JAMIE JOHNSON – Author of "Secret Selves"

For Transgender People and Their Parents

Transgender/Transsexual Body Parts

Many transgender/transsexual people struggle with their self image. Their bodies, especially those of female-to-males, are often different from a typical man’s. Some feel they are stereotyped into “weird” and therefore won’t even entertain the idea of dating.

Dragon’s Breath was a performance of life vignettes designed to incinerate those stereotypes. The 2-hour performance opened and closed Renfrew’s first ever Celebrating Diversity Festival. When I was asked to participate in Dragon’s Breath, I couldn’t say no. The mission of the festival – to reach beyond ourselves, because the more we know about each other, the more we understand and accept each other – is an attitude I try to live by. Of course I’d be part of it!

Dragon's Breath

But, what exactly was I agreeing to? I didn’t know the guy who was directing the show. Once introduced, he told me he planned to include several life stories, and that he had a group of high school students working on skits. When I asked him what the kids were working on, his reply was, “It’s still a work in progress, Jamie.” I was asked to read a couple of chapters of my book, Secret Selves, and express whatever else my heart was moved to say. In fact, spontaneity and improvisation were encouraged. If you’ve read my book, you have probably guessed that the control freak in me was not too happy with this scenario.

I was faced with a choice: if I was going to do this thing, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was going to have to push ahead strictly on faith. I’d have to step away from my cherished comfort zone and concentrate on the goal – to support a festival that was based on respect of all human rights. As I prepared for the event, every once in a while I’d have to stop and take a deep breath, but I did just that because I felt it was important.

During the last few days leading up to the first performance I began to get a bit nervous. I had been promised a script…that had never materialized. I was told that many of the performers were freaking out a bit because the script was MIA. Many were “scared shitless” about getting on stage. This news did not help me doze off into a wonderful, relaxed sleep the week before our debut performance. We didn’t even have a rehearsal until the day before that first show – one week before and a few towns away from the upcoming Renfrew festival.

During that rehearsal I heard life stories from a very diverse group: a very active couple found out the wife would spend most of their married life in a wheel chair when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I heard the history of a boy who had overcome three 8 – 12 hour brain surgeries to finally successfully have all of his brain tumor removed. A young woman spoke of her struggles with self-esteem, self-image and weight problems beginning in grade school. I took in opinions about how prejudice and judgment can chisel their way into someone’s life but can also be shaken off, and I heard a moving story about how one young, green-haired girl survived that prejudice and judgment by “cutting”. She felt a release from pain when a knife or razor sliced through her skin; an addiction she is fighting to overcome.

This girl’s story of cutting was not the only story of discrimination and addiction in the show, however. The featured life vignette began with a thirty-something Aboriginal describing how alcohol began shaping his life before he was born. He was thrown into the foster care system not long after he was born with fetal alcohol effects. He came on stage three separate times, dressed in ragged jeans, runners, a hoodie and ball cap, to tell about his struggles with physical and mental abuse during foster care, dealing with prejudice while living in white communities, his battle with drugs, alcohol and gambling addictions, how dealing drugs landed him on the street and in jail a number of times and how he found out he was HIV positive during one of those jail terms. His life seemed like a constant stream of conflict.  His fourth and final appearance on stage was in a long flowing dress, complete with make-up and his waist-length hair set free and gleaming in the evening light. The whole audience held their breath as “Jasmine” took the stage. She had learned that all the battles she had faced could not be conquered without self-acceptance. She learned what being trans meant, and while in school to become a chef, transitioned and gave herself wholeheartedly to AA. She was almost three years sober and had a rewarding job. The strength and courage she had mustered to open her soul and share her story had been recognized by the audiences with a standing ovation for all three performances. The stories were awe-inspiring; I had made the right choice!

My son, Kip, and his wife, Paige, came to the third performance. Paige told me how moving the show was. Her words were, “It really puts life into perspective.” I guess the combination of Jasmine’s story, interspersed with the chapters I read about my difficulty accepting my new son at first and how my love for him overcame those shaky first reactions, combined with all the other poignant life stories were a lot for Paige to take in. She’s a very empathetic young woman. Kip said she basically cried the whole two hours.

The next day, Kip came over for one of our bi-weekly workouts. He said that Paige had been particularly cuddly that morning when they woke up. He had said to her, “You’re thinking about yesterday, aren’t you?”

She replied with, “Yes. I can’t help it. Most days I forget what you’ve been through. Then once or twice a year something happens to make me remember, and it makes me sad.”

As Kip tells me this story I can tell he is fascinated by this. He says he replied to her, “You forget? How in the world can you forget? I mean, let’s face it, I don’t look like the average guy.”

I can appreciate how Paige feels, so I say, “Well, I can understand how she could forget. I mean you don’t look THAT different from a lot of guys. Actually you look very similar to the guy next door.”

Kip looks at me strongly, “But Mom, she sees me naked.”

I blush. “Oh…ya…I guess so, huh? I hadn’t thought of that.”

It doesn’t enter my thoughts that Kip’s body is different than the typical male physique. He is my son. That’s all I see. And Kip’s right, it is rather fascinating, but apparently Paige simply sees her husband. For those of you who don’t know, Kip hasn’t had “bottom” surgery. It just goes to show you how little the physical form plays into real love. It might have something to do with attraction in the beginning, but it the end, how you see and feel about someone has nothing to do with body parts.

I experienced something similar to this lately. As always, I’d like to lose a few pounds. I was telling my husband this and saying that I was going to decrease my serving sizes a bit to see if that helped. (I’ve been cursed with a love of food, a healthy appetite and bad genetics!) I told him I hate feeling fat. His reply was, “You’re not fat, you’re perfect.”

Well, I can tell you right now, I’m not perfect! Not even close. But maybe I’m perfect for him. He loves me for all the little life vignettes we’ve created together. All the moments we’ve shared – those I’ve written about and those that are private between us, and he loves the “me” I’ve become from those moments. It’s the soul of a person one falls in love with. And, forgive me, but I’m going to get a bit preachy here. I just want to say, to all the people out there who are like my son, people who are afraid of dating because of their body, get out there and let the world experience you. You have a lot to share. Let the breath of the dragon incinerate the stereotype you’ve cornered yourself into. Let people get to know you, and if the time and place are right, fall for you. Because if real love finds you, that love will be for your soul, not what is or isn’t wrapped around that soul.


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2 comments on “Transgender/Transsexual Body Parts

  1. That moved me to tears…there is something to be learned and gained for everyone from your experience…it isn’t only about the transgender issues…it is about love and acceptance. Every human craves and needs love and acceptance and you illustrate that so well. Thank you JJ.

    Marie Noreau

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