Home is a funny thing. The idea of it, the fact that we have a place that belongs to us, where we hang our hat and our pride. A geographical badge of pride we can attach and say where our allegiances lie, or at least where our allegiances can afford. I used to have a sense of home, of belonging. On November 27 of 2018, that place no longer existed.
Now, to be frank and fair, I was already considering leaving the place that I lived before that date. You see, while I was born in British Columbia, I spent the bulk of my life growing up in the Yukon. My parents moved my sister and I to the north in the dead of winter. It was minus 30-fuck degrees outside when we first arrived, and I spent the bulk of my young life wondering what I had done to deserve living in such a frigid place. Eventually, it’s frigidness would warm up to me, and me to it. I was an avid fan of being a loner as a child, and there’s no better place for solitude than a frozen landscape. It was here that I would walk on careful paths, making sure to not go to the areas when I felt unwanted or welcome, which was most any place where people would congregate. I was not one for people, they scared me. Men most of all. Men of all ages threw me off, mostly because I was expected to be one in their ranks, and yet the where and how of that eluded me. I wasn’t quite good at emulating their actions yet, but I would absorb it all, and the energy of it scared me. Being a man was a terrifying prospect, it all seemed so aggressive and heavy and dark. There was a darkness around masculinity I thought only I could see. Imagine being scared of growing into something, like a puppy that could see itself grow up to be Cujo but seemingly powerless to stop it. There’s an unofficial slogan in the north: where the men are men, and the women are too. So, good to know my options were masculine at all cost.
As I got older, I learned enough social skills to get by. Men still scared me, especially northern men, all flannel and muscle and beard and a hint of pine in their scent. It’s like every cartoon stereotype of a Canadian given flesh. I told myself that’s what I had to do to get by, if I was to be accepted into the fold where I lived. This place was my home, I had to figure out how to live within its boundaries. Flash forward to high school, where I made some friends, learned to get by and play nice. I learned to perform as a man, or at least how I figured men were. I’m not particularly proud of myself during these years, but luckily trauma induced memory loss is there to ensure I don’t recall all that much of it. I have spotty recollections of these years, aside from feeling scared, alone and nervous a lot. I was always an anxious person, well before I had the words to describe myself as such. Groups of people to this day scare me, it was always groups that would torment me, groups of older boys that would question why I hadn’t grown into a proper man yet, groups of women that weren’t sure what to make of me. Groups of adults that didn’t understand me. I grew up very much alone, on the outskirts of friendship. Ask most people I went to school with, and they can corroborate. I spent little time hanging around other kids, because I knew I wasn’t one of them, not in that way. I am every movie about a loner kid that gets pity thrust upon them from time to time, only for them to blow it at the right time. I never got the hang of making friends, or of how to interact with men.
As an older child, I learned more masculine passing skills. I grew into what I thought passed as a man. I grew a beard and learned a trade. I had very few friends, but I tried. I had a well-hidden anger problem, severe anxiety and relationship issues. I would become known as someone who slept around, which was surprising to a lot of people, most of all me. I never considered myself attractive or particularly interesting all things considered. But dammit, I was a Yukon man. That’s what comes with the badge. That’s what I would tell myself. The lies we use to get ourselves by. I would move away a few times, but it never took. I was always drawn back to the north. I thought its because that’s where I belong, where the frozen solitude was the safest. Where my home was.
I transitioned in November of 2017. I was the first out trans femme person I knew of in the Yukon. It shocked a lot of people, here was this bearded trade person that had been considered so conventionally handsome. Standing up and telling the world no more, that I wanted no more to do with the club I had aligned myself with, that I had always struggled to belong it. I wasn’t that person, I never was. I was going to live my truth. And so, I did. I came out publicly rather quickly, partly to give some representation to trans feminine people in the north as I saw a distinct lack of conversation surrounding them, partly because I just thought it would be more fun to be honest if I was going to start living honestly. I was going to be Yukon Trans Lady ™. That would be my legacy.
