30 Faces of HIV – Two

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“The best part of my life right now is just being me, right? Just owning whatever it is we got. The best part of my life is also my family and the love that’s in my family and just accepting each other for who we are. We’ve probably never been in a happier place than we are right now in our journey together … Going through gender transition, there’s always the risk of losing family and that, but that’s the one part of my life that’s getting the most stable and has kept me through the challenges.”

“By my family I refer to my spouse and my son, Alex. He’s nine years old, and we’re just this dynamic modern family, and we’re a great family together. The rest of my family are not in my life—my sister, my parents—as I faced my transition and started to live authentically, it’s something they had a difficult time accepting and have decided that I am not a part of their family, so without my wife and my child, I’d be very much alone. So I’m very grateful for their love. Like anybody in our community who’s faced that kind of rejection—especially from family—that’s when it hurts the most, at any age. At forty-four, it sucks, so I can’t imagine at fourteen, which is probably why it took me forty years to find the courage the finally tell them the truth.”

“I’ve chosen to live my life so transparently and visibly as a transgender woman because transgender people don’t have a lot of role models and the role models that we’ve had over the years have been put there by the media, and they haven’t been the most positive stories. So for me, when I share my story so openly that I talk about my spouse, I talk about my work, I talk about my education, I talk about my child, those are all things that other people can relate to. Being transgendered is only one other adjective, and we all have a whole bunch of adjectives. When we spend enough time with each other, we’ll likely find that we’re more alike than different.”

“I joined the community is 2003, so we’re talking about thirteen years, and the community became my family and they saw me for who I was; I saw the community for who they were, just as humans trying to survive in a world that wasn’t always friendly for us. So my community became my family and now some of the best people in my life remain from that. We’re a small community but we need to be there for each other like any family would. Even using the word community doesn’t seem to say it properly because Edmonton is more of a family. You have HIV Edmonton at the centre of a lot of this and it’s truly a family of people who get it and need each other. I’ve travelled to many communities in North America, and Edmonton is a special place, and I think because we’re a bit more isolated than you’d be in Toronto or New York or Vancouver … since we’re smaller, we’re not as fragmented as the various parts of our community would be in those bigger cities. Since we’re isolated, we kind of have to be there for one another. I’ve found that that, in and of itself, has caused a fairly strong family. Everyone knows each other and in a good way. I feel very grateful and am really quite humbled by the care I’ve received in this community. I hope that in some way this awareness we’re creating over the next thirty weeks highlights the value that HIV Edmonton brings to some people who really really need it. But it’s also part of a much bigger part of this community—it’s part of the culture of Edmonton.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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