Josh’s Story

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Last month I got a call from Josh:

“I’m standing downtown at the corner of Granville and Georgia. I’m supposed to meet those people from Toronto but my Skytrain was late and there’s noone here. Do you have their number?”

I couldn’t have been more surprised if he had told me he was calling from Mars. Josh lives in the Surrey suburbs. He hates transit. He hates busy big-city streets. For him to ride a Skytrain alone down to Vancouver’s busiest intersection was astounding.

A few days earlier Josh had attended a conference called Also Here, Also Queer: Building Inclusive Communities for LGBTQ People Labeled With Intellectual Disabilities. He’d stood in front of a room and told his story with humor and power. He’d met some new people from a Toronto-based group called SprOut. And now he was stepping way out of his comfort zone for a chance to see them again.

When I caught up with Josh last week, he told me a bit more about his life and why it had been so important for him to spend time with those new friends.

– John Woods

This is Part 1 of Josh’s story – his experience growing up as a trans person with autism:

I was adopted at age two and a half. I lived in a small town until grade six. School was really hard because I knew I was a boy, not a girl. Then I moved with my adoptive family to another small town where we lived on a farm. In high school I was a successful athlete. I participated as a female. I didn’t come out as transgendered until I graduated. I had promised my mum in grade seven I would be a female until the day after high school.

In grade ten I had a really cool educational assistant who had a son who was transgendered. When he came to visit her, I met him and I realized there was someone else out there who was trans. That’s when I first discovered there was even a word for it. I’ve known since I was six that I was a boy but I didn’t know there was a name for it – and I certainly didn’t know that there were other people out there who felt that way as well. We talked a bit. He looked very male so I was like “How’d that happen?” and he told me there’s surgeries and hormones that you can get – they can change your outwards to match your inwards.

When I graduated I had to do the whole prom thing – the dress, the hair, the makeup. It takes a lot to be a girl.

When I was eighteen, I was having a hard time at home. I moved into some home shares, then a group home. (In the past eight years I’ve lived in four group homes five home shares, two apartments, and a hotel for two weeks. My move next month will be lucky number thirteen. I hope I stay there a long time.)

In my first group home, people didn’t really know what to do about me feeling transgendered, and they didn’t know how critically important it was to me.

There was a queer group in my town – small but amazing. My group home staff discouraged me from going, They wouldn’t drive me, or they’d schedule something else that night and encourage me to go there instead. But I got there sometimes. A strong woman led the group. She was angry for me – that I wasn’t being allowed to transition because I lived in a group home.

She came to my annual planning meeting. We advocated together. Some people who are transgendered don’t want to transition and that’s ok but I really wanted to – to be as manly as possible, to have the hormones and surgeries and everything that goes with it. We told the staff they should refer to me as “he” and “his” and “Josh” and that I wanted to start transitioning.

After this meeting, everyone was very supportive and accepting. They started saying “her…, um HIM” and stuff, but the fact that they caught themselves right away was good. After living in such a small town, everyone had known me for ten plus years a female. So it was like getting to know a whole new person. My family had to grieve the death of their daughter. Their daughter is gone, and now they have this happy son.

I’m still the same person but there’s a big difference in the way you get treated. There’s the double standard, good and bad.

My first group home is where I started transitioning. At first I did a year of passing as a boy and then I started hormones. Then I moved into a second group home. I had a hysterectomy when I was there. Then I moved to the Lower Mainland with the people who I now refer to as my family. I had top surgery.

I’ve lived my whole adult life in care. A lot of people that are queer don’t understand the disability community very much. I’ve gone to a few groups in Vancouver and they were really nice, but their conversations were about jobs and marriages and taxes. And the disability community doesn’t often understand the queer community very well.

So I didn’t expect a lot from the SprOut conference. But there were two staff and three queers with disabilities there from Toronto – gays and lesbians and a trans man. I just thought that was the coolest thing ever to have these two worlds understand each other. It was really eye-opening to hear them tell their stories and to tell mine.

Usually I’m very cautious of hanging out with new people – but I felt supported. They all understood the autism aspect AND the trans aspect of me. There was no awkwardness. It felt very natural. It felt like I fit in. We bonded really quickly. I could talk about queer stuff and disability stuff and they knew what I was talking about in either area, where usually it’s one or the other. It was an instant bond that all six of us had. I had to hang out with them again.

We met up for three more days after the conference. I went into Vancouver from Surrey because I wanted to. That was big. I avoid taking transit on my own at all costs. I hate being alone in public. I hate busy city streets. But I was willing to do it to meet up with them. That showed me that these people are where it’s at for me.

One day we went up to Whistler for the afternoon. We walked around and shopped. One night we stayed out until after 11 o’clock. I took them to my local Tim Horton’s in Surrey, where I’m comfortable. I showed them a bit of my world. I even took them on a Skytrain city tour. They loved it and thought it was so cool.  Then they had to go back to Toronto. It was really disappointing. A couple of people were crying. It’s sad they live so far away. But it was fun. I’m staying in touch with them now on Facebook and text. It’s something I will treasure forever and I thought would never happen. I hope that they come back.

I would like to see a group here that bridges these two communities. Since the SprOut people left I haven’t been on transit alone. I haven’t had any need to.