First Person Stories


Manal – My Story: Never Give Up

By | First Person Stories


ManalIn this challenging and strange world, sometimes we have to start from scratch “zero”, I believe even if we are at zero but we have the strength, we will achieve and we can add value. So, if you had to start from “zero” ones in your life, a few times, or never had to, you will still be interested in reading my story.

I came from a beautiful country in Middle East (Syria), but the war made it the most dangerous place in the world, so I had to go to Canada in 2017 with “zero” language because I never spoke English, some education because I only had one-year law university, that it is not recognized or accepted here in Canada, also “zero” friends and family. I left them all behind; they were lost in the condition of war, “zero” financial because I lost my possessions too. From all those “zeros”, I had to start. At that time, I used to imagine how much we would teach our children the foundation of language and how much we would make an effort to provide them with knowledge, good economic condition, and a solid foundation for facing life. My question is, what if suddenly something happened and they were forced to start from scratch and maybe placed in front of the “zeros”.

I had a strange feeling of fear and loneliness. At that time, I decided to go, step by step, to be successful in my new place, so I started to learn English from “zero”, and I knew it would not be an easy way. I took a full-time ESL class at the WEST for women. I got a lot of support from the staff, as they encouraged me to work hard on my education, so I went to level five in eight months because I was working hard and never missed out any lesson even though. I was pregnant with my twins, until one day my teacher said: “It is your last day at school, please stay home and take a rest, because you will very soon give birth. I told my teacher that “climbing to the top of the mountains has never been so easy, and I deserve access.”

After my twins grew up a little bit, I went to the LEAD program at WEST. There I did build up my skills and I got customer service skills, first aid, CPR and public speaking skills which made me feel I am ready to find a job, but I knew I should start from something that doesn’t need perfect English like a lawyer, so I chose the medical field, and I found work in a pharmacy. In the pharmacy, I did start from “zero” too, because I never studied or worked or even had any knowledge about pharmacy jobs. Also, it is a very subtle work that requires “zero” mistakes in a work placement, which made me very scared, so I put all my heart into my work until I learned very well.

It wasn’t easy. I cried many times. One time my manager said, “ you are always holding your tears”, I thought it would be your last day with me.You exceeded my expectations by your insisting on learning and intention to work hard; “she said” I have been on time and never been late once and always show up with a big smile and my insistence on success. Due to the language barrier and career knowledge, communication was difficult and challenging, especially dealing with my employer and coworkers until finally I was able to gain their trust and love through my kindness and hard work in a very short time. I become one of the best assistants there (as per my manager), I also have an excellent economic foundation so that I can shop and buy my own home. Moreover, I did improve my English, and I almost got my high school diploma in just two semesters as I am working toward post secondary education . Also, I did register at college to gain more knowledge in my career.

After almost a year, all the world faces a pandemic of Coronavirus, I was a front-line worker in the pharmacy, so I got the virus and I was maybe the first one in my city who got it. I had symptoms when I came from work, after two days It became worse, so I went to the Assessment Centre to get a test but I couldn’t because I didn’t travel outside Canada. I sat at home and I started self-isolation(as a precaution), but my manager asked me to do the test to make sure it is not coronavirus but unfortunately, I couldn’t do it because it was only for people who had traveled, until the third time when we had some cases in the city I did the test and it was positive. At that time my husband and my four kids had the virus too. I found myself again facing big challenges because I couldn’t go to the hospital and keep my kids and my sick husband by themselves, so I had to be strong and handle everything by myself with my illness. Thank God, I had support from the Health Unit who did call me every two days to update my case and answer my questions, also I had support from a Settlement counselor with the Settlement Services Department at (WEST) who was following up on me regularly, as they called me as soon as they heard that I was tested positive and knew about my struggle with covid-19, they called every day when and offered all the help.

I desperately wanted someone I could talk to because I sat at home in self-isolation for more than a month, which put me under a lot of pressures such as taking care of my kids with my sickness, studying online for my final exam without any help and thinking about work and if I would be able to return. I think that I overcome all difficulties on my own and with people’s support, I believe that when we face a hard situation any kind of support can make a difference like WEST-”Women Enterprise Skills Training of Windsor Inc.” who was with me in my very difficult times starting from when I had my twins, till I got sick which made me so appreciative and can’t even imagine how I would have done it without their support. I can’t Thank them enough for all their care and support.

Finally, I believe those “zeros” and difficulties added more value to my life and made me discover myself more and know my strengths and my potential and use them well. Also, they made me face my weaknesses and my fears to overcome them, so we should never be scared to start from scratch “zero” because it will add more worth to our life with determination and belief in ourselves, so I learned from WEST, whatever happens with us we should Never Give Up.


