“Shift has been one of the best experiences of getting support”
Liv has three daughters. The youngest is 4 years old and the oldest is 11. Liv loves taking care of her children and has always considered them the most important thing in the world. She describes how she knew she was transgender, but put off her gender transition to support her children. “I was mid-transitioning when my partner of three months got pregnant. I chose the kid, I was 21. I’ve tried telling myself I’m a dude but it didn’t work, so I started my transition again 4 years ago.” Liv believes she is now a much happier parent. “I remember when I told my daughters. I was never particularly masculine, I was trying to hide my femininity, but my kids could definitely tell, and they were not surprised when I told them. They were happy for me. It’s been four years since then, and the only reason my ex has gotten used to calling me Liv and using she/her pronouns is because my kids yell at her every time she does otherwise”.
Liv had struggled with depression since high school. “I heard this band, Against Me. They had an album on the radio called Transgender Dysphoria Blues. I knew I was trans, but had never heard the term “gender dysphoria” before, so I decided to research it a little bit, and after that I told myself, ‘Oh my God, that is so totally me, so I need to go and see a psychologist or a psychiatrist to either find a way that I can shut this down and stay in my relationship, or see what I can do to transition’,” she remembers. Liv talks about how important it was for her to get support through her transition, and is happy for her “small victories” in the last couple of years: when she took her partner to court to split custody, and the judge didn’t know who the biological mother was, or when she realized that most women in the housing program she is in did not know she was transgender.
Before her transition, Liv went from job to job just to make money for her family, but now is thinking of going back to school to become a social worker. “I take care of my kids from 7am to 7pm, and a graveyard shift is scary for me as a visible trans woman. I want to volunteer for the Distress Centre and apply to school.”
Liv is happy where she is now, but her life was different two years ago when she met someone online and they started dating. It was fun in the beginning, she says. They drank a lot and went dancing all the time, and then after a month, that person proposed to her. Liv’s kids were in California with their biological mother, so Liv felt lonely. When she lost her job her new partner suggested she could make money as a sex worker. “I had always wanted to do modelling and they convinced me that this wasn’t going to be that much different. It was a night of a lot of drinking when I decided to post an ad. The money was good. I didn’t really realize I was actually trafficked; I was giving a lot of my money to this partner, which made it even more difficult to pay my child support. My partner starting drinking more and more, because they had more money from me.”
Liv described how she found herself trapped in sex work and an abusive relationship. “Every client I ever had, there never really was any joy to it, and then they started getting aggressive.” Liv recounted how she was assaulted many times by her clients and friends of her partner, and how she felt alone. “I was reaching out for help from friends and family, but my family won’t have anything to do with me because I did sex work. Most of my friends didn’t talk to me anymore.”
After eight months of sex work, Liv had a very traumatizing experience with a client, and realized she needed to get out. Luckily, Liv was still in touch with her father, who had previously worked at HIV Community Link. The next morning, Liv got in touch with Shift and asked a friend to help her move out. “It was extreme desperation that drew me to here and got me out of that house. The Shift worker came with me and advocated for me at Alberta Works and she spoke to Mary Dover House, so I could get into their housing program. Shift helped me turn my life around. The only reason I eat is because I get food from the Food Bank on Tuesdays here, otherwise I would have nothing. It’s hugely helpful. It’s been really nice to be able to come here, relate with the other clients and always have somebody to talk to. It’s been one of the best experiences of getting support in my life. If I hadn’t come here, I would probably still be in that house doing sex work, getting abused.”
After getting her life back, Liv started to think more about the lack of understanding for trans people. She would like to be able to help other women like her. “We are just as much people as anybody else, and we have feelings. Everybody has their own story and the best thing you can do if you are not sure about something, as with anything, is just ask. I want the world to understand that we are just people. Share that you know a trans person and stand up for that person.”