“Do I know you? You look familiar.”

As featured in Medium.com

Ever wonder what it might be like to change into a different person?

I’ve lived in Vancouver for the last forty years of my life, that’s about two-thirds of the total trips I’ve taken around the sun.

During those years I’ve met hundreds of persons, if not thousands. Some were my business clients; a couple were my bosses; dozens were my employees; about three hundred were my students at Capilano College; a crazy number were customers I had the pleasure of serving at my family’s restaurant in Kitsilano, Las Margaritas; another five hundred or so were fellow worshippers in the seven different churches we attended as a family; and several dozen were neighbors, the parents of our childrens’ friends, and the many other people I knew only by first name—the grocery store clerks, pharmacists, postal delivery persons, etc. I haven’t added all these people up and I don’t know how my list compares to yours—is it larger, smaller, average in size?

I have no way of knowing how many people in total this might be, and this uncertainty contributed to one of the biggest fears I entertained for years. It had nothing to do with anthropophobia; it had everything to do with transphobia—in reverse.

I assume that you are familiar with the term, basically it is the fear of transgender persons. Except, in my case, I was afraid of people who might be transphobic. “Might” is the operative word here, after all, I lived in Vancouver—what better place to be in if you plan to jump into the LGBT alphabet soup?

Unfortunately, “might” is a flimsy platform to stand on when it is the only option to falling on your own sword after growing weary of one’s internal battle. What if all the people in these overlapping circles of my life all chose to hate me? In some ways hate would be preferable to derision and mocking, I thought to myself. For this reason, too, death seemed so utterly convenient and reasonable.

My fear was that everywhere I went, the likelihood of running into someone who knew me in my previous life as a guy was pretty high. What would they say to me, how would they react?

It made sense to me, at the time, why so many transgender persons started life in a new place once they began their life over—presenting as their true selves—with no need to worry that their past would get in their way. But I also saw how lonely this had left many of them, living without the most important people in their lives to accompany them during what must be one of the hardest things anyone could think of doing, to live in the sex other than the one assigned to you at birth.

This is not a plea for pity, I’m only telling you what it was like for me, six years ago, at the age of fifty-seven when I began to disclose to family and friends of the changes that were about to take place in my life. Each person I disclosed to was sworn to secrecy, yet the process left me emotionally drained.

After two weeks, I had only disclosed to ten people, but it felt like I had already poured myself out and there was no more energy to continue. I had cried so much, that all the heaving and wailing had left my stomach muscles cramped. That weekend I went to bed after I did my Saturday morning run and did not wake up until mid afternoon on Sunday. Disclosure was exhausting and I didn’t know how I was going to survive.

One of the first persons I disclosed to, a client, turned out to be a life saver for me; she surprised me by telling me she had a brother who had also come out as transgender. She gave me the best piece of advice anyone could have given me, she told me to give people the benefit of the doubt. “People who know you love you. They are not going to throw you away,” she said. She was right, those first disclosures—as difficult as they were—afforded me the opportunity to experience a deeper connection than I had ever experienced with each person I told. It gave me hope that my life would not be over.

The need to control how the information went out about my pending plans to live as a woman became less important as time went by. Though it had been important at the beginning to control the flow—neither my aged parents nor our three adult sons knew anything—the news spread throughout my world without me having to be the messenger. Yet, I would liked to have been a fly on the wall each time the information was shared.

I quickly learned that once the most important people in my life affirmed me with their love and support, I couldn’t care less what others thought. I’ll never forget how it felt waking up the morning after I shared with my parents. It was a sunny morning in May, 2008, the sky was blue and the birds were chirping. I sat up in bed and took a deep breath—no more secrets to hide, I felt free like a bird being let out of its cage. Tears of gratitude flowed freely, I had a reason to live now.

I’m not a statistician so I have no way of knowing what my actual odds were of running into someone I knew on the street, who would take one look at me as say, “Do I know you? You look familiar.” Nevertheless, I had assumed this would be a regular occurrence for me—isn’t Vancouver just a small village?

Five years ago, on the last week of July I started living full-time as a female, and to this day, I have only run into someone I know perhaps a dozen times. Each time that it happened, my eyes made contact with theirs, I knew immediately who they were, but they—on the other hand—had a puzzled look on their face, their expressions betraying their thoughts…“I think I know you.” Generally, I’ve greeted them by name and told them I knew them from a previous life. Their response has mostly been: “Oh. A-ah. Yeah. Wow! How are you?” followed by a loss of words.

Fortunately, this is not how people have reacted this way.
No one has run for the exit door, yet, everyone has been amazingly mature and supportive once they have recovered their ability to speak intelligently.

It hasn’t been a cakewalk in every one of my circles. I want to be respectful of those who for some religious reason have not yet been able to wrap their brain around the idea that gender identity is not always linked to the set of gonads, appendages and orifices one was born with. This does make me a little impatient at times because, even in Vancouver, life for transgender persons isn’t always easy. We lose people far too often, young and old, who are incapable of imagining a future when all they know in their present is rejection, ridicule and marginalization.

Do I know you? Do you know me? I’ll be looking for you. Say Hi!

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