In taking care of myself, and in my weakened state, I realized that I must deal with the complications of the world, one thing at a time, and in a rational order so as not to be overwhelmed. So began my steady diet of bureaucratic dealings. First, I had to put in motion requests for appointments with health care professionals; look for a better psychiatrist than the one I had been first assigned, who did nothing but listen to me, and try to sell anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs. I had to get another GP than the one I had, who was a more than decent man, a crusader working the front lines of Saskatoon's deprived westside, but too gruff and no-nonsense for my delicate condition. I wanted a referral to an endocrinologist, to see if changing my hormone balance would help me. So, step by step, a little at a time, I began making enquiries, keeping notes, following up leads, until I obtained an appointment with Dr. Donna Hendrickson, Saskatchewan's leading psychologist specialized in gender issues, who eventually referred me to Dr. Wilson, the province's most experienced specialist in giving HRT to transsexuals, and Dr. Veronica McKinney, a GP who at our first meeting, looking at my file where it listed my old, male name, and then at me, had the consideration to ask what name I would prefer her to call me. Had I tried to do all this at once I might have failed, or encountered huge frustrations, but I found that a little at a time, maybe one phone call a day, or one visit a week, with lots of patience, bit by bit things were accomplished.
At the same time came the necessities of employment, and unemployment. I took sick leave because of the ongoing harassment and bullying at work, and a little at a time I dealt with unsuccessful appeals to Human Rights, to Occupational Health and Safety and to legal assistance. I dealt with formal workplace complaints processes. Little by little I compiled a binder full of documents. I went through six sessions with a professional mediator and my supervisor. Finally the director gave me my termination letter with terms for compensation, and I hired, then fired a lawyer, and finally signed, accepting their terms. Then came dealings with Employment Insurance, which continued, on and off for a year and a half. It began with applications and waiting rooms, and forms to fill out and obtain from employers and doctors. Then reports, and bi-weekly cheques soon interrupted by letters cutting me off on varying pretexts, followed by phone calls, letters, tears in waiting rooms, appeals, reinstatements, disallowances and demands for return of money, waiting rooms and appeals and phone calls and reductions and a waiting period while I was told to use up all the money from my compensation, and reapplication and reinstatement and cutting off and waiting rooms and phone calls and appeals and advocate agencies and reinstatement and cutting off and reinstatement until finally my claim was deemed to have really and truly run out. All this helped to give structure to my long slow recovery of my health and strength, dealing with one challenge at a time, trying never to do too much in one day, or one week, and taking lots of time for rest, to eat, for dance classes and rehearsals, for walks and time sitting in my studio, thinking and writing.
Still feeling unable to work, the anxiety I might have felt about my uncertain income was mitigated by the beneficial effects of the HRT, the blocking of testosterone and the changes being introduced by the estrogen giving me a beautiful feeling of equanimity. I reasoned that if I did run out of money, and still couldn't work, I could go on disability through Social Assistance. Instead of despairing at the bureaucratic mountain that might represent, I started methodically finding out what I would need, and began preparing by obtaining a doctor's letter and researching the application forms required, just in case. When I got tired, I would have a nap. I began to guage my returning strength by working at my health food co-op once a month, and volunteering to work at cultural events, in return for being able to see the show, or attend the dance. Finally, I began accepting offers of work. I have been a member of the stage hands' union since 1985. Though in latter years I had not worked with them much, I had continued paying my dues, and had lots of seniority, so I was able to choose some of the jobs I found more enjoyable, such as wardrobe assistant, or follow spot operator. Eventually, as my strength and endurance returned, I braved the misogyny of some of the regular stage work crews and I survived and began working enough to support myself.
Once I had put in place my medical support team, and I felt my transition was underway, I prepared myself to tackle the next set of bureaucratic hurdles. I thought long about what name to use, after unsuccessfully insisting for several months that 'Michael' was a good name for a woman. Despite my pointing out there were several women, even a couple of actresses, called Michael, I began to realize that I was going to have to feminize whatever I could about myself. If people were going to accept me as female I would have to compensate for those things I couldn't change, like my bone structure. At the beginning of 2012 I began using my new name, Miki Mappin, and getting feedback from friends and family. Gathering advice from other transitioning individuals, I then worked my way through the steps to get my legal name change. That done, I then changed my name on each piece of identification, once again not all at once, but one step at a time, a process that is till ongoing. I tried to see if I could get my gender changed at the same time. In most cases it was not possible, but I saved the information on what documents I would need for later. I soon realized that to change my gender on most of my identification, I would need to first get my birth certificate changed, or in my case, as I was born in South Africa, if I couldn't get a new birth certificate, I would need to change my Canadian Citizenship card. I sent letters to the South African Embassy, but never got a reply. Citizenship Canada was just as unpromising. Their website had no information on gender change requirements, and in order to get an appointment at the local office, you needed to phone a 1-800 number first. The same number for information, for all of Canada. Over the course of weeks, I tried that number. Often it wouldn't accept my call. Sometimes I would be put on call waiting, and eventually I would be given long lists of unintelligible options by a computer, which would lead to other lists of options, which would eventually place you on another call waiting cue, but after an hour or so I would find I had something else I needed to do. Finally, one day I put it on speakerphone, and after a couple of hours doing household tasks, my call was answered. Agent Wilder listened to my request, and asked bluntly if I had had "the surgery". I tried to argue with him that it was clear after the Human Rights case in Ontario that it was unconstitutional to demand compulsory sterilization in order to obtain documentation from the Canadian Government, but he would have none of it. 'Politely' calling me Sir and Mr. the whole time, he explained to me the doctors' letters and documents I would need to provide, and the forms I would need to fill out, and I duly noted down the information for future reference. I was, however, successful with my credit cards, and it gave me great satisfaction to begin receiving mail addressed to Ms. Bantjes-Mappin. One card and official entity at a time, I was surprised to find that after several months I no longer had any ID, except my Citizenship and passport, and seldom got mail, with my old name.
