My gender transition while homeless in Vancouver

By Charlize Gordon, Megaphone vendor in Vancouver

In high school, I majored in auto shop and did well. After school I worked at an auto body shop and gained experience that fed my passion. I also worked at a gas bar too. I did a lot of things through those early years of my life that I enjoyed, made some money, and had a good time. Then it was over.

The fun ended in 1988 when I lost my good friend Jimmy and three more friends all around the same time. I felt like I needed to leave that place behind and wanted to go back to Vancouver where I heard there was work. It was a place where I had been before, many years ago—not that long ago and I said to Mom, “I will be back,” but I never did return home. Maybe someday I will when I am able.

So I’m sitting here remembering those days so long ago in my mind yet it seems like it was just yesterday. It has been 24 years since I have been home.

Charlize Gordon Photo by: Brandon Gaukel

I have lived in the Downtown Eastside [DTES] for the last six years. I used to attend the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre during my transition from male to female, and I met a lot of good people who helped me through that difficult period. I say difficult because there were a lot of my “friends” who couldn’t accept the change, but yet there were just as many who did. It seems to me that the world is changing for the better, one day at a time.

I was living at a place in East Vancouver called Unity Housing that was run by the Portland Hotel Society when I came out and told the people I was living with that I was going to live the rest of my life as a woman. At first most people were ok, but then I was asked to move when the other tenants took a vote. I had to go. I went to live with a gay Christian couple in Metrotown. I even joined the church and sang in the choir, too.

I was generally accepted everywhere, but sometimes on the streets I would have insults or swear words hurled at me. Other times these same ignorant men would physically attack me through kicks and/or punches. I don’t take it personally, because they have no idea what I am going through. Most don’t know me or would ever care to know me, yet thankfully there are people that really do their best to make me feel welcome. That first year, as part of the Rainbow Community Church, I participated in the annual pride parade where I was singing and celebrating on a float. I had so much fun!

I also started volunteering in the DTES. My first gig was at the Quest Foods warehouse, where I stuffed envelopes. At the same time I was volunteering at the Gathering Place in Vancouver’s downtown south. I started attending meetings at the Gastown Vocational School and attended a transgender group at the Three Bridges Clinic. They were encouraging emotionally, and at the same time a benefit in my transition.

Three years before this I was diagnosed as bipolar and when I saw a new doctor, she helped me get through this period of my life. I started on hormones and they helped to alleviate my anxiety, but the attacks happened again after I got locked out of my home and found myself homeless, again. I lost everything and had to start over.

A woman’s shelter called Powell Place took me in for four months. With their help I was able to secure the home I am living in now. A lot has changed since I first got here. It seems so long ago, but it was only yesterday.

I signed up at the Women’s Centre for the Humanities and Writing programs through the UBC Learning Centre in Vancouver. I felt really welcome at school and loved it. The Writing 101 was my favourite as I got to be creative in my writing. I have always loved to write and many times throughout my life I have written both stories and poems, for myself or someone else. I do love to create something out of nothing but words.