I’m stamping my passport in Vancouver, Canada – the land of maple syrup and snowcapped mountains. As a transgender woman, I’m excited to visit the city known as one of the most livable and progressive cities in the world. The journey begins with my train ride to the heart of Vancouver, my inner monologue chanting, they like trans people here. Justin Trudeau likes me. I like Justin Trudeau.
Cecil, my local guide, welcomed me warmly and introduced me to the Ceasar, a Canadian classic. A drink similar to a bloody mary but made with clamato juice. A mix of clam juice and tomato juice. Score on Davie makes it the best with an entire hamburger and onion rings attached to the straw. You can even order one with a taco salad and a chocolate pie on top of it!
Cecil kept it very real with me, about the police (which seems to be a danger everywhere–when you’re trans) and about the laws of the road. Pedestrians first, then cars, and everyone has to watch out for the bicycles. They’ll run over you. He encouraged me to find my own bicycle and brave the bike lanes. I end up using a Mobi Bike which is a bike rental service where you rent a bike using your cell phone and pick one from a bike stand on the side of the road. The bikes are heavy and ugly but they get the job done. And when you’re done, you can just park it and forget about it. I became an apex predator on my steel steed. It’s nice to be at the top of the food chain for once.
Stanley Park is magical. Every few meters you run into another scenic view with a bench waiting as if to say, I know you want to look. If you ride around the park counterclockwise, you end up on the Third Beach–overlooking Burrard Inlet and the English Bay. It’s a beach with a view of mountains and gurgling clams at your feet. As a trans femme, I felt pretty comfortable spending time on that and all the beaches I visited in Vancouver. That says a lot.
LGBTQ+ resources in Vancouver
The next day, I was hoping to give back to the community through volunteer work, as well as learn as much as I could about the history of the area. I started by packing envelopes with Syd Gill from Qmunity, a British Columbia-based queer, trans, and two-spirit resource center. Qmunity has a program where they send gender-affirming products to people across Canada. I ended up stuffing envelopes with different items like packers, breast forms, and binders. All things that are invaluable to a trans person who doesn’t have access to them.
Afterward, Glenn Thack gave me an abbreviated version of the Forbidden Vancouver Gay Tour. There are queer people everywhere I’ve ever been with a deep history in each place. Sadly in most of those places, the LGB and especially the T have faced hardships due to discrimination. But in all places, society is enriched by the contributions of the queer community. Whether they like it or not. Vancouver is no different. In the 80s and 90s Jim Deva, who sadly passed away in 2014, helped found a bookstore with his partner Bruce Smyth called Littler Sisters Book and Art Emporium which was firebombed three times and harassed by the government. It made a huge impact on Canadian queer history and informed the actions of other queer activists around the world.
The tour left me right on Davie Street, the unofficial gayborhood of Vancouver–in Jim Deva Plaza. The number of stores covered in rainbow flags made me suspicious. What’s the real vibe around here? I’m not embarrassed to say that one of the more impressive things in the neighborhood was the all-gender self-cleaning public toilets. They’re like vending machines–that you can use the bathroom in! It sounds silly but these are things that make a huge difference for trans people. As well as houseless and disabled people.
Exploring the gayborhood and beyond
Later, I sat perched in the open street-facing window of the PumpJack Pub drinking a pint of locally brewed IPA, I watched people walking by, peeking in around me. The mostly muscular older male clientele seemed unbothered by being a gay human aquarium to the people walking by. I watched as a self-identified masculine center woman had an awkward conversation with a man passing by. With a disturbed expression on her face, she walked off.
Later, she comes back to talk to me, through the large window. “That man came up to me and said, ‘Finally some woman representation at the Pump Jack.’, and he pointed at you. I told him that I was a woman and I just walked out of the Pump Jack. He looked at me and said, ‘Yeah! I know!’”, she said. I looked at her and said, “Well that’s funny because I’m a trans woman.” The woman grabbed my hand, looked into my eyes, with a tear forming in her eye, and said, “Wow.”
I stumbled towards the nearest Mobi Bike Station and punched my secret Mobi Code into the bike panel, unlocking the shiniest one. The Roundhouse Community Center was hosting an art show happening in South Vancouver called “Queers in Space”. I arrived covered in sweat, still recovering from a burger and a boozy shake from Mary’s on Davies. Seeing uncensored trans artists show their work is always worth a mile of peddling uphill. Everyone I met there was pretentious, cold, and dare I say, a bit rude. And I LOVED it. How many other places are trans people and people of color allowed to be rude? And is dismissing a stranger asking you to expend energy rude at all? As far as I’m concerned, a place where trans people are pretentious snobs is a place I want to be.
The next day was met with stomach pains and regrets. Hamburger Mary’s made its mark on my stomach. Or was it the giant Ceasar with the onion rings? Or perhaps it was the fully loaded vegan hotdog at JapaDog? Regardless, Granville Island was an oasis. Not just because of the Public Market that carries just about everything you can imagine. Or the funky crystal shop with the geodesic dome called the Crystal Ark. Nope. Once again, it is the public bathrooms. Co-ed, clean, and well-stocked! I’ve been to so many places where free public bathrooms are not a priority and as far as transgender safety is concerned–this is often overlooked.
An Aquabus carries me along the False Creek over to Science World where I find, you guessed it, a Mobi Bike. I end up riding over to China Town and sitting in a coffee shop called Propaganda Coffee, filled with construction workers in yellow vests. You know a shop is good when it’s filled with blue-collar workers.
Queer life in Vancouver, Canada
As I sit down, I start to get DMs from a mysterious Canadian I met on Reddit. Her name is Arwen and she just went through bottom surgery. She and I had been talking on and off but never determine if we’d be meeting or not. As I left the coffee shop and headed to Gastown, an iconic Vancouver neighborhood, Arwen and I discovered that I’d be in the same neighborhood as her doctor’s office where she was being seen for a post-op check-up. As I walked through a teacher’s protest, Arwen and I physically ran into each other while attempting to DM each other. It was a match-up made in heaven.
Arwen and I connected instantly, and I felt compelled to offer my help and support during her recovery. We, trans women, know the significance of having support during recovery after gender-affirming surgery. It’s an emotional time when you just received surgery you’ve wanted your entire life but you can never prepare for physical tole. You’re forced to sit down for many months and consider all the good and bad things happening in life. Family isn’t always there to support you and if they are, they can’t always understand the complexity of your physical journey. This is where a stranger from another country spending time with you makes sense. In this rare situation, a stranger can understand your struggle more than close friends.
I ended up helping her tidy up her apartment and made her a gallon of saline solution. In exchange, she showed me her neighborhood of Port Moody. The town was idyllic. Every inch is covered in trees with deep green foliage. The lakes and bays are a brilliant blue that makes you wonder how deep they actually are. I saw eagles, seals, and many people who seemed to know Arwen and her struggle. They were all supportive of her. We dropped in at Parkside Brewery and ended the day at Taps and Tacos.
Vancouver is a candy house and as I ate more and more, the stomach aches were worth it. The city’s acceptance, inclusivity, and celebration of diversity have made me feel more at home than most places I’ve ever been. From the breathtaking views of Stanley Park to the historic sites on Davie Street, Vancouver’s spirit of resilience and openness leaves me feeling suspicious. What’s the catch? As I head home, I’m wondering when I should start searching Google for cheap AirCanada plane tickets. I guess the Maple Syrup really is as sweet as they say.