After the prepared topics, the public were invited to ask our questions. I made an emotional presentation, reading from a message I had received from a trans woman I know in dire straits of workplace abuse, and asking what concrete steps Jennifer Campeau thought the government could take to help. Many in the audience were in tears, and Jennifer was shaken. She promised dialogue. Several speakers elicited enthusiastic applause from the audience pointing out inconsistencies in Chief Justice Arnot's justifications and in the inadequacy of the Sask Party response. Ken Norman, the first Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission was in the audience and politely took Chief Commissioner Arnot to task on several legal points. He gave us some interesting historical background on the wording, how the contentious clause ‘“sex equals gender”, different from other provincial Codes, had been included in order to exclude gays from protection under the original Code, and how he had been laughed at in the 1970s by both sides of the Legislature for suggesting protection be provided to homosexuals. I came away feeling I have reason to hope this dialogue marks the beginning of a serious rethinking of the government position.
I sent out a letter to about 10 transgender individuals I know in the community who avoid attention or involvement in trans* activism, trying to encourage them as “well integrated or useful members of society” to make an exception to their reticence and help in some way with our human rights campaign. A woman who had been a mentor to me when I first came out, and who, after a long series of unjustly unsuccessful job interviews had found what I had thought was her dream job, sent me this heartbreaking reply, which I shared, anonymously and with her permission, with the panel: "Hi Miki, I'm working most of those days and can't make it. My life is not something that should be shared as "well integrated or useful members of society" at my job I get called names... low grade linguistic errors like calling me 'it', he his him freak. I get treated like the plague by everyone but management. The office girls run a service to let people know when I am in the bathroom so other girls stay out when I am in there. I have been threatened with physical violence twice now at work. Im suicidal, depressed and abhor being awake. Every time I read about one of my sister's getting SRS or FFS thtows me into month long depression. I love what you are doing for the community and support you from here. Realistically I don't think that I can talk about this with the general public without making what I feel many fold worse. I'm sorry."
I thought I was going to have lots of time during my recovery and recuperation to write my post about the clinic, and to finish another couple of posts I have begun. However, I was kept occupied at the hospital and convalescence home by resting and listening to music, self care and socializing with my fellow patients and my lovely visitors. I also spent a significant amount of my time working, from my bed, on organizing for Saskatchewan's 3rd annual Trans* Awareness Week, and for our Time 4 Rights campaign. Once home and settled back in Saskatoon, the organizing has intensified. I was asked by our chief organizer, Joe Wickenhauser, if I could contribute a video to encourage participation in the events we were planning, and so I did. Here it is:
Then, yesterday we had an early kick off to Trans* Awareness Week with an historic meeting to discuss trans human rights. The strong panel, organized and chaired by the outstanding Joe Wickenhauser included David Arnot, Chief Commissioner for the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, two members of the Legislature; Jennifer Campeau Sask Party MLA and David Forbes, NDP MLA, the outspoken Alex Wilson professor at the UofS and expert on Two Spirit identity, and transman Jai Richards Mental Health Therapist and ex-Director of the ACC.
I counted over 50 people jammed into the Avenue Community Centre. More than a dozen young people, half a dozen from the media, several trans people, political aides, educators and allies were in attendance. Joe began by acknowledging Treaty 6 Territory, and later Alex Wilson reminded us that for millennia before the coming of the white settlers, the First Nations peoples had honoured their gender variant two spirit people. Judge Arnot tried to dominate the conversation and made an increasingly unconvincing case for leaving the Saskatchewan Code of Human Rights as it is. He discredited himself with his attempts to have the last word after the uncompromising Alex Wilson made a devastating critique of the colonial system of systemic violence perpetuated by white male supremacists. Judge Arnot's attempts to claim privilege were thwarted by the polite but firm Joe with the assistance of the audience showing their support with their applause. Yet, on the whole the atmosphere was one of engagement and respect. David Forbes reviewed the efforts of the NDP to amend the Human Rights Code, and challenged some of Arnot's assertions. Jai Richards made some excellent points about the need to educate the medical professionals of the province, and review the treatment of the transgender community by Sask Health, as well as pointing out the need for reform in the way gender change is accommodated for identity documents.
It's going to be a little while before I finish the other posts I have begun writing. This morning I did a radio interview for CBC Saskatchewan Weekend. Now I have speeches to prepare, a presentation to write for the Trans Monologues in Regina next Friday, and of course post-surgery self-care. Today I also want to make another batch of sauerkraut and kimchi; one day I'll write about how I've learned to transition vegetables into old-style pickles using traditional natural fermentation techniques. Please keep checking my online journal, there's more to come!
