Becoming Lara: Winnipeg comedian Al Rae transitions to a woman

It's a case of art imitating life. Theatre by the River is putting on Edward II and in their version, a character is transitioning from male to female. The assistant director of the play is also going through that process.

'I have waited my whole life to do this,' says longtime CBC contributor

The artistic leader of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, formerly known as Al Rae, is transitioning from male to female 1:43

It's a case of art imitating life. 

Theatre by the River is putting on Edward II and in their version, a character is transitioning from male to female. 

The assistant director of the play is also going through that process.

Her name is Lara Rae.

Winnipeggers know her well as Al Rae — a long-time contributor to CBC Radio — and the artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. 

"I have waited my whole life to do this," said Rae. "I started slowly, just dressing as a woman at first, but definitely moving toward it."

Rae said that without the unconditional support of friend and Edward II director Sarah Constible, she could not have embarked on such an arduous journey.
Lara Rae is the artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. (Theatre by the River)

"In order to do this, you need a person in your life to be with you through thick and thin," said Rae. "Sarah has been."

So when Constible asked Rae to be assistant director on Kendra Jone's adaptation of Edward II, Rae was happy to be part of the production for several reasons.

"I'm a fan of Marlow, where there's a great deal of gender play generally, and I'm a fan of Sarah's," Rae said. "She wanted my point of view since there's a character — a minor character —  who is transitioning in the play. It's the latest frontier of being shocking in theatre."

Rae is grateful she has such a close connection with the arts scene in Winnipeg.

"Transitioning is never easy," she said, "But it hasn't been as hard for me as for other people because my community is very accepting. I am taking hormones. But there are some things medical intervention doesn't help with — like my voice.

"I have to learn nuances of voice and movement. It's difficult. I sometimes wonder if I practised changing my voice in my native Glaswegian accent — which I still have, a bit — if that would make it easier. I'm amazed at how different my skin feels, and now my sense of smell is keener, and I'm cold all the time."

From 'nice skirt, faggot' to 'nice skirt, buddy'

Rae is passionate about the importance of transitioning for some people.

"Something happens in pre-natal development. There's a disconnect between the brain, the hormones and the gonads.  It's a medical issue. Sure, you can function and have various successes in life, but it leaves you very sad. People die for this, and people die for not doing this."
Lara Rae says transitioning from one gender to another is never easy, but she says her connections with Winnipeg's artistic community which is very accepting, has made it easier. (CBC)

Rae said her transformation has been gradual and there have been some tough moments. 

"It used to be, you would get, 'nice skirt, faggot!' people would yell. Now they say, 'nice skirt buddy!' And so even the bigots have smartened up to some degree."

Rae still has a long road ahead, but it's one she's looking forward to travelling. And it's giving her some new material in her stand-up act.

"It's about creating an outside that conforms to the inside. I've never been happier in my life," Rae said. 

You can hear a full interview with Lara Rae on at 7:30 a.m. Thursday on Information Radio with Marcy Markusa on CBC Radio One - 89.3 FM - 990 AM.


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