That summer, I had started to reach the end of my rope. Friends that knew me that lived elsewhere in the country asked when I was going to get myself out. I was started to deteriorate. I was getting harassed a lot in the street. Trucks of men would yell at me; I was followed home a few times. Things were thrown at me, and not good things. Never money or candy. Mostly beer bottles. One time a plastic bag with garbage in it. I guess it was my job to dispose of it properly. That summer I had decided I would move back to Toronto eventually, a place that had long beckoned me back as I had lived there once before for 7 short months. I started to make plans to make this move happen, on a long time frame. Maybe a year away, if I was lucky. I was at the time seeing someone who herself lived in Toronto, having split with the person I had been dating when I transitioned. This did not go well. There was yelling, slamming, punching involved. My toe was broken in the fray as a kitchen table was slammed down on it, my car door punched and dented. I was scared, her anger and aggression reminded me of things that I had locked away in my brain but was always scared of. Unchecked righteous fury. She would mock me when I told her I was afraid of her. I still am. This began my true feeling of feeling afraid on the streets of the city I had grown up in. Where I pretended to be a man, where I worried one day I would get too drunk and spill all my desires for femininity out into the streets like so much spilled alcohol.
My fears would be worsened by the increase in aggression towards me. My office at the time was in a particularly rough part of town and there was ever present a group of troubled people with a myriad of issues that plagued them that frequented this park and I did my best to take it easy around them, never wanting to make their lives worse. They would comment on my clothes, ask why my pants were so tight. My hair so long. Why I looked like I did. I was mocked daily. Going to work caused me anxiety, and I would have frequent panic and anxiety attacks. I stopped leaving my house, my ability to focus on anything but being afraid became crippling.
On November 27th, my partner at the time and I were having a difficult conversation. We were in the opening salvos of breaking up our short relationship. I went for a walk to clear my head. It was a warm winter night, considering the frigidness of my youth. I wore my typical attire. Black jeans, black leather jacket with a black hoodie underneath. Headphones in. hood over my head. I stepped out into the winter air, hoping listening to music and moving my feet would allow me to see things in the right light. I made it 4 blocks before it happened.
I heard the word “Faggot” and was simultaneously punched in the face. Hard enough to throw me for an entire loop. Someone in the distance yelled in enquiry as to what was happening and my assailant ran off into the night. Neither I nor the only other person outside got a better look at him than “man in jacket, 6 foot tall-ish”. The outside stranger made sure I was okay, and I raced for home, taking alleys and back streets to only go 4 blocks so I wouldn’t be followed. I called the police. They told me that I could make a claim if I wanted, but the likelihood of this man being caught was low. I decided not to bother. I had a black eye forming, and I went to bed sad and afraid. I knew I no longer lived in the Yukon, that I was just taking up space there. That I was unwanted.
Things got worse before they got better. I grew isolated, I would have frequent panic attacks. I got my hands on a gun, in an effort to expediate the process that I knew at least one person wanted for me: a lack of existence. I never used it, but I looked at it often. This is something I have never told anyone, and now I’m telling all that will listen. I started to fail at everything, but a lifetime of pretending to be someone in public taught me how to keep up appearances. Some people were good about coming by to check in on me, but more often than not, I heard from no one. My family thought nothing of the attack, that I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. They never enquired as to my mental well being, nor did most people I know. I seemed fine. I was having a lot of breakdowns in private but cleaning up nice for society. I knew I had to either leave town or perish within its walls.
And so, I moved up my leaving town date, I told my job that they needed to find a replacement for me, and once that happened, I skipped town. I ran as fast as I could to Toronto, to where I thought I would be safe.
And so, here I am. Safe. I’m in my home as I write this. And here’s the thing, this place feels truly like that. All bustle and bluster, it’s home. Walking into its airport is walking into the knowing embrace of sanctuary. I walk these streets anonymous but found. I can describe it best like this: the other day I sat in a park and read a book by myself. The world around me existed, without need for me and with no notice of me. Here was that anonymity I thought I had found in the frozen streets of the north. The world exists here with no requirement for me to be an active participant. I am no one, but I am a valid part of the infrastructure nonetheless. I am alive, like everyone, but nobody once more. More than anything, I have no pre-established history here. No one is witness to both who I was and who I am, I just am. I’m never afraid to step out into the world here as every time that I do, this world is different to me. I know that I’m home because this is where my guard goes down, where groups of people don’t scare me. My neighbourhood is mine, and me its.