How to start over and create the future you want


image by Tiago Gerken (

In January of this year I did something drastic. I gave notice and left my job. This was a result of a long process of thinking about my life and where I’m headed. The job I was working at paid well, was well-respected and could guarantee me a financially comfortable existence. There was just one problem: I was deeply unhappy. There was no one thing that made it a bad fit. My co-workers were nice enough, though I resisted getting too close to anyone. I felt like I had little in common with them. They inhabited a privileged world that I had left behind when my struggles with mental illness and my battle with coming to terms with my transgender identity set in. In short, they did not feel like my tribe.

I believe that satisfaction in life comes from taking the experiences we have been through and making them part of our life story, having them inform our decisions moving forward, such as what we want to do with our life. My life has been shaped by my experiences as a transman, as a survivor of mental illness, and as a South African-born Canadian. For too long I think I have tried to pretend that I can ignore what has happened to me along the way to who I am. The truth is, I cannot. I feel it’s time that I live my life in accordance with the path I’ve walked.

I’m not sure what the future looks like exactly. I’m playing with a few ideas, one of which is to work with at-risk youth. I certainly have enough life experience to feel like I have something to offer. So I’m currently volunteering to gain experience in this domain. I am also working on starting my own writing business. My goal: to help non-profits and small businesses successfully promote their services.

It’s both scary and exhilarating to strike out on my own. But I’m excited to see what the future holds.


To the motherless on Mother’s Day

To some of us, Mother’s Day is a reminder of a painful past, of broken relationships and broken dreams. The following piece is my tribute to the woman who gave birth to me. Mom, I’m sorry I let you down…

ImageThe last time I spoke to my birth mother was in 2006. She flew to Canada from her homeland of South Africa to spread the remainder of my father’s ashes in the city we’d spent 10 years as a family: Prince George. My mother emailed me from my sister’s, where she was staying, and asked if I wanted to meet. It was nice – and surprising – to get an invitation, especially as the previous year we had had our share of conflicts around my decision to transition from my assigned female identity to a male one. At the time, my mother had disowned me and accused me of bringing shame over the family. After my father passed away from cancer, she told me she wished I’d died instead of him.

Given the acrimony that my transition had caused, I stayed away from my father’s funeral and accepted that I would perhaps not ever see my mother again. The thought was not so horrible. If love had once existed between us, I could not remember the last time my mother had admitted to feeling anything resembling it. Long before my transition we had locked horns over everything from my lack of motivation to my intentionally bad behaviour, as she saw it. In truth, my sin was that I had dared to become clinically depressed at the tender age of 12. Mental illness reflected badly on her skills as a mother. And if I had to guess, the guilt of her failure rendered her incapable of showing me affection.

Some children bring out the worst in their parents, and I certainly brought out the worst in my mother. Between my severe depressive episodes and my father’s physical disabilities, I imagine my mother felt her family was more of a burden than she’d signed up for. At least where I and my father were concerned. She convinced my father, a psychiatrist, to prescribe me antidepressants. But neither of them thought it necessary for me to speak with anyone outside the family. And so, when the medications made my suicidal thoughts grow worse, I withdrew even further, scared that I was going crazy, scared that if they found out, they would have me committed.

The yelling started gradually, and became more severe once my two elder sisters left the house. My mother would get upset at anything and everything it seemed. Like when my father dropped his fork at the dinner table, his fingers like twisted twigs, the result of severe rheumatoid arthritis. She would scream at him when he clumsily knocked his knee into the corner of the coffee table and blood poured onto the living room carpet. Because of the medications he was on, my father bled easily and long, his blood refusing to clot. My father rarely defended himself against my mother’s cruel jabs. As he later told me: try to think of it from your mother’s perspective, being with a man who is dependent on her to get around, to live. I couldn’t understand his logic. If she loved him, surely yelling was no way to show it?

But there was a viciousness in my mother’s attacks that made me want to leap up and defend my father with all my might. I loved him and wanted to look up to him. And yet, there he was, vulnerable, in many ways a broken man — and not even his wife treated him with respect. It made my blood boil. I tried to defend him but for my pains I unleashed not only my mother’s rage but my father’s too. In his eyes, my mother could do no wrong. And given the choice of defending the woman he depended on or the child who wanted to look up to him, he inevitably chose my mother’s side, condemning my angry outbursts and ordering me to apologize to my mother for challenging her authority.

