In the People UNTAGGED -series, we talk to individuals about their gender identity. The aim is to share their story in a positive way. So that with their voice, they will inspire others within the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond.
So, meet Johana. A trans woman from Canada, who just recently has come out as trans. Here she talks about what it is like for her to now live as a trans woman and the insights she has learned along the way.
Hey Johana! Thanks for making the time for us, it must be morning in Canada right now. Can you start by telling me a bit about yourself?
Well, my name is Johana. I chose that name for myself just about one year ago today (red. Oct 2022). I grew up in Canada. I lived overseas for a little bit: in Taiwan and Japan. Also a bit of my childhood was spent in the States. I'm 49 years old right now, and I came out as Trans on October 11th 2021.
My chosen name, Johana, was inspired by a free diver and ice diver. Those are two hobbies that are really important to me. Quite immediately after coming out, I met a friend who had just decided that she wanted to swim - or dip - in the water 100 times in 100 days, everyday, never missing a day. I decided I would join her maybe a few times a week, not every single day. But I was absolutely adamant I did not want to swim in men’s swimwear. I was anxious about how I would look, and so the UNTAG swimsuits were just kind of perfect!
Awesome, so nice to hear! And so you’ve just recently had your coming out as a trans person, how is that developing?
I didn't know I was trans until last year. But almost as soon as I knew it and accepted it I came out first to my partner and then to a lot of other people. It's very fast and almost no time was spent living in a closet, so to speak. That surprised me, because I’ve certainly spent my life thinking about gender and thinking about trans people.
So how did you come to realize that you are a trans person?
Going back to my childhood, I remember at age nine reading my father's psychology textbook about abnormal psychologies. In it, I had found the section on transsexualism, read about it and I shuddered when I saw it. I thought: ‘oh, that's awful, I would hate to have that disease.’ Because it really seemed like a disease, like a sickness.
I spent this last year looking back at my life and trying to analyze it. What jumps out at me is all the times when I would wish that I had just been born a girl. But at the time, wishing that, to me that had nothing to do with being trans. I thought of it as pure fantasy.
Looking back at TV shows and movies that I could see in the eighties and nineties, trans women would usually be portrayed as a monster, murderer, killer or just someone that's terrifying and dangerous, and still very much man-like. Trans people have been fuel for artists for decades, but have not been treated as real human beings at all.
Representation is not at all doing justice to these individuals. Is it getting better?
You know, I didn't spend those years thinking it was a terrible representation, the way I might look critically now. Instead, I would always be so excited to see them. I would always think it was a very deep choice by the director or the writer to make a character trans - even if they were evil or a monster. To me, I always thought: ‘oh, that's deep stuff, that's quality writing!’ Haha. I would think about them a lot. I would again still think it's not me, but I would have a lot of sympathy for those characters, even if they were just clowns or monsters on the screen.
So what made you think about the fact that you might be a trans person yourself?
Well things changed a bit in 2015, when the Prime Minister of Canada announced that gender identity was going to be a protected ground among human-rights. So in the last seven years, I started to just see what this was like. There were two people whom I was really following closely, with interest. One was a computer programmer, who came out as trans on their social media. The second person is a game designer who I really loved: Avery Alder. She came out as trans as well. This started to show me what trans people look like. How there's much more variety in expression of gender and that it's not just drag.
And in 2020 we all had a lot of time to think, haha. I started to play a lot of computer games. One of which was a role-playing game called Conan, where you could just dive into a personal story.
I decided to go to a three-day workshop about game designing, led by that woman I mentioned before, Avery Alder. As soon as I got there, I realized that at this moment of life I did not care about game design one bit! I only went there because I knew there would be so many trans people there and I wanted to talk to everyone. I remember that all I did at that workshop was just talking to different people.
There I realized that, I would rather be all the horrible things that I'd seen on TV over the last 40 years of my life, I'd rather be any one of those things, than be a man for another day. I thought: ‘oh, I'll be ugly, I'll be pathetic, people will be horrified by me and I'll be rejected by so many people generally.’ Or, I could live like a man and be accepted. To me it was no choice. All it took was for someone to ask me those questions and for me to answer honestly.
I'm 49 years old right now and for the first time ever in my life I feel like I have my whole life ahead of me. I just feel really comfortable. And yet you know a lot of the things in my life that I’ve built-up are falling apart now. Losing the family to a degree. But I will always be the parent, the mother, of my children.
I also have friends and family who think gender is very unimportant. My sister is a cis woman, who's always identified as a woman but not strongly. My mother is the same way. So they look at me and like they wonder: ‘why does it matter? Why are you doing these things? Why would you change the way you dress? Why would you do anything? It's just not that important.’ All I can say is: that's their experience. For me it's important enough. The way I dress, the way I present myself, the way people address me, it changes everything about how I exist out in the world - with other people and when I’m by myself. I feel beautiful even when I'm alone in the forest, even when the changes to my body are very small. And that's something really personal.
So, can you say that talking to people at this game convention is what made you want to come out as a trans person?
I think that that convention at the time was all it took to break through a final very thin barrier to self knowledge and acceptance. Leading up to it, the changes were coming faster and faster. Trans people use the phrase egg: they say an egg is a person who’s trans but doesn't know it or accept it yet. That's a sweet sort of expression to me. So, going to that event just gave me an environment with enough love and acceptance for me to just brush away this very flimsy barrier that was already almost broken. It just took that one last thing for me to realize that things I had accepted only in fantasy, were actually real.
