Monday 17 August 2015

Interview with Micheline Montreuil

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Micheline Anne Hélène Montreuil, a Quebec lawyer, teacher, writer, radio host, trade unionist, and politician from Canada. Hello Micheline!
Micheline: Hello Monika; how are you today?
Monika: I am fine, thank you. Could you say a few words about yourself?
Micheline: Well I could say that I am just an ordinary girl, but being also at the same time a little bit special because I am a transgender. Otherwise, on a professional level, I am just a lawyer, a professor of law, management, and ethics at university, a writer, and a lecturer.
Monika: You made yourself known with your struggles for transgender rights in Canada. Could you elaborate on some of your initiatives in this respect? 
Micheline: My first initiatives were about my name. I wished only to add the first name Micheline to my birth certificate to allow me to have a driver’s license under the name of Micheline Montreuil but unfortunately, the Registrar of civil status denied me this right.
So, it was a long fight, from 1997 to 2011 before I have gained the right to become Micheline Anne Hélène Montreuil. I was obliged to gain one by one all my first names: Micheline in 2002, Anne in 2008, and Hélène in 2011. Think about it; it is totally ridiculous that I needed 14 years to change my name.
After being defeated many times in court, the government has realized that its legal position cannot be supported in front of the courts. I may add that my fight has gone up to the Supreme Court of Canada.
So, the government of Quebec decided to change the law to facilitate the change of name for anyone older than 18.
In 2013, The Government of Quebec has adopted an Act, Bill 35, entitled: An act to amend the Civil Code as regards civil status, successions and the publications of rights, to modify section 71 of the Civil Code that will be in force in 2016; the new section 71 will be read that way:
"71. Every person whose sexual identity does not correspond to the designation of sex that appears in that person’s act of birth may, if the conditions prescribed by this Code and by government regulation have been met, have that designation and, if necessary, the person’s given names changed."
These changes may in no case be made dependent on the requirement to have undergone any medical treatment or surgical operation whatsoever.
Subject to article 3084.1, only a person of full age who has been domiciled in Québec for at least one year and is a Canadian citizen may obtain such changes.

Glamour photo.

So, someone who is domiciled in Québec for at least one year and who is also a Canadian citizen will be able to obtain the change of the designation of sex that appears in her act of birth even if she has not undergone any medical treatment or surgical operation whatsoever. It is a great change.
At the same time, I was obliged to sue some employers for discrimination in employment. Being transgender is a source of many problems. I thought honestly that there would be less discrimination than the discrimination I have faced up but I have challenged anyone who has decided to discriminate against me.
On that point, you may check these two decisions ruled by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal: 
- Montreuil v. National Bank of Canada - 2004 CHRT 7 - 2004-02-05 
- Montreuil v. Canadian Forces Grievance Board - 2007 CHRT 53 - 2007-11-20.
Monika: Your journey to womanhood was gradual. As you write on your website: “In 1965, at the age of 13, I put on my first bra… In 1968, at the age of 16, for the first time, I dressed fully as a woman… In 1975, at the age of 23, I have done my first make-up and my first outing…”
Micheline: This is probably the big difference between a transgender and a transsexual. A transsexual does the jump in one shot; She always says: I am a woman. The transgender reacts differently; she is discovering her femininity through time, advancing step by step and thinking that she is more and more herself, more comfortable, happier, more relaxed.
For a transgender, it is a long path that may never end; she is not in such a hurry because she is discovering herself step by step. So, like me, a transgender may change slowly, year after year, as long as she wishes it. I still have not ended my path; I am a transgender with some alterations to my body. Some transgenders have more alterations and some have fewer.
Monika: To reach the moment in 1986, at the age of 34, to ask yourself the fundamental existentialist question “Who am I?” …
Micheline: I have only found one answer; I am a human being called Micheline Montreuil. I may add that I am a transgender but it will add nothing except to specify that I am slightly different from traditional females and males. Finally, I don’t care about what I am exactly; is it so important? I have concluded that this question is not so important for me and consequently, the answer is not so important too. I am Micheline and it is enough for me. 
Monika: You came out in 1986 and soon started the legal battle for the acknowledgment of your rights as a transgender woman …
Micheline: Right, but I have started the battle only because the Registrar of civil status denied me the right to choose and change my name for Micheline. I wished, like many other transgender people, to do my transition peacefully, quietly without being noticed.
Unfortunately, the Registrar of civil status forced me to do it in public in denying me the right to do it quietly. Usually, a transgender does not wish to do her change in public to avoid many problems. In being stubborn, the Registrar of civil status forces people to do it openly and at the same time, forces the transgender to sue him in front of the courts. 
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Micheline: None; I have created my own model because no one seems to look like me. Probably, there were some other people in the same situation but they were hidden. So, I could not identify myself to them.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Micheline: There are two aspects to this topic. First, I was surprised by the so negative reaction of many people; I did not expect to encounter a so huge resistance about my transition.
Second, I have lost my job, I have lost my spouse, I have lost many “friends”, it was very hard to find a new job, and so on. I thought that people would be a more open mind. I have had to change my opinion about the level of tolerance of people about transgender.

