I had the great privilege of being invited to speak at The Flame: Herstory@TAIWANfest. Some of the speakers told funny stories, some told emotional stories, but everyone had something incredible and moving to share. It was a very powerful event and I’m honoured to have been invited to share the stage with so many influential people from such a wide range of backgrounds. I chose to share some of my very personal story of self-discovery, which you can now read, below.
October 8th, 1990. A child is born. Adopted to two loving parents, this is a picture-perfect family.
I grew up interested in sports, cars, woodworking, electronics – all of the stereotypically masculine things. I had an amazing childhood, full of great friends, a plethora of interesting activities, and a close family, but sometimes that just isn’t enough.
Around the beginning of grade 1, I started to have questions that related to the very core of my being. I connected with girls, I felt that my body was wrong, but it was more than that. I felt like I was supposed to be a girl. I struggled for a long time to reconcile these feelings. The world around me didn’t include conversations about how I was feeling, so I assumed I was the only one who felt this way.
Initially, I thought a mistake had been made when I was born and eventually someone would figure that out. Then I considered the possibility of being reborn and that perhaps I was a girl in another life. Before I had a chance to explore these feelings I had people telling me to stop acting girly, telling me how a man behaved, and forcing me to fit a societal role. Without having any education around the topic of gender identity in school, without seeing trans people in public and without having the words to describe how I was feeling, I came to the conclusion that I was wrong. Not that my opinions were wrong, but that I, as a human being, was wrong. This became my deep dark secret that I would take to my grave, or at least until I was old and couldn’t bring shame to the people around me.
As I moved on with the rest of my life, these feelings that I was a girl never left, I just became better at hiding them, but that was taking a toll on me. I entered into extremely long bouts of severe depression, with the longest lasting 7 years. Eventually, I decided to travel, and during a 2 month backpacking trip around Europe, I had my first break from depression after those 7 long and painful years. I came home feeling like I’d finally solved my problem, but just over a year later, the depression started coming back. Not to worry though, I had another trip planned, this time for 5 months instead of 2. I bought a van and converted it into a camper, then I spent those 5 months road-tripping around North America living in my van. I felt free, I felt alive, and most importantly, I didn’t feel depressed. But even in those moments, the feeling of being a woman never went away, I was just focused on other things. When I returned, I threw myself into my work with the goal of buying an apartment. I worked long hours at multiple jobs to save up, but I didn’t mind, the work took my mind off these shameful feelings I had.
In 2013, my uncles convinced me to volunteer for Pride. I cautiously agreed, not knowing what I was getting myself into. The first volunteer shift, I showed up and was asked “what are your pronouns?” This was a foreign concept. “What do you mean?” I asked. They asked me if I identified as a man, a woman, or another gender. This is when I had my “aha” moment. During this first volunteer shift, I had the chance to meet a trans person. Until that point, the only representations of trans people that I’d found in my searches were pornographic, and I couldn’t relate to that. I thought that being trans was a fetish, and that wasn’t how I felt about my identity. This person turned that notion on its head. I could see myself in her, and suddenly this dream of living as the person I saw myself as inched a little bit closer.
At the age of 22, I announced to some close friends that, I’m not a man, I’m a woman, and my name is Nicola. Shortly after that I told my family. As with anything in my life, I needed to approach transitioning with confidence. For me, that meant taking it slowly and making sure that any difficult changes were done at a manageable pace. For that reason, I didn’t start hormones until I was 24, came out online following that by simply changing my profile picture on Facebook, and didn’t socially transition until I was 26.
By the time 2017 rolled around, I had worked my way onto the board of directors for Vancouver Pride, travelling around the province as chair of the Outreach Committee, and I had developed a bit of a name for myself in queer circles. Having heard a little about me and my work, I was approached by Andrew Weaver, the leader of the BC Green Party, asking if I would run in the provincial election. After saying no about 8 times, I talked to some local politicians, and their advice led me to finally say yes. Little did I know it at the time, but this would completely change the trajectory of my life. During this election, I was accidentally outed as transgender by a media outlet and the story of my outing made it into national media. This had both negative and positive outcomes following the election. The negatives were that when I was laid off from my job, and I struggled to find new positions because the first thing a potential employer finds out from searching my name is that I’m trans. The positives were that I developed great connections, and received praise for how I handled the situation and how I conducted myself in interviews. This led, in part, to my becoming a regular political pundit on CBC radio, various other media engagements, and provided me with a strong support network that helped me find work.
My life is very different from the life I knew before transitioning, and even to the life I knew just two years ago. My occupations, my volunteer work, my friends, and my activities have changed, but my fundamental being has not. I am the same person I always was, I’m just finally happy, and I’m finally showing the world who I really am.
What makes me a woman is not my body, it’s my sense of self and the experiences that make up my life, just as is the case with any other woman.