Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I am quite honoured and humbled to speak to you today. I thank you all for your time and your kind consideration.
My name is Sara Davis Buechner. I am a classical concert pianist. Since 2003 I have been a professor of music at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I travel a lot, especially around North America and Asia, performing concerts when I am not in Vancouver teaching a class of about 15 aspiring pianists of world-class calibre.
After graduating from the Juilliard School in 1984, I gave a very successful debut in New York. In 1986 I was the top American prize winner of the international Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. I received a lovely letter from President Ronald Reagan at that time. Some years later, I also played at the White House for President and Mrs. Clinton. I have a very nice photo of the two of them congratulating me on that.
At the age of 37, after a lifetime of questioning and fear, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and I transitioned to my correct gender, which is female. My pianistic skills did not change one bit, but suddenly my concert schedule went from about 50 appearances per year to two or three, and the conservatory in New York where I was a popular teacher decided my skills were no longer needed.
With limited means of supporting myself, I took a job teaching small children at an upstate private school for about $600 a month. I counted myself lucky, as most of the transgender friends I knew were completely unemployed. Some of them were homeless.
I learned to endure frequent verbal and occasional physical harassment as part of the price of that integrity, even in a city of such a cosmopolitan nature. One evening I was the victim of an attempted date rape at the hands of a man who assumed, since I was transgendered, I must be a sex worker. I didn't bother to report that to the police, because I didn't want to be harassed by them either. I believe they would have assumed I was a trannie sex worker and deserved everything I got.
In an effort to find meaningful employment, I applied to about 30 American colleges and universities with music openings. I received no answer from most of them, and rejections from the others. One professor from Rutgers university asked a colleague of mine if it was safe to leave me alone in a room with undergraduates.
But when I was called for an interview for the open piano position at UBC in Vancouver, I was pleasingly astonished to find that their music department was interested about two things only: one, my musical ability; and two, my teaching ability.
When I did get the job in a competitive audition, I was overcome by emotion on two levels. One, I would be able to pay my bills for the first time in many years. And two, I realized that Canada was far ahead in terms of its understanding and support of basic human rights.
I've lived in Vancouver since 2003 with my Japanese spouse, Kyoko, whom I could not legally marry in the United States. We are reminded of our second-tier status there every time we travel, because when we cross the border, the American agents force us to stand in separate lines for processing. They say we are not married.
Bill C-279 assures protection for people like me, with gender identity or gender expression needs. These needs are not wilful, they are not chosen, they are not ignorable. For trans folks and cisgendered folks, these are matters of life and death—of living openly, honestly, and freely without fear of extra prejudice, malice, or worse, violence. We do not need extra rights and we do not ask for them. We need the same rights as our Canadian brothers and sisters of all races, creeds, denominations, and identity.
In the past, I have lived in a country where those rights are not protected, where I was turned down for housing with no explanation whatsoever and no legal means of recourse; where I was fired from a job with no possibility of compensation; where I was called names on the street and scared to ride buses and subways; where I was laughed at by American government officials when I applied for a name change.
As a child of eight years old, my favourite composer was Mozart. When I was that age, my grandmother, an accomplished seamstress, made for me my very own purple Mozart coat with a frilly blouse. I was very proud of that coat and blouse, and it felt natural to me when I wore it, which I did to elementary school one day, where I was beaten savagely by my male classmates. The coat was ripped, there was blood on the blouse, and my glasses were broken right in the middle as well.
The teachers did nothing to protect me or my fledgling gender expression. My parents, however, were sent a note from the school principal advising them that their son was never to wear girls clothing to school ever again.
I know that some of you harbour legitimate concerns, or I think you feel righteous concerns, about transgender people in public bathrooms, fearful of cross-dressed attackers in the stalls. To my own knowledge, this has actually never happened anywhere in North America. However, you can see on YouTube many examples of stomach-churning violence against transgender people, being beaten in those bathrooms by bigots who don't like the way they look.
During the five years I lived as a woman, before being able to afford surgery—because of American health insurance not covering it—I was one of those people who risked a beating every time I went to relieve my bladder. If I had walked into a men's room, I would at best have been redirected, or at worst seriously injured. Trans folk go to the washroom to relieve their bladders behind closed doors in privacy, just like anyone else.
In terms of gender appearance and expression, I can talk for a long time about friends of mine who are intergendered, bigendered, people of one gender, who nevertheless look and sound like they are another. There's a wide, wide spectrum.
My dear friend Hsia-Jung, who had her breasts removed from cancer, cries every time she gets called “sir”. I have a female friend, Sheila, whose voice is two octaves lower than mine. I get called “sir” on the telephone. It's not a big deal. I'm happy to explain my own story to help people understand who trans people are. We are just, as they say in music, the variations on the theme—the human theme.
I will let other more statistically and politically informed witnesses here speak to the numbers of trans people who experience harassment, discrimination, violence, or death, either as murder or at their own hands. Suicide is a very, very common experience for trans people. There's a desperation when you don't know, don't have the facts, and don't understand. I know it all firsthand.
In my own uneducated fear as a young adult, how many times did I overdose and try to die because I did not understand why I felt as I did or know what to do about it? Thankfully, I found people who assisted me. Now I thank God every day of my life that I have lived 15 years, since becoming female, in internal peace, happy to be real to myself and real to the world.
I am fortunate to be married to a wonderful spouse; fortunate to see my brother's two young daughters grow up—they love their Aunt Sara and I love them; fortunate to be alive and to help my aging parents; fortunate to be teaching wonderful Canadian students; fortunate to be playing the piano again, talking to audiences frequently and playing the piano for them in Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg, Kelowna, Red Deer, Edmonton, Montreal, Timmins, Toronto, Guelph, etc.; and fortunate to be living in the most progressive, humane, and beautiful country that I know, Canada.
I am beyond grateful to be able to make my home here with dignity and integrity. I'm confident, too, that my fellow Canadians will see the importance and necessity of passing Bill C-279 to help all of us live in safety and equality.