Editor's note: This story is part of a series on the LGBTQ+ community in the Ottawa Valley. Next, we will hear from a parent with an LGBTQ+ son.
Calvin Neufeld’s T-shirt says it all: he doesn’t care. He wore the shirt to many speaking engagements he used to attend, giving talks about sexual and gender diversity and on being a transgender person. He was assigned female at birth.
There was a time, though, when Neufeld, 39, from Perth, did care about everything — to his own detriment. “I became my own bully,” Neufeld said.
Born and raised in Montreal, he told a classmate in kindergarten that he wished he was a boy. From his classmate’s reaction, he learned early on that it was something he had to keep to himself. “I went from a very happy place to a secretive place,” he said.
It was the secrets that would prove destructive, according to Neufeld.
Throughout his adolescence, Neufeld struggled as he described going through “an erasure” of who he was — suffering from depression, confusion, self-harm, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and self-abhorrence — as he kept his “secret” from his family and friends.
“I grew up in a Christian environment,” he said. “It was very hard to come out.”
Once he came out to his parents at 21, Neufeld felt a sense of relief. “They did wrestle with it, but they assured me of their love and supported me. They did their own research, and was able to come to a place of acceptance and a celebration of who I am.”
Unlike other LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) individuals, Neufeld did not suffer much from bullying. “I was very confident, even though I had struggles internally. I was always the tallest in class, physically very strong, so I was not vulnerable to bullies,” he said.
However, he became his own worst bully: “The negative messages, the torment, were coming internally from the messages that I had interpreted from my upbringing.”
After falling in love with his wife, Neufeld felt that she “saved” him, although he admits that self-love and acceptance doesn’t necessarily come from another person. “It has to be you to let that message through. I was at the point in my life where I was tired of the drama and the misery and I was ready to let go.”
When Neufeld started the sexual reassignment process with an endocrinologist, his physique quickly changed through hormone therapy. “I started to look like a biological male … I also did chest reconstruction surgery, and (had a) hysterectomy.”
Neufeld acknowledged that society’s acceptance of a transgender person has a lot to do with appearance.
“That is the very sad reality. How challenge-free your life is able to become has something to do directly with your appearance. It affects how people react to you,” he said.
He said it’s easier for a transgender man because “testosterone masculinizes a female body effectively and quickly.”
For those who were assigned male at birth and have gone through puberty, he said, they are “going to have a much harder time: the voice dropping doesn’t rise up again, (and) facial hair removal is a lengthy, expensive, arduous process.”
“(As for) bone structure — your bones don’t shrink. That’s a real challenge,” he added.
Asked what challenges he goes through as a transgender person, he said his life can be just as dull and uneventful as everyone else’s.
“My life is so average and normal … I have a house, a wife, a kid. People think that if I’m gay, or bi or trans, (I’ll) have struggles, that (I won’t) have a normal life. You can … a bit of a rocky road getting there, but it smooths out,” Neufeld said.
“(I have) nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide. The attitude you take and how you approach these things makes a huge difference … not caring what anybody thinks or says about it,” he said.
“I have spent enough years being quiet and secretive.”
To learn more about the LGBTQ+ community in Lanark County, visit www.facebook.com/QueerConnectionLanark/.
Yona Harvey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Smiths Falls Record News