Now, on the eve of sexual reassignment surgery, there’s so many things I want to talk about! I’m in Montreal, very happily settled in the little house of a friend I know only through Facebook, who is in New Orleans celebrating Mardi Gras. It’s a ground floor flat, a shambolic porch tacked on to a two-storey apartment building, idiosyncratically decorated with scrounged objects. I’m in his sunny studio which looks out on a residential street in the neighbourhood known as ‘Little Italy’. Here for ten days, in less than a week I’ll be in a Montreal hospital, recovering from surgery. Yesterday I went for hot chocolate on Rue Ste. Catherine with a friend I know from Saskatoon who is working here in the film industry, and she asked if I’m afraid. No, I’m excited! The decision is made, the money is paid, on Monday next a taxi will come and pick me up… it’s rather like the feeling of peace and anticipation that used to come over me when I flew regularly between Barcelona and Saskatoon, when I had passed through airport security and I no longer had to make decisions. That contemplative, creative, no man’s land of ‘in transit’.
After my exciting, exhausting week in Toronto I’m having a quiet, restful time. My pre-surgery preparation. Very little tourism. The weather’s cold so far, and I feel I already know Montreal quite well, unlike Toronto, though I can see it’s changed. This house is so lovely! I feel peaceful and full of joy. I’m spending most of my day here, going out only to shop, to visit friends, and to dance. I have neighbours! I had lunch at their apartment on my second day, and one came over yesterday for tea. They’re a lovely couple of artists, also trans activists. I’ve invited them over for supper tomorrow.
My pre-op regime begins with lots of sleep. The insomnia I experienced in the last few weeks, before leaving Saskatoon, and in Toronto, is gone, and I’ve been sleeping eight hours every night. I’ve also been having a late afternoon nap in the last rays of the sun as it swings round to the other side of the apartment and shines in on my bed. I’ve taken some time for grooming, to manicure, and to keep the rooms clean and tidy. Nesting.
I went to the Jean Talon Market and tried out my limited French while buying lots of inexpensive, mouth watering food. Then I made a huge batch of kimchi, way more than I need, but it felt very satisfying. It should be ready to sample by tomorrow. Inspired by a good deal on maple syrup, I made maple and walnut granola. I bought local apples and vegetables, and some exotic fruit.
I begin my days, as is my habit, in bed with a thermos of strong milky tea, and Facebook. Then I put on music, and dance while I prepare breakfast in the sunny kitchen. First fruit; grapefruit, and a couple of mornings papaya with lime. Then two farm eggs on bread; ‘pain de nois’ from a local bakery. I sit and think, about the day, about what I’m planning to write. Then I have a bowl of granola with bananas, blackberries, yogourt, milk and maple syrup. A bit more dancing and tidying, then a visit to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and I get to work in the studio.
Work these days mostly involves organizing for the Time 4 Rights campaign to get gender expression and gender identity included as acceptable grounds to file a complaint under the Saskatchewan Code of Human Rights. That, and writing for my online journal, as I am right now. I take breaks to record music from my absent host’s CD collection, and to dance, to shovel snow off the step and breathe the crisp morning air, and to make more tea and prepare a snack of nuts and dried fruit.
When I begin to feel stiff from writing, and dancing doesn’t seem to help, I take a break to do my gentle stretch routine, and some core strength exercises. I try to focus on my pelvis, the joints and the internal muscles, and do some kegels. Around 2pm, I begin to prepare my lunch. I make a large, cooked meal. Potatoes, or pasta, or chickpeas with garlic or onions, chard or broccoli, beets, sauerkraut and protein such as feta cheese or canned mackerel. Stuffed, I turn on the light and clean up the kitchen in the afternoon twilight, and then lie down for my nap.
After a half hour or an hour’s sleep, I get up and if I’m going out dancing, I shower. I have a light supper, maybe grilled cheese and sauerkraut on bread, or some local cheese slices, with a salad of raw vegetables and an apple. I’m taking dance lessons every second day; contact improv dance, often followed by a contact improv jam. I could dance more. Here, as in Toronto, there’s lots on offer. I rather exhausted myself in Toronto, and now I’m trying to build up my strength. Dancing has been great. The contact dance community, like in most places, is very welcoming. Many ages and genders. The lessons are in French. I listen carefully, relax, watch the others, and seem to understand most of what I need.
I love the walk through the dark streets, often snowing this week, and the ride on the metro. I have a chip card which I touch to the turnstile, and it lets me pass. I like to watch the people on the platform and on the train. It’s a short walk from the metro to my house. The porch light, with its little bird ornament, welcomes me home. I pour maple syrup into a bowl of yogourt for my bedtime snack. I brush my teeth, and then snuggle under the quilt to warm up the bed, and go to sleep early.