I learned two lessons: sometimes doing what you think is right, hurts. And, never trust your parents.

As my father’s physical health declined, my mental health plummeted as well. My mother, too, sunk into a kind of sullen, angry depression, though this was never acknowledged. I remember her spending her afternoons stretched out on the leather couch in the TV room watching soap operas with the sound turned off. Some nights I would hear her screams from the bedroom, waking as she sometimes did from vivid nightmares.

It carried on like this until I finished high school and, at the tender age of 18, fled to Canada to stay with my sister and attend university. By then, my depression had become so entrenched that a mere change in environment wasn’t enough to shake it. But I finally reached out for professional help and started my long road towards recovery.

So, in 2006, when my mother invited me to meet with her, I thought: maybe we can finally have an honest conversation. We got together in front of the Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC. As I approached her I asked if it was OK for me to hug her. Stony-faced, she told me to do whatever I wanted. She stood as still as a tree-trunk as I tried to wrap my arms around her. We settled onto a park bench and I told her of the hurt she caused me, of the anger I still felt. When I questioned her outbursts, she seemed surprised. “Why did you bother listening to me?” she asked. As if it was my fault for caring what she thought of me.

I told her I needed her to apologize for the way she belittled my father and me. She refused. She said that I was to blame, that I had made her life a living hell. That’s when I realized that my mother would never change. And I needed to be OK with that. That day when we parted, I realized I could not continue the relationship with my mother and keep my sanity. I needed to let go of needing her acceptance. I needed to move on with my life.

I haven’t seen her since that day, and though it hurts, I know it was the right decision for my own healing.

Check me out on OP

I posted a personal piece at the Original Plumbing magazine blog. This one was tough to write, I’ll admit, as it deals with a hard topic that a lot of transsexual people struggle with at one time or another. Which is why I felt it was important to write.

Trigger warning: this piece deals with the aftermath of suicide.

Let me know what you think…


The transsexual “delusion” that isn’t

image from

image from

How is imagining that you are the opposite (sic) gender any different from a schizophrenic imagining that she is the Mother Mary or that he is Jesus Christ? This is a question that often gets thrown about as proof that the transsexual experience isn’t valid. “My friend thinks he’s a lizard,” sarcastic comments claim, “should I start feeding him insects”? Well, insects are high in protein, so your friend might benefit from this type of diet. But no, comparing transsexuals to schizophrenics is not helpful or accurate. Gender, researchers have found, is not an either/or proposition. And how we feel inside in terms of gender is pretty much set at the age of 3 years old. No amount of aversion therapy or tough love can change it.

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that has seriously debilitating symptoms that can prevent a sufferer from living a fulfilling life unless they receive treatment. Medications such as risperidol or newer ones like olanzapine help alleviate the loss of touch with reality, the voices and hallucinations that those with schizophrenia contend with. Once the medications kick in, sufferers recognize their own delusions and are able to distinguish between the real and the imagined just like anyone else.

Feeding these types of medications to a transgender person has no such effect, signifying that we are dealing with a different beast entirely.

Despite many attempts to come up with treatments for curing transsexuals of their so-called gender “delusions”, scientific data show that these have proven to be largely ineffectual. On the flip side, supporting the transsexual in transitioning from his or her assigned gender to the gender that he/she/they identifies with, has shown overwhelmingly positive results. Of course hormones and surgery are not a cure-all. People who have other conditions, such as ADHD or OCD, will continue to have those conditions after transitioning. But aligning their outer appearance to their internal sense of who they are has proven to greatly improve people’s sense of well-being.

Trust me, most of us who are trans would gladly have taken medication to cure ourselves of our “delusions” if it worked. But it doesn’t. And so, we are left with this option: what if gender isn’t something that the outside world gets to impose on us but something we need to choose for ourselves?

And to those who claim that transsexualism is a medically created phenomenon, that simply isn’t true. Gender bending individuals have existed since time immemorial. In some indigenous cultures we have even been endowed with special powers and called shamans. What medical technology has allowed is for us to take ownership of our own bodies and to determine how we want our bodies to reflect our selves.

