there as well (and she had just recently received her pre-order copy and was excited to have the chance to have it signed by the author), we met early and had a quick bite at Starbucks. Another friend, and founder of our coffee club, Cathy would be there as well. People are often curious about what we do in these guest lectures, and why some students come back to see us more than once.

But, I must tell you, from the minute Natalie walked through the door with her friends and their supplies for that evening’s book signing, we were inseparable.  The original plan had been to introduce Nat and mention her bestselling book and her book signing later that evening. But I thought, wait a minute, I have a woman who is a personal hero, an inspiration to me, an example of overcoming what has been thrown at you and making something good come of it for others… how the hell can I let the opportunity pass to have her up front and sharing something with the students?  I cut part of my usual presentation and shared my time with Nat, and our professor gave her the topic to speak to that fit in with the theme of her course.

And the moment arrived, I introduced Nat, and she stood in front of 150 students and shared a truly heart-wrenching bit of her life with them.  Even a crusty old broad like me was moved beyond words.


People seem to be of the opinion that it is easy to get up and talk about a topic or your own life. That opinion disappears quickly when they actually have to do it. It takes more courage (aka intestinal fortitude) to be able to stand in front of a hundred plus strangers and open yourself and your life up to them.  To share the parts that at one time you would have been mortified to discuss with anyone, even a medical professional.  So, my one wish would be that the listening audience would realize what it takes to stand there and lay your life bare in such a fashion.  After a time it seems simpler, but there are still a few nightmares lurking that may revisit after relating that part of you again.

And I look at all of her other accomplishments and think to myself, how is it that this woman has gone unnoticed by those who select new members of the Order of Canada?  Check out the Wings of Change Peer Support groups.  What began with trying out a format to see if it would work well, has now spread across the Country, with new chapters opening up regularly.


And yet, with all of this, still that humble Canadian hero, just one of the gals, happy with a bottle of Perrier and a bag of sour cream and onion chips, friends to share it with, and a multitude of laughs to be had.

And what was meeting one of my personal heroes like?

Natalie has to be one of the most down-to-earth, caring, loving people I have ever met.  The only part missing was having Anne there to meet her as well.  I can imagine her children think they are the luckiest around to have a mom like Nat.  I have had the honour of meeting many mental health warriors who are doing their damnedest to eliminate the stigma around mental health by discussing their own experiences openly, whether it be their own battles, or the battles of family members, or working in a field that supports those dealing with mental injuries.


And what does the future hold?

I quite honestly think anything is possible. I fully expect to have the experience of sitting in the audience one day soon to watch my friend Nat deliver a TED talk.  If I had my way, I would be hopping on the train and stopping to pick up my Nurse Sunshine and heading up to Ottawa to watch Nat receive recognition from the Governor General for her work on mental health and supporting first responders properly.

And the one thing I am certain of, we will most definitely be lifelong friends. Even when I slip into mother hen mode and cluck at her to make sure she has enough self-care and downtime built into her packed schedule.

I was recently asked to add my thoughts to an article currently being worked on about mental health women warriors. I was given a batch of images and asked to select the one that best represented to someone who these women are, what they do every day, what it takes for them to be both hero and warrior.  So, this image was selected to represent our mutual friend Laurie, Natalie, and Natalie’s friend Clara.


Kinda fierce, eh?  I thought it perfectly represented the courage needed to face every single day, and to share their stories until that future day when we have successfully put an end to all stigma around mental health.

And if you wanted to know mine…


Chosen because I will send you ass home with your tail between your legs as the weakest link if you mess with any of my folks. (Told you I was a right proper curmudgeon!) After all, I can easily spot when a village idiot is on the loose.

My wish for you kittens, when you have the opportunity to meet your personal heroes, that they are as spectacular as mine continue to be.

And my personal note to my hero…

Natalie, I love you dearly, my greatest hope is to see you succeed beyond your wildest dreams, and to sit quite Zen-like, with a slice of pie and a cup of coffee and celebrating the memory of the day when the stigma was eliminated around all mental health issues.  I am massively proud of you, and the distance you have traveled and the new projects you are beginning, you truly are an inspiration to many.  And hey, should the day come that Sunshine, R.N. and I decide to upgrade our promise rings, you know I want you there with us to share in that moment.  You are family now, chosen family, the best kind.

Bitter or Better

Tags

, , , , , ,

Quite often, I will come up with topics to write about from conversations I have had in various settings at a variety of times.

While having coffee with a new friend and discussing options for a piece I will be writing for their organization’s official publication, H.Q. Magazine, I pulled this quote out of the deep dark depths of my memory banks to describe general attitudes around particular historical situations.

I’m fairly certain you can picture the type… they cling to their bitterness like a country club high society madam clutching her pearls while letting on that the pitcher on the table is water when it is straight up gin.  Heavens to betsy, let go of old grievances and hates?  Impossible!!  (Extreme pearl clutching).  Don’t you know that it is a waste of time to talk to those people, I already know how it will turn out it has always been the same way!!  (Gulp from “water” pitcher and clutch pearls even tighter.)

Can you see the ridiculous nature of it yet?  Pick a few words from that last sentence, already and always.  In my career, I took one year away from the madness of the world of high tech to go and teach.  One of the items in one of the courses was to uncover your filters around those two words, your already-always filter.  Once you see it, you will catch yourself every time you pull it out and apply it to what’s occurring.  I ALREADY know it will be this way, it ALWAYS is that way.  Where in your own world do you regularly pull that out and apply it to a situation?

And before you go thinking I’m preaching at you and about your faults, get real, I’m the first one to notice every time I do that, and I do it every single day.  The difference being, I know when I do it, and I can push it to one side and look over and around it to see what the reality is.  And is it only a certain group of the human race that does this?  Nope!  We ALL do it.  If you’re breathing and have a regular heartbeat, you qualify.  Is this a bad thing?  Not always, it is just an automatic thing we all do.

Let me give you an example.  You have a doctor’s appointment at 2:00 pm on Monday.  You already know that the waiting room will be overflowing with people and that you will likely not be called until 2:30 pm, because that is always the way things are, so you had best bring something to read or a puzzle to do so you aren’t bored.  Is this bad?  Nope.  It is likely a sign of an overbooked or mismanaged practice.  But, once it has occurred enough times, it will become one of your standard Already-Always filters that you will apply to every similar situation.  You need to see a specialist, you have an appointment, you bring things to occupy yourself because you already know that you will have to wait, it’s always that way in EVERY doctor’s practice.  See how fast you use it for every time something similar arises?  Imagine your shock when you get to the specialist’s office, check in at reception, and just as you are lowering your backside into a chair to settle in for a read, they call your name.  Thrown off a little, eh?  Not expecting that, it’s outside of your expected pattern.

Already-always is that one filter that contributes greatly to people hanging on to their bitterness about some historical event.  In our conversation over coffee that afternoon, my fellow traveler brought up a situation that was horribly misreported by the mainstream media, and a friend of his did one of those, “SEE!!  They are all the same!!  Each and every one of them!!  Nothing has changed at all in 40 years!!!!!!!!!”  I said next time he starts on that irrational rant, cut in and ask him this one question, “Do you want to be bitter or better?” and see what kind of reaction you get.

Look, things have happened in the past decades, go back even further to see the horrors visited upon groups of people by other groups of people.  Typically out of ignorance and hatred, easily stirred up amongst the uneducated.  All you need are a few persuasive orators, and watch them work and sway a group to their mindset.  It has happened since the beginning of time, and will continue to take place as long as people are not ready, willing, and able to become better educated about the world they live in and the people around them.

The media in recent years, in concert with antisocial media (it was useful at one time, these days it is a hotbed of hatred and vitriol and some really out there opinionated claptrap), fall into this trap on a regular basis.  Something took place 50 years ago.  Much work has been done in the intervening years, both sides of that fight sat down at a table and got to know each other, and started a conversation where everybody had a voice and they were all heard.  Changes have been made, new things implemented, and bridges have been built.  Then something happens, pretty minor by all accounts.  The fringe media blows it up all out of proportion.  The extreme binaries swing into action on antisocial media (alt-left and alt-right), hurling hatred and accusations of all kinds of misdeeds.  The uneducated types are swayed to one of two polar opposites, and before you know it all kinds of accusations are being hurled across the centre ground where reality is trying to stay functional.  And the bitter people will be the loudest, yelling, SEE, THEY ARE ALL THE SAME, EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM, NOTHING HAS CHANGED IN 50 YEARS!!!  Those folks who were not even a twinkle in their parents’ eyes start jumping on junior warrior bandwagons, carrying signs and burning torches.  And before you know it, those who prefer the better side of that equation are drowned out and ignored or lumped in with the “problem people” because they sit at the same table with them.  In fact, the issue was already discussed, handled, new procedures created, and they’ve moved on to bigger issues.

