I always enjoyed the scenic downtown core of Brantford, Ontario. When I was young, my mother would take me to visit my grandfather and we would spend the day. Between his large cherry tree and adventures in stores and cafes, there was always something to do. How ironic it was that, now, here I was parking on the side of a street for an afternoon with Finn Cole.
“It's about time we got here. My legs are cramped from this small back seat.”
“Owe!” I hit my head on the roof of the jeep. Thank goodness I already parked. Looking in my rear view mirror, I realized to my horror, that Charles Bizarro was sitting behind me. All I can think of is that urban legend. You know - The one where the lady is driving and doesn't see the killer in her back seat - Someone tries flashing head lights at her, but she is still oblivious. I was that lady. I didn't need a mirror to know I looked quite silly, sitting there, with my mouth hanging wide open.
“How did you get back there?”
“How?” Charles answered. “I opened the door and got in. How do you think I got back here?”
“Okay.” That makes sense of course, but still leaves a question. “When did you get in?”
“Well obviously before we left Burlington,” he said, flashing a snarl of a grin while stretching his legs on the sidewalk.
This conversation was going nowhere fast. I didn't expect it to get any better. If there was one thing I had learned about Bizarro over the past few months, it was that he didn't always answer all my questions. He also seemed to go everywhere I went. The was no sense arguing with him. It would just make me late. Just thinking about it, I almost missed the door to The Starving Artist Cafe completely. Mind you, it is tucked away neatly – one of those hidden gems on a picturesque old downtown street that everyone wants to discover.
The inside is completely different from what I expected from the street looking in. Finn chose a spot at the very back. Weaving my way between tables and chairs of various sizes, gave me the perfect vantage point to browse the work of local artists lining the walls, each one with a price tag.
“Hey,” Finn said. “It's good to see you.” His usual hello embrace and peck on the cheek followed. To my surprise, he did the same to Bizarro.
“Charles Bizarro. A pleasure to meet you.”
“Nice nails,” Finn said with a chuckle.
Those nails are something to behold. I still don't want to know what they might be stained with. The thought of blood makes feel a bit faint. Guess sitting might be a good idea.
“Thank you for coming,” Finn said. “Did you want to order something?”
I can feel saliva pooling in my mouth at just the sound of some of the food on the menu. It's afternoon, barely. Ordering something couldn't hurt, except maybe my diet. My choice, grilled cheese. Now, while the others are deciding still, I have a chance to check out the surroundings. There is so much to take in. Wow, there is even a ledge that holds business cards for local artists and businesses.
“The food sounds so good. It makes me shiver with anticipation.”
I almost forgot Charles Bizarro was here. It was so quiet. Maybe it was the words, or maybe the smirk on is face, but his face blurred before my eyes. Great! Now I am having lunch with Dr. Frank N. Furter. Why can't things be normal again?
“You look like you've fallen into a ... time slip.” Charles said.
A small Karaoke system sitting on a low table to my left begins playing in the background. Of course, the song is “Time Warp.”
Okay enough of the Rocky Horror mind flips. It's time to move on. “I was just organizing my thoughts. Finn, you mind if I ask a few questions?”
“Go ahead,” Finn answered.
“I understand you are working on a new charity. Could you explain what BATA stands for?”
“Brantford’s Advocacy Transgender Alliance, is a grassroots committee dedicated to the health and well-being, as well as ensuring equality/equity for those in the trans community of Brantford/Brant County. We promote education and awareness as well as provide advocacy ensuring all necessary resources and programs are available to the trans community. As the needs of the trans community grows, so will we at the BATA. We are developing programs like the gender closet - donation of used and new clothing for those in the community who cannot afford to buy gender affirming clothing, especially our youth who do not have the support they require at home. We will organize and create events throughout the year such as TDOV/TDOR - international trans day of visibility and international trans day of remembrance as part of the education/awareness mandate. We will continue to evolve to include bigger needs in the community such as a drop-in center/shelter for LGBTQ+ youth to have a safe place to go when things get tough at home. As well as temporary shelter for others in the LGBTQ+ community who cannot find safety in the two shelters at work in our community.”
“What will donations be used for? How much of every dollar will go directly to charitable needs?”
There was no hesitation in Finn's answer. “Every cent of all donations will go toward building a stronger trans community. This is a labour of love for those involved.”
From the slight upwards curl of his lips, I could tell he was in his element. I always new Finn was engrossed in volunteer work within the community, but now, here, it was obvious, this was a passion. “How many different groups do you play an active role in?”
“I am the lead facilitator for Gender Journey Brant and co-facilitator for Brant Trans Youth Support Group - for people in transition and also a back-up facilitator for the LGBTQ Coffee Social.
You can add to that my membership in the community education program called PACE. A community education position, for individuals who have an interest in understanding what can be done to increase their physical activity, and have a desire to share that knowledge with others in their community by leading group activity programs, mentoring, and being able to connect members of the program with other community programs and resources.”
