Hi, it’s me, Johanna Browne aka AGA.
I’m sharing this not so much as a debate topic or something to discuss, but my hope is, that someone struggling with similar issues surrounding their beliefs or Gender Identity and/or sexuality, would read this and know they are not alone, they are worthwhile and loved and will always be part of my Atheist Republic Family. I’m fairly easy to find, send me a fb friend request or follow me on Twitter, or simply just message me here.
Now, I guess I should just start at the beginning, well, maybe not my conception, just after I was born.
I was born John Brown, in 1970, Hobart, Australia and adopted by a American-Canadian woman and Australian man.
Nice right? Keep Reading…
Mom and Dad ended up Divorced by 1973, about 2 years after my adoption. Mom returned to Ontario, Canada with me in tow…
I’ll spare you the boring details of my early childhood, being a male child who is intersex, Klinefelter and Hypogonadal syndrome (which was discovered later), and who presented mostly as male until puberty and identifying as female from around age 5 or 6.
I grew up in a strict Catholic home.
When I hit Puberty, my voice didn’t break like the other boys and my body remained mostly hairless as I filled out in all the non-male attributes that other boys were going through, but not like the girls in my school either.
I was bullied, abused, sexually assaulted by a local older teen. All the good stuff.
My mother, being a good Catholic mother and housewife, wouldn’t stand for my desire to wear dresses, playing with Barbie’s, and doing things like the other girls, and I was often disciplined. “Spare the rod, spoil the child”
When I was 12, best friend, I’ll call her Alice in this story, gave me one of her training bras, which at the time, I needed as my mother flat out refused to purchase me one.
One day, mom was cleaning my room, and found the training bra tucked away under my mattress.
She said nothing. I knew she found it. It was no longer there!
A day later, she (mom) took me to our GP for an endocrinologist referral. The waiting room was full and was the start of the flu season. Some of the people there were parents of my classmates, and some of them had my classmates there with them.
It was at this time, my mother, who has a loud voice, and believes in humiliation as a legit form of punishment, decided to loudly bring up “WHY DID YOU HAVE A BRA UNDER YOUR MATTERESS!?! IS THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU! YOU’RE SICK IN THE HEAD!” etc. etc.
I was chastised for what seemed like forever and the shame I felt, the tears that followed… Life at school was never the same after that. Not that it was great to begin with.
When Mom told my stepfather, he calmly took off his belt and whipped me with it. At least this time it wasn’t the extension cord or the switch he kept in the umbrella basket. I managed to get away and ran as fast as I could to Alice’s house, where her mother hugged me and took me in for the night, as she called the cops to report the abuse.
In what seemed to be forever, as I was sitting on the couch with Alice in some borrowed Pj’s hugging as I cried, the police knocked at the door… to take me back. I was 12, a minor, no rights, no protection. No hope.
The following day, Fr Canning, Head of our Parishes New church at my school, came by the house for some godly spiritual guidance for my parents. The school year was almost over, and Fr Canning said he would pull some strings to get me into the Churches EDGE Youth Ministries for grades 6,7 and 8. So I could go to EDGE camp, which is as you can guess, is a Catholic Bible camp. In 1983, it was 2 weeks of summer starting around mid July, not long after Canada Day Eh.
The camp was co-ed and I pushed the boundaries and the buttons of the camp leaders, intentionally acting out, being provocative, and “borrowing” some of the other girl’s clothes. That went over as you would have expected.
On more than one occasion, I was forced to kneel on dry rice with bare knees while reading aloud the book of Romans or some other book from the bible, in front of everyone in the mess hall as they ate their dinner and I went without. Afterwards, I was sent to my dorm cabin. I didn’t last the two weeks. And I barely survived the rest of the summer at home because of it.
By 1985, The HRT for Testosterone seemed to be working, I started filling out in the shoulders, my voice lowered and became chestier, and my muscles started to build, like I was going through a second puberty. Despite all this effort to make me “Normal”, I still didn’t feel like a boy. I had not much interest in what the other boys were doing, but I didn’t fit in with the girls either. By now, my best friend Alice was no longer interested in my company, she still always said high on the street or at school, but she was off with her clique.
My Stepfather and mother divorced and I saw that as an opportunity to continue to explore myself, my female self, without fear or assault. I had even stopped taking the HRT as well, faking swallowing it when mom gave it to me at breakfast.
This went over like a train wreck. Seriously!