I think James Baldwin said it in the most eloquent form:

People cling to their hatred, their prejudices, they paint entire swaths of society with the same brush.  And they refuse to see that they are only making the situation progressively worse by their own biases and prejudices.

Bitter or Better?  They prefer bitter.  It’s what keeps them warm at night, all that boiling rage and hatred aimed at an identifiable group.  If they gave that up, they would be forced to deal with pain, and likely a good deal of that was self-inflicted.  And much of it came from groupthink, from what they read on antisocial media, what others told them, and took completely at face value as 100% truth.  I am left to wonder, when did thinking for yourself instead of having your thoughts dictated to you go out of fashion?  I still recall a conversation I was part of around a year ago, when I asked of someone why they were espousing certain views online when they thought differently in the real world?  Oh, it’s what my fans (followers) expect me to do.  Ah, I see.  To gain and keep followers (fans) on antisocial media, you will take up extreme viewpoints as your own.  Mm-hmm.  Not the first time I have seen such things.  Others I know, who consider themselves the spokespeople of an entire identifiable group (talk about ego!), will sit behind their keyboards or screens passing judgments on all and sundry, and defecating all over people and groups who are out there actually getting their hands dirty doing the real work to make change happen.  Give them an opportunity to get involved, and you get pure unadulterated bitterness from that already-always filter.  Even when exposed for the fallacy of their position, nothing will change, they will continue to yell and scream about “injustices” on antisocial media, and will always deem it beneath them to come down from their exalted thrones and actually do work amongst the people.  But, mark my words, I have seen it happen regularly over my lifetime, the minute somebody makes an advance, gains a change for the positive, these are the same characters who will be all over proclaiming to anyone who will listen about how they toiled away to make this happen for all, and are they not just the greatest thing ever.  Puhlease.

Are there situations from my own past that I remain bitter about?  Absolutely!  But, I am still persisting in sitting in meeting rooms and offices and having conversations with people who can change that reality for those who may follow my path.  Do I still judge things based on that filter?   Yes, entirely true.  Is that likely to change any time soon?  I really hope so, as long as I keep working at it to shift it from bitter to better (and my therapist would love to delve into other areas in her office time I’m sure).

And there are places and people I will do anything to avoid.  It’s the better part of the balance.  Go into those situations and interact with those people, and put my mental health at risk because of being triggered by those people or that place, or avoid it, and keep on with the work that I do to keep making progress and cause change for the better.  For instance, there is one organization, that under no circumstances would I work for again.  I was so triggered by events there that I ended up having to go to my local ER for an injection during the night to get through the worst of a panic attack that was completely out of control in that moment.  So, no, I can not see a way of doing any work with that organization again after having had that experience, my mental health means more to me than that.

And there is something similar with one person.  They lashed out with fangs bared and claws extended and I froze up and couldn’t find what I was looking for in that moment or even react in some fashion.  How could you work with those people, they are all liars, racists, homophobes and they cause PTSD for every person in *insert marginalized group of choice here*.  If you work with them, you are just like them.  Oh, I see.  Triggered?  Oh hell yeah, to the extreme, for days afterward.  Someone who knows us both said, “Oh, you got the worst of it this time, she’s been like Linda Blair in The Exorcist lately, I’m just waiting for her head to spin 360 degrees and start projectile vomiting pea soup.”  Stellar.  That rant went on for days on antisocial media, and I’m sure her fan club ate it up.  It made for good theatre for the antisocial media crowd, but numerous bridges were not only burned with a flamethrower that day, but nuclear warheads were used to make sure they don’t get rebuilt.  Will there be future conversation possible?  Perhaps, but it will take time.  People do not bother to realize the impact of their actions and words, but for now, there is no opening for it, I refuse to be triggered like that again.

And while we are at it, let’s agree on a definition of a trigger:


Particularly that last line, I want to use so many times.  People use “that triggers me” or “I’m so triggered by that,” as a weapon to silence dissent or differing opinions.  Not only that, it is a huge slur against people who are battling PTSD and other issues every single day.  Talk to us, we will definitely tell you what a trigger is and how it affects us, much like what you see in that graphic.

Will people ever give up those pearl-clutching already-always bitter moments?  Some will.  It takes time.  It took years of work before some made that breakthrough for themselves and stepped up to be a part of making things better.  Are we there yet?  Oh hell no, there is still much more work to be done, but I see the possibilities now from a lot of years invested in the work there, where there was no hope before.

And if you want to work yourself away from bitter and toward better, get down here, there’s plenty of work to be done, you just have to be willing to get your nails dirty.

Bitter or better, the choice is up to you.  You will create the future you will live into by your choice.

Coming Out

Tags

, ,

A conversation reminded me of this topic in recent weeks.

When I was in my teens, coming out as your gender identity or sexual orientation was something that people just did not talk about “in polite company,” let alone discuss openly amongst friends and family.  I consider myself to be very lucky, when I had that discussion with my Mom when I was 16, she was a parent who was light years ahead of her time, and had already been doing her own research on what she had seen long before I came to the realization.

Would that it could be a similar case for all young people who are either outed by some person before they are prepared to have that conversation, or attempt to reveal their true selves.  Over 40% of the young people who are homeless and on the streets identify as part of the LGBTQ spectrum, and were thrown away like so much trash by their parents and/or families.  This is something that definitely requires much more work and education to be done.

And yet, many think that once that initial coming out conversation has taken place, that is the end of the work that has to be done.  It isn’t.  It is just the beginning of the continual process of coming out in assorted situations and under various circumstances.

Oh, if it were only so simple as to be a one time occurrence, and each time presents a whole new set of circumstances and challenges for the person involved.

Consider, if you will, that a large majority of interactions you will have throughout your lifetime will require some level of “coming out” on your behalf.  If you relocate and need to find medical practitioners in your new area, part of the conversation you will have in your initial appointments (until your medical records are transferred) is another set of coming out moments.  If you have to take a trip to the emergency room, you will have the same conversations with the front line medical staff there as well, as you go through any prescriptions you are currently taking and for what conditions.  Finding a new dentist or eye doctor, similar conversations to be had with them, particularly if you are a transgender person and are undergoing medical transition and are on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).  Why is this necessary?  Because of the side effects that can happen from undergoing the treatments and possible complications, particularly around blood clotting if surgical or other invasive procedures are necessary.

That is where the difference starts to be seen, between sexual orientation and gender identity.  Many in the mainstream media have collapsed the two items into one consistently over the years.  Can’t begin to tally how many times I have been forced to have that conversation with either a journalist or producer.  You can see where teaching/educating becomes second nature to many of us of a particular vintage.  Part of your daily existence is taken up with having to educate somebody about the differences (and yes, they are infinite).

The coming out process is constant.  Every time you pick up your prescriptions, you end up with some new chirpy person behind the counter who will discuss your medications with a not low and confidential voice volume.  Oh, the number of times I have slipped out while turning 50 shades of red.  Or visiting a new dentist and as they review your records from another dental office, notice the gender and name differences, and you have to have yet another coming out conversation about that.  Or, upon reaching that half-century mark, seeing an eye surgeon because it would appear that your retinas are in danger of detaching, and having to run down your current medications yet again before they get to doing a thorough examination.

Then, there are those situations where some loose-lipped chucklehead has outed you without either your permission or your foreknowledge of it happening.  You have been outed to people who have no business or concern knowing about your personal and private life.  And, yet again, you are forced to come out and have another conversation about your identity and why it is something that should never be done, ever.

And yet, this is not all.