That is a right we all deserve. My body tells a story, and the author of that story is me. If you think you get to decide who I am, you’re the one who is delusional.

Further Reading:

On the difference between being transsexual and being psychotic

On the harms of reparative (or conversion) therapy

Understanding gender (childhood development and terminology)

Trans expression in ancient times

Study of the effectiveness of hormones and surgery;jsessionid=F9CD88A587AA18FD15F86DD8A4C47441.f01t04

Whose gender are you?

Who owns gender? Is it the doctors who, when they deliver a baby, determine based on the appearance of genitalia whether a baby is a boy or a girl? Is it the scientists who determine that your chromosomes are XY, XX, or some other, rarer configuration? Is it the parents who, as they raise their child, see their child gravitate towards traditionally boyish or girlish toys and interests? Is it the child him or herself as they enter into puberty and beyond?

Or is gender a commonly recognized good; something that belongs to society at large? Is it something that those around us have a right to impose on us depending on the mores of the era?

When I was a child I did not think of myself in terms of boy or girl. I gravitated naturally towards activities that interested me, regardless of whether they were associated with masculinity or femininity. As it happened, I enjoyed being outdoors. I enjoyed playing soccer, floor hockey, hiking and exploring the city in the snow. I played with Hot Wheel cars, He-Man and Mr T. action figures, and GI Joe figurines. My friends were almost equally male and female and I had crushes on both sexes. This caused me no real conflict.

Feeling socially awkward when I entered into crowds of people, I preferred one on one interactions. They proved less complicated. I knew what the expectations of me were. I knew that the boys were becoming bigger and I wasn’t. And that, as I became older, did cause me growing discomfort. I knew that I was expected to sprout breasts not muscle. That I couldn’t run around shirtless forever. I wasn’t looking forward to it.

As for the traditionally feminine trajectory of dating, getting married and having children, it held absolutely no appeal for me. The possibility of pregnancy terrified me long before I fully understood how babies were formed.

I thought the conversations that women had were boring, based on what I witnessed among my mother’s friends. Discussing recipes, soap operas and hairstyles held no interest. When my parents had friends over, I found myself gravitating to my father’s friendship circle. I would sit on the floor and listen in on their conversations as they discussed the latest news, scientific discoveries, politics or history.

I had no words for what I was experiencing. I thought I was simply a tomboy. I thought maybe certain women felt this way and that I would grow out of it and feel more comfortable in my skin one day. But that never happened. I felt awkward at school in the PE class when we had to change. I didn’t want to strip down in front of the other girls so I would hide in a bathroom cubicle. I stopped eating in the hopes that would delay the sprouting of breasts and the onslaught of menstruation. It worked in terms of the latter. But it only delayed the inevitable.

I was at war with my body. I didn’t understand why. I felt shame and embarrassment and I didn’t trust that I had anyone to talk to about it. I was crazy, I thought. Or maybe even evil. I withdrew from the world around me, spending most of my time alone. I became depressed, even suicidal. Until I made the decision to live my life authentically, to take the taboo step of changing my gender. I have never regretted my decision, despite the high price I have paid (loss of family, friends and opportunity).

Who gets to define my gender? And why does it matter? There used to be a time when people believed that kings were gods and that slaves were meant to be slaves by birth. We used to believe women were inferior to men (some still do), that it was simply the way the world was ordered. Most of us don’t subscribe to those notions anymore – we’ve seen that the way things used to be doesn’t necessarily translate into the way things are. Is gender the next frontier, less a life sentence than a mutable fact, a choice we have to be our authentic selves? What difference does it make to anyone else whether I live my life as a man or a woman? And yet, to me, it makes all the difference in the world.

What right does anyone else have to deny me that? My gender is my own.

The Equifax chronicles – or how being trans is sometimes confused with fraud

dreamstimefree_21343Today I went to the bank to open an account for my freelance business. Easy peasy, right? You’d think so but you’d be wrong.

I thought it was just me, but when I met my financial advisor he seemed kind of short with me. He peppered me with pretty specific questions about the nature of my business and treated me like I was hiding something. WTF? I didn’t know why until he asked me if I’d ever had another name. I told him yes and he asked me what it was. Sigh.

