Nate Copeland is an amateur actor, parent, early childhood educator, member of Cambridge United Church, and a sci-fi fanatic. He’s also a transgender man.
“When I started at the theatre I wasn’t out as transgender,” he told Denis Grignon on a recent episode of The Advocate Podcast. “The theatre family are the people who backed me. It was a safe place to explore my identity.”
I wondered what it had been like to grow up and transition in what is, after all a small town. In a long telephone conversation, Nate generously shared his story. “I’ve always, on some level, known I was transgender. I just didn’t have the words.”
As a child he was, Nate says, “a bit tomboyish.” He hated dresses and chose unisex gear; as an adolescent he borrowed his dad’s muscle shirts. At 10 he knew he was different from the girls around him, and at one point decided to discuss it with his parents but lost his nerve.
At 17 Nate made a conscious decision to follow a traditional route. He dated, then married; at 30 he gave birth to a daughter. He completed a university degree and an early childhood education program, and became supervisor of a child-care centre. “I checked all the boxes,” he says.
It was the birth of his daughter that led to a crisis. “When a child is born, you can’t help but feel emotions,” he says, “including all the emotions I’d been suppressing.”
Two years later, his mental health spiralling, Nate came out to his husband. They stayed together trying to make it work, but Nate’s discontentment had grown. “I needed to feel whole.” He moved out with his daughter in an amicable separation and the two parents share custody.
To bring his body into alignment with his gender identity, for the past two years Nate has been receiving testosterone injections. Soon he will have “top surgery” — removal of some breast tissue and contouring of the chest.
He’s had support from the theatre family, from Gender Journeys in Peterborough, from friends and most family, from his church, from Authentic Self Counselling Services in Oshawa.
But he’s also encountered those who lack understanding. His Lindsay doctor didn’t feel equipped to provide hormone therapy, and Nate had to go to Oshawa. Some in his extended family aren’t accepting. There are co-workers who feel he shouldn’t be working with kids — that it will “confuse” them.
And he’s experienced transphobia in some stores and in day-to-day encounters. Nate likes tradition and small-town life, but he understands why some of his LGBTQ+ friends have chosen to leave.
So, how can we support people who are transgender?
“People try to overcomplicate being transgender. It’s the result of a hormone imbalance in the womb that results in some wrong body parts,” Nate says, adding that transgender people are just people, and there’s as much diversity within the transgender population as there is in the general population.
Above all, he’d like to see a welcoming, inclusive community. That means educating ourselves.
Check out library resources, contact PFLAG (a local support group), drop into the Pride picnic this summer. And it’s imperative to include children in the discussion and make gender diversity part of the school curriculum.
“The more children know the better equipped and the safer they are.”