“Wow, that is a lot! How do you find the time to volunteer for so many?” I have a hard time finding time for coffee sometimes. I may have to come to terms with being an under-achiever after today.
“In May of 2010, I found myself out of work and at the start of what would be my journey into disability. The spine is central to how the body functions. It is the core of the bodies frame allowing us to be mobile, as well as houses within all the bundles of nerves that signals the brain which then tells the body what to do. Like say breathe, or tells the heart to pump, or the throat to open and swallow. Everything the body must do to live. I hurt my bodies main frame. So, finding myself with a lot of extra time, I needed to feel like I was still contributing to the world. Most of my work is done from home on my computer. The rest of the time you can find me at the Grand River Community Health Centre. All of the programs and committees I am involved in happen there; with the exception of the Youth Pride Committee which generally meets at the Family and Community Services branch office.”
“How many committees do you sit on?”
“I feel privileged to sit on the Youth Pride Committee which works towards aiding our LGBTQ+ youth in their mission to educate and bring awareness to their unique voices within the greater LGBTQ+ community. With a growing number of young committee members from around the community doing their part to organize and chair Rainbow Alliances/GSAs within their respective schools, to taking leadership roles within the community by sitting on panels and speaking publicly about the issues that they face on a daily basis. As a committee we also organize monthly social events for the youth in the LGBTQ+ community as well as helping them to organize their own Pride event every year during Pride.
I sit on the Bridge Brant, a grassroots committee that works to identify and address inequalities that are experienced by the diverse sexual and gender identified communities within Brantford and Brant County.
I also sit on the Mental Health Awareness Week project committee every January as organizations throughout the community plan and prepare for the first week in May where through the city events are happening with the express purpose of raising awareness to mental health issues. All events at their core are centred around mental health awareness and eroding the stigma that is commonly attached to it. Every year some form of art show is included. Last year it was pieces done by children affected in some way by mental health. This year it will be pieces from all ages of mental health consumers, friends and family who are, or have been affected. I myself have a piece set to display for two weeks at the Starving Artist Cafe. I spend much of my week at the Grand River CHC chalking hair for mental health, as well as chalking the sidewalk with sayings such as - You’d never say, “It’s just cancer, get over it.”, or No More Stigma.”
I could feel the enthusiasm in the conviction of his words. I wanted to know more ... to help. His attitude was contagious. “There must be a lot of events you participate in. Can you tell us about them? Can anyone join in?”
“GJB/BTYSG/LGBTQ Coffee Social have begun an ongoing outing with a local high end used clothing shop called The Closet Door - which is situated within the Artisans Village - They open the shop on a Tuesday evening, creating a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community - friends and family - to come out and shop, offering a discounted rate. May 3rd will be the second of these events affectionately called the closet raid. We plan on doing at least 4 per year. The owner Tammy and her team of wonderful volunteers create the best situation for those in the community that may have a difficult time shopping in the community at large. No hateful stares, no discriminatory slurs, etc...
June 14th during the week of Pride, will be the second year I have been asked by the Pride Committee to organize and host a trans event during the week. This year we are planning an open mic night at the Starving Artist for anyone who wishes to join their voices with those of the trans community. Personal narrative/ stories are the essential bridge that connects all human beings.
The Bridge has been organizing a year long speaker series dealing with an array of elements and issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. I sit on the sub-committee for the one slated in November which is directed at the medical community and disparages in health care for the trans community. This event is for the medical community only, but I am so looking forward to it as it will speak to this communities medical practitioners bringing awareness to the need for many of them to get educated and be a supportive part of this community.
Those are just a few events already in the planning stages. We will are looking at hosting some specific events, special dates of remembrance for the trans community & LGBTQ+ youth.”
“What areas are welcome to participate?”
“All areas are welcome. If you hear about something we are doing and wish to participate, come on down.” The smile on Finn's face beamed excitement. It was like a flashlight being turned on before my eyes.
“What can members of the community do to help?”
“Get involved. Come out and participate in every and all events. Join the BATA committee and help us create a safer community for all those who identify as trans.”
“Can you tell us a bit about your personal journey?”
“My personal journey began at the age of 5. Given the state of things some 45 years ago it was not a common occurrence to come out as trans. Not like today’s children whose parents are listening to them when they are insistent, persistent, and consistent about the fact that something isn’t quite right. At 15 I had to push those feeling deep down inside to the point where I was no longer aware of the fact. It wasn’t until I walked away from my family - who had never been supportive of me in anything - that I realized I had one shot at getting my life right; one shot at being happy; one shot at being me. The real me. Ever since I kicked the closet door of its hinges I have been a loud voice in this community. I have a voice, and I will use it to further the rights of my trans brothers and sisters.”