Now, I’m not the kind of person that hides that I’m trans. But sometimes it gets tiresome to have to explain myself. So, I tried to steer the conversation away from talking about my past. It didn’t work. Turns out when the bank ran a credit check on me, I got flagged. My ID number, he explained, was not associated with my name. WTF!

We cleared up the confusion when I told him about my gender change. Somewhere someone had neglected to inform me that Equifax needs a copy of my name change paperwork. I hadn’t thought of that way back when and no one’s ever given me grief over it before. I am happy to report that my financial advisor’s demeanour finally relaxed and the snarkiness evaporated. He realized I wasn’t a fraudster, and I realized he thought being trans was no big deal. Yay.

He’d initially thought that maybe I wasn’t who I said I was — that’s what it usually means when the ID number and name don’t match. Fraud.

Glad we sorted THAT out.

It’s been years since I’ve had any problems with my paperwork being in the wrong name and it reminded me of the early days of my transition. Damn, those were not fun times.

Next step: fax my name change to Equifax. Clear up confusion. Get my credit score. Make sure everything is in order.

Breathe. Move on with my life.

The Blame Game – The High Cost of Mental Illness

I don’t really know when it started, only that I was young. I remember as a 6 year old looking around me and wondering why I felt so lousy. I used to think it was because the adults around me were so stupid. Their stupidity made me miserable. In retrospect, my illness made everyone and everything seem stupid. And I thought that once I grew into an adult, it would change: I would be able to choose my life, be my own person. Hang out with smart people. Be smart. Build the life I wanted. Little did I know.

The symptoms were: shaking, fast breathing, sweating, words caught in the back of my throat. The result was fear of social interactions, avoidance of others, self-inflicted isolation. It’s the only way I felt safe.

When I turned eleven, my family decided that we should move back to the country of our origins: South Africa. My father asked me what I thought. I told him that it sounded like a good idea. Secretly I thought that maybe the change of scenery would do me some good. Maybe it would cure me of the insidious evil I carried inside me. I thought of it as an evil, as a gift the devil himself had bestowed on me as punishment for something I had done, no doubt. I believed in my own corrupt nature because I was a Christian, a Calvinist, and because that is what my father told me was the truth: that we were all born in sin. Only if we tried really, really hard could we make it into heaven. I was pretty sure I wasn’t trying hard enough. Despite my best efforts.

The evil inside me squeezed out any pleasure that remained pretty much as soon as we arrived in Pretoria. The place was hot, dusty and confusing. The year was 1990. We had arrived at the tail end of the Apartheid era. No longer in tolerant Canada, I was forced into a tight-fitting school skirt, and a white blouse and tie. My tomboyish ways revealed themselves only when I was at home, where I still enjoyed running around in the backyard bare-chested and free — until a nosy neighbour spotted me across the fence and I hid in the garden shed.

No longer feeling safe to show myself as I was, I became a skilled concealment artist. I stayed in my room most days, under the covers, lamenting my inability to break out of the shell that encrusted me. I was like a fossil – a historic artefact of life.

I hid behind long silences, the walls of my bedroom, the metal security gates of our home. When I ventured to school, I blended in as best I could, drew as little attention to myself as possible and on breaks, found refuge in the library with a motley crew of introverts and oddballs. I spoke to no one about what I was feeling, trusted no one. And steadily sunk ever deeper into the clutches of depression.

My parents said nothing until, when I turned 16 and my eating patterns became irregular, they took me to see a neurologist. She asked me why I was restricting my food intake. I burst into tears and told her that I just wanted to be healthy. She handed me a tissue and called in my parents. After that, my mother took me to see a nutritionist, who developed a menu for me to follow. All I remember was craving dried apricots and drinkable yoghurt. I did my best to comply to everyone’s advice and obediently took the antidepressants my mother told me to drink after dinner each night. My father was a psychiatrist, my mother a librarian with an undergraduate degree in psychology. Surely they knew how to help me?

Once I started taking the pills, the trouble really started. With them came new feelings that flowed through my veins; I felt constantly restless, on edge, and strangely, unsettlingly euphoric. It scared the heck out of me – and I trusted no one, least of all my parents. I had no words to describe what I was going through; I thought I was crazy. The euphoria frightened me because it would grip me and leave me buoyant for no reason. It didn’t matter if the day had gone well or badly at school or at home, the feeling existed on its own plane, disconnecting me from grounding reality, leaving me feeling untethered, afloat, in danger of doing something stupid and unpredictable. What if I killed myself in a moment of lethal recklessness? I no longer trusted that I would not harm myself, but I told no one.