The days are passing quickly. Soon this little in between time will be over. What a lovely transition.
My first entry in this series on my bureaucratic hobby was meant to be a meditation on moving along and dealing with the complications of the world one thing at a time. Prior to my gender transition I had been growing more and more stressed about getting things done, despairing at achieving my artistic goals, impatient with the time dedicated to my salaried job as a designer in a museum, and anxious about not being able to spend as much time with family as I saw the years slipping by. In my teens and young adulthood I was more relaxed, though my working method tended to involve intense bouts of getting things done, working as many hours as was needed and more, often fuelled by marihuana. My brother used to say I had a Rastafarian work ethic. So my post HRT life has been a big change for me. Having let go of striving for a career, becoming testosterone, pot and alcohol free and prioritizing my health, my friends and family, I have enjoyed an equanimity I was never able to achieve before.
It’s this equanimity that has allowed me to learn to appreciate life, even when dealing with bureaucracy. I find I can work gently and sporadically without worrying about achieving goals. But my tale of bureaucratic dealings has grown beyond being an illustration of this principle, and has itself become a huge task, that of describing some aspects of my gender transition during the last two and a half years. So, at the risk of being boring, I’ll continue to beaver away at this task, in the hope that some of my readers will find year two and the beginning of year three of my bureaucratic progress interesting in themselves.
In the previous post of this series I ended with the beginning of 2013, in a new home, sick in bed with an infection and a bad cold, which lasted for several weeks. Having finally had the orchiectomy operation, I had achieved a milestone in the medical part of my transition, though I did schedule an appointment with my endocrinologist in order to readjust my hormone levels, having lost my “little testosterone factories” as a friend put it. In the fall of 2012 I had, in addition to making enquiries about the Adam’s apple surgery, tried to get accepted for genital and facial surgery with the Brassard Clinic in Montreal, and asked my psychiatrist to apply for me to be assessed by the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto so I could get genital surgery partly subsidized by Sask Health. I was turned down by the Brassard Clinic because I hadn’t been taking HRT for long enough, and early in February I asked my psychiatrist to check with CAMH, and found out they hadn’t received my application, so during the spring of 2013 I made several reminders until my application was finally acknowledged. In August they finally sent me a letter saying I had been placed on a waiting list, 9 months after I had first applied. The approximate time I would have to wait was 14 months. I did send them a letter asking if my wait could be dated from when I had first applied, a year and a half before, but never received a response.
I had heard that with the right doctor’s letters, some government agencies would allow one to change the gender on official identification after having had the orchiectomy. So I began to investigate that process. I asked my doctors to prepare letters. After several inquiries I was told that in order to change the gender marker on my driver’s license, my health card, my passport and with Service Canada, I would need to have my birth certificate changed in addition to the doctors’ letters. However, I was born in South Africa, and this proved to be difficult. I did write to the South African Embassy, but my request was never acknowledged. So, returning to the previous government agencies, I was told that if I couldn’t get my birth certificate updated, they would accept an updated citizenship card.
In early January 2013 I applied for a new citizenship card, using the information I had been given by Agent Wilder the previous summer. I had some questions as the application form was not for a new citizenship card, but for a new landed immigrant card. That was the one he had told me to use, as it was the only one that had a section for change of gender. There was no information on the website, and I tried phoning the one national information number during several weeks while I got photos, prepared the various letters and photocopies and got everything notarized. As previously, my call was usually cut off, the few times I got on the automated waiting cue, I wasn’t able to wait the hours it seemed to require. So I finally altered the application, wrote a covering letter, included Mr. Wilder’s fax with the instructions he had given me, and mailed it all off.
In the meantime, my driver’s licence was coming due, so I tried approaching license issuing offices, phoning information numbers, and sending e-mails, explaining that I had the doctor’s letters, but couldn’t get my birth certificate and that there were difficulties with Immigration Canada. Simultaneously I did the same with Sask Health. Finally a clerk at the driver’s licence issuing office proved helpful, and made phone calls to various departments, who asked for more information and copies of my doctor’s letters, and she faxed it all for me. A supervisor at head office took an interest, and after she made some unsuccessful inquiries with Citizenship Canada, decided to issue me my driver’s licence with the correct gender, on the condition that I send a copy to her when I finally did receive my new citizenship card. Within a week my new driver’s license arrived, an event which gave me huge satisfaction.
