Cadence's Gender Transition
On New Years Eve, 2009, at midnight, I went what is referred to as "Full-time" as a woman. For me, this meant asking people to call me Cadence, instead of Matthew, and to use "she" and "her" when referring to me. It also meant that while I had been wearing Ugg boots and a full face of makeup since I was fifteen, my high heels and hair extensions would no longer be reserved strictly for a Friday night at Celebrities or The Odyssey. Unfortunately, it would also mean some eye-opening lessons about what our government dictated were, and (more importantly) were not the integral medical aspects of my transition.
Sitting in my first appointment at the plastic surgeon's office with my mother, I learned that any woman in BC whose breasts are more than a cup-size apart, trans or not, was eligible for a free boob job. I prayed for deformed, radically-variant breasts.
My prayers went unanswered.
I also learned that I would not be able to change my legal sex designation from an "M" to an "F" on my birth certificate, drivers' license, or passport - that is, unless I wanted a vagina. A seemingly logical requirement, but one that scared me and made me feel a lot of self-doubt at the time. Growing up, I had always been acutely aware of the obvious differences between who people saw when they looked at me, and who I felt I was on the inside; read: how I wanted to look. Having had zero exposure to vaginas, I in fact felt that having one had absolutely nothing to do with my identity whatsoever. I was told that MSP would pay for me to have surgery in Montreal, as long as that was the surgery I wanted. Which, of course everyone agreed was what I needed to do. Everyone but me. How could I even think about something like that yet? Having a vagina wouldn't make anyone see me as a woman. The bank teller, the doctor in a walk in clinic, the grocery store clerk... They wouldn't be looking between my legs; they would be looking at my face. What the plastic surgeon, my very expensive gender-specializing psychogist, and I could agree on was that I would need extensive facial surgery: a rhinoplasty, cheek implants, my chin and jaw shaved down, and the entire front of my skull replaced with a titanium plate in order to smooth out my forehead. This, I learned, in addition to most of the hormone costs I would need to pay for the rest of my life, would also not be covered.
In addition to these difficult lessons, I would learn that being transgender was becoming a very hot commodity, and that when you chose to share your story with the public, everyone would suddenly feel that it was their right to ask a myriad of invasive questions about your life, your transition, and your genitals.
I was working at Cupcakes at the time, and accepted with giddy excitement the offer to be featured on the W Network show The Cupcake Girls. My stint on reality television would not procure a single cent for me to put towards the daunting surgical overhaul I was facing, but it would invite Canadians into my personal life in a way that I wasn't capable of understanding at the time.
The next almost-decade was a blur. Mostly because my popularity in the nightlife scene as a result of having been on the show, coupled with the crippling anxiety and depression which stemmed from my inability to pay for the transition I wanted led me down a slow, meandering, and yet all-too-predictable path into a devastating drug and alcohol addiction. I had parents who paid for the Facial Feminization they could afford, which is a luxury and a blessing few trans people can boast about. But without full facial electrolysis and a complete FFS transformation, I also had a five o'clock shadow and a man's face. Or, half of one, anyways. I was denied an apartment in the West End by landlords who assumed I was an escort solely because I am trans. I was still called "sir" at work, the doctor's office, and by strangers. The way I felt about myself, my appearance, and what I was worth meant that I accepted a steadily-worsening degree of abuse in my romantic relationships. It started when my first boyfriend after beginning transition told me that he was leaving me, but that maybe he'd come back when I was pretty. It ended, nearly a decade later, with me testifying in court against a partner who made a habit of punching and strangling me, and of using a variation on the trans-panic defense when explaining his behaviour. I was angry and exhausted, and I'm still angry and exhausted.
I took that frustration and I directed it towards the goal of rebuilding myself and my life from an internal standpoint. Years of focusing primarily on the external had left me feeling empty, broken, and with no will to live. Extremely close to being another casualty of our city's addiction and overdose crisis, I shut down my social media management business, sent my boyfriend packing off to jail for the last time, and checked myself into a treatment facility.
It took me almost ten years to realize that being trans didn't decrease my value as a person, and that I deserved an actual chance at being the person I have the potential to be. Now it's time for our government's policies to reflect a belief in that same idea.
BC has changed its laws in recent years, so that SRS or "bottom surgery" is no longer required for one to change their legal sex. You can now change all your little "M"s to little "F"s and safely live, work travel, access health care, seek an education, find adequate housing, and avoid weird looks from bouncers when you hand them your ID. Or at least, that's the idea. The problem is, however, that all the things these people actually see: beard stubble, an Adam's apple, a square jaw, brow bossing, and whatever else - are deemed "cosmetic", when in fact they are the features that actually prevent many trans women from consolidating and confirming their gender in a society where people are looking at your face, rather than your junk. A transition can cost between 50,000 and 100,000 dollars, and most of this cost is up to us to pay for. In a province that says "we recognize you as women", MSP's practices are saying "but only because you choose to be".
Perhaps the opinion that taxpayers should front the cash for my shiny new forehead will be a radically unpopular one, but isn't it still an abhorrent idea to many people in this province that trans people should be allowed to use public washrooms, access community services, or exist at all? Haven't we decided as a community, as a government, as a nation - to move forward and support the trans community by, at the very least, taking their word for it that they need to take hormones, look a certain way, and be called certain words in order to live their lives? Isn't it our government's choice to accept the notion that trans people have not chosen this struggle, and that the most appropriate course of action is to allow them to transition in the legal sense? Why then, is the support not there to aid them in doing so? Why are trans people being told that their government, their doctors, and their mental health professionals accept and understand the reality of their condition and that the best course of action is to proceed with an expensive, often painful transition which can take years, but conversely informed that it is their sole responsibility to fund the necessary changes? How can we tell someone that we know the changes are necessary, but when the invoice gets put on the table, tell them that they are "cosmetic"?
Why are trans people still being backed into a corner, suicide at one shoulder, sex work looming over the other, and a giant price tag hanging over their heads like an axe - or more accurately a scalpel - waiting to drop?
OMG the team at GoFundMe chose my campaign for part of their Gives Back program, and donated $500 to my cause! I'm so grateful!
Thank you so much for continuing to share my campaign, the article about me by Davie Village Post, and of course, for donating! Love you all! Xoxo
Wow, you guys! I'm so blown away by the amount of views, shares and donations since my story ran on Davie Village Post's website! Another $80 towards my goal is completely amazing and I am so grateful. Keep sharing my story and getting that number to go up, thank you for your support, and I love you all so much!
Thank you so much to the Davie Village Post for their article on my story!