This series features first person narratives about personal LGBT-related issues and experiences.
AJAX, Ontario — This could very easily be subtitled “Things I’ve learned over the past nineteen years”.
No matter what your age, when you begin this journey and start hormones you will revisit what may not have been one of the more enjoyable parts of your life – adolescence. Some people experience the wonderful affliction known as acne (ugh). I’m not an expert, so I’m not going to discuss that. But there are other areas where I may be able to provide advice and/or information.
Let’s start with makeup. A good rule of thumb when it comes to makeup is “less is more”. Keep in mind that the use of cosmetics is to enhance one’s natural beauty, not create a mask. If necessary, ask a friend for advice and help. Have her show you how to apply it properly. I have been fortunate in that my best friend did hair and makeup in the Toronto film industry and has been extremely helpful. If you are unable to find a friend to help, consider going to a stylist for tips. Personal observation – I know some makeup artists will tell you that you need foundation, but keep in mind that most foundations will clog your pores.
Okay, we’ve got your face made up, now to decide what you’re going to wear. I’m not going to bother you with a lecture on dressing in a style appropriate to your age. I can’t, unless I want to be a hypocrite. I’m 71 years old and very fond of miniskirts (much to the chagrin of my BFF), so all I’ll say is wear what you feel comfortable wearing. In defence of my minis, I drove a cab for seven years and found I did much better on tips whenever I wore a mini. Also, dress appropriately for the weather. If you live in Canada or the northern US, you’ll probably find that in winter fashion goes out the window in favour of comfort.
Wait, you’re not ready to walk out the door just yet. There’s a couple of things you still have to practice and master. First, your voice and speech patterns.
Unless your normal voice sounds like Barry White, you can probably get away with just raising the pitch of it. I was fortunate in that my normal voice wasn’t that deep, so I can get away with very little modification. I tended to stutter, so had adapted the technique of using a more breathy voice and a slower tempo when I spoke. This had the advantage of greatly reducing the stuttering. A speech therapist noticed this and said I should keep it up for it also made my voice sound more feminine. Something else you have to consider is speech patterns. You may not have paid much attention too it in the past, but women don’t use the same speech patterns as do men. As a writer, I’m constantly paying attention to speech patterns as well as dialects whenever I’m out for possible use for a character. Listen to women speak and you’ll see what I mean.
Next, men are usually more aggressive than women and this shows in their gestures, which tend to be “large” for lack of a better word – more sweeping and aggressive. Women don’t tend to do that, so you’ll have to learn to dial down the aggression in the movements. This will take practice on your part and you’ll have to monitor your actions carefully until the more refined movements become second nature. Yes, there are women who do use grand gestures, but they are usually considered less than ladylike.
Something else you will have to work on is the way you walk. Men usually have a longer stride than women and walk at a faster pace. This too will take practice and constant monitoring on your part. I found one way I was able to slow my pace and reduce the length of my strides was to wear heels. I just couldn’t walk as I used to while wearing heels without putting my ankles at risk.
Hair is another area you may have to consider. If you’re able to grow your hair out, more power to you. I couldn’t do that because I started in my mid-50’s. My hair was reasonably long, but wouldn’t grow out any more. Since I’m not fond of wigs (they feel like hats) I went for weaves. Yes, they can be expensive and have to be replaced every two months at most, but they do work. When they got to be too expensive for my limited income, I did have to resort to wigs. The estrogen seems to be affecting the growth of my hair and it is now growing at a rapid rate, so after consultation with a friend who does hair and makeup in the Toronto film industry, and my hairdresser, we decided to let my own hair grow, then have it shaped into a bob. Once it reaches an acceptable length, we’ll colour it.
Please, please bear in mind that much of what follows is applicable in the Province of Ontario only. Laws and requirements will vary with your province or state of residence. Since you now look like the person you always knew you were, it’s time to change name and gender on your documents. In Ontario, it is possible to change the name on your driver’s permit simply on the strength of a letter stating such change is necessary from your doctor.
The rest of the documents require government forms and a lot of patience. Changing the name on your birth certificate requires sending them all kinds of information – the names of your parents; information on both your financial history and criminal background. This latter information is to make sure you’re not changing your name to avoid criminal prosecution or escape bankruptcy. They will also ask why you want to change your name and what name you want. Once you have the form filled out, it must be notarized. **HINT** Most lawyers will charge between $75 and $100 to notarize a document. Most town and city halls have a “commissioner of oaths” on staff who can do the same thing for much less. In Ajax, where I live, the cost was $20. When you’ve followed all the steps, you need payment of $137 then send everything to the Registrar-General for the Province of Ontario. And you wait.
In October of 2013, the government of Ontario changed the requirements for changing the gender on birth certificates. Surgery is no longer required. Another government form (and payment of $97) along with a letter from you doctor stating the doctor has treated you for “x” many years and the change is necessary. After notarizing this, it to gets sent to the Registrar-General. And more waiting. They usually say 6 weeks.
On the bright side, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration quietly announced in February 2015 that citizens would be allowed to change their federal documentation on self-identification. So once you have your Ontario documents, you can change any federal documentation at no cost. Except the passport. This will require applying for a new one in your new name and gender and paying the appropriate fee.
Surgery is a very personal decision and I won’t try to influence you one way or the other. Personally I will say the clinic declined to operate on me for other medical reasons. If you decide the surgery isn’t for you, or like me there are other medical conditions, there are some alternatives to the full SRS. There is an operation called an orchiectomy, or orchidectomy, that removes the testes. This greatly reduces the amount of testosterone the body produces. There is also a version of this surgery that also removes the scrotum. Either of these will leave you with what is effect a catheter made of your own flesh.
Breast enhancement is another area of concern for many trans women. In Ontario it is considered cosmetic and not covered by the provincial health plan. But, there are certain conditions that will be covered. One of these is called “aplasia”, which basically is lack of growth of breast tissue. If you’re not happy with your breast development, discuss these possibilities with your doctor, but I warn you, many doctors are not aware of the conditions or that they are covered under OHIP. I have in my possession (somewhere) documentation from OHIP that describes these covered conditions. Send me a personal message and I’ll send you copies of what I have to show your medical practitioner.
I hope the things I mention in this essay will help you avoid some of the pitfalls and minefields as you embark on your new life. If you live in Ontario this may help you navigate the government requirements. And the federal information may also prove helpful.
Enjoy your new life – you’ve earned it.