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Interview With A Difference Maker Version 11.1

Let's learn about another inspirational sister!

This interview is being conducted by myself in conjunction with a few of our Contributors.

Our subject is Michelle Backhouse and I’ll leave it to you all to enjoy learning about her!

Living as most of us do in a fairly safe environment is comforting these days. But think about being in your country’s military, which historically was male driven and very macho, that would be scary. “Only REAL men need apply”.  Our friend Jocelyn recently reminded us of a brave and inspirational sister, Michelle Backhouse.

Michelle is a Major and has been in the Royal Canadian Air Force for over three decades. She is a pilot and served a term at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan during that war 14 years ago. Most of her operational flying was done on the “Sleek Greyhound of Death” as she and her peers liked to call the CP140 Aurora (P3).  She spent many hours at low level (300’) over the dark North Atlantic hunting for Russian subs. Her last “flying” before retiring from the Reg Force was the CU170 Heron UAV out of KAF Afghanistan.

As Jocelyn so accurately states, Michelle is a hero and she has our utmost respect.  But, Michelle is now fighting another battle: respect and acceptance of transgender people. Now as a Reservist, one of her duties is serving as her RCAF Bases’ Positive Space Ambassador in Nova Scotia. Michelle provides training to military personnel on LGBTQ2S. While there are many variations to the LGBT acronym, the official Canadian government one is 2SLGBTQI+, as it recognizes two spirit people as our nations first people and “plus” for anyone additional (like allies).

In June of 2016, Bill C-16 added into Canadian law, gender identity and expression to the protected grounds of discrimination. In May 2017 she took the Forces Positive Space training and realized she could really express herself at work and not fear retribution.  She first spoke with colleagues, then her COs (“had a few changes of command and yes it got easier the more I did it”) and received only positive feedback and full support from all.  With the change of job and a private office, she decided it was time to start expressing that part of her that was hidden for decades.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Unlike previous interviews, where I list a Q & A, we peppered Michelle with questions and here is a narrative she graced us with:

The earliest that I can remember being aware that I might be different, was at about the age of eight or nine. I really wanted to wear my sisters nurses dress up costume, but it was too small, so I took the cape, wrapped it around my waist, put on a pair of my mother’s pantyhose, and put on the jacket from my dress up policeman‘s uniform, and went out into the house as a police woman, and didn’t think anything about it. From that first memory, a similar story unfolded that so many others have also told of raiding their mothers closets, or their sisters, and trying on all of their clothes to see how you would look.

As an adolescent in the 70s and as a young adult in the 80s, I had no clue of what was going on with me. I had the belief that what I was doing was not “normal” but it was something that I still needed to do. There seemed to be only three things that one could be if you were not “normal“ and that was either a drag queen, a transexual or a crossdresser, so my inclination was to think that I was a crossdresser. But it wasn’t just about the clothes. It was how they made me feel. I wanted to be seen as treated as a girl or a woman, but not necessarily live the rest of my life as one.

I consider myself very fortunate in so far as my body shape and size. In my 20s, I was able to get out and wander around town or through the mall without really being noticed but these occasions of expression only lasted a few hours. I always wanted more.

As I was entering a relationship with my now wife, I knew this wasn’t something I could keep hidden from her. In an emotional confession, I told her I was a cross-dresser. She was initially intrigued wanted to see pictures, and even help me with some make up tips. We even managed to go out a couple of times to the city for an evening meal. But once kids came along, the freedom to express myself at home was required to be packed up in boxes and shoved in the back of the closet. I would “secretly“ dress on occasions where I had the house alone for an hour or two, but it just wasn’t the same.

Fast forward a number of years, I had retired from the military, and was working overseas as a defense, civilian contractor. I had been reaching out on the Internet to find people like myself and during one of my times at home my wife was out of town and I really wanted to be free to express myself so I told the kids. My eldest was in university. Number two was last year of high, with the other two being slightly younger, all of them were fully accepting of who I was, and I spent an extended weekend expressing solely as Michelle.

Major lesson learned; if you have an agreement with your wife, about talking to the kids together, stick with it! I did not, and my wife found out and a big black cloud emerged over the whole situation. I am very fortunate, though that we have worked through that to a certain extent, she now knows that this is part of who I am. Although maybe not having forgiven me she is interested in meeting some of my friends in the near future. 

As for labels, as I stated earlier, I had considered myself as just a cross-dresser, but with new language emerging, it was a couple of years ago that I came across the term bigender. I thought it fit my situation perfectly, but labels are a strange thing; they can help you feel that you are of a particular group and help you find others of the particular group or they can sing you out for reprisals because you belong to a particular group. Also, just because you choose one label does not mean that you have to stay with that label. I have found that with the passage of time much self reflection, I now consider myself more of a transgender woman with bigender tendencies, then just being bigender.

Check out Michelle’s blog!

Continued tomorrow…..


5 Responses

  1. Michelle,
    You look great and I am very envious of your long natural hair.

    I cannot tell you enough how brave you are, and how much I respect you.

    Well done and keep up your great work.


  2. kandi,
    Michelle is so right about labels . They do serve a purpose initially as we try and identify ourselves , they may help us but the problem is the labels are attached to boxes so it’s very easy to find ourselves bound by the boxes . We may do that to feel secure but we must consider we have to be flexible as we evolve . Professionals rely very much on labels and boxes which is understandable , they need a starting point and possibly an end point , while they proved very helpful to me I realised I could only use their help as a guide , no one can tell you what is in your mind you are on your own with the choice of decisions , good or bad .

    Coming out and having the talk is never easy , how many of us get it right ? While we question if children need to know , it raises the question of what are we trying to protect them from ? suggesting being transgender is wrong and shamefull . We must also accept wives/partners have the most to lose , they the closest person to us and usually the ones we hurt the most , I found it raises the question of how strong is our love ? When you really find the truth nothing hurts more , as I discovered .

    Michelle proved that being transgender or bigender she was still fully capable of doing the job she initially trained for and it’s also good to see the military realsied that point , she has gone on to fully contribute her services to them .

    1. Teresa,
      Thank you for those kind words.
      With my remaining time in the Forces, I will do my best to educate as many members as possible so the next generation feel they belong!

    2. Maybe it’s time to think outside the boxes. Maybe select what’s right for you from all the boxes. Don’t limit yourself or box yourself in.

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