You are, in many situations, required to come out with your mental health status.  Look folks, let’s be honest, you go to an audiologist for hearing tests, an ophthalmologist or optometrist to have your eyes checked, a dentist to check on the health of your teeth, your family doctor or general practitioner, or in some cases your nurse-practitioner for your annual checkup.  You look after your physical health properly, you should be doing the same for your mental health.

And again, every time you interact with a new professional person, you must again come out with your diagnosis/diagnoses, current or previous medications, any therapeutic programs you are currently undergoing, etc.  If, worse case, you are in a crisis and are admitted through the ER of your local hospital, even in crisis, you are forced to go through the same process again, assuming you are conscious and able to speak for yourself.

And what lies underneath all of these scenarios?

Stigma.

Stigma, biases, ungrounded fears, rumours, stereotypes, and so forth.  What it all points to is a lack of education, in the most basic view of the problem.

This is why it is vital that we continue to have conversations, to be open about various topics, to not fall victim to old wives’ tales plus uneducated biases and opinions.

The only way to improve the daily lives of all who come under these various labels, is to end the stigma around each and every one of them.

How will we end the stigma?  By having open conversations.  By finding peer support groups and reaching out to others.  By educating, and educating, and even more educating.  Ignorance may be bliss as some claim, but it is also fatal.  And eventually, it will become easier to simply exist.  But, for those who think you only come out one time, I hate to burst your bubble, but it just isn’t so.  Not yet anyway.  The day will come when the only person who should be hearing those details is the person you cuddle up next to at night.  Until then, steel yourself kittens, the process begins with that first step.

Remember to love each other intensely.

Christine ❤❤

Self-Isolation

Tags

, ,

You had best grab some fizzy water and biscuits and find a comfy place to sit kittens, this is going to be a lengthy one.

I have this nice garden space. Green grass, sunlight, trees, flowers, a swing. Much like the image at the top of this post. It is a place I started to create in my earliest memories, and I have maintained it well over the years of my existence. Where is this little bit of Eden you ask? It’s not a place you can physically visit, it exists entirely in my mind. It is that safe space where I keep all those parts of me that can be fragile if handled roughly, where my hopes, dreams, loves, desires, etc., reside and can be tended to and encouraged to grow.

I learned early on though, it also needed a wall to help protect it and keep it safe. Not a physical wall, but a mental and emotional wall around that garden space, as it was the easiest way to be safe while in that space. As the years progressed and life was experienced, the walls became thicker, higher, more imposing, it was the way to stay safe and away from what went on in the physical world. When life in the physical world became too much to deal with, I would shut down and withdraw into my safe space, my garden, where nobody could get at me.

On a side note, much of what I discuss on this blog is material that I have never discussed publicly before, but, I feel if it can help someone else with their daily battles, then it’s time to share this. Sometimes it takes a while to get there, while I peel back the layers on something, so hang in, I may wander a bit on the journey.

Why have the place you ask? It’s like children with a blanket fort, it’s a place to hang out, have fun, but be safe at the same time.

Why spend so much time there? Because the physical world is not a fun place some days. To lay it on the table, I hated, despised, and dreaded every single day of my school years. Bullying. In all the various forms, including schoolyard beatings, name calling, belittling, etc. Some days it was so bad that I would become physically ill and would be kept home from school. It didn’t help matters that we moved around so much in our younger years, always being the new kid in class meant you had the target on your back from the day you showed up.

Really, the only reprieve I had from it was being laid low with kidney disease in grade 4 and I was out of school for 2 straight months recovering from it. That, while not the most pleasant of experiences for physical health, was a relief mentally from the daily torment that was school. Never really knew why it was so constant until I reached my high school years. We had moved after my grandparents divorced, we had our grandmother live with us (even when Mom was abandoned with two kids, her ex-in-laws took her in and when they split, Mom said it was natural for grandma to then live with us), and funnily enough, two of my high school home room teachers lived in the apartment buildings either side of us.

One night, my grade 12 home room teacher had called my Mom at work and asked her to drop over for a chat and a cup of tea. Before supper, Mom is giving me the Mr. Spock raised eyebrow in the kitchen, “Just what did you do to warrant me going to his apartment for a chat?” No idea. “I expect this about your sister, the school is constantly calling me about her latest stunt, but you?” I heard all about it when she returned home after an hour or so. This teacher had been the first in all those years of school to actually take an interest and when he heard of some plot being hatched dug into it until he found out all the details. All those years of school, all the bullying and torment, the days when I was physically sick before going out the door for school… my younger sister was the ring leader of it all this time. He was so concerned, he had looked into making arrangements to transfer me to another school in the downtown core, an arts-focused school, to finish my last year and a half of high school. Mom said she appreciated the effort, but, at the end of the day, the kid has to come home and live under the same roof with her chief tormentor. At least we had an answer into why it was so constant and had persisted for all those years. And upon further digging and questioning discovered that it was Mom’s ex-husband, father of her two kids, who egged my younger sister on through all of it. He bullied his ex-wife at every opportunity, may as well target the oldest child, because too much like the old lady according to him.

So, when things got to be too much in the physical world, I retreated. I self-isolated. Until I graduated from school and went into the working world, I kept to myself as much as possible. Since I was young I have always had a love of reading, I inherited that most certainly from my mother, along with her constant intellectual curiosity and thirst for learning. Mom had artistic talents, she was a fantastic photographer and had a knack for anything she could do with her hands (knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, etc.), and while I can take a decent enough picture, my area was always music. I went into artistic pursuits with a passion, but always things I could do by myself. (I also think you might be getting a hint about some of the causes that led to my diagnosis of Complex PTSD.)

This is why the self-isolation. It was my safe space. I could be under my headphones listening to music, or my nose buried in a book and lost in another writer’s world. In my room, in my world, mentally off in my garden with all the walls protecting it. That was the only safe space from the physical world. It is why, to this day, I cannot bear to be in a crowded space, why loud noises (like arguing, slammed doors/drawers/cupboards) make me physically jump and want to disappear. Even in my current living space, if the roomie slams doors, I become a bundle of nerves and my heart rate skyrockets and withdraw even further.

Believe you me, I breathed a gigantic sigh of relief on that last day of grade 13.

But, this also explains much about why, when I came out to my mother at 16, her advice was, “For chrissakes, whatever you do Kit (my nickname that only she used), do not breathe a word of this to your sister or your old man or they will never let you have a moment’s peace until the day you die!”

I’ve seen what she meant many times over the years. Even decades after their divorce, the old man would not give her a minute’s rest. If he wasn’t on the phone ranting while intoxicated, he was showing up at her work, or inviting himself over to our place seeing as it was his mother who lived with us. He even went with my sister to the hospital to see Mom in palliative care (which I lost my temper in a nuclear fashion when I found out about it from a distant relative), and the nurses were forced to sedate her heavily after. I’d like to, but then again, maybe not, know what happened in her room that day. But at her celebration of life, I had to hire pay duty police officers to guard the church, inside and out, as he had threatened to show up and create a scene. His exact words were, he wanted “to piss in her urn so she would always remember who was the boss.”

Sigh.

As you can imagine, I was not spared this, and went through the same treatment. He’d show up at my work, and do his best lounge lizard routine while trying to pick up the receptionist. Damn near cost me one job which I eventually had to leave anyway because of him showing up drunk and hitting on the female employees.

I was fascinated some years into my working life to hear about and then read a study showing that alcoholism ran through generations of families. Of course, I had living proof of it. Grandma was a nasty drunk, and had a 10 year run without a single day sober. The old man, her younger of two sons, was, and still is a violent alcoholic, who thinks women are placed on the Earth solely to satisfy his deviant sexual urges, and a more bigoted, racist, homophobic, misogynistic prick you will never encounter the likes of elsewhere. And, it passed down to my younger sister, who is a blackout drunk, but the same racist, homophobic, transphobic mind as her father. Their favourite trick is to keep hurling false stories and accusations at you and about you… you’re so busy defending yourself against the lies and bullshit, there is no chance at all that you have the time to hold up a mirror and reflect their behaviours back to them.

And that is why, my dear readers, if I was not at school, I had isolated myself when I got home, and mentally I was off in that garden. The same in my working life, when I was not at the office, I was at home and in that garden again. You see, I had learned through my teenage years and once I got into the working world, I did not fit in, I was not one of the crowd, the only place to be was on my own as much as possible. That was my safe place. It’s where my musical side lives, it’s where my writer lives, it’s where the woman who sings along to the radio in the car lives, it’s my little place of happiness by myself.

