My Gender Mosaic Diary
Tara continues her journey through 1980s trans Ottawa
Longevity has never been a distinguishing characteristic of trans organizations. Most of them start with great expectations, but crumble under the weight of infighting and too much work shouldered by too few people. This spring, however, one of Canada’s oldest trans support groups will celebrate an astonishing anniversary. Ottawa’s Gender Mosaic turns 30!
A decade can appear to go by quickly but when you think of how far trans people have come in that time, you realize it couldn’t have happened without that most fundamental of institutions: the trans support group. The longevity of Gender Mosaic is a remarkable accomplishment and worthy of celebration. To commemorate this longevity, I thought I would mine some of my journal for nuggets from the early years of GM.
Reading these now reminds me of how far we have come and how much things have changed. In particular, you’ll note my inappropriate use of pronouns. In the interests of veracity, however, I present much of this as it was written and hope I don’t embarrass myself too much in the process. I have only edited out some personal details about some people which I don’t feel authorized to disclose.
THURSDAY, JUNE 2, 1988
Last night Laury and I went to our second TV meeting. I got dressed but decided after a talk with Laury that I’d put my pants on and take my skirt in a bag. Doing this annoys me a little, but Judy still doesn’t feel very comfortable about non-passable TVs coming to his door.
Besides Laury, Jenny, Judy and me, there were present Charmane (I believe) and a trans man whose name was given as Natalie. [By next meeting we were calling him Nathan.] Charmane didn’t say much to me all evening and I still don’t know much about him, but Natalie, who – if I must use a label – was probably a transsexual, had some interesting contributions to make throughout the evening.
It was a far more interesting meeting than the last time and the main reason I found it so was Jenny. He had many interesting observations on the nature of transvestism and the sex roles. This separation of the personality into a male and female persona, which 1 could never understand, was explained to me in such a way as to almost make sense.
“If I don’t do it this way, I think Judy would try to take over.” This was Judy’s explanation, and he suggested that his transvestism would interfere with his working life and become a destabilizing force. I found this worthwhile because lately I’ve been obsessed with my transvestism and have wondered whether it’s become more powerful as the years have gone by. It has, of course, always interfered with my working life and my love life, but for the first time l realized that maybe my way of achieving personal fulfillment is completely impractical. I pursue my goal of complete freedom, but the more freedom I acquire the more I want, and though I’m happier than I ever was, the feeling that says “I have finally arrived” will probably never happen. And in the meantime while I pursue this, my working life and my love life are in shambles. Still, I can’t accept the notion that because what I want is not likely to happen, I should give up and settle for something second best that may be more reasonable. My belief that my personal happiness lies within my freedom of expression is so rooted in me that it won’t change, but for a brief moment last night it occurred to me that it might be wrong.
MONDAY, JUNE 27, 1988
…The real drama occurred after everyone left Laury and I decided at around midnight to have one more beer. Laury suggested we go to Patty’s Place, a pub on Montreal Road. Even though I had had a few beer for courage, I didn’t think this was a great idea because Patty’s Place is a little too redneck for my liking. Still, after some humming and hawing while sitting across the street in the car, I agreed.
Well, the waitress was friendly enough and one of the hostesses came by five minutes later to make sure we had been served, but we got a lot more stares than we would have at a more liberal minded place. Then, two guys came into the patio (where we were sitting) and stared at us long enough that I knew we’d see them again after they had got some beer. And of course, we did.
They started asking us questions, but it was obvious by their tone they weren’t much interested in being enlightened. Laury was being patient with them for awhile, but I didn’t see why I had to answer their questions. People seem to think that just because you’re wearing a skirt, they have certain rights over you. So I was hostile to them as I thought they were to me. One fellow was worse than the other and kept making vague threats, like “they don’t look too big I think we can take them.” I was not looking for a fight, but for probably the first time in 25 years I was cranking up my hate level enough – it wasn’t hard – to consider the possibility.
The situation diffused somewhat when the worse jerk got bored and left and the second jerk found out we weren’t gay. When he left, he still opined that he thought we were “fucked up somehow”. I figured he was entitled to his opinion and left it at that.
It’s a real education meeting people this one dimensional. Even if they were open to new ideas, I don’t think they could grasp certain concepts. They just aren’t programmed that way. Even the one simple idea that I am more comfortable this way is incomprehensible to them because they could never imagine themselves in the position. They have nothing to identify with, and their imagination fails them.