It may begin to sound as though my life was a never ending battle with government agencies, computerized phone defence mechanisms and antagonistic officials. In fact, my days were quite peaceful. I would linger in bed with a thermos of tea, then get up and have breakfast in the sun if possible. I took time for friends, and to walk and ride my bike everywhere. If I had to go to an office to meet with someone, I would make it my main activity of the day, leave lots of time, bring a lunch, and a book or my journal if I would have to wait in a lineup, or just people watch. Then I would try to get home in time to have an afternoon nap, and make a good supper. Between dance classes and rehearsals, volunteer activities, occasionally working, and household tasks, I sometimes felt that I wasn't left much time for creative pursuits, but I managed to continue my artwork on the same basis as my bureaucratic hobby. I am lucky to have my studio, a small room on the third floor stairwell of a hundred year old building, with a large window that looks over downtown, at very low rent. There I am able to leave my projects, and days later find them ready to pick up where I left of, and continue for whatever time I can. Sometimes I felt I wasn't getting anywhere, but when I look back I see that I did accomplish something. I didn't set unreasonable goals for myself, and concentrated on enjoying the moment, and by the end of the year I found I had written a poem and performed it in several venues, collaborated with my dance partner on a couple of new choreographies and produced a 20 minute video that was later shown in a film festival and and art gallery.
By the summer of 2012 I was convinced that I never wanted to experience the effects of testosterone again, and I was uneasy about the idea of continuing on the testosterone blocking drug, Spironolactone, for the rest of my life. So despite not being totally sure if I was ready, on finding out there would likely be a year and a half wait, I decided to get myself on the waiting list for the operation to remove my testicles, the bilateral orchiectomy. Then, though I was even less sure about my desire for further surgical interventions, I began the process of applying for approval for sexual reassignment surgery, the first step of which was to persuade my psychiatrist to refer me to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto (CAMH). Their evaluation is required in order to obtain partial funding through Sask Health. I also contacted the Brassard Clinic in Montreal, the location approved in Canada for such surgeries, for detailed information and costs. I asked also for costs for facial feminization surgery, for which I had to send photos, and for Adam's apple reduction as well. Following up on these purely speculative consultations, I also researched and contacted a surgeon in Edmonton, a Dr. Allegretto, who it turned out offered the Adam's apple surgery for a lower cost than the Brassard Clinic. I took all these steps, a little at a time, because even though I wasn't sure, I realized that finding out more could help me decide what was really important to me, and I could get a head start on the long wait times once I did make a decision. In the end I decided that I didn't want the risk and expense of facial feminization surgery, partly at the urging of friends who like my face (lots of 'character'), and partly because I realized that with time the estrogen had been slowly altering my features, adding a little more fat and giving a softer skin texture. These subtle changes along with a happier facial expression and the gradual transformation of my narrow, stiff upper lip into a nice little cupid's bow as a result of hair removal were already making my face appear more feminine.
The hair removal has been another project requiring lots of patience and expense spread out over a long period of time. I began, on the suggestion of friends, with a Groupon offer for a package of 6 laser treatments on my face, but soon realized that the laser was not going to have much effect on my many grey hairs. So after trying two different laser studios, and much consultation with friends, support groups and websites, I decided to begin electrolysis on the most visibly stubbly part, my upper lip. I'm lucky in that I have never had much body hair below the neck, and since being on HRT even less. In fact I have less body hair than many women I have known, and on my face I had only a thin beard and no sideburns. But what a lot of hairs there are, even in a thin beard! After almost two years, after about 14 laser sessions and weekly or bi-weekly electrolysis sessions, I now have no moustache to speak of, but I'm still working on my chin. My cheeks I just pluck, a few minutes most days takes care of the few that grow there.