“October 16th is a special day. Please take a moment to explain why. What does wearing purple on this day symbolize?”
Spirit Day is a day dedicated for standing up against bullying and supporting LGBTQ+ perceived youth. Brittany Mcmillan, a Canadian high school student, started Spirit Day in 2010 in response to all the LGBTQ+ suicides. The name Spirit Day comes from the purple stripe of the Rainbow Flag, whose creator Gilbert Baker defined it as "representing spirit'". I am working with some wonderful people on a fundraising event to raise awareness and funds for the BATA.”
“That's it!” Charles Bizarro exclaimed. His finger stuck straight up as if pointing towards the sky. “I have the perfect plan.” His eyes bulged out and sunk back in a few times.
I guess the look on our faces gave away we had absolutely no idea what was going on inside his brain – not that I think anyone ever did.
“We are going to have a transgender spirit day at the haunt. October 16th is a Sunday!” The flamboyance in Bizarro's voice exploded across the room.
“That would work,” Finn replied. “Everyone could wear purple. I could be there with information for anyone who needs it too.”
“And I will donate all proceeds to a charity of your choice. My dear Finn, this works for both of us. I need some new ... blood,” insert random evil chuckle here, “and you can provide that.” His arm flung around Finn's shoulders. “Now that I have solved what we came her for, shall we eat?”
As if on cue the waitress placed plates in front of us. How does he do that? On a side note, the food is amazing. One bite tells me it is going to be very quiet until our plates empty. That doesn't mean I am going to let Charles take over the discussion. As soon as my last bite is gone, I am continuing with my interview.
“November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Can you elaborate on what the day is about?” Watching Finn wipe a few crumbs from his face and swallow, I realize I probably should have waited for him to finish comfortably before grilling him with another question. Bizarro's attention was off in space somewhere anyways.
“Definitely. TDOR, which occurs annually on November 20, is a day to memorialize those who have been murdered as a result of trans-phobia and to bring attention to the continued violence endured by the transgender community.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a trans woman who is a graphic designer, columnist, and activist, to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts Since its inception, TDoR has been held annually on November 20, and it has slowly evolved from the web-based project started by Smith into an international day of action. In 2010, TDoR was observed in over 185 cities throughout more than 20 countries.
Typically, a TDoR memorial includes a reading of the names of those who lost their lives during the previous year, and may include other actions, such as candlelight vigils, art shows, food drives, film screenings, and marches.”
“How would someone contact you? Do you use social media? If yes, what are the links?”
"My Facebook page - Finn Cole. Gender Journey Brant FB page.
“Can you suggest any resources for transgender people outside southern Ontario?”
“There is a host of resources that can be found whether searching google, or FaceBook. I have a page on FaceBook called Gender Journey Brant that posts all sorts of resources, news, and articles from around the world. GJB will soon become BATA. Still focused on education and awareness.”
“Is there someone they could contact in your organizations for support, help, advice?”
“The FB page has a message option that gets answered in a timely fashion. On our flyer there is a specific gmail account for both of the trans groups that goes directly to my cell phone, as well as the number of our liaison at the Grand River CHC Caitlin Francis 9-5. Monday - Friday.”
“I know you support a lot of local talent and small businesses. Can you share a few with us?”
Starving Artists, Sophia’s Bakery, The Closet Door, Locke & Key Treasures, Unique Outlooks, Twitches Stitches, Kelly’s Kandles, Octupus Red, PhotoHouse Studio, Steven B Andrews & Collected Thoughts, Eyes of a Crow, and C.A.King.”
“Is there anything else you would like to share?”
“Take some time and acquaint yourself with someone from the trans community. Look beyond the differences to all the things that truly connect us all... Humanity. We really are the same after all. Different story; same genre.”
“One last question. I have to ask. Who is your favourite author?” Okay, I know he's going to plug me. I can't help but flash a sly smile.
“Anne Rice, and of course my wonderful friend and ally Carol King.” Finn doesn't disappoint with that answer.
“Anne Rice, wonderful lady!” Bizarro exclaimed.
And he's back. I wonder where Charles disappears to. On second thought, I don't want to know. I think it might be time for him to return to his crypt.
“Thank you for your time today. I am happy to support your programs in any way I can. You have inspired me to make my presence known in the community.”
The Portal Prophecies will be giving $1.00 for every $10.00 spent at the following events to Finn Cole to be donated to the charity of his choice:
May 28th - 9th Annual Brantford Pagan Meet & Greet
Weekends in October - Bizarro's Factory of Fear
June 23rd – Starving Artist Cafe ~ Writers Panel (7:00 p.m.)
November 20th - All royalties from online book sales (my five books). (EST 12:00 to 12:00)
Bizarro's Factory of Fear will be hosting a Transgender Night October 16th. Watch for more information to come!
**All of Finn Cole's answers were written by Finn Cole