That’s why I never socialized in my school years, never went to events, dances, parties, anything social. I was home, isolated, and safe.

Besides, Mom and I had our hands full just managing grandma and her binges. Many a day we would be sitting around the corner out of view of the windows, in the car, freezing half to death, waiting for the liquor store to close before going home (the days when stores closed early on Saturday and were not open on Sundays). Mom and I were the social drinkers of the family… we would have one to be social, but that was it. I learned all the tricks, asking for extra ice, slipping the bartender a 5 or 10 and asking them to pour anything ordered for me virgin-style (no alcohol), sitting near a plant and dumping drinks into it through the evening. All the tricks. I got absolutely falling down drunk once, just after I turned 20 (before the age of majority dropped to 19). Mom said, you need to experience this once so you know what it’s like, and I’ll be there by your side to make sure you’re safe. Yeah, once was enough, no desire to ever repeat that experience again.

It became the same thing in the working world. I avoided social events and outings at all costs, or if I was expected to attend, would find a safe corner to stay in for the duration. I had my brief wild oat-sowing period, from 19 to 23 years of age, and the last relationship of any note went so horrid, I stopped and shut that part down completely too. If you’re curious, my partner at that time was abusive, particularly emotionally abusive, and would sleep with anything with a steady pulse. Not my cup of tea at all, so I shelved that part of my life almost permanently. And, all the while, I kept building the walls around my safe garden, they got higher, and more elaborate, and I became quite adept at keeping people at more than arm’s length from me. I’m sure some over the years thought I was an icy bitch, but, self-preservation is stronger than all other desires.

It was something we laughed about in later years, after my grandmother had died, and there was just my Mom and myself. She said, “Ya know Kit, we’re like two women of a particular vintage… both of us had a shit relationship in our early 20s and haven’t been the least bit arsed to even think about dipping our toes back in that pool ever again.” It was true. Our apartment with our cats and us was our safe space, where we were allowed to simply exist. Mom had always known my true identity, and I could fully live that truth when we were at home. No, that doesn’t mean what so many mistake it as. Truth be told, 3 years into medical transition, my wardrobe hasn’t varied all that much from what it was before. There may be additional garments required, but I’ll always be the jeans and runners type… I get dressed up for formal occasions as warranted, but more often than not, I’m just me being me, you should expect nothing less (even though I do clean up well!).

One of the favourite insults of Mom’s ex was to go on at length about how stupid and clueless we both were. For the record, we both had MENSA level IQs, we were tested a few times to confirm it. And he and my sister were convinced that something was up because I didn’t go out and socialize or date or anything of the sort. The old man was convinced, I must be one of those fa**ots because I wasn’t out “chasing pussy all over town like a real man.” Nice, eh? And what made him even more crazed was that Mom and I not only looked exactly alike, but you’d swear we were clones of each other. I could start a sentence, she would finish it, and the reverse was also true. I recall distinctly being in hospital recovering from the latest surgery to correct another birth defect, he shows up, loads me into a wheelchair, takes me out to the parking lot and starts in about how I “must be one of those dirty fa**ots, even your sister thinks so too…but I won’t mind…” yeah, definitely father of the year material. If he’d pull that while I’m recovering from surgery on various joints and bones, I can only imagine what horrors he did to Mom in palliative care.

About those walls… let’s add razor wire and electrified fencing too, and maybe a moat.

And throughout the years, we would do 2 social events per year, perhaps 3. Mom and I would go to my company’s Christmas Dance, her company’s Christmas Dance, and perhaps her Spring Dance as well. That was it. No more. She knew what my limits were. We would go for dinner, listen to the speeches, do our “duty dances” as Mom called them, and then we would split for home. People tended to get more than a little carried away in the era of open bars and we had no desire to be there to see the results. And we knew each other’s facial expression that said “I have had enough, I need to leave now, if not sooner.” There was no need to say anything, that look meant let’s get on the road to home now.

Of course, one of Mom’s classic lines that still cracks me up to this day… any time there was a new hire in her department (she was at the same company for 40 years before retiring early), she would inevitably ask why Mom didn’t date or remarry, after all, she had been divorced since 1965. Mom would slide her glasses down, fix the questioner with her famous patented icy stare and then slowly say, “I’ll have you know… that I am not… in the habit… of repeating… my mistakes,” smiling sweetly at the end as she pushed her glasses back up her nose. I eventually adopted her line as well, particularly in my years on Bay Street. Of course, I would pick the perfect career field for myself… after starting out in Finance, I went to EDP (Electronic Data Processing, as it was known in the 80s), and eventually side-stepped into Telecommunications. The nice part about the job, I spent a good part of my day inside the computer room, hunched over the PBX terminals, and was pretty much left alone to do my thing, because in 6 years with one company, we never had one second worth of downtime during business hours. It was my own version of being isolated, but during the workday. Just myself, cabinets full of data circuits, a couple of refrigerator size PBX cabinets, and a wall of manuals (I didn’t get any formal training until I had been in the job for 3 years, I learned by reading the manuals on the subway to and from home, and giving me the chance to isolate myself in my own little world instead of dealing with the sardine can I was riding in).

Pretty much throughout work life, once the day was over, make a beeline for home. I never had time for the politics, gossips, rumour mill, ass-kissing, and all the rest of that nonsense. I was there to do my job, and collect a paycheque on a regular basis and nothing more. And yes, it did cost me over the years, I wasn’t “one of the team”, I didn’t “fit in” and so on. I’ve heard it all. Well, my idea of a fun night out is not going out and getting falling down drunk in some strip joint while spending ridiculous amounts of money on watered-down liquor and lap dances… I didn’t join in the latest office gossip, and I had no desire to play in the politics quagmire. The best part of the day was going home to peace, quiet, relaxation. Put on a pot of coffee, get dinner on the table for us, play time with the cats, and relax with our favourite shows on television.

And still, I do not care for crowds, overly noisy scenes, and I definitely cannot bear being around intoxicated people who don’t know enough to go home once they have hit their limit (or usually surpassed it by 5 or 6 too many). You’ll never see me in a packed shopping mall before Christmas or after, and I do my best to avoid the subway at all costs during rush hour. If I have to take the subway, I usually end up getting off the train every stop or every two stops until arriving at my destination because I cannot handle the sardine can conditions. Usually if I’m off to an evening meeting on College Street, I will stroll over and take the Bay bus up, it takes a little longer, it is a more out of the way usual route for me, but, I don’t have to endure the crowds and behaviours that are typical on the subway.

Yes, I have perfected self-isolation over my lifetime. It is my safe place. Particularly from what lies outside my apartment door. But when you are constantly told that you will never measure up, you’re not good enough, bullied constantly, insulted, put down, had vicious lies and gossip spread about you, what else is there to do?

I described it once to a close friend, the dance that happens when somebody tries to get close. It’s like some odd tango, only my partner never does manage to take my hand and lead me through the steps. People get to a certain level of familiarity, then they hit my walls and boundaries. I have spent a lifetime building them, it’s how I keep that garden and myself safe. If they step too close, I back up. If they move closer again, I will back up again. It’s a similar experience when somebody stands too close to talk to you and you are literally looking up their nostrils, like, stay outta my envelope sparky! You’ll know when you are welcome to be that close, and that’s because I have extended my hand to you or we have just had a proper hug, and you are allowed to be that close because I feel comfortable with you.

