Please welcome Cat Howard, a writer and photographer from Ajax, Ontario, as a contributing writer to LGBT Perspectives. The First Person series features narratives about personal LGBT-related issues and experiences.
By Cat Howard
I’ve noticed recently there appears to be quite a few support groups for younger trans people. I say “appears to be” for they may have existed previously, but weren’t as willing to advertise their existence. This is a good thing, for anyone who has already been through it knows this can be a very scary journey upon which they are embarking, especially if they feel they are alone.
But at the same time, it raises a question in my mind. I was 52 before I even contacted CAMH in Toronto — it was called The Clarke Institute of Psychiatry then — and other than a support group run by The Clarke, there didn’t appear to be any other place out there. That group was of no use to me because they met in the evening, and I worked nights. Where were the groups for older trans people, such as people my age?
I never did find a group of any kind despite all my searching. The Clarke/CAMH claimed not to know of any groups east of Toronto, where I live, and my family doctor was less than helpful in this respect. At the time, I didn’t own a computer, so I so used the library, which blocked access to any sites that may have been helpful — they even blocked access to MySpace and Facebook.
I survived thanks to some acceptance, if not support, from my church. I know some trans people choose to live in the “gay underworld” in the hopes they will be less visible. I chose to stay in the mainstream. In fact, I drove a taxi for seven years and for the last four years of that time I found I was one of the most popular drivers in town. During those years driving I never knowingly came in contact with any other trans person from whom I could have sought information. In other words, I was pretty much flying solo. If I had been able to find an online group, I could have joined them, but I much prefer contact in “real life” as opposed to “cyber life.” Maybe I’m just old-fashioned in that respect.
I suppose older people would be welcome in the groups for younger people, but I also suspect they would feel uncomfortable. Other than this mutual journey, there may be little else in common with anyone there. I speak from experience, for when I attended a clinic in Montreal, I was the only person there not from B.C. and was at least 15 years older than everyone else. I just didn’t seem to fit in. I am also aware that at one point PFLAAG in Oshawa was talking of setting up a trans support group, but I don’t think it ever got beyond the talking stage.
During my last six months of driving in 2005, I met a young lady who has since become my best friend. She has become my rock. She gives me advice (“you’re not going to wear that”) support and acceptance. So accepting and supportive is she that I’ve dedicated my autobiography to her.
I’m fortunate in that I now have a very supportive group of friends (my doctor calls them my “village”) I can count on when I need help or just a good talking to. They tell me what I need to hear, not want I want to hear.
As I wrote above, I now have a support group, but when I made my first steps, I was alone except for some encouragement from some sympathetic friends and the occasional stranger. One very rough looking man with a Harley patch on his jacket said to me “I don’t understand what you’re doing, but I admire your courage.” That did much to boost my confidence.
Perhaps support groups for older people, if and wherever they exist, need to be more visible.
It’s something to think about.