Apparently during this time someone at Sask Health had been working on the information I had sent to them. I had sent an e-mail to a supervisor, as I had to the motor licensing office, pointing out that their requirements probably needed to be revisited, considering that in Ontario everything had been changed after a successful challenge had been brought through the Human Rights Commission, arguing that the requirements, particularly those specifying the need for surgeries involving sterilization, were a violation. After a few weeks, without anyone having contacted me, Sask Health also sent me a new card with the ‘F’ for female! Two pieces of ID. A real milestone. So my feeling is that in both institutions some supervisors had meetings and perhaps consulted lawyers, and decided to quietly issue me my ID. I hope they are continuing with consultations to make some changes to their procedures.
In the meantime, not just satisfied with my own personal gains, I became involved with an initiative of Mikayla Schultz of TransSask Services in Regina. She had created a petition to ask the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission to include gender expression and gender identity as prohibited grounds under the Sask. Human Rights Code. When I had first been wondering about my seemingly inexplicable need to express myself as female, in 2010, I had seen mention in the news about an initiative to include gender expression and identity as grounds in the federal Canadian Human Rights Code; private member’s Bill 389 put forward by NDP Bill Siksay. The bill was finally passed by parliament, but before it could go through the Senate, the legislature was prorogued by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and all bills died. I remember thinking that surely in Canada we are protected against discrimination even if it isn’t specifically mentioned. The feeling of growing public acceptance helped give me courage when I made the decision to begin presenting full time as female at work early in 2011. Later that year, when I went to seek help from the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission because of harassment and bullying at work, and later firing from my ‘permanent’ job, they told me I had to file under one of the specified ‘grounds’ in the Code, such as discrimination based on Sex, or Sexual Orientation, or Illness, or Race etc. My harassment was clearly based on gender expression. I hadn’t at the time changed my sex, nor revealed any new information to my fellow employees about my sexual orientation, so I had no evidence to support a complaint under the existing categories. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission told me that therefore I could not submit a complaint.
I helped collect many signatures on the petition over the spring and summer of 2013. I helped to organize a demonstration in Saskatoon to protest the refusal of service to a young transwoman, Rohit Singh, by a local bridal shop, Jenny’s Bridal. Many signatures were collected on the petition, and much public awareness resulted from the media coverage of the protest. Rohit wanted to submit a complaint to the provincial Human Rights Commission, and I helped her with that process through the Summer, finding out in the process that thought the law had not changed, a new bureaucratic interpretation had come into effect and her complaint was accepted under the grounds of sex. She decided not to take the claim to the courts, because of the expense and time involved, and was pressured by the Commission into a mediated settlement. I accompanied her through the process and the media interviews, and she accepted an apology from the Bridal Shop and a financial contribution to the Avenue Community Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (ACC) and Aids Saskatoon as settlement. It unfortunately didn’t set any legal precedent, being merely a mediated agreement. This made our arguments for the inclusion of the grounds of gender expression and gender identity much more difficult. Because the law still had not changed, only an interpretation which could be subject to the whims of appointed officials and the persuasion of expensive lawyers, we continued our campaign.
In the summer of 2013 I finally received a package from Citizenship Canada. They were returning my application, with a note indicating that I had used the wrong application form. No information about what might be the right one, or what I should do, nor any explanation of why they disagreed with the written advice their Agent Wilder had given me. It, of course, remained impossible to contact them. What to do?
Around that time I worked for three days as camera operator for the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities annual convention, a conservative ‘love fest’. I had the Premier and his Sask Party cabinet in my camera for hours Federal MP Kelly Block also spoke. She seemed intelligent and approachable, and I had noted that her constituency office was only blocks from my house. Why not ask her for help? Her executive assistant proved to be very kind and businesslike, and after an interview, she agreed to help me obtain information from Citizenship Canada. Apparently MPs have a special number they can call, where there is an actual person who answers the phone. In a couple of weeks I was given information on what form to use, and what documents to provide, and after a some more consultations to clarify some uncertainties, I was finally able to reapply. After a few weeks I received acknowledgement of my application, and a request for one further document, which I sent. I’m told I may have to wait 6 months. As I write, it is now 7 months, and I have not yet heard anything.
By this point, it seemed that I had pretty well done everything I could, and now all I could do was wait, for Citizenship so I could proceed with changing the rest of my documentation, and for CAMH before I could proceed with the medical part of my transition. However, the thought of a 14 month waiting list for CAMH, followed by one or two trips to Toronto for assessment, followed by application to Sask Health for coverage, followed by the Brassard Clinic waiting list for surgery seemed a bit too much. I had enjoyed the process as much as I could, and managed not to be obsessed with achieving goals, but I have to admit I had begun to think I would like to be done with papers and doctors before I turned 60. It would have been nice to have had some years with a mostly female body when I was young, but I don’t regret it. Having had my two children is far more important to me. But I would like a few years with a mostly female body before I enter a nursing home!