I had recently come across this article again, How I Broke my Heart Wide Open. I shared it with a close friend, and she got the message contained in it instantly. It definitely spoke to both of us, as self-isolation and keeping that garden walled off and protected was what we were both experts in. It goes with the territory when you battle PTSD every single day. I have worked hard at breaking it open, at tearing down the walls and barricades, being open to whatever life has to offer. But, I do so with the knowledge that what was kept safe behind those walls is still extremely fragile. I recently found this quote, and I felt it described my journey quite accurately:

It has worked from time to time. Without being able to break things wide open, I would never have become close friends with Danielle. She is one of a select few who have ever been in that place where I can exist as my raw self, emotional, broken, and more… the parts I hide away from the world behind my ‘rough as a badger’s arse’ exterior, and the one thing I know, is that no matter what happens, we will always have each other’s back. My gruff old broad exterior keeps that innocent child safe in the garden and most people at a distance. A few close friends have been to that space. Darla, who you must know is quite simply love personified. The one thing I know for certain, if I ever need to reach out my hand, she will be the first one to take it and hang on for dear life, it is just the way she is made. I quite simply adore her with all that is good inside that garden and she knows that I will always have her back too. Ashley joined the crew last year, I call her my twin sister from another mister, as I swear some days we are joined at the brain. I can start a sentence and she can finish it, and there are days where a look says volumes and we end up bent over laughing ourselves silly because we both know the joke that passed between us without speaking a word. And then a new close friend who just “gets it” between the two of us. We have shared so many similar experiences that there is no need for asking, when one of us needs to say something, the other one gets it deep inside, and that would be Natalie. We text, we send messages, we giggle ourselves silly, trade pictures, and so on, but we both know, if either of us hits that button, the other one will come running instantly, it’s just how we are. These close friends, they are always welcome to come and hang out in the garden anytime (even when it’s a bit messy).

And then there is my Sunshine. I have mentioned in a previous post some of the details about how we first met online and took the conversation from there. The easiest way to explain it, she saw me, no walls, no barricades, that open book she had never seen before. She saw all the stuff so that there were no surprises. I admit, I’m no picnic, and it takes a while to get to know all of my true self. She never hesitated. The simplest way to describe what I think about her would be this, I love her, exactly as she is, nothing needs to be changed, she is perfect as she exists in any given moment. No matter what may come our way, she knows that I will always be there for her. We were friends before we fell head over heels for each other (her giggle still makes me go weak in the knees!), and even with things on hold currently, she still crosses my mind frequently every single day, she will permanently be “my Anne.” If you had told me that was possible a few years ago, I would have suggested you go right to your doctor, something was definitely off.

Yet, despite all of this, I found myself over the holidays at the end of last year, beginning to reconstruct the walls, barricades, and so forth around the garden again. It was a list of things that build upon each other until I got to that stage where things were going off the rails and all I wanted was my safe and quiet space alone again, just like the image at the top of this post.

I had recently come across this article on Thought Catalog (I typically share with friends the source material I have been reading before writing a post), and in the early paragraphs, I saw the term “malignant narcissist”. How thoroughly appropriate to describe that thorn in my side that I described in my relaunch post New Beginnings. As I read through the 20 items, so many applied to recent events, particularly the part about smear campaigns. You see, this character thinks he can continue to travel about running his mouth, and then people come right to me to fill me in on what’s going on so I know to be prepared for it. Reminds me of that family that I rid myself of at the point of my mother’s death. And no matter what, there are still those feeble-minded types who will believe every word of it. Those are the same ones who regularly found it hilariously funny when one of the local drunks would grab me by the breasts in front of other people. Umm… it’s sexual assault under the criminal code, but when people think it’s funny, why even bother to try and do anything about it. Danielle tells our students at every lecture, sexual assault, verbal assault, physical assault… it’s a regular thing for transgender women, and yet, it happens so frequently that we have all become inured to it and barely raise an eyebrow any longer, and yet, every time it happens, it causes more damage to our mental health. It is what it is folks, as much as I wish it were different. In the case of one business owner, she doesn’t see what is wrong with it when it happens to me (the unspoken part is, “because you aren’t a real woman” and that comes up repeatedly when excusing boorish behaviour), but if it was somebody else, they would be kicking people out the door. Welcome to my life.

And that is why the pull to self-isolate has been irresistible in recent times. I purposely have only one thing booked for the month of March. I need that downtime away from the outside world. I need to repair, rebuild, and break things wide open again. Even if I am always on high alert (and believe me when I tell you what an energy drain that is) while waiting for something to happen, and with the resident narcissist up to his old tricks again, I just desperately want time away from it all. Just to lay in bed, listen to music, write, etc. Do all those enjoyable things that happen in the garden.

As much as I have been ahead in my daily battle for a few years now, things are holding on tenuously lately. It was a good run, but time to have a breather and re-evaluate many things. One thing I continue to seriously consider is moving outside of the city. Toronto holds too many unpleasant things for me these days. I remain in that inquiry without a decision, mostly because there are some lovely folks in my neighbourhood, but some people just put a sour taste to everything.

To conclude (was that a cheer that I just heard?), self-isolation can at times be an act of self-care, to step away from something that is triggering you in every way possible. But, it is not a place to reside permanently, one must get out and be sociable, even if only in small doses to begin. Some days the conversation in my head is going full speed just to manage getting through the day, and other days it breezes past effortlessly. But, I’m still standing, still breathing, still putting one foot in front of the other. Just some days, I need to step away from the world and recharge my batteries, at times for extended periods, but I always return.

And who knows, if I can keep my heart, my walls, my barriers, broken open, perhaps if you reach out your hand, I’ll let you come and explore my garden too. And there is a swing. Just give me time, I’ll get there eventually, I’m still on my journey and still being a warrior every day. That’s why the new image on the main blog page, it represents where I am in my journey currently, and exploring which path will lead me back to myself again.

Don’t forget to LOVE each other INTENSELY kittens!

Christine ❤❤

Your Voice Matters

Tags

, , ,

Some folks ask me, why put yourself out there, why bare your soul and share your life with people you barely know, why continually dig up the pieces that make you uncomfortable… well, read on!

Back on November 17, 2016, squeezed in amongst multiple events I had to attend that day, was time spent with the T.E.A.R. (Teens Ending Abusive Relationships) Youth Leaders at Victim Services Toronto. If you’re ever around on a Thursday night, between 7 and 8 pm Eastern, hop into the weekly #TEARtalk on Twitter and be prepared to be amazed. I had suggested a few months before that they should discuss the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) prior to it happening on November 20th, and they asked for as much information as I could find that they could research, discuss, and develop that night’s Twitter chat.

I was also asked to stop by and do a brief version of our Ryerson lectures to give them an idea of life as a trans person prior to their weekly online chat. Realizing of course that this is a group of superb teens, there are some issues that I did leave out, but gave them a look at all aspects of everything else that I could. We also discussed the work that I do with Danielle Bottineau and as the civilian co-chair of the TPS LGBTQ CCC. We have a few more in the works with the group, one will be a chance for them to meet Danielle and learn all about her job as the LGBTQ Liaison Officer, and another for us together to go further into the work we do around building bridges and making positive changes happen.

You know me well if you know that my goal is to reach one heart and mind each time, that is my measure of success. Here is the written feedback that I picked up this past Friday morning from that evening’s conversation:

TEAR #1

“Christine was very inspiring to me as a youth, and taught me a lot about the Trans community, and answered every question I asked. She put up a great conversation and discussion, and I’d love to see her and talk to her again.”

TEAR #2

“Christine is such an inspiring soul. Coming from a very conservative and traditional background, it’s not every day I am exposed to such bravery and different viewpoints. Although I came pretty late and couldn’t hear her entire story, I could feel the inspiration and positivity flowing through the room and expressions of gratitude on everyone’s faces. I love hearing about personal stories so it was an intriguing environment for me.”

TEAR #3

“The talk with Christine was awesome! I learned so much and her story was extremely profound. I didn’t know the realities of what people in the transgender community faced and the importance of advocacy. Christine is an absolutely amazing woman with so many insights and I’m glad I had the opportunity to finally meet her in person! ❤😃 Woohoo!”

TEAR #4

“Christine’s presentation was an eye opening experience and it was so delightful to have her talk to us. I also loved #TEARtalk that night. Would have been better to have visuals though.”

[I must bring our slide deck with me next time! This was supposed to be an informal chat, I didn’t bring the entire lecture package.]

TEAR #5

  • – Amazing presentation
  • – Delivery was extremely impactful
  • – Very educational on the realities of the trans community
  • – Suicide rates/life expectancy of trans people were most shocking
  • – Would love to see a PowerPoint or visuals with info! It was so much to ingest at once. Presentation would help me see concepts and aid my note taking!