My mother had signed me over to a Catholic run foster home, The Fairbanks Home for Girls in Oshawa Ontario.
My own mother, the one who chose to adopt me from Australia in 1971.
Assuming I was gay as well as being Intersex Transgender, which is why I was placed in an all-Girls foster care home. I was mildly attracted to some boys, but mostly Girls. I was in Love with Joan Jett. I wanted her. I wanted to be her. Anyway….
The Catholic run foster home put me in long term therapy at CAMH’s Family Gender Identity Clinic which was meant to be “Cutting Edge”, for youths under 18. It was “Conversion Therapy”. The place was run by Dr Kenneth Zucker & Dr Susan Bradley. They seemed sympathetic and I believe, looking back now, had my best interest at heart. That being said, their Job in my case was to treat me the way my parent/guardian wanted me to be treated. My Parent/Guardian now being the Catholic Fucking Church!
I attended CAMH every Friday for 2-hour sessions and one 3 hour group session fortnightly for Group sessions.
Group was sometimes fun, and sometimes uncomfortable. Not so different to the sharing, like you see on TV with A.A. meetings minus the god references, but what got me was the role playing. Holding hands with the opposite sex, being paired with someone of the opposite sex. Sometimes that meant a Female staff member would have to sit in as transgender boys were a bit scarce back then. Most people saw them as “tomboys”, a phase they’ll grow out of by adulthood I guess.
So here I am, 15 years old, holding hands with this adult woman who is almost old enough to be my mother. Other activities included learning to tie a tie etc. Basically learning how to be the correct gender, and how much fun it is to pretend to be something you’re not. On the Brightside, I got out of the foster home chores.
My 18th Birthday (1988) was a week away and I could no longer stay at Fairbanks Home for Girls. They had arranged with my mother, who barely came to see me the 3 years I was there, for me to stay at her home. Notice I said “Her home”. My room had been rented out and all my belongings packed up or donated to Goodwill.
Welcome home Johnny!!
I had to share a room with my younger brother James, who was 7 years my junior. This arrangement lasted a week. Mom sat me down, told me she had rented me a furnished room and paid 1 month rent for me, but I needed to find a job to cover the $75 a week. No pressure.
I tried to argue why her new tenant didn’t move in there so I could have my Room back and try to repair my fucked-up life. Mom told me she didn’t want me corrupting my brother with my perversions.
So, I packed up my things into the back of my mom’s Chevy Acadian, and whatever remained of my things she didn’t donate, fighting back the tears from what felt like a big kick in the guts.
I had a hella time trying to find work. Too young, not enough experience, wrong gender (women’s retail fashion shop). Nothing. I was able to get on Canada’s Welfare system, which paid $450 a month, my rent was $75 p/wk which left me with $150 for a month for food. I didn’t have to pay for water, gas or electricity as they were included in my rent, I did have the option of having a land line connected in my room, but I couldn’t afford it. I took some job search counselling advice, and with their help, I applied for a bursary to Durham College, which was approved. They covered my rent, and tuition, but I had to cover my transportation, books, and other student costs, which I wasn’t prepared for how much all that was. I enrolled in Human Physiology & Biology for Term 2 of the 1989-90 school year (January).
By Term three, I was a mess, barely eating due to money issues, still couldn’t find a job of any kind. I decided one weekend, I’d try sex work. I know I know, but it didn’t happen. Oh I got out there and tried, I was in the wrong area. I saw others working it hard with payoff in the Church and Wellesley area of Toronto known as the Village. Maybe I’d try there.
That location, being in the underground Gay district of the late 80’s and early 90’s ought to drum up some clients, right? Not the way I looked or went about it.
What was I doing wrong? Was I unattractive? I got talking to one of the other boys working the area. Turns out, I don’t look Gay enough, but, with my young look, obvious breasts and slender enough build and long hair, I could offer up my services as a “Teen Tranny Whore”.
I talked it over with a close female friend of mine, Lisa, who could source something for me to wear, something a little gothic, heavy on the make-up, and went to work.
Success! If you can call having to resort to giving up your body, dignity, self-esteem, what little I had, but at least I could afford Transportation, student cost and food.
So this was my weekend gig, for about 4 weeks or so, Money was OK, not always though. On one early morning, walking back to where I parked, a car slowly drove past, turned around, and four guys got out.
