In News & Blog, Peer Profiles

After a fellow transgender Peer shared her powerful story in our last issue of The Spin, another of our members was inspired to wheel out of the shadows and finally come out to the SCI community.

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Trevor Flynn had come a long way. But when the 32 year old read Taylor Straw’s story in the 2016 Winter issue of The Spin, he knew he could go a bit further.

“It was cool because I always kind of felt like I was the only trans person who is part of Spinal Cord Injury BC, ” says Flynn. “That was another reason I didn’t want to come out. Because it’s like: Will I still be included? Are people going to see me in the same light? Or am I going to be the transgender poster boy?”

Though he’s been living as a trans man for nearly nine years, Flynn hasn’t found most organizations to be as openly inclusive around such a taboo subject—let alone to publish a magazine article and blog post about a transgender community member, share it proudly with the public, and still include the individual in question.

“When I read the article, I was like, Holy crap, these are spaces that I can actually come out in and they’re going to be safe spaces,” says Flynn. “And then I had a split moment thinking, Damn, I should have been the first! I’ve been with these guys for like four and a half years, why didn’t I come out sooner? I knew that not everybody knew, so I knew it was going to be quite a shock to people. But I knew it was time, and a safe place, and so I thought, Why not do it with the organization that just accepted me as me, whether they knew it or not?”

Flynn is open about his experience—the only thing that is off the table is his childhood name. And his story is, in many ways, similar to Taylor’s, with a few notable differences: Flynn underwent a female-to-male transition, and he did so before meeting a partner, starting a family, or sustaining an SCI.

Why didn’t I come out sooner? It was going to be quite a shock to people. But I knew it was time and a safe place, and so I thought, Why not do it with the organization that just accepted me as me, whether they knew it or not?

As an able-bodied child living with spina bifida, Flynn first realized he was different when he was around five years old. At the time an only child, Flynn enjoyed playing with his boy cousins. And though he had always wondered why his mom clothed him in dresses, before starting school he simply assumed he was a boy, too.

Growing up, Trevor didn’t understand why he was forced to do ‘girl’ things.

In Kindergarten, Flynn was surprised to find separate washrooms and change rooms for the boys and the girls. He found himself wondering why he was meant to use the girls’ bathroom—the boys’ room felt like a more natural fit. He hated games that called for “boys against girls” and was offended that he was always relegated to the girls’ side.

By junior high, a teen-aged and painfully female Flynn felt that something was off but he lacked the modern-day insight of Google Search or the language of an updated sexual health curriculum. Instead, he settled into a “tomboy” identity—an umbrella-term for a wide range of nonconformist females at the time. In Grade 10, school Sex Ed classes touched on “queer” but the words “trans” or “bisexual” never came up.

Yet a year later, in those same high school halls, Flynn found some clarity. The school welcomed a new kid—a teenage boy who regularly wore girls’ skirts and proudly identified as “trans.” For Flynn, the term clicked. After graduation, he met another female-to-male trans friend online, found a group of like-minded friends, and channeled his preferred gender in a regular drag king show.

In 2006, Flynn got accepted to the University of Alberta and received a referral to a psychiatrist in Edmonton. (Like many transgender people, and others forced to live in the shadows, Flynn was being treated for depression.) For this first time, he chose to share his gender dysphoria with his new psychiatrist—and she arranged for a brief and voluntary hospital admission to get his medications sorted out before the beginning of classes.

But at the hospital, Flynn was in for a disturbing intervention: “She believed I had multiple personality disorder,” recalls Flynn, who found himself certified under the Mental Health Act. “She said, It’s impossible for a girl to be a boy. Your other personalities could be dangerous to you or other people around you.” He says he spent the next year in hospital, undergoing treatments ranging from Gender Conversion Therapy, a discredited psychological counselling designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, to Electroconvulsive Therapy. The make-up classes and requisite girls’ clothing only made him more confused.

She believed I had multiple personality disorder. She said, It’s impossible for a girl to be a boy.

After a year had passed, Flynn’s psychiatrist retired and everything changed. His new doctor, subscribing to a more modern school of thought, immediately recognized Flynn as being transgendered or gender dysphoric. From there, things finally progressed: His psychiatric team worked to undo the damage done; he moved back to Calgary, and began living as a male, trying out a few different names before settling on Flynn; he started testosterone injections and saw his voice drop and body hair sprout; and, early one January, he under went a massive surgery and finally had the weight of his former female self lifted off his chest.