************

And that is why, as much as I wish we didn’t have to, it is vital that we continue to educate and have the conversations, particularly the uncomfortable topics. First you open the minds and then you fill them with knowledge.

Remember, the first step is Education.

Then, Education leads to Understanding.

And, Understanding will lead to Acceptance.

Finally, Acceptance will become Love.

Similar to when I also discuss mental health in depth in my lectures, the only way to #EndTheStigma is to have the conversations, openly and honestly, and to educate wherever necessary. If people are taught to hate, we can also teach them to love and understand. And goodness knows, we can do with a lot more love and understanding these days.

It also proves to someone sitting there hearing someone discuss something familiar that hits home, that they then realize #YouAreNotAlone. And they can then see that #MyLifeIsNotAJoke, and despite everything, I can stand there and prove that I am #ProudToughStrongDetermined.

Spread a little love around… Cookie says so! 

Christine ❤❤

New Connections

Tags

, , , ,

Every so often kittens, the stars align, the universe smiles, and new connections are created.

This past Friday (17 February), Danielle and I had the honour to sit down for lunch with Lee Harrington, Artist, Instructor, Educator.  Whenever I can, I like to include Danielle at every opportunity, as it gives us a chance to share about the work we have been doing for the past 5 years, her tireless efforts as the TPS LGBTQ Liaison Officer for the entire city of Toronto and beyond, and my part as the first trans woman to sit as the TPS LGBTQ CCC Civilian Co-Chair.  Typically, people leave these lunchtime conversations with all kinds of ideas about what they would like to see happen in their home cities, based on the work being done in Toronto.

Some background…

Early in 2016, I taped a couple of guest appearances on a US-based show, Changes In Latitudes: A Transgender Experience.  The host and I clicked immediately, and we easily talked our way through 3 1/2 hours on tape about our stories and experiences as people who identify under the larger Trans umbrella.  We shared our experiences, stories, humorous moments and more.  They always conclude their interviews with guests with the Pivot Questionnaire.  If you are not familiar with it, you may recall hearing it at the conclusion of episodes of Inside the Actors Studio.

The questionnaire concept was originated by French television personality Bernard Pivot, after the Proust Questionnaire. The 10 questions are:

  • What is your favorite word?
  • What is your least favorite word?
  • What turns you on?
  • What turns you off?
  • What sound or noise do you love?
  • What sound or noise do you hate?
  • What is your favorite curse word?
  • What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  • What profession would you not like to do?
  • If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

These are not sit and ponder answers, you say the first thing that comes to mind.  If you want to hear the episodes, check out eps 80 & 81 of that podcast (I’m not giving it all away, subscribe to their podcast, it’s fascinating to listen to a stream of consciousness conversation!).

Lee was a guest later in 2016, and in the first episode of their conversation, the host strongly suggested that we should connect and have a meeting of the minds, as we do similar work and have a number of things in common.  I admit I did that 50 shades of red thing when hearing that shout out in episode 102.  Lee’s complete interview is in episodes 102, 103 & 104.  You may discover that Lee and I gave similar answers to a few of those 10 questions too.

Well, never ones to pass up a chance to expand our knowledge base and connections globally, we connected and began a new conversation.  I was chuffed when Lee messaged me just before the holidays last year to let me know he would be in Toronto to speak at a few events as a keynote speaker, or delivering some education sessions over the course of the weekend.  We started comparing notes and calendars and set up to meet for a conversation over lunch on Friday.  As soon as I had the date, I let Danielle know.  The one bonus to our working together over the past five years, is the education we have shared; Danielle has educated me on all the intricacies and finer points of policing, and I have given her an insider’s look to my life and experiences and my daily battles as a trans woman and mental health warrior.

Lunch was tasty, but the conversation rocked!  We launched into what we do in our respective cities/countries, and Lee was telling us of his work around the world, and that of his partner.  This is when all those small world moments start to occur. Discussing an issue that has been frustrating to move things forward, both Danielle and I said, hey, I have a contact who… discussing trans issues and lack of support, another aha moment, wait, I have a contact at this facility who may be able to provide some guidance/information with… Another conversational path leads to more aha moments, and by the end of lunch we had notes galore on contacts to share, e-mails to send, documents to forward and more.  Plenty of laughs as well… if you know me well, you know that there would most definitely be humour involved!

Danielle had to zip away to another meeting, but Lee and I had time to spare, and we ended up sharing our stories as educators, tales from the classroom, those little moments that stick in your memory because you either stopped dead in your tracks or are still laughing to yourself every time it comes up.  Those moments whether in the classroom or outside, when something way over the line is asked and how to handle it.  If we hadn’t both been scheduled for other events that afternoon, we’d likely still be standing outside trading stories!

Lee presented us with a signed copy of his latest book, Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Realities.  You can find all the details on his website http://www.passionandsoul.com under the books menu where all of his published books are listed.  That will most definitely be a fascinating read, I may pick up more ideas for our Ryerson lectures too.

The best part of all?  A brand new and lasting connection, many more conversations to be had in future, more sharing of resources, and shared solutions/best practices between our communities.

Thank you for being so generous with your time Lee, it was a definite honour for us to meet you, and let’s all keep on changing the world for the better!

Frustrations

Tags

, , ,

Before I dive into this conversation, let me define something for you first kittens..

Cisplaining:  Cisplaining is the process by which a person with cisgender privilege condescendingly explains something basic, talks over or otherwise undermines the other speaker who is not cisnormative and/or outside the gender binary, i.e., transgender and gender variant people.  It is not the place of a cisgender person to speak in place of the transgender person’s experience(s) because they lack the necessary knowledge and/or life experience to do so.  This is a prime example of privilege blindness.

I have been writing two other posts for here, but this is one of those issues that is so preoccupying my thoughts that I must speak to it to give myself the space to work on other items of more importance.

Allow me to set the scene for you.

Meeting room, scheduled conversation with new folks who want to sign on and be part of current work being done.  More hands make the workload lighter, right?  Sure thing!  Everybody seemed to be a good fit, even if one person dominated conversation and sounded more like he was delivering a stump speech every time versus conversation with the other people in the room.  I still observe every minute detail, and the body language of other participants was rather telling.

Then we come upon the moment… said cisgender male decides to speak about the experience of trans people in the Church-Wellesley Village.  I was about to speak to it from a trans perspective, nobody knows the numbers better than I do, I’ve lived it since before this person was even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes.  Nope, I was shut down and discounted, that I wouldn’t know/understand, and then had the trans experience cisplained to me and the other people in the room.

I froze up, in other words, just been triggered, and I’m about to shut down completely and go mute for the balance.

I am also highly disappointed.  I thought I had taught others well enough, or that they were up to speed on the ins and outs of the trans experience.  Nobody else took notice.  There was no opportunity for discussion post-meeting.

By the time I reached home, I was in such a state that I went straight to bed and curled up with my cat after letting a few friends know I couldn’t be part of a planned conversation.

And on the trip home, I play it over and over again, cursing myself for freezing up and not doling out a severe education and a hard yank on the reins.  Or is it because this has happened so regularly over the years that it doesn’t even seem to be worth trying to do anything about it.  Not sure, but it sure as hell isn’t the first time.

Two friends reach out, one says please text me, let’s talk (difficult, it’s a crappy little phone – dropped my good one and haven’t replaced it yet).  I was struggling to get my breathing back to some kind of regular rhythm again, so I sent a few private messages instead.  Another says, feels like you need to vent… and in that moment I let loose a torrent of stuff.

What’s nice is that they both get it.  One is a fellow warrior (read previous post, New Beginnings, for mental health warriors), the other is someone I work with and is like a brother, even when we have different opinions or approaches to various situations – it’s that thing known as respect.

The one thing I’m left with, if this is going to be consistent behaviour, I have serious doubts about my efffectiveness with this group if condescension/cisplaining is going to be a standard.  I do know the next meeting of the working group will find me mute for the entire two hours… just ain’t worth speaking from experience only to be discounted and shut down again.  I can do without the condescending attitude, and I can find other things to do with my time.

