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Trans woman helping other Sarnians live authentically

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Pam Wright

It took more than 50 years, but Paula Smith has no regrets about finally revealing her heart’s desire.

“I love being me,” she says. “It wonderful to live authentically as your true self.”

After returning from a three-day conference two years ago Paula told wife Marilyn that he identified as a woman and not a man. It was an out-of-the-blue disclosure.

That she decided to stay with her partner speaks to the couple’s enduring love.

“’I’d never met a trans person before,” Marilyn explains, adding it took a bit of time to process.

“But I said I would never leave her, and I would stay by her side and make this journey with her,” Marilyn said. “I had to wrap my head around it … if my partner had cancer … I wouldn’t leave.”

Paula Smith was born as a boy and raised in the typical boys-will-be-boys ways of rural Lambton. But she knew from the age of eight she was a girl living in a boy’s body.

But with no supports and unable to buck convention she continued on society’s traditional path.

“You get busy with life and you need to maintain the status quo,” she said.

Paula was an outdoor kid who loved to play sports. She helped her dad on the farm and, as expected, got married and raised children.

She also chose a successful career in the trades and now runs her own business.

Many transgendered women, Marilyn notes, choose hyper-masculine professions as a way of deflecting attention.

But as the years passed, Paula daydreamed of a life in which she could live as a woman.

“I had never told anybody my whole life.”

Many transgendered people live their lives sick with worry about how they will be accepted — or rejected — by family members and employers. Depression and anxiety are common and suicide rates are high.

Losing friends is another concern, said Paula, who added it often just takes time for people to become comfortable with the change.

“People are freaked out. But you don’t have to understand me — just accept me.”

According to Paula, another hurdle is societal belief that being trans is a choice.

“You don’t wake up and decide this. It’s decided at birth,” she said.

Changes for Paula included dressing a woman, wearing makeup, a new hairstyle and the use of HRT (hormone replacement therapy.)

Paula and Marilyn are telling their story to help transgendered people locally to break the code of silence and become happier people.

“All we are doing as trans people is bringing our minds and bodies into alignment so we can live authentically,” Paula explains.

Caitlyn Jenner’s very public disclosure of identifying as a woman helped thrust the issue into the limelight. And social media is full of stories about young, transgendered children whose parents encourage them to step outside the box and live authentically.
The younger a person transitions the better, Smith said.

“My goal is to make life better for trans people. We’re like everyone else and we just need to get through the day.”

Trans people and their partners are invited to attend ‘Coming Out Over Coffee,’ a support group held every second Monday at St. Luke’s United Church, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

It began in January and attendance averages 12 people ranging in age from 22 to 70. Participants musts be 18 and over.

The group has also compiled a list of trans-friendly professionals in the city, to help people find the services they need.

“From my experience, I’ve found Sarnia to be a very tolerant city,” Paula said.

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