Micheline Anne and Michèle in the Park Jeanne D'Arc.

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in Canadian society?
Micheline: We are not accepted, nor tolerated. We exist and we take our place. So, people around us are obliged to accept the fact that we exist and that we will never be back in the closet again. We need at least two more generations and hundred of transgenders in public to convince society that we are human beings like others.
More the people will see transgenders around them, in public, the more they will accept the fact that we are part of the society. There are more and more shows on television showing transgender people and some may be well known. Think about Caitlyn Jenner; she will be a model for many people because she is showing that you can be a transgender and a human being.
Monika: In 2007 you were chosen as the official candidate of the New Democratic Party (NPD), the first transgender person in history to be nominated as an electoral candidate by a major political party in Canada. Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Micheline: I think that a transgender can make a difference in politics because she has not had the same life as an ordinary man or woman. She has lived a different life with different problems and difficulties. She may certainly talk more about discrimination, the difficulties to find a job or a mate. She will consider problems from a different view because of her different life.
Monika: Do you regret the fact that the NDP dropped you as its candidate?
Micheline: Yes, I regret it because I think that I would have been a marvelous politician thinking first about the citizens and not about my career. Perhaps, I will be back as a candidate someday! I will not run for the power, nor for the money but for the target of helping people and for the good government of my country.
Monika: What was your political manifesto?
Micheline: I call myself part of the center-left. So, in philosophical words, I am a liberal. I have an open mind and I state that the government must intervene in society to ensure a minimum level of welfare to all citizens, including unemployment benefits, free Medicare, free medicine, free schools, and so on. The governments are created by men for the benefit of all citizens for the “pursuit of a kind of common happiness” no matter color, language, sex, and so on.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Micheline: I wish to never be alone. It is important for me to share my life with someone. You can call it love or deep friendship, but for me, it is important to share my life, my dreams, my interests, etc. with someone else who wishes also to share her life or his life with me.

Standing in front of her fireplace.

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Micheline: Fashion is futile but so fascinating at the same time. I like fashion and I like to shop when I can find something that may fit me.
I will start with the jewels. I love earrings, mainly dangling earrings with a hook. Each time that I travel, I buy at least 6 pairs of earrings. When I shop in shopping centers, I always take a look at earrings. Necklace; from time to time when one necklace is putting sparkles in my eyes and that it is enough long. Watch: I usually always wear the same one.
Bracelets: from time to time when it is enough large for my wrist and when it looks lovely. Rings: from time to time when it is putting sparkles in my eyes and that it is enough large. I don’t care about a true gem; I will buy it if I like the color of the stone and if it looks special.
Anklets: I have two anklets that I wear during summer only and from time to time. Blouses and skirts: I have a few blouses and skirts but I wear more dresses. I may wear a blouse and a skirt but generally with a jacket. I like bright colors like Emerald Green, Royal Blue, Fire Red, Deep Black, Hot Purple. I have some light colors too like Soft Pink, Powder Blue and so on, but I prefer the bright darker colors.
Dresses: Usually I always wear dresses. From a practical point of view, I have bigger breasts than my hips. So, if the dress fits well on my breast, the dress fits well on my hips. I find a dress more comfortable than any other cloth. I never wear a belt too, letting the dress falling loosely. Many of my dresses are in bright colors, a few have printings and some have 2 or 3 colors. They are very classical from ankle-length up to mid-thigh, with or without sleeves, and I always wear them with pantyhose.
Pants: I have no pants at all.
Jeans: I have no jeans at all.
Shoes: Classical pumps or high heels between 1 and 3 inches, usually black. When I travel, I usually wear running shoes, usually white.
I have a giant closet with more clothes in than the average woman.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Micheline: Not really because I have written a lot of stuff concerning myself on my website at Perhaps I will do it someday to help people but right now, I am helping them in telling a lot of things on my website. It is free and it can be seen from all around the world with just one click on your mouse. However, I have written many books in law and management.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Micheline: What will be my next step as a transgender? I do not know because I am happy the way I am now. Perhaps, for example, I could have bigger boobs someday, but right now, it is really not important for me.
However, for my next step on a professional level, I intend to continue to teach at university, to be the vice-president of my union, to continue to manage the retirement funds of other teachers at university, to continue to practice law as a lawyer, to continue to travel all around the world and to continue to state that transgender people are just ordinary people who only wish to leave peacefully. We are kind people.

San Diego, California - July 1997.

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls, struggling with gender dysphoria?
Micheline: Just be what you are! You are a woman; so, act like any other woman. It is your life; not the life of another person. Live your life the way you wish; as a woman if it is what you wish. Don’t stay in the closet too long; you will regret it.
Just be aware that you may lose your job, lose your spouse, lose some of your “friends”, and find very hard to find a new job, but it is the price to pay to become a transgender. It is not and it will be not your fault, but it is the way people react.
Remember that: Who is the most important person on Earth? YOU!
So, take care yourself of your life and live it fully as a woman, no matter what people around may think about it. Again, it is YOUR life. So live it the way you wish.
Thank you so much Monika for this interview; it may help other transgender to become happier and live better their new life.
Monika: Micheline, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Micheline Montreuil.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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