I came very close to having the tracheal shave surgery to reduce my Adam's apple, even going so far as to take a bus trip to Edmonton to consult with Dr. Allegretto, who did approve me for surgery, at a projected cost of $2,750. Here's another case where I'm glad I took the time to do lots of research, and consult with lots of people. The risks appeared to be very low in my case, though they increased considerably if you took the surgery a little further and had the vocal chords altered, to raise the voice pitch. This I was not interested in. Apart from the risk of ending up without a voice, I had indicated my interest when some other transwomen in the province were organizing to do voice training, and had eventually been accepted for 10 group sessions with the speech pathologist Dr. Christie Ife. I learned there was far more to voice feminization than just raising the pitch, and decided to alter my voice through application and exercise, which I think has been moderately successful. It's now seldom I get called 'sir' on the telephone. Apart from the pleasure of Christie's delightful personality and my enjoyment of our weekly gathering of transwomen, it turned out that she had studied with Dr. Allegretto and assured me he was one of the best in the field. I also got a testimony from an Alberta trans* person who had a friend who had been operated on by Dr. Allegretto, and said the scar was almost invisible. However, another friend referred me to an 'ask the doctor' website where there was an extensive thread of women writing in, concerned about their Adam's apples! I had always accepted it as gospel that only people with xy chromosones had this feature. 'Tranny chasers', and transmysoginists use it as 'proof' to identify transwomen in the bar, and I had no idea that there was a significant proportion of biological women with a slight to moderate protrusion. I began examining women's necks, and sure enough, mine, being not terribly pronounced, was not outside of the range of natural variation! Therefore, I decided to forego the risk and expense.
Early in 2012 my now ex-wife revealed to me, in stages, that she had decided we must separate. Until that moment, she had been insisting that we could continue sharing the house and raising our kids together despite not sleeping together, much as we had been doing for the previous several years. I had not begun transitioning until after she had made it clear to me that our relationship would be one of convenience, of just friends. I had been unsure if I could manage the lack of privacy in our small home, with my strong sexual desire, but she had assured me that for her it was not a problem. A mutual friend has since explained that she was thinking about separation around when I was being fired from my job. A half year later, as a result of my hormonal changes, no longer horny every morning, I was feeling confident that it could work out. Until she told me one day that she had decided that I could have the house. I was flabbergasted, and after digesting this, and commenting that it meant I would have to buy her share, I asked if she was talking about a separation. After some thought, she agreed that she was. So, to my other bureaucratic tasks was added the one of doing research on separation and divorce. I made arrangements for free consultation with a separation and divorce agency, which helped throw into focus the legal issues involved. I finally persuaded her to see my psychiatrist with me, in order to make a last plea for her to reconsider. I had asked her some years before to go to counselling with me, when we were first trying to sort out our marital problems, at which she had told me that she had no problems, it was I who needed help. She remained adamant. So, despite her insistence that we could write our own separation agreement, I had begun to realize that for many reasons, mostly financial and to do with the kids, the house, pension etc., it was not possible, so I asked friends for advice and arranged for a lawyer to draw up an agreement for us to sign, got her comments and had it revised, and finally it was done.
I made appointments with the bank to discuss the possibility of me borrowing money to buy her share of the property, but it had increased in value over the years. I had no permanent full time job, and as a 56 year old woman with no University degree, I had no prospects of getting anything suitable. I consulted with the bank and a lawyer and tried to persuade my brother and sister to act as guarantors for a loan, but they never responded, perhaps embarrassed to admit that they thought I was mentally ill and not dependable. I'm making it sound like I was dispassionate and efficient but no, I took as much time to cry as I needed, which was lots. However, I did not get depressed. Since I had made the decision to transition and become accepted as female, and begun taking HRT, my depression and suicidal ideation had not returned. I woke up every morning feeling grateful to be alive, with a strong desire to to see what life would bring next. The same as my other bureaucratic tasks, I did one thing at a time. As it was summer, I spent a lot of time in my garden. At first, in the spring, I wasn't sure if I was up for it, not only the work, but also the emotions that it would generate. This would likely be the last summer in the little urban orchard I had been working on and developing for the previous 20 years. But in the end, I managed to let go of any self imposed pressure of what I might feel ought to get done, and planted, and weeded, and watered, and harvested as much as felt enjoyable. Only occasionally was I overwhelmed by waves of nostalgia, thinking 'this is the last time I do this', or remembering all my plans and dreams. I told myself, who knows? Perhaps things would change, and I would be back in this garden some other year. As it turned out, I did return the following year, to harvest Saskatoon berries, and apples, and cherries, at the invitation of my ex-wife, as she and my children couldn't find time to do it.
In the fall, my ex-wife went to Spain with my daughter, and as per our separation agreement, I stayed in the house with my grown up son until the end of the year. He is the only one in my family who has unreservedly supported me in my transition. Not to suggest my daughter has been unsupportive, but she is younger, and very close to her mother, and has some reservations, I think. It must have been hard for her, coming into puberty and discovering her womanhood, just as I was finding mine. I had a lovely few months sharing the house with my son, who was taking classes at the University, working, and playing music. I began to deal with another huge task, my 'bureau' at home, going through more than 20 years of professional and personal files, and deciding what small percentage I needed to keep, and what to dispose of as recycled paper. What an exercise in nostalgia and letting go that was. Once again I tried not to hurry, and not to let myself be daunted by the mountainous task it was. I worked at it a little bit day by day. It was interesting to review my history, and that of my family. I took time to look at the photos, to read the letters, and to cry. Gradually the filing cabinets began to empty, boxes of papers left the house, and my three plastic filing boxes I had decided were all I could keep began to fill up with the distilled essence of my life history.