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Before going under the knife, Flynn had written his family a sort of “coming out” letter. “At the end of the letter, I said, this is nobody’s fault,” says Flynn. “This has nothing to do with how my childhood was… this has nothing to do with how you treated me. Please don’t think you did something wrong. The best thing you can do right now is just support me, whether you agree with it or not.”

His dad was quiet on the subject, but respectfully switched to the appropriate pronouns. His grandmother checked in from time to time, making sure her granddaughter was still feeling like a man. And his mom, though supportive of Flynn, hated the thought of yet another surgery for her son, who was born with spina bifida—and who was born a daughter.

“She’ll still mess up pronouns or call me by his birth name,” says Flynn, noting that his mom tries to be more careful when other people are around. “She lost a daughter. So I think the thing I try to tell other trans people is that people have to mourn and they do have a right to be upset about it.”

Before going under the knife, Flynn wrote his family a letter. He told them: This is nobody’s fault… This has nothing to do with how my childhood was… this has nothing to do with how you treated me.

By 2012, Flynn had relocated to Vancouver, found friends and a job and, now passing as a male, neatly stored his past female life back in the closet. That same year, he went into hospital for a standard surgery — and awoke from the surgery unable to move his legs. Suddenly, the doctors were talking about full-body examinations and Flynn, who knew they’d find scars under his nipples and wouldn’t find what they were expecting down below, felt the burden of coming out all over again.

But neither his doctors nor his rehabilitation staff were disconcerted. “GF [Strong] was so respectful, they never brought it up they never made a big deal about it,” says Flynn. “All the nurses knew about it, but it was never an issue. They never screwed up pronouns, that was always respected.”

“But the second floor at GF is a pretty special place. It’s not your average place. It doesn’t matter what you have going on, they don’t judge. There’s no discrimination. We had drug users when I was there, and they weren’t treated any differently, because you’re there for the same reason: to get the most out of life that you still can.”

Before his injury,Flynn had passed as a man in his day-to-day life. Now, with dressing, bathing and bathroom business out of his control, he found himself experiencing body dysphoria all over again. The experience left him feeling exposed, and he was glad to regain control over his personal care routine and to re-enter back into the closet.

Trevor shares his life with his SCI community and his dog Luke.

“Being in a chair, when it first happens, everyone thinks, I can’t live like this” says Flynn. “But once I got established with [SCI BC], and [they] introduced me to sports, and I started playing basketball… The chair is no big deal anymore… if I never get out of the chair, I never get out of the chair.”

“Just going to SCI BC functions, going to sports, I finally realized that prior to my injury, I didn’t actually accept myself for being transgendered,” says Flynn, who was surprised to find himself feeling more at home within the SCI community than he had ever felt in Vancouver’s queer circles.

“I felt accepted, which was strange, because even in groups where I fully came out to people, I never really felt accepted,” says Flynn. “But I found that my calling, and where I felt most at home was in the spinal cord community, between SCI BC, and BC Wheelchair Basketball, and BC Wheelchair Sports. That’s where I’ve built my chosen family.”

Now that he’s found his support network and joined a family who welcomes him as he is, Flynn feels it’s finally time for him to start coming out to them, too. “It’s like the one last thing about myself that is a really big part of me that I’m hiding from people. And if these people are my close friends, like I think they are, they’re still going to be there after I tell them.”

I found that my calling, and where I felt most at home was in the spinal cord community… That’s where I’ve built my chosen family.

For Flynn, it’s the last step to acceptance—of his own situation, and from a community that means the world to him. Still, he admits he’s nervous.

“I really hope it doesn’t change anything, because I’m still the same person,” Flynn says. “The only difference might be that this might make me more confident and maybe I might be able to be a better peer mentor to somebody as opposed to hiding behind something.”

“That’s why I’m doing this article. There might be one person that picks up this magazine in our community who’s been thinking about transitioning, and now sees that it’s okay to transition in this community, too.”

This story first appeared in SCI BC’s 2017 Spring issue of The Spin magazine.

Have you had to come out of the closet around an important part of your identity? We’d love to hear—and share— your story! Would you like to connect to someone in similar circumstances? Email Maya at mpankalla@sci-bc.ca.

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