Can a trans man find happiness in Labrador? I'm about to find out
Even as young as 8 years old, I knew something was different about me, writes Mason Woodward
This is a First Person column by Mason Woodward, who returned to his home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay after his transition. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
I was born and raised in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., a place known for harsh winters and even harsher mosquitoes. But what it isn't known for is its sexual and gender diversity.
I am a trans man, which means I was assigned female at birth, though the arbitrary gender marker didn't reflect my true gender. Ever since I was young — even as young as eight years old — I knew something was different about me.
All children love to play and make believe, imagining themselves in all sorts of different roles and situations.
But what I noticed, even that young, was that playing traditional "female" roles just didn't cut it for me. No matter what, I played "male" roles and felt much more comfortable doing so.
As I began questioning exactly why this was while going through puberty, I was left with many more questions and no answers. This was in the 1990s when the internet was still in its early stages. It wasn't as user friendly and didn't have the seemingly limitless access to resources like it does today. No one really talked about 2SLGBTQIA+ issues — an acronym that includes people who are two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual — and it certainly wasn't talked about in my schools in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
I had no idea where to go to figure out what I was feeling. I didn't even have the language to figure out where to start.
As the internet evolved in my early teens, I discovered forums, chat rooms and online video games. It was there, while revelling in complete anonymity, that I was able to finally start exploring my gender to try to make sense of the world and myself.
I was happily able to identify as male and have other people accept it without question. It felt so right.
Of course, the fear of being "outed" always loomed over me, making it harder still to be my truest self.
When I was in my senior year of high school, all these feelings of confusion about my gender were too much, so I approached my mother.
"Mom, I think I should've been born a boy," I told her that fateful day. She was confused but supportive, though neither of us had the language or knowledge to truly tackle what was going on: gender dysphoria.
The conversation eventually turned toward my sexuality, although gender and sexuality are two distinct things. With nothing really being resolved, I continued to quietly live my double life, eventually leaving Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
In my mid- to late 20s, I started to finally get the terminology for everything I was feeling. Before then, I barely even knew what "trans" or "transgender" actually meant.
It was then that things started to click. I was massively relieved to hear that there were other people out there like me, though the idea of actually transitioning still seemed out of reach … until I saw a friend of mine had started.
I realized I could transition as well; that I no longer had to hide myself behind a computer screen.
By the time I started medically transitioning (starting with hormone replacement therapy), I was 30 and living in the U.K. It was thrilling yet terrifying, since I wasn't out to my family back home. When I came back to Canada, landing in Montreal, I still didn't know how I'd deal with it all. But the hormone replacement therapy was doing its job, and I wouldn't be able to hide the physical changes forever.
At this point, in 2017, a series of family emergencies meant I had to be around my loved ones more. I finally came out to my brother close to his wedding — the same guy who never seemed to question why I only ever played as a guy when we were kids.
When I did, he wrapped me up in his arms for a big hug and lovingly said, "I wish you had told me sooner. I would've gotten you a suit" for the wedding.
I can't even begin to tell you what an emotional impact that one moment had on me, and still has on me, to this day.
Months later, I finally came out to my parents. However, they needed more time to come to terms with the revelation and figure things out on their own. Now they're my strongest allies, and my relationship with them is even stronger than ever.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was living in Montreal. I eventually started to look at returning to my hometown. But I was scared.
I had a wonderful physician in Montreal who specialized in trans health care, and things were going well with my transition. I also had a lot of 2SLGBTQIA+ friends and the community in Montreal was so vibrant.
Thinking about Happy Valley-Goose Bay, I had the sinking feeling that I'd have to go back into the closet. I hadn't heard good things about health care when it came to being trans, and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community was practically invisible to me.
But my loneliness from the pandemic and the realization that life is too short made me finally come home.
The transition into Labrador from Quebec was — and still is — a bit bumpy, between managing my hormone replacement therapy and finding a local physician who could confidently handle my ongoing care. Although things are looking better than I initially feared, I still lose sleep wondering if I can truly be taken care of here in Labrador.
On top of all that stress, I'm slowly still trying to figure out where I fit within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community at home. Fortunately, there's more awareness in the community than when I was growing up, and more people who are out and proud, though it's still pretty lonely. I celebrated my first Pride week at home this year, which was amazing.
I've only been back in my hometown for a few months, and there are still a lot of things up in the air.
I hope to be able to live a fulfilling life here in the Big Land as my authentic self — but only time will tell.