What frustrates me even more… I have kept things well managed on the mental health front for a few years… I had a book full of things to self-manage PTSD & C-PTSD.  For some reason, things seem to have gone totally pear-shaped over the holidays.  Goodness knows that Anne can tell you from experience what happens when it’s not a good day, how many times have I woken her up in the middle of the night by grinding my teeth so loudly that it startles her awake.  Thankfully she knows how to wake me up and break whatever spell was happening.  Who knows what exactly is going on when it happens beyond reliving some past incident, I’ve tried various things to avoid it, but it happens when I’ve been triggered or over-stressed.  Usually the other thing that goes with that is the strange sleep patterns and hours, which has been going on for 6 weeks now.  Some nights I sit up or wander around the apartment, or when the weather permits, open the window and sit under it on the floor and listen to the night sounds.

And then today, I’ve been wracking my brains about what I have I missed or omitted in educating people that such a blatant example of being cisplained goes without notice or comment.  What else do I need to put in?  What has been lacking?

And then the other inquiry happening at the same time… maybe this is not for me, maybe I should just step away, perhaps I cannot inspire this group to do greater and bigger things and cause positive change.

And this is the point where the desire for self-isolation becomes overwhelming.  The ins and outs will be hashed out in another post, but, suffice it to say that it is a prominent effect of my daily battle.  Something else that has been held in check for a few years now, but not so successfully lately.  Giving into it would mean I would not be seen outside my apartment until our next lecture series in March/April, and then out of view until June for a community event, and then out of sight for the entire summer.  Thanks to my Anne, I managed to do just that for the majority of the summer last year.

What frustrates me most is me.  I never used to freeze and shut down, I would be fast off the mark and likely to deal out an epic tongue-lashing long to be remembered (it’s the mom in me some days), shoot from the lip and not give a tinker’s damn about what came out or my choice of phrasing – almost 400,000 words in the OED, and I’m sure I’ve used some of the more obscure ones more than once.  I laughed, I was once told when giving someone a proper telling off, that’s when I pull out my “50 dollar words” and confound them with language (and send some scurrying for a dictionary).  These days, I lose track half way through a bloody sentence when I’m on edge.  Where the hell did my crusty old broad self bugger off to?

I shall remain in the self inquiry, but that is an example for you of the frustration I deal with regularly.

At least now I can get back to what I was working on previously, thanks for letting me clear some space.

And, I have communicated this in a variety of ways and means today, but, this should be here too…

Happy Valentine’s Day Sunshine, I love you to bits, and I fall head over heels in love with you all over again whenever I hear you giggle. ❤❤

Christine 

New Beginnings

Tags

, , , ,

I first launched this blog in 2014, thinking I would be back into writing like I had been in previous years, banging out 5,000 word essays on an almost daily basis.

You might want to get some fizzy water and biscuits, this could take some time!

So, what happened?

Life happened, with all the joys and sorrows and ups and downs that go with that roller coaster ride.  To say that things got just a teensy bit busy would be a huge understatement, but those who know me best know that I love nothing more than having mountains of work waiting to be tackled, and a pile of books on topics to be researched, educating myself on new areas, so I can pass the knowledge along from the front of a lecture hall or classroom later.

So, seeing as I had no particular attachment to anything posted, I decided to scrap it all and begin anew.

“What’s happened in the meantime?” I hear the regulars of the old haunt asking.

Well, this year will be my 35th year involved in activism and advocacy work.  I began as a scared senseless teen launching into the battles for LGBTQ rights, lived through the horrors of the 80s (but still great music!), and once things seemed to be on a steady upward climb, focused all my energies in the fight for rights for my trans family.  Where I was always most effective was any role behind the scenes, in meetings, offices, boardrooms, etc.  It’s still my preferred place to work from, even though I have been forced to be very visible for the past 5 or 6 years.  And in the last decade or so, I have become an outspoken advocate for mental health issues and access to services (I’ll tell you why in a bit).

For the past 5 years, I have had the honour of working with our Toronto Police Service’s LGBTQ Liaison Officer, Danielle Bottineau.  Goodness knows we have both learned volumes of information from each other, with Danielle teaching me all the finer points of her job, and I’ve shared my life and lessons and the lived experiences of the transgender community with her.  The biggest bonus to come out of this working relationship, as I tell students in our lectures (Danielle and I do training courses and deliver guest lectures throughout the city), is that we have become close friends outside of the work we do, and enjoy each other’s company over a Starbucks whenever we can steal away for a few minutes.  Danielle is one of very few people to ever see me without my usual barriers and walls and such in place… I don’t trust many to see me in a raw state.

But oh, have things raced along over the past three years.  Imagine me, someone who had a lifelong phobia about being in front of a camera working on camera as a reporter?  Did that.  One item off the bucket list.  I laughed when I found out later that I became known as “one-take Christine”… amazing, considering the first taping was an epic disaster, took over 3 hours to tape a 5 minute segment!  Good thing the crew had the patience of Job that time.  This past year is more my speed, I’ve worked semi-regularly in radio, producing the occasional segment and being on the other side of the table answering questions from the show host on air (some of you know I can definitely talk at length).  I have a few awesome segments already lined up for the first half of this year, cannot wait to see them taped and ready to be aired.

Plenty of laughs, always plenty of laughs!

I somehow became a go-to person when discussing issues affecting trans folks or around the larger rainbow community.  I still think my best line was 17 May, 2016, I had been asked to be on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning with Matt Galloway (I didn’t realize how many friends have a crush on Matt!). I had to be checked in at the CBC building for 5:30 am.  I got up at 4:00, left my apartment at 5:00, strolled along to the building, checked in and was sitting in the green room by 5:30 a.m. (I hate being late!). The other guest arrived breathlessly just before we were due to go on air after 6:00 a.m. and exclaimed in abject horror, “You have no make-up on!!  Do you not realize this is simulcast live on TV in HD??!!”  I looked over my glasses and replied, “Honey, it is barely 6 am, at this time of the morning, you’re lucky I remembered to put clothes on.  Jeepers, I’m in my bloody 50s, if they wanted cute, they can always hire a model!”

Matt was a complete sweetheart who put me at ease the second I sat down across from him, and we ended up doing an extended segment beyond what had been planned, the conversation was that good (a 3 minute segment turned into 11 minutes).  It ended up being a multiple-event day (there were four things on my schedule, ended up doing more than six).  By the time I left the building after 6:30, I had two great desires in life… coffee and a cigarette!  I dug my phone out of my purse and powered it back up, and watched it go batty while walking back toward the subway line on Yonge (and where I knew I could get coffee and a pack of ciggybutts).  I have worked with so many superb TPS officers and civilians over the years, I hadn’t even realized how many were listening that morning and were tweeting up a storm as I was talking on air.

That day included 3 more live radio hits by phone, and then heading back over to the CBC building to tape an interview with Nil Koksal of the News at 6.  I did manage to see it much later, and for an old war horse like me, to hear all the correct terminology and pronouns in the chat between anchors before the throw to break made me do an unseen mental happy dance.  It was definitely a busy media year.  After the Orlando massacre, I did one interview for The National, taped a “My Canada is…” segment for the network’s July 1st coverage, and have done various other little pieces for CBC and Radio-Canada (it pays to be multi-lingual).  Boggles my mind, because I consider myself to be completely non-photogenic (I have a face for radio!).

(Did you forget how much of a gabby old broad I can be?)

And to think all of this came out of what I thought would be a one-off column for Living Toronto Journal, telling my transition story as their editor requested.  I thought maybe 10 people would read it, honestly… when I saw the numbers it generated, I was blown away.  That led to a second column on body language, and suddenly my writing career took off.  When it slowed down this past year for a breather, I was writing for one journal, two magazines, and one news site (now, if they could pay for the work, that would be spectacular, but all are start-ups, so it will take time to build a brand).  And how many year-end and other interviews I was asked to do.  I still shake my head, I’ve always been in the background.

What will be interesting this year will be to see the reaction of the regular readers to something in my upcoming work.

I have written to cover assigned topics from editors or publishers up until now.  I did take on a new role with one publication, which gives me much more latitude on what I will write about.  I’ll do my usual reviews of books, discuss issues that are important in that moment, produce interviews and interview series (working on 30 Women, 30 Stories, my new 2017 series), but I will be choosing all of my topics and areas to discuss.  So, at the conclusion of an upcoming book review, I have a “coming out” announcement for my regular readers, something I have never publicly discussed before.

