Joanne Penny Law
The Life and Times of Joanne Penny Law
It all started back in October 4, 1944.
All my life I knew that I was different, I didn't fit in to what a boy was supposed to be. At birth a doctor prescribed my sex and for the longest time I had to live that sex.
On all my legal documents the sex (M) is still there. I am now a senior citizen living in Ottawa, Ontario. Canada. My age has not stopped me from being involved.
In my early years, articles in the news paper would catch my attention like the
Christine Jorgensen story. A soldier who had the first celebrated sex reassignment surgery in Denmark 1954. So called teen magazines would have a story
"I caught my boyfriend wearing my clothes". I keep these stories hidden in my box of girls clothes in the basement of my home? The article finally became torn and unreadable, but the content was buried in my brain. I had dressed in my sisters clothes since I could remember and I really felt happy when ever I could do it. I also had two older brothers so dressing was lets say infrequent, so when ever the house was empty I dressed up. The idea of wearing pretty dresses, silky slips and lacy blouses was a therapy of some sort. Why did I have these feelings and why did I do it?
During grade school my day dreams would be of wearing my pretty dresses to school some day. One story I have to tell, I was about 9 or 10 it was Christmas morning and my family tradition, was to sit around the Christmas tree and dad would pass out the presents. We each took turns as presents were handed to us. It was my turn and I was given a pretty wrapped present and my name was on the tag. I open the present with interest and inside was a Dale Evans cow girl skirt and vest with matching fringe outfit. (Dale Evans Roy Rogers team) I looked at my parents in awe of this present. This present was for me? My reality came to a halt when I had to give the present to my sister. My grandmother had mixed up the name tags and this was her present. I almost cried as I gave the present back, I think I got a truck or something. My parents sometimes would find me dressed in a nightgown sleeping in my bed, but I was never punished. I had to remove the silky garment and put on my pajamas.During early high school in my teens my parents sent me off to a private boys school in St Catherines, Ontario. I had to learn to be a boy or get beaten up. After two years I was allowed to attend public high school in Ottawa Ontario. Again I was beat up more times than I can remember. I dared to wear lipstick the night before and some of it was still visible the next day and my lips were raw from trying to get it off. The bullies called me fairy as they kicked and hit me. I am sure if I did report them to the principle, the beating would become more frequent as they did to others who they beat up. If I did report the abuse I would have been dragged off the Royal Ottawa (and Bulliyed makes a Bully )Mental Hospital, thrown into a special room and the key to the room would be controlled by the resident psychiatrist. Remember this was in the late 50s . So I did not complain to anybody, but myself.
Awareness of the cross-dressing issue was a rare disease and had to be cured. Computers were in their infancy and the only library books were non existent. I became a loner most of the time.I started to work after high school learning to do guy things denying my feminity. I worked in a foundry, a dirty job and the smell of molten steel filled my lungs. I quit and went back to school learning the trades. I married in1967 thinking that this feminine idea thing would go away. It was the social concept prescribed by the social workers of that time period. I fathered two wonderful children who are by my side today. I bought the boy toys, boats, big cars, trying to be a man. If I practiced being a man it might wear off. I hid my true self. I became a technician in the field of air conditioning and refrigeration, although the money was good working by the hour I felt alone. I then went into private industry as a HVAC building systems technician for a large commercial complex. I was a dedicated employee, I loved my job. This was the first time in my life that I I worked on a salary and had regular time off. In 1988 I got involved with Gender Mosaic a cross-dressing support group and met others like me. It was an oasis that I could share my feelings for the first time and listen to others dealing with their cross-dressing. It was like I was reborn.For ten years I worked at this complex gaining respect for my abilities to fix high-end HVAC equipment. I worked statuary holidays, weekends. I was called in to fix equipment that other technicians failed to repair. I loved my job and the stability of a regular work schedule. It all came to sudden stop on day when I was called into the managers office and FIRED. Some one found out about me and my extracurricular activities on weekends. And the management did not my kind working in their building. I was escorted to my locker to remove my personal items and then to my car and then banned from the premises for one year. Remember this was in the late seventies and early eighties and harassment in the work place was non existent. I had lost everything dealing with the company. I found a lawyer and I took my employer to court. I lost my case and a lot of money. Just the retainer for the lawyer cost me $2000.00. I also lost my self worth, my esteem, my sence of security and financial support. Another