'There was a lot of doubt,' Gina Bedingfield's story of acceptance and purpose
Bedingfield uses her own experience to help others going through their transition
About two years ago, Gina Bedingfield knew that something was off in her life. She was depressed, unable to leave the house and ultimately not feeling like herself.
"I just kind of reached a wall in my life basically where I first thought I was just a gay man and tried living my life as a gay man and it didn't quite take," she said.
"Something felt wrong and I had known basically that I had been feeling like I didn't belong in my gender for quite a while but I didn't know how to express that."
Bedingfield admits she didn't know what being transgender was at that time, but through the Windsor Trans Spectrum support group, she figured it out.
"They kind of gave me the information I needed to go forward in my transition, to get started as my true self."
Looking back now, Bedingfield said the signs were there before, but it took learning more about what being a transgender woman means for her to start her own personal transition.
She said having people to lean on and explain the day-to-day of transitioning helped her to get through a difficult and confusing period of her life.
"There was a lot of doubt," she said. "A lot of doubt and a lot of fear because this affected my close personal relationships at the time and there was a lot of shame involved because it just felt like I was just unnatural I guess."
Long journey to acceptance
In addition to coming out to her friends and family, Bedingfield said it was hard for her to accept herself at first when she was transitioning.
She said for her, and many trans people like her, there are constant daily reminders of your former self — like the large beard Bedingfield woke up each morning before her transition. She said no transitions are alike and everyone wants to rush through the process, but she said it takes time.
I had seen myself at such a low point and I just wanted so desperately to help people and be helpful.- Gina Bedingfield
"It was pretty terrifying at the time." she said. "There's an internal acceptance of it you just don't get, because it feels like an impossible dream almost, to be who you feel you are inside because there's just such a disconnect."
For her, transitioning was about being true to herself and who she was.
"Being trans takes a lot of time and patience and there's a reconciling within yourself that this is who you are and that it's okay to be yourself and move forward as such."
Lending a hand
Now, Bedingfield is a dedicated volunteer at the W.E. Trans Support centre in Windsor.
She's doing whatever she can to help others like her and to create a safe space in the community where people can hang out, celebrate and have support as they go through their own transitions.
"I had seen myself at such a low point and I just wanted so desperately to help people and be helpful," said Bedingfield. "I had the experience and I knew that these people coming in, where they come from and I could relate my personal journey to how they are feeling."
She's also a singer-songwriter who uses her music to tell a bit of her story.
At W.E. Trans Support, Bedingfield is a popular figure who helps organize monthly music and art events, one-on-one talks with people and she also helps them pick clothes from a clothing bank.
She said the clothes is a big part for her, because many people who are transitioning aren't always comfortable shopping.
"A lot of people ask have you had the surgery what do you have down there. And that's a very inappropriate question to ask a trans person.- Gina Bedingfield
"Having clothes is a barrier for trans people, so having access to the clothing bank is a really big deal," she said. "It's because some people just might not be comfortable going out in public yet, so going out to a store and trying clothes on is a huge deal."
But her role seems to be most valuable as a friend, who is there to listen and share.
"I feel it's very therapeutic for me and strengthening my self-identity to understand that this is who I am and these are who these people are," she said.
"Helping them figure out where their journey is going to take them — it makes me feel good when people have told me 'I really appreciate you talking to me and making this seem possible where it felt impossible before.'"
Bedingfield hopes that others will be inspired to live as their true selves too, whatever that may be. Through her volunteer work she's heard a lot of stories from members of the LGBT community.
"If this is who you feel you are, don't give up. You're meant to be who your brain tells you who you're meant to be. You are who you are, nobody can tell you any different."
She said it's important to have patience and be kind to yourself while you're figuring it out.
And there's also something she wants LGBT allies and members of the community to know:
"A lot of people ask the inappropriate question of surgery," she said, pointing that it's never kind or an appropriate thing to ask.
"A lot of people ask have you had the surgery what do you have down there. And that's a very inappropriate question to ask a trans person because you wouldn't ask someone else what's in your pants."
Bedingfield also said if you aren't sure how to address someone, there's an easy answer to that.
"Basically the best way to ask someone if you're unsure is definitely asking about their pronouns and it gives you a better idea of who they are."
The onus is on you to learn about terms and do research, said Bedingfield.
"It doesn't have to be a rude or intrusive response … it comes down to respecting one another as people and if we can't do that then what's the point."