Pushing and shoving me, grabbing my bag, tried a few times to pull my wig off that I wasn’t wearing, tearing my clothes etc. This escalated quickly to knocking me down, spitting on me and one of them kicked me right in the face with his boots. I think one of them urinated on me. Maybe I pissed myself. I don’t know, I couldn’t move. I heard some people yelling and the four men ran back to their car. I heard it peel out as I lost consciousness.
I woke up in Toronto General 2 days later, Orbital rim fracture, broken cheekbone, a mild fracture to my jaw and most of my front teeth broken beyond repair. I had had dental and sinus surgery after I was admitted. I had no knowledge of it until I woke up 2 days later.
I told the nurse to call my friend, for me, and at that time, the police came to take my statement.
According to the cops from 52 Division, they’ll “do their best” but not to get hopeful. There wasn’t much they could do, or willing to do, and told me I should think twice next time before leaving the house dressed like a girl.
What the actual fuck!
So my being assaulted, potentially almost murdered, is my fucking fault?!
4 days after the assault, I was discharged from the hospital and despite my protest, I had my friend drive me to where I parked my car. Great! Two days’ worth of parking fines. FML!
Lisa followed me home and helped me over the 3 weeks while I recovered enough to look after myself.
A couple months had past, I dropped out of college so I could still survive on what the government was giving me. One day while walking, I was doing some soul searching. I know, sounds cliché, but I felt maybe my mother was right, I needed God to help me change my “immoral” behaviour. I went into a church near me, The United Pentecostal Church in Oshawa. I went in and was greeted by someone working in the office. It was Brother Church, head pastor. I told him I was raised Catholic but had a bad history with them. Told him about my Gender dysphoria, the prostitution, everything. He had a way of making me feel like I could just talk to him about anything.
Brother Church prayed over me and invited me to service that night, and I accepted the invitation.
WOW!, I seen this kind of church on TV, but not so small. Maybe 100 people including me, was in attendance. But it was lively, not boring. Aside from Brother Church preaching the word, His son and wife also had their turn at the pulpit. There was a Christian gospel band, and members of the congregation were invited to testify. There were even some ‘speaking in tongues’ going on. As weird as I thought it was, I kind of liked it. If anything, I was entertained.
Eventually I found myself going back Wednesdays, Fridays and Sunday services and it wasn’t long before I was being baptized before the entire congregation. How glorious was that! One of my fellow church members owned a roofing business and needed a labourer so he offered me a job.
I met my wife through the churches Bible study program late summer of ‘91 and on 18th April 1992 we were married. My Daughter was born March ’94. I had a bona fide family. But there was a problem. I’m sterile! Still, I ignored the obvious and forgave my wife as the lord instructs us to do and went on with out life
My gender dysphoria.
It never went away; I just got good at suppressing it. The more I suppressed it, to worse I felt, and the depression settled in and I started drinking, not a lot, but alcohol was frowned upon at my church. I was spiralling downward again, and went to speak with Brother Church, and we prayed together, but this time, I didn’t feel better. In fact, it all felt forced and I was starting to question my belief in God.
In late 1999, I separated from my wife and I moved in with my younger brother, in some trashy apartment on Simcoe St in Oshawa, and I lost my job because I separated from my wife. Christian Retribution. But that’s OK, I now had contacts I made working for the roofing company that gave me a start, and I was by this time a fully qualified roofer and it took me no time at all to get a job roofing with Chouinard Bros, and it was unionized. Local 27 which I here has since merged with another union so I’m told.
My wife also fell from grace. She ended up working as a Stripper at the Old Royal Hotel in Whitby, to make ends meet. She eventually met a loser who was knocking up women all over the Durham region. Eventually CAS got involved and took my daughter out of her care and placed her with me. Awesome, aside from now being a single dad, living in a small shitty apartment with my brother. We moved to a three bedroom apartment in Oshawa’s north end, right behind were my wife lived. Awkward!
I was officially divorced in 2001 and by then, she wasn’t showing up for scheduled visits with our daughter, and when she did, my daughter didn’t want to go with her. I registered her in a Catholic school (not sure why), against my ex’s permission, but I had sole custody and no agreement as to decisions made regarding medical or education. We managed, although it was hard, we were mostly happy.
In October 2005, I received a letter from Canada Customs and Immigration requesting I attend an interview on the 5th November 2005. M’Kay.
November 5th came and I attended the interview as requested, and they made it short and not so sweet. They told me I was inadmissible to Canada because I overstayed my VISA. WTF? I never had a VISA, I was a permanent resident!!
