What does home mean to you? Is it the place where you’re born? The place where you’ve lived the longest? Perhaps it’s not even a physical place, and more like a person with whom you feel safe. I’ve been asking myself where is “home” for a very long time. I’m still asking, but at least I’m closer to an answer.
In March 2021, I drove 5900 kilometres (3700 miles) across the United States and into Canada and decided to return home for good. I had one of my closest friends join me for the emotional journey right up until I crossed the border. I had other friends helping me look for places to complete the mandatory quarantine and to find a permanent place to live. I love road trips but this one was bittersweet. I was leaving behind the life I built in California, and returning to Ontario where I was born. I was on the west coast for eight years…the longest place I’ve ever lived. It was hard to say goodbye because I found myself in California. I was able to announce to the world who I am, change my name, start hormone replacement therapy and have surgery to finally match my body to my brain.
Showing up to the border with my Canadian documents in my former name and gender was really difficult emotionally. I felt like I was coming home as a stranger. I was 20 years old the last time I lived in Canada. Back then, I had only come out to myself and a handful of others, but I was still so far from doing anything about it. Most of my family and friends here have never met my true self. I’ll be doing a lot of road trips once it’s safe to travel again.
It’s actually been beneficial to start over. I was given this chance to live my life to the fullest without any pretence. I’m just Maddie, a woman who happens to be transgender, and not, that transgender woman Maddie. I’ve surprised myself with how easily I’ve been able to make friends and get involved with community groups. I’ve spent such a long time unsure of who I am and feeling like I have to hide. I am now full of self-confidence and I can look in the mirror and see the woman I am for the first time ever.
While it’s still a debate in the United States whether transgender people have a right to exist, it’s accepted and understood in Canada. When I showed up to the border, I was met with kindness and empathy. I was asked what name I wanted to use on my entry forms. I wasn’t always so lucky with US TSA and Customs agents. The Ontario Ministry of Health still had my old name and gender on my health record from birth, and that was quickly updated on my new health card without question. I had a similarly easy experience with updating my former driver’s licence and changing my name for federal tax purposes. Within a couple of months, my dead name no longer existed on any government documents. Traditional barriers to health care were also gone. My hormones are about $100 cheaper and there are no out-of-pocket expenses for doctor’s visits.
One of the first things I noticed about my new neighbourhood were these posters on a good number of lamp posts, reading “transphobia is no longer acceptable in the name of feminism.” I’ve also seen other signs such as “trans people are beautiful.” I feel like I can finally breathe. I feel accepted. I feel seen.
Even in “liberal” California, I had tons of positive experiences among my friends and family, but was also often met with anger and hatred from strangers. I’ve been harassed and chased down the street by a group of men yelling slurs. Some co-workers complained about me using the women’s bathroom. In another public incident, an older man actually forced me out of a women’s bathroom. The most terrifying experience I had was in North Carolina. I was subjected to a check outside of a public bathroom when that state’s bathroom ban was still in effect. I will never visit that state again.
To be fair, there is still some hatred among small groups in Canada. In 2018, the Progressive Conservative party in my own province adopted a policy platform calling gender identity a quote, “highly controversial, liberal ideology.” Thankfully, this is a minority and there hasn’t been any action taken to restrict my rights. They certainly haven’t been as threatening as the Republican party in the United States. I’m relieved to be free of all of that noise and begin the process of healing from that trauma.
It’s only been four months but I feel like I’m finding my way. I’ve been getting used to the wet weather, metric measurements, the sticker shock when buying items and paying for them without pennies. I’m so happy to see hockey on TV all the time, and to hear people pronounce the last letter of the alphabet as “zed.” I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know in my heart this is where I’m supposed to be right now. In the words of the Canadian band Spirit of the West, “I need home for a rest.”