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 20 years, I have become an outspoken advocate for mental health issues and access to services.
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. 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!).
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, and PTSD. It was diagnosed in my 40s.
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 (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!