I had a Ontario driver’s license, Ontario OHiP (Health Insurance), Social Insurance Number etc. but there was nothing I could do. I was told I had to quit my job, not change addresses without notifying them and to report as Directed while I waited to be deported. If I failed to comply, I would be locked up in Immigration detention.
After a failed appeal in December of that year, I had no option but to prepare my 12 year old daughter that I would be leaving and not sure when I would see her again. I was not permitted to remove her from the country due to Visiting rights of my ex.
2006 came and I knew I had at least the month of January with my daughter. I had applied for emergency court hearing which was granted under extenuating circumstances supported by the Durham CAS. I successfully was able to transfer Custody of my Daughter to my long time best friend Lisa. It was a big ask, and she is just the most amazing darling ever. Her wife wasn’t thrilled at first, but she did always get along with my daughter, so it was a done deal. As I was still working under the table cash in hand, I was able to build up a few thousand for Lisa until she managed to get on family assistance and register for the GST child tax credit.
It’s now March, Waiting to get notified of being deported was painful. I had no idea how I would be notified, by mail? by phone? Were they just going to show up and escort me to the airport? I contacted the Australian Consulate in Canada, and explained my situation, and asked if they could help. They told me they can’t get involved in Canada’s immigration laws, so I just asked if they could at least speak to someone to expedite my removal. Just pull the band aid off already!
A week later I got a call from Canada Immigration and Customs agency, and they informed me that I would be deported on 28th March. Lisa’s Birthday. That day came, and I packed what I could into two large check-in bags and all my clothes in a carryon bag ,and headed to the airport after a very long and tearful good-bye with my Daughter and Lisa.
When I got to Pierson International Airport, I found the Customs office where I had to report. They took my bags, all my Canadian ID, and I headed to the boarding lounge. I was literally about 10 people away from getting on the plane when two Customs and Immigration agents ran up to me and pulled me out of line. They explained I couldn’t be deported via that rout because I was scheduled for a stopover in Hong Kong. Apparently, there was some political stuff going on there at the time, and if I had landed, I would have been locked up in prison, because the Chinese government did not allow for deported people to pass through their boarders. I could have stayed in that prison for months, even years before they deported me back to Canada where I would have to be deported a second time. What a fuck up!
The immigration agents were looking for another flight to stick me on, they found one, but it was for
6th April, they offered to keep my bags for me until my flight so I would have to drag them on Public Transport all the way from Ajax, where Lisa Lived. I had long since sold my jeep and all my roofing tools so I’d have as much money as possible. The very real downside to me not flying out that day was, I had to put everyone else through it again.
The 2nd goodbye came, and I was off to Tasmania Australia, where I didn’t know a single person, with the exception of a sister who through adoption records found me a couple years earlier. Try to imagine the emotions I was feeling. I was being forcd from the only country I had ever known, separated from my daughter, my family, my friends, by financial stability, to a country I didn’t know, with a family member I never met outside of international phone calls and MS Messenger chats, where I would be staying. What a head fuck!
So this time, my flight on Air Canada was being directed to Tokyo Japan, then to Sidney Australia, then to Hobart Tasmania, where my sister and her bff were there to greet me. I was tired; over 27 hours travel time and almost no sleep. I looked like a hot mess. My sister Kathryn and her friend drove me to her friend’s house, where we immediately went to the back shed, a common thing in Australia. There was chairs and a couch, a wood stove and some beers. I really just wanted to sleep before I started meeting people and socializing but when you’re in Tassie….
I had a hell of a time the week ahead, Kathryn took the week of work to help me get sorted, with Australian ID, a bank account and apply for Centrelink, which is essentially welfare. Problem is, I needed ID to get ID and in Australia, there is a point system for ID. My Australian Passport counted as 80 points, but I still needed 20 points to make up the difference of the 100 points I needed to get a bank account, which I needed to get another 20 points of ID for Centrelink. Apparently, a Library card is worth 20 points, same as a drivers licence, and I ended up getting a bank account with my Sister, and got into Centrelink. Centrelink has a mandatory Job search policy where you have to do an intake with a job seeker counsellor . I told her my story, the deportation and having to leave my daughter behind part. Not the rest. She had to excuse herself as she became emotional. I was approved for Newstart allowance, and my first year of looking for work was waved so I could get adjusted. I contacted my union back in Canada, and because I was deported, and in dire need of money, they released all the money put into my Unions retirement fund, about 10k.
To be continued….