They are going to discover that, like the author of the reviewed book, I battle mental illness on a daily basis, a fight that has gone on since my teenage years.  Some know all of the story, some only got the sunshine and happiness bits, but I do go into some detail in our guest lectures.  This will be news to readers who are not part of my online inner circle.  Should be interesting to see the response.  The stigma around it all is still imposing.  That’s why some of us step up and speak out, to help end the stigma around it.  For the new folks amongst you, my daily fight is with Anxiety, Depression, Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) and PTSD.  The last two were diagnosed in my 40s.  I didn’t think it possible to have both, yet my therapist says yes, it is possible, C-PTSD is from prolonged and constant trauma (which would explain much), PTSD happens from specific incidents, but can be multiple traumas in one diagnosis (which explains the rest).

Now, let me tell you what stigma around mental health can be like in the real world.

Some chucklehead who loves the sound of his own voice, loves to talk about people (yet claims he despises gossip).  Upon overhearing myself and a friend discussing issues with various anti-depressants, etc., that we have both dealt with, and other related issues, took it upon himself to spread the news throughout the neighbourhood.  The story was that I had been locked up (or should be locked up, depending on which version) because of mental health issues, and that the hormones that I take as part of my daily HRT regimen could cause me to lose my mind and cause a scene… gotta watch out, she’s really dangerous and unstable.  Nice, eh?

I had no idea this was going on until one night I went out for dinner with a friend.  We went to a local restaurant that I frequented when I worked in the area 20+ years ago, so it’s a known for me, which makes it easy to go out for a meal there.  Imagine the horrified expression on my face when one of the owners took me aside to ask about this rumour, and whether there was any truth to it or not.  I wanted to turn on my heel and leave, but had a brief conversation.  Again, forced to discuss my personal business because of some loudmouth, loose-lipped jackass who has nothing better to do than to spread rumours about people, thinking that it makes him look bigger.  While dinner was okay, this ruined the place for me.  As much as the owners know me, have known me for years, I have to wonder if they had believed this nonsense enough that they would ask me about it when out with a friend for dinner.  And the worst that would happen?  I would likely end up drinking myself numb and not leaving the apartment for a few weeks (wasn’t going to tell the part about the last overdose and convulsing on a stretcher for an hour in the ER before they could stabilize my sorry ass).

That, my dears, is what stigma around mental health does.

Oh, the character from above?  That’s not all the flak.  I was recently at TPS HQ for meetings, and before heading in, went to run some errands downtown.  Ran into a few folks I hadn’t seen in a while (they know it takes a little work to catch my attention outside, I tend to get a very narrow focus and tune out everything around me, and I don’t wear my hearing aids in such situations), and they had long wondered and just had to ask me about something .  The story they were told was, that I was an ex cop and I had to quit the job to have a sex change.  Sigh.  That story has shown up in various business settings and meetings for the past few years now, and I’ve literally lost count of how many times I have heard it.  Every time it’s asked about, I have to do an educational piece on that is not the way things are done at TPS (I know of transitions that took place on the job, with the full support of everyone, and I mean everyone, from the Chief on down the ranks).  While a career in policing was in my top three list while in school, it’s not where I chose to go after graduation.  And, yes, this is the same character who upon finding out who I was (or as he said, WHAT I was), spread that news to anyone within range.  For your information, that is outing someone, and will lead to violence (and it did).  I couldn’t figure out why in my travels in a new neighbourhood how so many people knew me on sight until the story was told, and somebody let it slip, when I asked how they knew me, “Oh, you’re that tranny that XYZ knows, he told us all about you.”

Two choices, pick up and move, or stay and educate.  I am coming up on 4 years in the neighbourhood, that should tell you what choice I made.  And some days I am so wrung out and exhausted from having to be Dr. Google for people who want to know things that are way beyond the pale and so incredibly personal I wonder how and where they found the nerve to ask.

And yes, stories like those I have just related to you are part of our lectures that we deliver, and are part of our training courses too.  Danielle has seen and heard it from other sources, so we both discuss it from the front of the lecture hall, particularly when the students ask her what can be done about it.  Can’t do shit about it really, not unless Ottawa gets the lead out and passes C-16.  And while they are at it, they need to also get the lead out and push C-211 through sooner rather than later.  Neither of these pieces of legislation are rocket science.  C-16 inserts 4 words, “gender identity or expression” into the criminal code of Canada and the federal human rights code.  C-211 will finally get some desperately needed assistance to all of our first responders who deal with the living hell that is PTSD and related issues.

And yet, there are so many happy things to share too.

One of those things that goes with my daily battle along with the usual transphobia, is the overwhelming desire to isolate, to not be “out there” in the world (C-PTSD pushes that button every single day).  People were always saying, oh, you should find somebody.  Me, being my usual comical curmudgeon with very dark humour and filthy mind, replies, “Why, are a lot of them lost?”

I had been single for almost 30 years.

One day last spring, somebody popped up in my Twitter feed, replying to one of my standard good morning tweets to my usual crew of friends and fun folks.  I checked the profile: “Registered Nurse, Artist, Poet and Tomboy (Medical Term: Lesbian)”.  Woohoo, a sense of humour with a touch of snark… this is one of my peeps!  I couldn’t resist, and replied, calling her Sunshine.  Little did I know she swooned right then and there, she loved being called Sunshine.  And that day began a conversation that is still ongoing to this day.  Nurse Sunshine, as my Anne became known, kept remarking that she could not get over what an open book I was.  It was obvious that there was an instant spark and that we both had feelings happening for each other (which startled me at first, I had never thought it possible in my lifetime), so let’s lay all the cards on the table so you know what you are dealing with, that way no surprises later.  Imagine my shock and glee last summer when she presented me with a promise ring.  I had truly thought this would never happen, I can be a lot to handle when things are not working properly.

I’ll let you all in on a secret, the first time I heard her giggle, I was totally and completely head over heels in love.  Thoroughly smitten would likely be an accurate descriptor of the two of us.  When we have been out with other friends, they get giddy watching us.  If we are walking somewhere, it does not happen unless we are holding hands, and if we have to let go briefly, without even looking our hands just automatically reconnect.  I just really and truly enjoy to the nth degree every second that we get together, especially when we laugh ourselves to sleep together at night, and wake up together with fits of giggles in the morning (which means time to get my ass outta bed and put the coffee on!!).  We live a 5+ hour drive apart, which is why whenever we are in the same city at the same time, we make the most that we can out of every nanosecond.

To demonstrate how in sync we are with each other, life was causing us both to get overwrought from dealing with a steady barrage of stuff late last year.  We had a conversation and put things on pause until life was on a more even keel.  Didn’t mean things had changed around feelings, it just was a chance to go off and deal with what needed to be handled.  We still talk regularly, and we could tell when each other had reached a level that things were handled and the way is clear again.  And yes, she knows what I have come up against in recent times, and agrees with what I plan to do to pursue treatment to deal with the new issues (a conversation for another day) that have arisen over the past few months.  And before you ask, yes, I have a pet name too, Nurse Sunshine calls me Cookie.  My Anne has seen me go into City Mom mode a few times.  One night as we were chatting away before drifting off to sleep, she said, Y’know Cookie, it’s a shame you never had children of your own (I was born sterile).  Ah, but Sunshine, I may not have had biological children, but I have had a multitude of kids anyway.  Then I started listing names.  Yep Cookie, you’re most definitely a mom.  You bet, and I have loved every moment too.

So, this is a new beginning here.  I will be dropping in from time to time to talk about something that has caught my interest, or some event that is happening in my life that is worth discussing.  That kind of stuff.  Some will be short, others will be long like this, meaning I’m writing everything that comes into mind because I need some space to do something else, and the only way to get it is to write it all down.

I’ll keep you up to speed as best I can about health issues, both mental and physical.  Mental health is going to need some discussions and a few appointments to know what direction is next, physical is just waiting to be booked for a muscle biopsy and a needle biopsy after that.  A few friends fussed about that news.  Not necessary to get ruffled, just stuff that needs to be done to get answers to other questions.

So, that’s it for now.  I think I’ve managed to unload everything that was taking up space.

Remember to LOVE each other INTENSELY kittens!

Cookie ❤❤