trip in my life is that I divorced , became reclusive, I hit rock bottom. Despite all the troubles that I had I kept my wits about me, Thank goodness I did not do anything drastic.I was getting older, over qualified to find a job. My world was changing, I had to find social support to exist. I was living full time as a woman now. Welfare was my first stop. The welfare department screwed with my application, screwed with my gender, like I was a creep from the back woods. I had to deal with incompetent social workers and abused by Quebec welfare management I had no choice but to deal with the system for ten years. My gender was in question, there was no respect for being english and I was outed several times be the people working the reception even though I asked for respect and use my assumed name Joanne. Several times a week I used the soup kitchens for food. A wonderful life for a transgender person, sure.My life goes on. I broke away from the welfare system now living full time and started a small business. I found a doctor to prescribe female hormones and I had my legal name change to Joanne Law, (FYI) my mother gave me my name. During those difficult years of living on the system I did some crazy things. I became a visible transgender woman. I stood on my soap box preaching what I practiced. I took on volunteer positions to help others. at the same time helping myself knowing that I was a real person. In my outreach I became involved with the Ottawa Police, liaison committee for the GLBT communities. I talked to the soup kitchens management I was becoming a human being again. I still volunteer with the police, Gender Mosaic, several social support groups in Ottawa, I turned heads when talking to the press as my clothes do not match my voice. I have also been abused by my own community for making a statement. I was the only voice to share the facts. Its Joanne does this and Joanne does that.I have been invited to sit in board room making important decisions for the transgender community. My volunteer outreach has helped open women's shelters to transgender women, opened the minds of social services in Ontario, opened the doors to hospitals, care givers and crisis centres. I have been invited to sit at federal government harassment policies workshops, national and local union conferences, I have been documented by the national and local press and interviewed by three national television companies. I had the privilege to have my own weekly radio program for five years "Joanne’s Closet". I have challenged Ottawa City Hall unions to include transgender identity/expression into their equity and diversity policy. In 1994 I marched in my first pride parade representing the transgender community becoming involved with the gay, lesbian, bisexual communities. In fact since 1994 I have become very involved in the GLB communities. In 1996 I challenged city hall to add transgender to the pride proclamation giving a four minute speech to council. It was passed in 1997, now it is the GLBT PRIDE celebration. A rainbow flag now flies over city hall and our police headquarters during pride week. In 1999 I was elected 2nd chair, the first transgender woman to represent Capital Pride and again in 2007, I was elected vice chair, a proud position. 2007Another important event was being elected to the position of CHAIR of Canada’s 4th largest Capital Pride Festival in Ottawa, Ontario.Over the years I have received many accolades for my work. In 1999 in Louisville Kentucky. USA. I received the prestigious TRINITY AWARD from the IFGE annual national conference, I was the first Canadian in its twenty years history. Only three are given out each year. In 2005 I received the prestigious PIONEERS AWARD at Fantasia Fair an international convention in Provincetown Cape Cod Mass. again the first Canadian in its 31 year history. Only two are given. I have had the honour of receiving three LIFE TIME ACHIEVEMENTS Awards . The first is from Gender Mosaic North America’s oldest transgender support group, the second is from Capital Xtra, a gay and lesbian publication in Ottawa, On. And the third is from Pink Triangle Services. A gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender outreach centre in Ottawa On. I was invited to a Canadian Leaders and Achievers conference, banquet and gala of the Govern General of Canada (Adrian Clarkson) and to the Ottawa Police 150 years celebration, black tie and gown. Representivies of other police services across Canada in full dress uniform were there too. And yes I did find my basic black dress and shawl, classy but elegant. This August 2007 I was honoured by the Ottawa Police Service for my dedicated outreach in educating the police and public.I am still active in my outreach of public speaking and attending meetings and being their when asked. Now there are others like me who are being heard now, holding their heads up high, opening the doors, turning on the lights and tearing down the walls of predigious.I have a few pillars in my life to keep me focused. A transgender social support group, Gender Mosaic was just being formed. (FYI) in 2008 Gender Mosaic will celebrate 20 years. This support group was my oasis during my coming out, my evolution and activism. Over its 19 years I was elected to president maybe 14 times. Members of Gender Mosaic were donating books to our library,. Some of these books were a historic log of the crossdressing community like Tri Ess, Transvestia, early volumes