In any case, although it wasn’t the most enjoyable beer I’ve had, I have to log the experience on the positive side. I encountered open hostility and lived to tell the tale. I doubt if it will be any easier the next time, but at least I’ve gained a little more confidence in my ability to get out of tight situations.
MONDAY, JULY 11, 1988
Wednesday’s meeting was attended by Rachel, Laury and I, and Judy, Charmane (?) and Jenny. It seems like the period of finding new members has lost momentum and now it’s the same five or six of us that are keeping things going, Although it’s not serious for the time being – we’re all still having a good time – it is important that a few others find the courage to attend one week. Without sufficient numbers, it seems unlikely we’ll be able to continue having regular meetings and without regular meetings, the whole project is likely to collapse.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 11, 1988
Last Wednesday we had our meeting at my house for the first time and to judge by the crowd and the late hour of leave taking – 2 a.m. – I’d have to say it was a success. Those present were Laury, Rachel, Judy, Dr. Karen, Karen the ts, Sharon (the person whose name I thought was Charmane), Jenny and Ron. The latter was a good fellow who was a little put off by our elaborate get ups and the transsexuals present. I really don’t think he realizes how similar he is to us. He had a moustache, but wore a skirt, pantyhose and some low heeled pumps. I don’t know if we’ll see him again, although Laury, Rachel and I tried to persuade him to call or come again.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 1989
We’ve had several more meetings since New Year and I’m pleased to report that the membership continues to grow. There is an amazing interest in the newsletter [Notes from the Underground] also and I can see I’m going to have no trouble filling it up with items and articles. Sometimes I get very excited about the future of this organization. I already think I’ve got more out of it than I expected to get out of it, and to be quite honest I think we’re just beginning to roll. As a result, I’m beginning to take my position as editor seriously. With the way the group is blossoming, the newsletter has taken on more importance than I thought it would. Finally, we may have something here.
MONDAY AUGUST 7, 1989
I was right to worry about having the meeting at my place since it turned into a large drunk. There weren’t that many of us here actually, since it was very hot and most people left at a reasonable hour, but Rachel, Judy and I stayed up very late. I sometimes think this group of ours will flounder on alcohol. I think I should do my best to reduce its consumption if only by reducing my own intake. I love a beer, but I don’t need totally unfocused drinking like we had Saturday night. It isn’t fun and it does me no good at all.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 1989
The west dining room of Rosie Lee’s Café is an intimate little place with a fireplace in the corner. It’s two steps down from the pavement, but it doesn’t feel like you’re in the basement, the occasional exposed pipe notwithstanding. There were nine of us for dinner, Jenny having had to bow out that night.
Laury and Nikki had come over to my place prior to going to the restaurant. Laury was decked out in overwhelming white and pink and Nikki was wondering whether he was going to get dressed at all. Finally he decided he would, and the two of us, me in my black suede skirt, took the MGB while Laury drove alone.
All of us were in good spirits and the food was very good. The evening had that feeling of a special night stamped all over it, particularly since for Nikki, Lee, Karen, and Barb it was their first night in public. Our waitress Mimi was really fine too and contributed to the convivial atmosphere. A lot of pictures were taken that night, and too many of me.
MONDAY, AUGUST 13, 1990
Sunday night our sub-group got together to discuss where we’re going and how we’re going to educate the public. There was an astonishingly good turn out and the level of discussion was intelligent and useful. We got things done! We’re planning a pamphlet, thinking of getting a phone and we actually brainstormed a new name: Gender Mosaic. It’s not perfect, but it’s good, and considering the options I’ve seen, I’m delighted with it. There were other things set in motion too, and though I was exhausted by the afternoon I had, by the time everyone left at 10:30, I was satisfied with the results.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 31, 1990
Our trans group is going along fine. We’ve allowed all types of transgendered people to become members if they wish, the result of a guest appearance by a gay trannie at the beginning of the December social. The latter gathering made me realize how little I want to hold major social events in my house every month, and with potentially many new members coming into the fold after we advertise in January, I don’t see how this will improve. I think I’m going to have to keep this issue at the top of the agenda so people don’t take this for granted.
I was searching for some final defining entry that would sum up this article, but of course there is none. The battle continues and the story is not finished. Reading these entries again reminds me of the many people that have come and gone, and the commitment it takes to keep a trans organization going. Those of us who have managed to escape our isolation cannot forget that many others have no place to turn. So support your local trans group, and congratulations to Gender Mosaic on its 30th anniversary!