Letter to the Editor: Personal story on Transgender Day of Remembrance

The transgender pride flag. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

The following is an open letter from NDP candidate Michelle Taylor on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. The contents of the letter may be unsettling to some. Discretion is advised:

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, I would like to share this very personal story with you and your readers. This was sent to me by a resident in our riding shortly after the Ford PCs decided to cancel the modern health curriculum in Ontario schools and is being forwarded with their permission. I hope that it may give others here a perspective on the consequences of regressive education and policies for people living this reality every day.

I encourage you to acknowledge the significance of this day and reach out to a growing number of people in Leeds-Grenville who are making LGBTQ rights a priority in their lives. Especially as we see further cause for concern from our political leaders in discounting the identities of some, we must have a balanced approach in our media to show the other side of that coin. These policies are causing real harm and hurt to many- I believe we owe them the respect to listen to their stories and help them in having their brave voices reach the ears of those in power.

Thank you in advance for your interest in this important human rights issue. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can provide.

Michelle Taylor
NDP Candidate
Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands & Rideau Lakes

Once upon a time, I was a normal, overachieving kid. One whose teachers asked to stay after class to help out with stuff, and one who was generally well liked by her classmates. I did all the clubs. I did the extra homework. I cleaned the chalk brushes and the paint brushes and helped put chairs away. I had a lot of energy for extra curriculars, and was on the track and field and three pitch and chess club and choir and…

Well, you get the jist.

I was a reasonably happy kid. Very much a tomboy, but no one really found that all that weird or anything. I wondered why I was into cars and motors and being outside instead of dolls and makeup, but that really wasn’t all that weird. Kind of private, and kind of shy, but otherwise, pretty well adjusted.

I grew up in Kingston, Ontario, going to one of the schools that would be now be administered by the Limestone District School Board; I forget what it used to be called before.

Then some stuff kind of went sideways.

During what should have been a routine doctor’s appointment about my “becoming a woman”, my pediatrician decided to assault me. I was 10 years old.

Shortly thereafter, I had to change schools. Everyone thought my sudden decreased interest in scholastics and after school activities was just a consequence of becoming “that age”, and I’ll admit, it was part of it. Being 12 or 13 and trying to fit in is never an easy thing. But to go from doing ALL THE THINGS to doing none of them should be suspect, wouldn’t you think?

In the changing of schools, no one ever questioned it. Not my parents. Not my family. No one.

A few years later, high school was upon me. I excelled at that, to begin with. In my first two years, I managed to get 13 of the highest averages out of 16 classes. I had the highest average in my grade. But then it all kind of fell apart.

I started to have severe panic attacks during tests and exams. What I now understand to be anxiety and reactions to being triggered by legit situations became the beginnings of agoraphobia, social anxiety and depression. I went from having a high 90s average in grade 10, to barely passing my OACs (in the time before their removal). It was not for lack of being smart, driven, or capable.

It was for a lack of any of the adults in my life to realize that I was likely suffering from untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And that I was also struggling with figuring out that I was transgender.

All my life I had thought I was gay. I mean, I didn’t especially want to sleep with women, but I found them so unobtainably beautiful. I pored over magazines, trying to absorb every little bit I could about how to look a certain way. I didn’t realize, at the time, what I really wanted was to be them. But I’m not.

At the ripe old age of mid-thirty, I finally found the words to describe my lifelong feeling of not-quite-ever belonging. I am transgender. I am nonbinary.

Now the reason I am emailing all of this incredibly personal stuff to all of you is that this issue is rearing its head once again. This was not something that was ever discussed in the health classes of the 90s, when I went to high school. We put the gross yucky spermicidal condom on the wooden phallus and then we just promised to not do the thing until we were with someone we loved very, very much.

No mention of gender diversity.

No mention of how to have anything other than heterosexual, vaginal intercourse.

No mention of consent, or how to report an assault. I mean, other than that your partner can’t be actively screaming “NO” or something, but that’s obvious, right?

What about how to report an assault from an extremely powerful figure, such as a pediatrician?

What about mental health, and how it can be affected by traumatic events?

Why didn’t a single solitary teacher, guidance counsellor, school staff member, librarian, ANYONE, realize that it is NOT NORMAL for a child to go from a 97% average one year, to mid 60s the next?

Why was this allowed to happen to me? Was I supposed to out “adult” the adults at 13?

I managed to graduate high school by the skin of my teeth. I even graduated college after failing out once. What I didn’t manage to escape, however, was the stain that that trauma left on my entire life. What that doctor did to me was unspeakable, and no one was interested in empowering me with either the language to deal with it myself, or the concern to notice something was horribly wrong.

I am now on long term disability and likely will be for life. I have very little ability to get out from under my agoraphobia, flashbacks, and hallucinations to leave the house. I have horrible night terrors, almost nightly. I am plagued by my own brain and my own existence. I have tried to kill myself more times than I can count.

My lack of ability to call that pediatrician’s actions as abuse has eroded my self worth. I only now am able to call abusive behaviour out as just that, and not see it as some failing or some punishment for something that I did.

It’s destroyed almost every intimate relationship I’ve ever had, for the few I’ve managed to have.

There was absolutely no ability for this to be noticed or dealt with in the mid nineties, I mean, quod erat demonstrandum.

So why are we bringing back this system of educating our children?

I desperately want to involve myself in this debate, but the unfortunate part is that the loudest voices, those that have been truly impacted by this method of educating, could be in similar boats to me. There is no way I could go to an interview, or go on a panel, or have any kind of discussion where my trauma is treated as anything less than 100% valid. It would be too damaging to me. I’ve earned my progress, and it’s been extremely hard won. The loudest voices in this debate, unfortunately, I feel are the ones who have absolutely no stake in it, personal or otherwise, and thus have nothing to lose.

If my suffering could be used for anything, let it be this one thing. Let no other kid have to wonder about why it was okay that the doctor touched them that way. Let no other kid have to wait until 30 something to stumble across the language that describes their very identity. Let no kid have to wonder about consent boundaries and when it is okay to tell a peer, an adult, a professional, or an authority figure, NO.

Never again.

This is an issue of not only safety for future generations, but human rights.

I was going to be an astronomer.