I had decided to spend some of my retirement savings in 2014, perhaps to go travelling. My son had gone away to college, studying to be an actor in Toronto, 3000 km from me, and I missed him terribly. I decided to visit him in the new year and perhaps continue on to revisit my old friends and haunts in Barcelona. As I planned my trip, I began to find out that not all my friends and relatives were ready to welcome me into their homes as they would have in the past. Finally, after some anguish and much soul searching, I decided I wasn’t ready for a short, expensive trip with an uncertain reception. It would make more sense for me to return open to possible new opportunities, and to take the time to sort out the name and gender change paperwork for my Spanish citizenship. For this I would need to have sexual reassignment surgery, the orchiectomy wouldn’t be good enough for the Spanish authorities. Considering the minimum two year wait for surgery subsidized by Sask Health, with them covering less than a third of the surgery costs, plus the extra expense of trips to Toronto to visit CAMH, I decided to see if I could get a date for surgery to coincide with my already planned trip to Toronto, not far from the clinic in Montreal, and to try and cover the expense myself. So the second year in a row, I applied to the Brassard Clinic, and asked my psychiatrist to send a letter. They asked for more letters, but their requirements were confusing and contradictory, I think because of language issues as the staff at the clinic were French speakers. I sent a letter from my doctor and endocrinologist, and hoped that I had sent them all they asked for. In the meantime, I reserved a one way plane ticket to Toronto for the beginning of the spring break at my son’s school, February 20. I reserved a room in a gay run bed and breakfast. I inquired about accommodations in Montreal for March. And I waited.
On January 3 I received an e-mail from the Brassard Clinic, saying they could give me a surgery date on March 12, but that they hadn’t received a letter from from a second psychiatrist. Oops. I replied, saying the letter was on its way, and phoned looking for appointments from a few psychiatrists and counsellors recommended by my psychiatrist. On January 8 I received a confirmation letter from the Brassard Clinic, with all the additional medical and legal documents I had to sign, and a timeline of requirements; medical tests, advance payments, and final payments. On January 10 I saw a psychiatric counsellor who was so fascinated by my story that we went a half-hour over the scheduled time, and she decided she didn’t need a second visit, drafted a letter right then, and gave me a discount on her fee.
I contacted my pension plan, who had assured me the previous fall that all I had to do was fill out a form, and I could have the money within days. They sent me the form, which I filled out and faxed. A few days later, they sent me a letter saying they needed legal documents filled out by my ex-spouse. I phoned, and complained that we had signed the documents and sent the required forms when we had made our legal separation, a year and a half before. They insisted, and I asked to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor began asking for even more legal documents, and I became angry, explaining all the circumstances, and expressing my outrage. He decided I only needed the two documents signed by my ex. My ex, however, was in Spain. I could ask her to sign the documents, notarize them, and fax them to the pension plan office, with the originals to follow. In the meantime the first payment deadline was due. I paid with my VISA card. After a few problems with PDF documents that wouldn’t print, my ex was finally able to do what was required. Within a week the money was deposited in my account. I reserved a bus ticket from Toronto to Montreal, made arrangements to rent a room from a young queer man in Montreal from March 1 to March 10, and reserved an airplane ticket home on March 20.
As I write, I’m on the bus to Montreal. I had a great visit with my son in Toronto, and took advantage of many dance opportunities. I still don’t know if Citizenship Canada has issued me a new card, but I have my correctly gendered Driver’s Licence and Sask Health card in my purse. In two weeks, if all continues according to plan, I will be recovering from surgery. When I began all this, a little over two years ago, I never dreamed I could accomplish so much.
Life is a continuous transition, from conception until death.
Posts in Cronological Order:
5/4/2013 Joy Is My Guide, a Trans Monologue
17/1/2014 The first entry in my new online journal
3/2/2014 Thanks for a new day
5/2/2014 My hobby; Bureaucratic busywork, year 1
13/2/2014 A Break from Bureaucratic Busywork: The Holidays, 2012-13
15/2/2014 Workplace Acceptance
1/3/2014 My Hobby Is No Longer So New; Bureaucratic Busywork, Year 2
6/3/2014 My Montréal Pre-Op Regime
29/3/2014 Post Op Trans Rights Organizing
11/4/2014 On Empathy and Responsibility
21/4/2014 An Interview with my Son
22/10/2014 Post-op; More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Miki’s Kiki.
9/2/2016 When I Grow Up