Jessica Asselin’s story first ran on the front page of a December 2009 edition of The Comox Valley Record.
Asselin is a transgendered female who “came out” while living here, and dealt with so much adversity she eventually left the Comox Valley for Edmonton.
She called The Record in an unrelated matter last week, and when she was told of the upcoming Pride Week in the Comox Valley, she agreed to give an update.
Asselin said prior to making the decision to be true to herself, no one would have ever guessed what she was going through.
“I was the last person you’d ever imagine would be transgendered,” she said. “I was a semi-professional football player in Europe. I was the starting quarterback for the Birmingham Bulls. So I basically dove into sports my whole life.”
Asselin completed her transformation in 2010. She said that while there is more of a support base in Edmonton than in a community the size of the Comox Valley, there will always be those who will not accept her identity.
“The reason that the bigger cities are a little bit more tolerant, is because there is a larger LGBT community. If you’re in a small town, you can feel isolated,” she said. “I honestly thought that I would come here (Edmonton) and it would be easier to blend in. But you know what? There’s discrimination whether there’s 10 people or 10,000 people.
“You’re always going to have a certain percentage of people who are going to discriminate, or mock you, or judge you. I still deal with it – excuse my language, but there’s always an a-hole in every crowd… that’s the biggest thing I had to learn is just to block that out and just be myself.”
Asselin made the decision to transform later in life, for the same reason so often expressed by others in similar situations.
“My family has disowned me from the day I came out, and that’s one of the reasons it took so long – because I didn’t want to hurt my family,” she said. “I ended up suffering and basically giving up my own satisfaction, or who I really was, because I didn’t want to hurt my mother, or my family.
“I finally said to myself, I have given 40 years of my life to not hurt my family. It’s time for me to do what’s right for me.”
Asselin does have some reservations regarding a transgender’s place in the LGBT community.
“When it comes to the whole LGBT thing (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) everything else [LGB] has to do with sexuality. Transgender has nothing to do with sex – who you sleep with, who you are sexually attracted to. It has to do with being comfortable in your own skin and being true to who you are.
“When I grew up, I was never attracted to men. But I knew, since the age of five, that I was female.”
Asselin is not the only one to come forward to discuss such experiences.
Earlier this month, a young woman by the name of Jessica Billard visited with a similar story.
Since moving to Courtenay in June, Billard says she has been mugged, beaten and bullied, all because of her sexual identity.
She says she just wants to be treated the same as everyone else.
“I moved to Courtenay a month-and-a-half ago for comfort, safety, hopefully a place where I can build friendships with people, and to gain people’s kindness and respect. Instead, what I have had to deal with in the past month-and-a-half is rudeness, ignorance, people mocking me and making fun of me on (social media),” she said. “I am not here to make enemies. I want to make friends.”
It’s been an ongoing challenge for Billard, a transgender woman who was born Josh Rumley. She said the majority of those she has met in the Comox Valley are fine, but others are making the experience miserable.
“I’d say 80 per cent of the people I have met here are kind, loving people, but the other 20 per cent are really quite mean to me,” she said.
These are just a couple of instances of what members of the LGBTQ+ (Q = queer, and others) community deal with, every day. Similar stories can be heard from villages, towns and cities throughout the country.
CV Pride is a group in the Comox Valley offering support for the local LGBTQ+ community.
The group, which reformed early this year, is currently only five members strong, but those involved know it will just take time.
“I think we have trouble bringing people in because they might be a bit nervous,” said Rosalind Humphreys, one of the five active members of CV Pride. “People are a little hesitant with aligning themselves with an organization until they see it function for a little while. It’s one of those, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ kind of things. But it takes a little while.”
Pride Week in the Comox Valley is Aug. 21-27.
There are a few events already scheduled, to which the public is welcome to attend.
The Pride flag will be raised at 12:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22 at Courtenay City Hall, and at 9 a.m. Aug. 23 at Comox Town Hall. A flag-raising will also be held at CFB Comox, Aug. 23 at 10 a.m. just outside the main gate by the Voodoo airplane.
CV Pride has organized a barbecue at Simms Park Aug. 27 from noon to 4 p.m., followed by a dance at 8 p.m. at the Native Sons Hall.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Humphreys says that while great strides have been made regarding a social shift, there’s still lots of work to be done.
“You don’t see gay couples walking down the street, hand in hand, in a lot of communities, especially in the smaller communities,” she said. “You don’t see your Hallmark cards having Valentine’s cards for same sex couples. You don’t see it all in common culture yet, so there is still a long way to go.”
As for Asselin, back in 2009 she said, “I don’t need to be beautiful – I just need to fit in. That’s all I want.”
So does she feel she fits in today?
“I do. I really do.”