A Follow Up: Gemma Hickey’s Transition Journey

Left-Peter Walsh, Centre-Gemma Hickey, Right-Danny Williams. Photo provided by Gemma Hickey

Ryan Crocker, the writer who brought Gemma’s coming out story to The Outport Magazine, sat down with them for a follow up.

What has the reaction been to you coming out as trans? From loved ones? From the general public?

Overall, the reaction has been wonderfully supportive. Especially from my 97-year-old nan. She said to me, “Sure, I told your mother you were a boy. And you’re a handsome boy!” My mother wrapped her arms around me recently and said, “You’re my beautiful person!” As for other people in my family who I’ve told, they love me for me and that’s their bottom line, even if they don’t fully understand it yet. My friends are and have always been great. One of them asked me how she should tell her children and I suggested it come up naturally in conversation. The next time I visited, her husband told her oldest boy that I was transgender and he responded, “Wow, you’re a transformer!!!” And I said, “Yeah, that’s the idea, and you can call me Optimus Prime!” I’m very lucky. That isn’t the case for a lot of trans people. That’s why we need to keep pushing for better supports and services for trans people.

What updates would you like to share with our readers since the previous article – any new experiences, insights, joys, concerns?

I have more body hair, but I have an appointment to man-scape my back this week! My shoulders are even bigger than before and my voice is still cracking. My body is taking a different shape due to fat redistribution. It’s gradual, but more noticeable now that I’ve been on testosterone for 10 months. I have more energy and both my appetite and sex drive have sky rocketed! I’ve had to add 2 additional boxing workouts, on top of lifting weights 4 times a week to balance any additional calories. I’ve liberated myself from myself and it feels fantastic!

Have you managed to find a balance between educating others and not feeling exhausted by the questions?

I’ve been an activist for over 20 years and having gone through therapy due to my sexual abuse, I know how to set personal boundaries and focus on self-care. Reading and writing helps. As does exercising and eating right. Each day I get up ready to take on the world again. Sometimes, that means parking conversations with people until I can be fully present. Living my life to the fullest is the best lesson we can teach one another.

Following the misogynistic comments Tara Bradbury received as a result of her simple FemFest promo article, she has said she received an outpouring of support, especially from men. Interestingly, she implied men are often surprised she received such comments, whereas women were not surprised at all because for them it’s normal. This is exactly the sort of area your identity enables you to bridge. How has your relationship with feminism evolved since the last article?

Good question! I actually just participated on a panel with 5 other fabulous panelists on this topic during FemFest. I emphasized how I can be that bridge with two, often conflicting perspectives. I’ve sat on feminist boards and committees and I’ve also, at one point in my life, been very active in my church. I believe there is a way to meet in the middle. Even if that means reconciling with oneself. It’s one thing to navigate gendered spaces in reality, but I find it even more challenging to navigate the gendered spaces in my mind. I remember being spit on at a hotel lobby in Halifax after I presented a brief on same-sex marriage to a committee formed in 2003 by the federal government. I wiped the spit from my face and used it as fuel to further that cause. I’ve received death threats, my property has been damaged, so I have compassion for Tara, for all women who’ve been mistreated and abused. I’ve been there, quite literally and going forward I want to be the best man, the best person I can be.

Now that you’ve had some interaction with the public since coming out as trans, are the key issues facing the trans community still the same ones we discussed previously? Do you have any new insights as to what our society needs to change?

Trans youth are still at a higher risk of suicide. We need more education in schools. Appropriate healthcare needs to be accessible for trans people who live in this province. For example, I have to fly to Mississauga for top surgery. I have a consultation booked with a surgeon at the beginning of November, but it’s over the phone. Many trans men who are friends of mine have had to do the same. There’s no reason why we can’t offer these types of services here at home. We have a long list of capable physicians who are ready and willing to perform these surgeries. I’d also like to see gender neutral washrooms as well as they/them listed as an option on documents and identification cards for people like me, who don’t identify as one gender or the other.

What else is happening in your life as a result of your transition?

The documentary on my transition is still in production with Nine Island Productions. The director, Peter Walsh, is currently in talks with potential broadcasters. We just finished filming my partner taking pictures of me shirtless because the clinic needed shots of my chest. It’s going to be a very tender scene. I’m hoping the film will help those who are struggling with their gender identity and also educate the public on the unique issues that trans people experience. Also, Raise Up Fundraising is hosting a benefit to supplement the cost of my top surgery, which is roughly $9000. The event is called Drag Bingo and it’s taking place on Friday, September 16th, 9pm at The Legion on Blackmarsh Road. Tickets are on sale at Johnny Ruth & Living Planet for $25 and $30 at the door. A number of businesses have donated fabulous prizes and there’s an amazing line-up of performers as well! The Raise Up team approached me with the idea and we’re hoping to draw a lot of attention to the barriers that trans people face. And early in the new year, in partnership with Artistic Fraud, I’m producing Trans Monologues through For The Love Of Learning. This will give trans youth a safe space to express themselves freely as well as teach them the ins and outs of theatre.
I live large. Always. Every day is another opportunity to begin again.

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