As Pride Month has reached its end, The Oshawa Express’ Chris Jones sat down with
members of the LGBTQ community to discuss their lives and their stories.
While no two people have the same narrative, the hope for these individuals was to shed a light on the struggles those in the LGBTQ community face, as well as to show there is more to them than their sexuality.
For those who are reading ahead, there is at times the use of strong language, as well as details of their lives which were difficult to share. Each individual who took part was given the option to use an alias.
This is the third and final part in a series detailing the life and struggles of these members of the LGBTQ community.
Benjamin Harrison was not born with that name, nor was he born a man. He identifies as transgender, a fact he realized as he entered adulthood.
Like many in the LGBTQ community, he has dealt with many ups and downs in his life, beginning with the divorce of his parents at the age of three.
“So, they’ve been divorced I would say basically my entire life,” he explains. “I mean, no one remembers being a three-year-old really.”
Both of his parents eventually remarried and fought for custody of him until he was 18-years-old. Harrison lived with his father most of that time.
“My stepmom was incredibly abusive – physically and emotionally,” he says. “She’s a pretty manipulative person, so I grew up in kind of a toxic environment, and I always used to say I’m pretty fortunate that it didn’t happen to my brothers.”
Harrison has two older stepbrothers, a younger half-brother, and a half-sister who lives with his mother.
“In regards to being transgender, I didn’t really know when I was a kid,” he says. “I went to a Catholic school, so it wasn’t really something that was talked about.”
He recalls in Grade 4, hearing about a man who underwent gender reassignment surgery, and became pregnant and all his classmates were astounded.
“We were like, ‘Oh my God, that’s so crazy,’” he says. “It just never clicked with any of us because they don’t teach us that.”
Both his father and his stepmother are atheists but sent him to a Catholic school.
“I think there’s this idea that Catholic schools have better education, which I don’t think is true to be honest,” he explains.
Eventually, he switched to public school, which was a much better experience for him.
Both his mother and stepfather are Christian, so he grew up with one side preaching acceptance and the other saying otherwise.
“My Mom and my stepdad are great, but we went to a Baptist church… they had whole sermons about why homosexuality was wrong, which was very confusing as a new churchgoer walking into that,” he says.
Harrison explains he struggled a lot with mental health issues as a child, and would often say he was a lesbian or bisexual.
“I would just bounce all over the place,” he says. “It was very hard. I was in and out of the hospital for mental health stuff, and just constantly not knowing who I was.
Harrison says the abuse from his stepmom and father lead to struggling in school because he was dealing with a lot at home.
“It was just a constant battle of being fought over, and then fighting to figure out who I was, just fighting my mental health, and just constantly fighting with everything,” he says.
Harrison said the abuse from his stepmother often came with his father being away from home for work.
“He just doesn’t want to admit that anything happened,” explains Harrison. “Even sometimes to the point that sometimes he’s like, ‘Are you sure that wasn’t your Mom?’ And I was like ‘Dad, I was 12. I know what I’m talking about’.”
To him, it’s one of those things where they don’t agree and if they don’t want to see the truth, that’s fine with him.
Harrison says the abuse ended at the age of 12 when he went to live with his mother.
Nothing was ever peaceful for Harrison, however, he had his little brother.
“He’s only I guess five or six years younger than me… we are super close, he’s probably one of my biggest fans, and he’s one of the first people I came out to. He is just the most wonderful, accepting kid,” says Harrison.
His 13-year-old sister, who Harrison describes as “wonderful,” also serves as an ally to him.
Harrison’s mother lived in North York while he was growing up, and his father in Peterborough.
However, in Grade 4 his father moved to Ajax and his mother to Oshawa, which is where she remained until a couple of years ago when she moved to Nova Scotia.
When he was a child there were many moments which Harrison considers “messed up,” such as when he was put into a freezer.
He used moments such as this to realize he wanted to spend his life helping people.
Today, Harrison is attending school to be a child and youth worker, and he believes his passion for this would not have been there if he hadn’t gone through what he did.
In particular, he wants to help children who are facing similar situations.
Today he has little to no relationship with his stepmom.
The reason being, if he wants to work with clients one day and tell them not to go back to their abusers, he needs to follow that model that as well.
There’s also very little semblance of a relationship between Harrison and his father.
“When I came out to my dad, he made it very clear to me that he did not want to be a part of that,” he explains.
When he came out he was working as a nanny in Barrie and told his father through an e-mail.
“It was a very lengthy e-mail. It would have been a letter, but I figured it’s just easier for me to e-mail it right now,” he explains.
After two weeks, Harrison had yet to hear from his father, and he needed to go home as he was still living with him.
“I apologized to him because apparently I freaked him out, and I went home and I started doing stuff to get on hormones and he found out,” says Harrison.
His father proceeded to then write a document to send to Harrison’s therapist.
“When you transition it’s best to have some kind of support in place, because it’s like going through second puberty, and it’s awful,” he says with a small chuckle.
The hormones can cause mental health issues to become even more problematic, he adds.
The letter his father wrote was sent to Benjamin’s counsellor and his mother, stating his father and his stepmother didn’t want him to go on hormones because he wasn’t “mentally stable enough” to make these decisions for himself.
So, at 19, he moved all of his belongings to his mother’s house, causing a rift with his father that hasn’t been fully repaired.
“He wants to have that relationship again, but unfortunately, he hasn’t apologized,” says Harrison.
Harrison works with kids, and in the sense, apologies are huge, and he says if his father hasn’t apologized it means he doesn’t mean it.
“He wants that relationship, but that relationship, unfortunately, just isn’t there anymore – like, it’s burnt, it’s done,” says Harrison.
While he didn’t move into his mother’s house due to her being on a single income at the time, and having his younger sister to take care of, Harrison packed up a bag and went to a counselling appointment.
“In true millennial form, I had no plan,” he laughs. “Millennials are great, I love being a millennial. But sometimes, you know, that part of the brain just isn’t developed yet.”
After his appointment, he went to Joanne’s House, a youth shelter in Ajax.
“Luckily I got the last bed, and that was probably the coolest experience of my life,” he says. “I mean, I was at a shelter, it sucked, but I was finally in a place where they accepted me for who I was.”
The staff there became another family to him, even going so far as to get him a job at a summer camp.
Afterward, he found a basement apartment with the help of his grandfather, noting he would never be able to find an apartment for as low of a price today.
Nowadays, when he comes out to people as transgender, Harrison believes his personality outshines that aspect of his life.
“I find because I’m so open, it’s a little bit easier, but I mean, there are times where I’ve been ID’d and people will get really confused, and suddenly the manager’s out and I’m like, ‘I’m trans’ and they apologize profusely,” he explains.
Recently he’s spoken to a number of Durham Regional Police officers, and he says it’s nice to see them wanting to learn.
He says while there are still unaccepting people, it’s nice to see the community changing.
However, Harrison laments there needs to be more change still, as he points out the life expectancy for a transgender woman of colour is very low in the United States, with many studies showing it is in the 30s.
Today, he sees a lot of positive change in children, often seeing them sticking up for one another in a way he didn’t before.
He credits this with the fact kids are often more educated on these topics today than they used to be.
“I think it’s just kids are getting fed up man,” he says. “Kids are getting fu**ing fed up with… the ***hole people running our country, or our province.”
To him, kids are understanding they are the future, and what they say matters.
Harrison still faces struggles of being transgender, as he faces barriers due to the pressures of changing his name legally, the use of the wrong pronoun to describe himself , and he has faced bullying.
However, any struggles he faces, he does it head on, and continues to move forward with his life.