On Don, Donna and Democracy


Twenty years ago, I briefly worked with Donna who was in the process of transitioning from Don.

That she was in progress was evident. She was tall, about 6’2”, and her hands were large. She had a strong masculine face framed by long, carefully styled hair. She wore a skirt to the office, a pretty blouse and shoes with kitten heels.

Word was she still lived with her wife; the woman she’d married 20 years before as Don. They had two kids and were striving as a couple to keep their home life intact, although I’m pretty sure Donna’s journey was disruptive to everything they’d known and expected.

I liked her. She was good at what she did. Her writing was tight and her editing meticulous. She was gentle and warm and a person I could comfortably have befriended. Except I didn’t. Shame on me.

Although I’ve thought of her over the past decades, I didn’t follow up and I don’t know if Donna completed her transformation, whether her marriage held or whether she’s living a completely different life.

I do know she was brave. While Donna was far from the first person to be transitioning, for me she was the first of my acquaintance to boldly strike out in the work force; to say ‘this is who I am.’

It’s because of that kind of courage, I believe, that there are four transgender candidates in our provincial election. One has been subjected to blatant hate literature, but for the most part people don’t care and are casting votes based on platforms, issues and parties, not on gender identification.

Democracy can be a beautiful thing.

In explaining why she doesn’t vote in advance polls, my pal Nell teared up the other day.

For her there’s something almost ceremonial about voting on election day: deciding what to wear, stepping on to the street for the walk to the polls and greeting neighbours and fellow citizens doing the same all along the route.

She appreciates the lineups at the polling stations. The longer the better. Democracy in action. When she marks her ballot and gives it a little shove into the box, she invariably wells up.

I kicked myself for voting in the advance poll and denying myself that experience.

When I worked in government, a provincial election often meant the onset of a fresh new hell. Heads rolling, boxes packed, offices emptied, new ministries formed, old ones axed, new bosses arriving, old ones leaving. Nothing boring.

From my Jane Citizen viewpoint now, there’s nothing boring about this election, either. Election talk enters every conversation. There’s a nervousness. People are anxious to do what feels right for themselves, for their children, for their grandchildren.

And brave people are stepping up to make a difference.


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