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Cornbury Society a “Riderless Horse.”

I had been invited over from the Island to spend the day with a friend, a member of the Cornbury Society. One of the things we planned to do, was to attend the Cornbury AGM. (One of the things I’d long wished I could do, but, well…I live on the Island. With ferry fares, meals, and transportation, not to mention the late night return, it’s neither practical nor affordable.) So you will understand I was looking forward to this evening with a feeling of wonderful anticipation. A Cornbury meeting at last! Much as I hate to say so, I left with a feeling of terrible disappointment.

Cornbury is an organization in disarray. Let’s be frank and truthful. Perhaps the people who attended last evening’s meeting(all of whom seemed genuinely lovely individuals) can resurrect something from the wreckage that I saw last night, but oh, they have their work cut out for them!

Recall, this was the society’s annual general meeting. I’ve attended AGM’s before. In fact, I’ve chaired a couple of them myself. (A different organization, but like Cornbury, it was a registered non-profit society.) There was no chair tonight. There was no president’s annual report. There was no president. There was no vice-president. There was no secretary, no reading of the minutes, (nor taking of them). The only member of the executive there was the treasurer, but there was no official financial report for the year or even for the past month. In fairness to the informality of the meeting, she did tell us the bank account held “about $300”—enough to keep the website going until September. There was no election of officers for the new year. There was no agenda!

Stephanie was there, (the webmistress), and she did speak with some authority and leadership, but it was clear that while she knew what was needed, she had served her time, was tired, and needed to step aside. She did say she would continue to maintain the website (with some modifications), but that was as far as she was able to go. In the end, no one was willing to step forward to take on any of the tasks that needed to be done.

Even more concerning—at least to me—was what appeared to be the lack of vision among those present, as to what Cornbury could or should be. Most of the discussion seemed to center around how the present members could communicate among themselves to organize social events. Perhaps, as an outsider who cannot attend these events, I come at this from an entirely different perspective. I suppose I probably do, but this emphasis on Cornbury as simply a social club seems to ignore the greater purpose that this society can serve—has served in the past: that is, to provide information and support for those who are facing the challenges of living well as a transgender person.

I think it would have been about eight years ago that I discovered the Cornbury website. I had already made internet contact with a number of individuals and organizations across North America and beyond, but I had reached the stage where I needed to reach out to someone, face to face. I needed to sit down with a real, “flesh and blood” body across the table—somebody who got it. I wrote to the webmistress. (I had no idea she would eventually become so much more than just a friend.) It was Stephanie who answered my email: Was there anybody on Vancouver Island? A member of the society who could help me? Someone I could talk to?

She wrote back that there were only two or three members on Vancouver Island on her list. Would I be okay if she forwarded my email to them, asking if any of them was interested in getting in touch with me?

Of course I was okay with that.

A few weeks later, I had an email from Carma. She lived about an hour south of me. Would I like to come down for an evening, and we could talk? It was the beginning of a long and difficult road, but one that had suddenly become much less lonely. It was one of the pivotal moments in my life. It was Carma who listened and who understood. It was Carma who worried for me as I fought my way back from my suicidal depression. It was Carma who took me to my first Esprit. (Sponsored by Cornbury.) And it was Esprit that taught me that I could not only be accepted for who I was, but I could be valued, too. My life changed at Esprit…and I wouldn’t have got there without Carma or without Cornbury.

I’ve come a long, long way since then. I now live full time as Karen. My calendar is full of things I love to do, and my life is full of loving friends. I even have my date…yes the date: October 1st of this year, when I will travel, at last, to Montreal. Since going full time, I have relied upon the friendship, the wisdom, and the very practical guidance of two wonderful, amazing women: Stephanie and Jacqueline—both of whom I met through Cornbury.

My present life, my present joy, I owe in no small measure to Cornbury, and tonight’s was the first meeting I had ever been to. I am so grateful for the help and support that has come to me through this organization—“words,” as they say—“cannot express,” though I try. Last night, Stephanie described this organization as a “riderless horse.” It is an apt description. A riderless horse will go somewhere, but it needs a rider to take it where it needs to go. I hope it finds one soon.

About Karen McLaughlin

Hi, I’m Karen, and welcome to my Cornbury blog. This blogging thing is a new adventure for me, but several of my friends have been urging me to keep one for awhile now. I’ll do my best. I hope you will be patient with me when I stumble, but mostly, I hope that this blog will help make this business of being trans a little less weird, maybe a little less scary. If you’re here, there’s a good chance that you, or someone you know, is dealing with the same issues that I have been. (Please note the past tense. I'm very proud of that.) I want to tell you that it’s going to be alright. You hear that? It’s going to be alright. I’m speaking from experience. So who am I to talk? Well, when I started all this, I was a pre-op trans woman in the middle of her RLE, her so-called “real life experience.” While I had lived (almost) full time for several years, in 2010 I finally decided to seek gender reassignment surgery. (Note: the accepted term for this among medical professionals is now gender confirmation surgery–an improvement, to my mind on all kinds of levels.) Whatever we call it, to qualify, one of the hoops that must be jumped is this RLE. That means living full time in female mode; no going back. Before I could apply for surgery, I was required to have lived as a woman for at least 12 months. The reasoning behind this is that by doing so, the applicant, me, in this case, would have a better idea what life would be like, should she decide to press forward. This meant finally coming out to my son and my elderly father, both of whom have been reluctantly supportive. I have been very blessed in this. Others have not been so lucky. Coming out is risky. Living full time is even riskier. A trans friend of mine once remarked, “Being out as trans means laying everything on the table. And you have no idea what you’re going to be allowed to keep.” You can literally lose everything: family, home, friends, colleagues, job, career, savings, pension, everything. I know people who have. But I have not, though I would be lying to say that this has been easy, or that there have not been strains, and deep, deep pain. Still, I have been blessed with an understanding, if not always totally supportive spouse, and with a family that has tried mightily to accept and come to terms with (in their eyes) the loss of a father and the emergence of this new person, Karen, who in her new hormonal adolescence, seems at times a stranger. (A nice one, though, I hope; one they can eventually come to love.) What I have discovered through all this, is that while the journey into Mordor is long and fraught with danger, it is filled with unexpected beauty and joy as well. Since coming out, (to everyone, family included,) I have been accepted, even loved, by people I never expected would be on my side, and in places I never expected (or thought) to go. In the past few months I have joined an all women’s Latin dance class, sung female tenor in a wonderful choir, learned basic silversmithing, (I make my own jewelry! How cool is that?), and surrounded myself with wonderful friends. I was supported by an amazing counsellor, (alas, recently retired), who connected me with a speech therapist who specializes in teaching feminine voice. (It has taken time, but it’s coming! I can hardly believe it!) And I have discovered that the future is not a road to be travelled, but a landscape to be constructed. The world I live in is one that I am building for myself, and you can do it, too. This one is a world filled with color, with love, and with joy, and for the first time in my life, I feel whole and totally alive. And the voice in my heart tells me, “This is soooo right! And about time, too!”

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