As I walked through the entrance to the Toad in the Hole Pub & Eatery in eclectic Osborne Village, I hoped to see a face. Not just any face. A friendly face. A smiling face. A warm face. A welcoming face. And there it was. There she was. Wee Judy Merrifield, all four-feet-nothing of her, standing at the left end of the very same bar that had propped me up too many long-ago nights.
She looked the same. The short-cropped, white, grandmotherly hair. Her eyes sparkling like the two brightest stars in the sky from behind wire-rimmed glasses.
My friend Davey, who had delivered me from the Winnipeg airport, stepped toward her, bent down slightly, whispered something to her, then pointed in my direction.
Judy flashed a smile, wide, impish and inviting.
It had been 10 years since I had last seen her, but this was the first time she had ever seen me. Judy, like all others in Winnipeg, once knew another person, a superficial, male person who had existed only on the surface and disappeared and ceased to exist the moment I began my transition, seven years ago. Standing before her now was a fully flowered female, flush in the glow of true self.
Her eyes visited mine. We embraced. I held tight.
It was a beautiful moment.
Jude, Davey and I settled in what we call the Booth from Hell and, when he excused himself to attend to his habitual hand-washing, she slid beside me and asked, “Are you happy?”
“I am,” I confirmed. “Very happy.”
“You seem it. You look very happy. You seem relaxed and at peace.”
Shortly thereafter, Carolyn came into the pub. Another hug. Then Stan. Another hug. And Michael the owner. One more hug.
Whatever pangs of doubt, whatever flutter of fear or touch of trepidation I might have had about old friends, acquaintances, colleagues and contemporaries meeting the true me for the first time vanished like summer wages. I had been accepted as Patti, warmly, affectionately, eagerly and without reservation.
It has been two weeks since my return home to Victoria from a whirlwind waystop in Winnipeg, ample time to chew on, and digest, the delightful deliverances of that wonderful weekend.
What I conclude, is that my transition is complete. Fully and finally.
I had mistakenly assumed it to be a fait accompli prior to the recent visit to my hometown, where I was feted as one of two new inductees into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honour. I now realize that wasn’t the case, that my dear ones in Winnipeg needed to see the true me before I could arrive at the end of the process, if not for them, for myself.
Until a fortnight ago, in their mind’s eyes I was still that “other” person, the cheeky, irreverent, smart-ass cowboy jock journalist who wrote with equal parts bite and bark. Oh, sure, they knew about my lifelong, epic struggle with gender identity conflict, and my surgery. And they’d seen pictures of Patti.
Still, they hadn’t seen me. Not up close and personal. To them, I must have seemed like a rumor. A fictional character.
This was underscored when Davey, my oldest and dearest friend, met me at the airport. There was no sign of him when I collected my suitcase at the baggage carousel. I looked up, down, all around. He was a nowhere man. I began to make my way toward the exit when I spied someone sitting on a bench, the lid of his ballcap pulled down over his eyes. He looked up, saw me walking toward him and he started walking my way, smiling.
“Christ almighty! I didn’t recognize you!” he yelped as only Davey can yelp, “I was expecting a blonde chick! I was looking for a blonde chick!”
“Sorry,” I said, “haven’t been blonde for two years now.”
I don’t know if Davey was nervous about seeing me for the first time. I didn’t ask. I didn’t have to. His greeting said it all. Nothing had changed between us.
The same could be said at the Toad when I reconnected with Shannon and Beverley. And with Judy Owen and Paul Friesen, two former colleagues who treated me to a late Saturday morning breakfast. And at the awards banquet, where I was greeted so warmly by Harvey Rosen and Bob Picken and Ernie Nairn and Paul Edmonds and Dutch Holland and Troy Westwood and Brian Dobie and Ted Wyman and Kirk Penton and Mo Glimcher and Glenn Dawkins, among so many others.
Harvey Rosen and I used to sit beside one another in the press box at Jets games in the old Winnipeg Arena. I’ve always harbored a considerable fondness for him, so I was most pleased to see him when I arrived at the banquet.
“Before we go in there,” he said softly, “I just want to say something to you. I think what you’ve gone through and your coming here tonight is quite courageous. I think it’s heroic even. I really can’t imagine what you’ve dealt with all your life, but I just want you to know that I truly admire you and respect you.”
What Harvey and the others need to know is this: Yes, some strength comes from within, but much, if not most, of it comes from without. That is, transgender people such as myself draw strength from our dear ones. We draw courage from our dear ones. It is their acceptance that emboldens us, fortifies us and, most of all, frees us to be our true selves. We can open the door, but they’re the ones who let us out.
I admire and respect them. And I thank them for gently carrying me to the happily-ever-after end of my transition journey.