Passaggio: A story of transition, identity and love

'Passaggio' is a documentary by Pamela Post about the transition of her transgender son, Asher, a serious performer of vocal music. The story captures the pain and joy as Asher confronts medical procedures and the prospect of losing both his musical career and his partner.

‘Passaggio’ is a term from classical singing, describing the transition between vocal registers

Pamela Post with her newborn baby, Asher. (Ian Maclaren )

*This episode originally aired on December 20, 2021.

By Pamela Post

First contact

That's what I call the photo of the first time I locked eyes with my only child after a rough, 22-hour labour in the operating room where I'd been prepped for a Caesarean section. Forceps finally did the trick.

It would be the first of a few rough passages that my child and I would weather together. 

We seem to be saying "hello, who are you?"

The only clues to answering that question were shouted updates by the doctor from the bottom of my OR bed: "Baby has brown hair!" Then finally: "It's a girl!" 

Turns out he was wrong on that second count. 

But it would take more than 20 years to set the record straight.

My 'daughter' came out as a transgender male in 2019, and chose the name Asher, which very aptly means 'blessing.' 

Pamela Post and her son Asher Maclaren in 2018, the year before Asher began testosterone therapy. (Submitted by Pamela Post)

A key lesson, one of so many for me over the past two years, is that everyone's gender journey is unique and can't be lumped into the same trans or Two-Spirit container. 

As Asher told me on the day of his first testosterone injection, "I don't have one of those I knew I was a boy from five years old stories. I started having these thoughts when I was 25 — and I'm 28 now!  

"When I started experimenting with presenting as masculine, it felt like I was letting out a breath, like I was walking into an air-conditioned room on a gross, hot, sweaty, summer day and I was just so much more comfortable."

Asher's transition 

For the past two years, Asher and I have been documenting his gender transition with a series of audio-taped scenes and conversations. The result is our IDEAS documentary, Passaggio

Asher has collaborated with me on stories in the past, starting young. At age 11, he was a Harry Potter kid book reviewer for CBC shows.

Asher on his birthday in 2021 holding a card sketched by his mom of Daniel Levy’s Schitt’s Creek gay character, David Rose. (Pamela Post)

Asher's a young adult now and I didn't want to make myself the centre of his story. But he was adamant there was value in sharing our story from a mother-son perspective, since we both knew of families who have broken down over a trans family member coming out. 

And there was a key dramatic element we were both acutely aware of. 

Sacrifices to live authentically 

Asher is a classically trained opera singer — a coloratura soprano.

I had watched Asher hit thrilling high notes and gavotte coquettishly across the stages of many musical productions at the Vancouver Academy of Music where he was pursuing a degree in classical voice.

Asher Maclaren (centre) singing the lead role of Minette in a Vancouver Academy of Music production of Offenbach’s La chatte métamorphosée en femme in 2017. (Alan Corbishley )

But a devastating vocal injury forced him to leave his formal music studies early. 

Asher bravely placed the beautiful instrument of his singing voice on the altar of truth — ready to sacrifice it for being who he really was: a young man.- Pamela Post

And going on testosterone therapy meant he would be pitched into a second puberty, this time a male puberty. It also meant that his voice would break and — if not handled with careful, slow dosing of the hormone — losing his vocal register and his ability to sing forever. 

Asher bravely placed the beautiful instrument of his singing voice on the altar of truth — ready to sacrifice it for being who he really was: a young man. 

Our documentary, Passaggio, charts what would be a very rocky passage for my son as he went through his chemical and surgical transition. He suffered some gut-punching losses along the way, including the death of a young cousin his own age; and days later, the death of his kindred spirit and musical collaborator, Garret Hopper. 

Garret Hopper and Asher Maclaren recording their 2019 album Elves & Eggnog. (Asher Maclaren )

Asher and Garret shared a love of Christmas kitsch and every year produced a jazzy, cheezy, schmaltzy album of seasonal tunes called Elves & Eggnog. Garret's final request to Asher just before he died in May 2021 was for Asher to record another Elves & Eggnog album on his own this Christmas.

Asher, struggling with grief and protracted pain from a tough surgical recovery and ongoing vocal problems, wasn't sure he could fulfil his friend's last wish.

Indigenous understandings  

Asher and I are of mixed Indigenous and European heritage. We are Ts'msyen from Kitsumkalum in northwest B.C. on my dad's side. I'm working on a short animated film based on stories my Ts'msyen dad told me.

Saylesh Wesley is a Stó꞉lō/Ts’msyen weaver, scholar and storyteller. (Saylesh Wesley)

Our relative Saylesh Wesley is a Stó꞉lō and Ts'msyen weaver, scholar and storyteller. She's a transgender woman, who wrote Twin-Spirited Woman about her own family issues and painful experiences with transphobia and racism growing up in Terrace during the 1970's – the northern B.C. town transposed onto traditional Ts'msyen territory.

Wesley sees her profoundly difficult transition period through a spiritual lens, as a rite of passage.

"To be transgender you have to be magnificently powerful," she told Asher. 

I've watched my son's profound and sometimes painful journey of transformation over the past two years with awe and gratitude. He has come into his own as a young man, filled with depth, empathy, an inextinguishable wit.

And he's still supremely musical. 

Traditions continue and transform 

Asher recently produced that Elves & Eggnog album of Christmas tunes as a tribute to his friend Garret. It's a kitschy, jazzy, cheezy triumph, sung in his fabulous new tenor voice.

Since Asher was little, my stylish, fashion-loving child coveted the wedding dress my talented mother made for me out of an embossed ivory brocade, hoping to wear it themself when they grew up. 

My son still plans to wear it at his own wedding someday, just altered to be a waistcoat or a suit. 

After all, it's the same fabric, the same precious thing — just transformed. 

Traditions live on. Asher and Pamela looking at the wedding dress made for Pamela by her mother. Asher plans to alter Pamela's wedding dress into a waistcoat or suit for his own wedding someday. (Asher Maclaren/Kent Kallberg)

*This documentary was produced by Pamela Post.

Listen to the documentary, Passaggio by downloading the CBC IDEAS podcast from your favourite app.

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