of Tapestry to name a few. The library ended up in my apartment and I had a chance to read from authors who are our leaders to day. Virginia Prince, Carol Beacroft, Dallas Danny, Allison Lang, Dr. Shela Kirk, Marissa Sheryl Lynn. The people who donated their time writing, and sharing their inspiration. I read these stories several times wanting to do something here in Canada and my home town Ottawa Ontario.The Gender Mosaic library some 100 books and magazines was donated to the Dr. Kelly McGinnis library at Pink Triangle Services in Ottawa Ontario. I even bought the shelving. This library has over 6000 volumes of GLBT history in Ottawa and Canada.I have not forgotten my past as it has made me what I am to day. I am a very lucky Canadian lady. My adult children are standing beside me and I am a sister to my two older brothers and one younger sister. Hormones have done wonders for my body and soul, surgery is not in my vocabulary. I am free to be who I am, a transgender, chemically induced, lipstick lesbian. On the Canadian government census form there is two boxes to which we are supposed to indicate our gender, I crossed out the male/female box and added TRANSGENDER WOMAN.Just an update, In August 2007 I had a chance to visit for my High School reunion. The feeling of seeing the principle’s office, the school cafeteria, the auditorium, the gym, the memories of being beat up back then was overwhelming. The school was set up that each classroom was a decade room of all the year books. Mine was 1961. I found my graduation picture and a few others. I was wearing my new name tag Joanne Law. I was asked if I had a sister and I explained yes and told the people that I was her brother then and pointed to my picture in the year book. The comments from my class mates in 1961 was way to go, congratulations, awesome. We talked about times past, but my memory was blurred of most of the events. To make thing great I was invited to have a drink with these great people in the beer tent. My cleansing of my high school days was over. It was a wonderful weekend.May 10th 2011 Gender Mosaic celebrated it 23rd anniversary at a wine and cheese reception at Ottawa City Hall. We had about 150 people, friends and members of Gender Mosaic. Members of the Ottawa Police Service, doctors and councilors of the City of Ottawa all gathering in Jean Pigott Hall a magnificent place.When I got in volved with the Capital Pride in Ottawa Ontario back in 1994, I never thought that in 2008 I woud be elected to the position of Chair. I was the first transgender woman in Canada to lead a pride festival. I had a Board of Directors of 10 professional volunteers making decisions and voting on contracts worth over $150,000.00. Ottawa hosts Canada's 4th largest. Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and then Ottawa. In 2009 the Board of Directors in a secret vote which I did not find out about until the Capital Pride Festival Media launch. During all the speaches for our sponcers and dedicated volunteers. my name was mentioned to be the Parade Grand Marshall. An honour to remember. I got to ride on a open Mustang convertable and wave to the people along the parade route, I was elected to the board of Directors of the Capital Pride Festiva for the 2011-2012 year.In 2010 the Ottawa Police Service released a promotion video for the City of Ottawa. About 10 minutes into the documentry there is a shot of me at the podium talking about the Police Laision Committee and their commitment to the GLBT communities.In 2010 a private members bill C389 was presented ot my Canadian Federal Government House of Commons to give transgender people legal human rights. At the third and final reading of the bill. I was at a police reception at the police association in Ottawa with about 150 police rankin file officers and the Chief of Police. I asked the bartender at the association to turn on all the flat screen monitors to the CPAC channel. About 6:50 pm the vote for bill C389 was read for the last time and the vote was passed. Now it goes to our Senate for aproval . People at the reception saw the vote and heard my screamin. It was another day of first for this person. Bill C389 did not pass as there was an election and the bill was dissolved.Now a new bill C279 which is the same text, only presented by different people in our House Of Commons.Sometimes I am asked to lecture on the transgender issues which I am pleased to do, the last one being our Canadian Military at The Department of National Defence in Ottawa. Usually when I do lecture I bring a friend who will give another perspective to the issue. Now in my senior years I am gettin involved with The Senior Pride Network in Ottawa, an orginazation which works with senior issues with which we will all have to face some day. Being a transgender female the issues of housing, living and health will be a task to overcome.I am very proud of my involvement as a leader in the community over my 25 something years. Now, in my later years I am removing myself from a lot of transgender activism as I am getting older, and being called to sit in other board rooms or community meetings is something I will miss. But life goes on and new people are standing up.Just a last entry. At Christmas, 2011, the Ottawa Police Service presented me with a LIFE TIME ACHIEVMENT AWARD at a community reception, for my involvement helping change police policies. Would I do it all over again? You bet!
Until next time.Ta Ta...Joanne