Rachelle is a recently transitioned transgender woman living in Ottawa. She’s very active in the trans community, and is on the planning committee for Ottawa’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, which will be held this Saturday November 20th. This year is a particularly special one for the trans community: in addition to the annual candlelight vigil for trans persons who have lost their lives due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice, Ottawa Police Services will be holding a flag raising ceremony that marks the first time the trans community has been officially recognized in Canada. There will also be a peaceful march to Parliament Hill in support of Bill C-389.

My name is Rachelle. I’m a fully transitioned woman – born male, obviously, and now female. By profession I’m an IT manager, so I’m a geek at heart. I love computers. I also have interest in web development. I’m an avid skier – I ski from the moment that the ski hills open right through to the last day. I love travelling, too. I’ve traveled a bit to Europe and the US and the Caribbean. I also love camping, believe it or not! I camp a lot during the summer, and I enjoy riding my motorcycle. I go on motorcycle trips at least once a year where I leave in the morning at sunrise and ride until sundown. Last year I went to Cape Breton, and I visited Halifax and PEI. I mean, going around Cape Breton on a motorcycle is paradise. It seems like as soon as you get to New Brunswick life seems to slow down a beat or two.

Obviously I’m also very active in the trans community. I’m on the executive committee of Gender Mosaic as First Vice President. Gender Mosaic is a transgender support group based here in Ottawa, and we’ve been here for over 20 years. I’m also on the planning committee for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is on November 20th.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance is on Saturday November 20th. Can you tell me about that?

Absolutely. In 1998 a transgender woman named Rita Hester was murdered because she was trans, and a year later a candlelight vigil was held in San Francisco. Since then they’ve called it the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Between 1999 and 2010 the event spread across the US, Canada, and Europe. There are candlelight vigils all over, and we remember people who have lost their lives to transgender hatred or prejudice.

This year is a very special year because a few of the Gender Mosaic members are on the LGBTQ Liaison Committee at Ottawa Police Services. The Ottawa Police does a lot for the gay and lesbian community, but for the trans community it always seemed like we were kind of tacked on to the end. So Ottawa Police graciously offered to raise a flag on our behalf this year. There’s going to be a flag raising ceremony where they’ll raise a flag of our choosing, and the Chief of Police will speak, as will the Chief of Police of Gatineau, the Superintendent of Paramedic Services, Mayor Elect Jim Watson, and the NDP MP Bill Siksay, who is the sponsor of Bill C-389, will also speak. There will also be two members of the transgender community speaking – a male-to-female trans person, and a female-to-male trans person.

We’ll march to Parliament Hill in support of Bill C-389. It’s a bill that would add gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Criminal Code. That would mean that if someone were transgender, they couldn’t lose their job because of their gender identity or expression. It would also affect cases where there are custody issues with children, and so on and so forth. In the Criminal Code, if someone were physically attacked because of their gender identity it would become a hate crime, which means stiffer penalties. The bill will be introduced in Parliament for a third and final reading in December. If it passes that reading, it will become law of the land. We have people from all over the place coming, and it’s our hope that we’ll have over 1000 people, and it looks like we’re on track to achieve our goal. It’ll be a peaceful march along Elgin Street from Ottawa Police to Parliament Hill. We just want to express that we’re a group of people like everyone else. Our families, supporters, and friends will be marching with us. It will be the first time that an official organization in Canada recognizes the trans community.

Let’s talk about the trans community here in Ottawa. What’s it like? What kind of challenges does it face?

Well, the trans community is a small minority. It’s also very fragmented. A lot of people in the trans community have had a very rough life because of their gender identity, and because of that a lot of them are disenfranchised and angry. A lot of members of the community live in what we call “stealth.” Some will transition and you’ll never know that they were anything other than a man or a woman. They are very determined that no one ever find out. In my case, I wish I could have transitioned and people would never know. But, I mean, my reality is that I started to transition at 38 and testosterone did its work in my teens and twenties and thirties, so people look at me and I assume they know. A lot of people in the trans community seem obsessed with wondering if people know. I just assume that they know.

Anyway, the transgender community is very fragmented. At Gender Mosaic we have a good core of about 30 people. Many of the people in our group are transgender in the sense that they like to live in both genders. They need to live in both genders to keep their sanity. Most of our members are male to female. Many are married with children or grandchildren and what have you. I would say that at Gender Mosaic maybe 5% of members pursue full transition. That just goes to show that the transgender community is very varied. .

Can you tell me about your experience as a transgendered person?

For my part, when I came to Gender Mosaic I was broken in pieces. I knew that I couldn’t continue living the life that I had previously lived. For most of my life, I mean, I was pretty much a hermit. I was completely isolated.

I started my transition at the age of 37, three years ago. I went into counselling with a gender identity specialist. It’s a very gradual process. First you do therapy to identify how severe the gender identity problem is. For a lot of people living as a woman for 25% of the time and a man the rest of the time is enough. That’s what they need. Hormones are for when everything else has failed. If you say you want to live as a woman, you start dressing as a woman and start acting like one. If that’s all you need, great! But if you need more you move on to hormones. It’s the same thing with surgery. Surgery is for when everything else fails. In my case, at 37 I started the transition, so I started with therapy and androgen blockers, which lowers the testosterone in your body. I came out to my family and friends. My family did not take my coming out well. I did a legal name change, and started hormones in January ’09. I had a few hair transplants because I had pattern baldness, and in June of this year I had my surgery. To get the surgery you have to live full time as a woman for at least a year, and then you sign a thick document that states very clearly, “You will lose your penis. This operation is irreversible.” They want you to understand what you’re getting into. In my case, when I woke up from my surgery, it was nothing dramatic. I just felt like, duh, this is the way it’s supposed to be.

It’s funny because I have a friend who had her surgery a couple of years ago, and she says that sometimes she’ll go to the bathroom late at night and stand over the toilet for a few seconds before realizing, “Oh! I don’t have one of those things anymore!” That hasn’t happened to me, though. For me it just removed a lot of frustration. Before what I had was not working out. I just didn’t want to have any intimacy with that. I guess you could say that I’m rediscovering myself and what I want.

Since I’ve come out, I can honestly say that I’ve met more people and made more friends than I had in my entire life. In my case, I’m out of my prison, out of my cell, and I’m not going back in.

If you have any questions for Rachelle, visit her website at http://RachelleGauvin.com. For more information about transgender issues and activities in Ottawa, check out Ottawa Gender Mosaic. Rachelle also hosts meetups that provide a safe and sociable environment for women who do not fit into the mainstream through Ottawa Womyn. The group is open to GLBTQ women, straight women and transgendered women.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance begins at 1:00PM on November 20th, 2010 at Ottawa Police Headquarters for a flag raising, followed by a march along Elgin Street to Parliament Hill in support of Bill C-389. A candlelight vigil will be held at 7:00PM at the Canadian Human Rights Monument at the corner of Lisgar and Elgin to commemorate people who have lost their lives due to transgender violence and prejudice. Everyone in the LGBTQ community, including family, friends, and allies are invited to attend any and all parts of the day. For more information visit http://www.gendermosaic.com/tdor/.