Instead, I decided to stop taking the medicine. As I was getting the pills from my father, who brought home samples the drug reps dropped off at his psychiatrist’s office, there was no one outside the family to monitor whether I was taking them or not. My father didn’t ask me about it and when I finally told my mother, she saw my refusal as just one more demonstration of my stubbornness. In her eyes, I simply didn’t want to get well. By then our relationship had soured irreparably. I thought she was abusive and she thought I was intent on making her life miserable.

My descent into full-blown clinical depression reached its peak in my twenties. The first half of that decade was marked with suicidal thoughts, drug overdoses, wrist cutting, alienation from my family, and finally the realization that perhaps at the source of my depression lay something else. At 24, I consulted a specialist who diagnosed me with gender identity disorder. I began hormone treatment and started to live openly as a man. My depression lifted almost instantly. Then it all came crashing down two years later when my father died.

My family blamed me for the stress I caused my father before his death through my gender transition. My mother accused me of killing him and destroying the family. She disowned me but kept on sending abusive messages, reminding me of what I was losing in turning my back on the family. I was glad for the ocean between us: she still lived in South Africa, while I had long since made a home for myself in the relative safety of Canada. I asked her to stop contacting me.

I miss having a family. It upsets me that my family was not able to overcome the prejudiced opinion that depression was a character flaw. Only recently have I come to accept that I do not need to blame myself for my battle with depression. I became ill during my childhood and it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t ask for it, nor did an evil spirit make me bad. Whether it is genetic or situational, depression isn’t cured through blame. I’m lucky to have found help from people who showed me compassion when I couldn’t show it to myself.  I’m better now – though I still struggle from time to time. Every day I am depression free is a gift, no more a choice than the depression I sometimes still experience.

And while depression is not a choice, showing myself compassion is. That’s where the healing starts.

Blogging once more

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted in this space. Life has been busy and tumultuous – more on that in a later post perhaps. But I’ve been wanting to blog more about the things that have shaped me into the person I am today – in an attempt to define the values I hold and the beliefs I cherish. And in the hopes that in writing down my origins I can get some sense of where I’m headed. Something that is especially timely these days. And if others find enjoyment or learning from these stories, well, all the better.

Today’s blogpost theme is Fatherly Love. In it I explore my relationship with my father, a man whom I loved deeply and who passed away after a long struggle with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2005.

– – –

I had a strong respect for my father from an early age; I wanted above all else to earn his approval. I was also terrified of him, of what he represented. He was an authority figure whose job it was to show me right from wrong and who, I felt, was judging my every action. He was also a man who had endured great suffering. My mother took great care to tell us, their three children, about my father’s kidney transplant at age 25, how he had almost died and then miraculously survived. How they had embraced life together afterwards and had accepted that life was precious and in need of cherishing. Life was also, we were told, fragile. Very fragile.

My father’s health was never good, for all the years I knew him. He had vertigo and sometimes would black out, especially as he grew older. He was a hemophiliac, which means bumping into objects left him bleeding all over the place without end. His skin as thin as parchment, this was not an uncommon occurrence. He also battled with skin cancer for years and regularly would go in to the doctor’s office to have a malignant wart frozen and removed. He wore thick glasses that doubled the size of his eyes when he wore them and rendered him even more imposing. But the kidney transplant was the main threat to his survival. He was living on borrowed time, we were told. And I, for one, had no reason to doubt it.

The medications he was on kept his body from rejecting the organ his mother had donated to him, but they were also slowly killing him. The drugs ate away at his muscles until, as he crept towards his 60s, he could no longer stand on his two legs or walk. His muscles had atrophied and the rheumatoid arthritis was so severe that his feet jutted out at a 90 degree angle from his legs, and his fingers dangled useless from his gnarled hands, the swelling having cut off the nerves. He crawled around the house on his knees, shuffling across the carpet from one room to the next on styrofoam pads. My father never complained about this. Each night he would do stretching exercises, at first in the pool in the back yard and then, when that became too difficult, in his bedroom. I could hear him huff and puff from my room at the top of the stairs.