"I can look people in the eye in a way I couldn't before."
Can you tell me something that you are proud of right now?
Gosh, I think the thing I'm most proud of is - I don't know if pride is the right word - but this is kind of a new way of being for me. I feel genuine with people! When I answer peoples’ questions, when someone asks me how I'm doing or what I'm doing, I finally feel like I'm answering honestly. That’s something I never felt my whole life. It wasn't necessarily that I felt like I was lying or tricking people most of my life. I just felt that questions like that are actually impossible to answer honestly, and I assumed that everyone kind of makes things up as requested, to make up a personality. So, it didn't feel genuine, didn’t feel honest, and I feel so much more honest now. It's changing how it feels to meet new people and changing the relationships I already have. I can look people in the eye in a way I couldn't before. I don't know if it's pride so much as just sheer joy at living life this different. I think that’s it.
Yeah, that makes sense. And what would you hope that the future has in store for you?
I see a lot of growing, still. There are still messy parts of life that I am going through right now. I still need to heal my relationship with my children. I need to reassure them - and myself - that our bond as parents and children is not broken. I'm going to be part of their life, for my whole life.
But there are also things related to my coming-out that I'm going through. My own sexuality is very up in the air. Gender is one side of it, gender and sexuality are connected but not the same. I've started dating, and that’s a huge messy thing to go through, especially at age 49. But it's really exciting! I see myself growing through that. I am discovering all over again how I relate to people, how I find intimacy and how I want to be treated. All those things, I think I'm going to learn.
I look forward to the continuous changes that will happen in my life. I hope that at some stage I can be someone that other people can look up to. I think it would take years, but I'd like to become someone in my community that people can learn from. I want to be able to share, because people shared so much with me and helped me find myself.
Cool, because what I’d like to know more specifically, is what gave you courage during difficult times?
That will be other people, and both people I know personally and people who share their own struggles on social media. Presenting yourself to the whole world on social media is devastating, often dangerous. There is so much cruelty that you're exposing yourself to. But it's also an incredible act of love! Self-love and love for others. It does so much for me. When I see really brave trans people writing things on social media or sharing their struggles on personal blogs and websites, it gives me courage. Time and time again. Even though I feel like what they're putting themselves through is really harmful. Sometimes I wish they would stop for their own sake. I don't know how to balance that out: like “thank you for doing this, but I wish you wouldn't!”
"There's no right or wrong way to be trans."
Is there a message you want to give to people, in or outside of the community, reading your story?
Well, I’ll start with the phrase ‘the community’. I think ‘Trans’ is a community and it's absolutely not a community at the same time. Because it's something that's very personal, it's something about the way some of us are born. That happens irrespective of our communities. It can also be very lonely, and it’s something you can repress and deny. It’s fine if someone needs to do that. But I think I would say this: if we’ve done the work to accept ourselves enough to come out at all, then we should use that attitude to continue to accept the differences, accept the way different trans people are experiencing it differently. There's no right or wrong way to be trans.
Well, I think that’s really valuable: there’s not one way to be trans.
I start to think of myself more and more philosophically as non-binary, even though I have no interest in presenting anything any other way than femme. I think that the experience of being trans is a gift and being trans is its own destination. It's not simply the idea of transitioning: socially, physically, medically through surgery or through hormones, or through nothing. All of those things are available experiences that we can have as a trans person. It is not as though you were one gender and now you’re changing to the other gender. That's a very binary way of thinking. I think I have to accept that trans will never be cis, I will never not be trans.
I certainly don't see myself as wanting to ever present masculine. But even so, compared to other people I'm still more in the middle. To me that's a really beautiful thing to accept, but not everyone who's trans will accept that at all. There are many people who are both trans and see themselves as very binary. In only one short year and very very naïve insights that I've had, I would encourage people to still see that if you accept yourself, you can still accept yourself even more.
Yeah there is a spectrum, you don’t have to then be either this or that.
I think that's probably the most pertinent insight I've felt lately. The rest of the world has a lot of catching up to do, in terms of acceptance, kindness and just keeping each other safe.
"I think I have to accept that trans will never be cis, I will never not be trans."
And are there any other insights you would like to share?
Well my recent brief experiences with dating surprise me. I had a period of time where I was afraid of being attracted to people for the wrong reasons. That someone's attracted to me because of aspects of me that still appeared masculine, does that offend me or upset me? If a man is attracted to me and because he sees himself as gay, does that undermine me? After a little experience, I found that it didn’t matter at all. Ultimately in any relationship, when you get past infatuation and attraction and move towards intimacy, love and understanding, you can see the things that are really important. I realized that, if I was going to find a new deep intimate long term relationship, it really would not matter to me if they thought they were straight or gay. What would matter is that they loved all of me. That they got to know me, who I was, and loved that completely and without reservations. Obviously, you need to be wholly loved to be able to be with someone.
Any kind of ‘I love you but…’ is not very healthy
Exactly, I guess that insight is fresh to me, because it's only been a month since I've been separated and single. I’ve had a very short time of dating, so I have a lot more to learn.
I’ll talk to you in two years, and we will do a follow-up!
That would be really great!