New Life in a New City by Jane Emilia Tomasso

By | First Person Stories

Jane Emilia Tomasso

JaneLife brought me to Toronto. I grew up in Amherstburg with Windsor as my nearest metropolis. It was difficult to understand my confusing childhood as a trans girl, especially considering the surrounding world was not only destitute from the creation of popular culture, and Essex County was and is often latent to the ever-changing social landscape.

In Windsor, I was a patient at the Windsor Family Health Team. I joined the patient roster in early young adulthood because it was one of the few teams in Windsor educated on how to care for trans patients. As required by law, I was sent for a psychiatric evaluation to ensure that I “fit the bill” of someone who needed hormones. The receptionist at the psychiatrist’s office had a terribly unwelcoming demeanor and always seemed to be on the phone with staff from her children’s school about one problem or another. Visits to the psychiatrist made me feel like an outlier. Windsor is a small city and never when I was young did I have interactions with other trans girls to relay our experiences and empathize. At a mid-point in my transition, I was sent to an endocrinologist to have my hormone levels checked and ensure everything to do with my medication was in order. The endocrinologist took it upon himself to ask invasive questions about my sexual life and history and then deemed a physical to be necessary. I later asked my family doctor if he had asked the endocrinologist to give me a physical or investigate my sex life – he had not

At age twenty-two I moved to Toronto after working for The Hudson’s Bay’s Windsor store in the cosmetics department for around two-and-a-half years. I felt as though Toronto not only represented a call to opportunity for all young people, but for young trans people especially. In Toronto I experienced for the first time a work climate that not only celebrated my transness but also let it be a nonfactor when it was irrelevant to discuss. Nothing is totally perfect, of course, but there is opportunity in Toronto for trans people who really work at it – and not much of the sort in Windsor.

Some barriers arose in my moving to Toronto. I had two primary concerns: was I going to be happy, and would the high cost of living prove to be untenably high. Those barriers and others certainly did rear their heads. As I began to adjust to city-living, I realized my sporadic gender dysphoria had not so much previously abated as it had been crowded out by exciting changes in my life. Dysphoria unfortunately returned and months later I left a plastic surgeons office with a $20,000 quote for a rhinoplasty and a brow shave. People who do not understand trans individuals often find this sort of expense and desire to look a certain way to be extraneous when it comes to discussions about trans people’s need for life-improving surgeries like facial feminization and the broad spectrum of ‘plastys that reside under its scope. In Toronto I hit a major financial barrier that, truthfully, would have hit in Windsor as well. Facial and corporeal surgeries are such an important part of the conversation when discussing the mental health and overall wellbeing of trans people and, as an aside, it is a necessity that OHIP should cover. After a long chat with my parents, my father decided that he would help me and fund my surgeries. I now am a totally content patient at the Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto, an institution that provides much of Ontario with modern and empathic guidelines of care for trans people. I am comfortably able to book my own STI checks, checkups, and have my doctor help me with my pre-FFS surgical forms.

In the months after moving to Toronto, I truly did live! I found an expansive community of trans and queer people waiting for me in good old Hogtown. Never before had I had so many affirming voices in my life encouraging me to be myself, be authentic, live in my reality, and express myself endlessly and freely. My self-esteem skyrocketed, but at times so did my self-doubt. My understanding of my own sexuality changed from previously shrivelled and WASP-informed to expansive and inquisitive. I have a phenomenal support system of friends that have really helped me to better myself. They are the sisters that I chose. It wasn’t all positive, however. Many times I was harassed on the streetcars while running errands or commuting to work, and I’ve been threatened with physical violence as well. It is often men that perpetrate this violence very often, and more people need to start protecting trans people using public transit from harassment. After these violent experiences, I desperately needed the loving shelter of my community, which I often get from my trans roommate and her trans girlfriend.

My experiences in Toronto have definitely given me a feeling of personal satisfaction. Within one year I moved out on my own, started a new job, received a promotion, had portraits of me exhibited at a Canadian Women’s Foundation luncheon with my commentary, and realized that it’s okay to be a trans woman that is not totally straight. Revelations upon difficult yet thankful revelations characterized my first year in the city. I feel the success of my experiences now only as I am writing about it, and I am very happy that I have a platform to share my thoughts. I am currently part of the managerial staff at a Toronto-based skincare company. I am happy to be where I am but I am always looking for the opportunity to endeavor creatively, which I do not get to do at my current job. I hope that in the future I will find myself in a more creation-oriented line of work.

To women and other people with similar experiences I want you to know that you are not alone. There are many trans women just like you, fighting the daily fight to pay rent while working towards something greater. I want you to know that it is okay to explore and experiment with your gender and sexuality. I want you to know that you do not have to look a certain way to be beautiful. You are already beautiful. Most importantly, however, I want you to know that there is love waiting for you.