The family treated my father with deep reverence. Here walked a sage who had endured great suffering and to whom we were all beholden. Because despite his great personal suffering he had also managed to establish himself as a well-respected psychiatrist. He had his own private practice until the day he died at 65. And throughout his life he dabbled with teaching university-level courses, though he always seemed to prefer working with patients, first hand. Forensic psychiatry was another strong interest, and one that he practiced more and more in later life, appearing in court as an expert witness in murder trials. His work kept him alive, he said, and it was the single most rewarding aspect of his life. Besides his family, perhaps.

He loved the family he had built. I never heard him say an unkind word to or about my mother, his loyalty complete until the very end. He doted on his then three daughters and had big dreams for all of us. My sisters were much older than me and left the house before his illnesses truly crippled him. But we all lived with the fear of not knowing how long he would be around, and witnessed his constant pain, the result of severe rheumatoid arthritis, another side effect of his medications.

I loved, respected and feared my father, and, in a childish way, believed that his life depended on my total obedience. That was unfortunate because I was a naturally energetic, rambunctious child who seemed to get in trouble at every turn. I wore out my babysitters with my constant drive for excitement and enjoyed nothing more than activities like playing outside in the Prince George snow, barefoot, wearing nothing more than shorts and a T-shirt. Even then, though, I carried a darkness in me, a sense I could not shake that I was evil beyond hope. A belief that was probably born from the vestiges of my cultural heritage as a protestant Afrikaner from South Africa.

As Calvinist Christians, my parents – especially my father – held the belief that we were all born in sin; only by the grace of God did any of us stand a chance to achieve forgiveness and gain access to heaven. I took these beliefs to heart and struggled to regulate my impulses, sexual or otherwise. My father had a temper too, and when I behaved particularly badly he would take me to my room, throw me over his lap and spank me with his bare hand. This is hurting me more than it’s hurting you, he would say to me, but I didn’t believe him. I recall one particular day when my father’s voice bellowed forth from a neighbouring room, calling me. I froze. Terrified of the upcoming spanking I feared was inevitable, I sought to protect my behind – and sat down. The loud crack that followed was the sound of some of my father’s prized vinyl records breaking under my weight.

When my father entered, his anger exploded. I darted from the room, up the stairs and to my bedroom. My father soon followed and I received my worst spanking ever. That was perhaps the only time my father came close to losing control with me. Most of the time he was a gentle man, a kind and loving father. This moment was the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps that is why it terrified me so.


To STP or not to STP

Folding-cupAs a transguy with minimal genital alteration down there, standing to pee is something that I wish I could do, but simply can’t. Not unless I take off my pants completely or use some sort of synthetic device to help me. Enter Stand to Pee devices. There’s a whole market for these and lots of transguys of use them. I’ve considered buying them but:

1) I’m cheap


2) I don’t like to carry stuff with me

Few things would make me blush more than to have my STP device discovered at, say, an airport security checkpoint or at a border crossing during a search. It’s one of the reasons I don’t take a Freshette with me or any of the other products on the market. I just don’t trust that it’ll remain between me, myself and I.

I’ve gone for more home-made devices, like using a funnel (not the right shape/pee angle ratio), or cutting out a circular disc from a coffee lid and bending it as required.
But none of these solutions make me feel empowered.

So here’s an idea for anyone out there who wants to help the trans community.

Design a camouflage STP device. I.e. a device that, if someone found it, they would think it was something else. Heck maybe it can even be something else!

My suggestion? Make it look like a collapsible cup. You know, one of those folding cups you can take on camping trips or tie to your key chain. Small, compact, and ready for use.

And once you’ve turned this into something real, send me a prototype to try out.

Just an idea.

Wish list

LeafSometimes just putting something out there makes the universe shift. The sheer act of verbalizing holds power, and the act of dreaming is key to keeping us moving forward. In that spirit I hereby offer a list of activities that I would like to realize before I die. Here goes:

– Buy a round the world ticket and travel for a year

– Raise a child

– Publish a book

– Bike across Canada

– Run a marathon

– Learn a martial art

– Get a Master’s degree

– Own (and drive) an electric car

– Learn to speak Spanish

– Become a teacher

What are ten things you want to do in this lifetime?