Statement by Sara Davis Buechner
for 20 November 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen, of the House of Commons:
I am humbled and honoured to speak to you today, and I thank you all for your time and kind consideration.
My name is Sara Davis Buechner, and I am an American classical concert pianist. Since 2003 I have been a Professor of Music at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and I regularly travel around North America and Asia performing concerts when I am not in Vancouver teaching a class of some 15 aspiring pianists of world-class caliber.
After graduating from the Juilliard School in 1984, I gave a very successful debut in New York City, and in 1986 I was the top American prizewinner of the International Tchaikowsky Competition in Moscow. I received a lovely letter from President Ronald Reagan congratulating me on that honour. Some years later I also played at the White House for President and Mrs. Clinton, and have a nice photo on my wall of myself meeting them.
At the age of 37, after a lifetime of questioning and fear, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and transitioned to my correct gender, which is female. My pianistic skills changed not one bit, yet suddenly my concert schedule went from about 50 appearances a year to 2 or 3, 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 piano to children at an upstate New York music school, for $600 a month. I counted myself lucky. Many of the transgender people I knew were completely unemployed, and some were homeless.
I learned to endure frequent verbal and occasional physical harrassment as part of the price of my personal integrity, even in a city of such cosmopolitan nature as New York. One evening I was the victim of an attempted date rape, at the hands of a man who assumed I must be a sex worker. I didn’t bother to go to the police, because I didn’t want to be harrassed by them, too. They would also have assumed I was a tranny sex worker, and deserved what I got.
In an effort to find meaningful employment, I applied to some 30 American colleges and universities with music openings, and was rejected by all. One professor from Rutgers University asked me if it was safe to leave me unchaperoned in a room of undergraduates.
But I was called for an interview when I applied for the open piano position at UBC in Vancouver. I was astonished, pleasantly, to find that their music department was concerned only about two things -- my musical ability and my pedagogy. When I got the job, I was really overcome by emotion on two levels. One, I would be able to pay my bills. Two, I realized that Canada was leading the world in its understanding and support of basic human rights.
I have lived in Vancouver since 2003 with my Japanese spouse Kayoko, whom I could not legally marry in the United States. We are reminded of our second-tier status every time we travel to the USA, because American border agents force us to stand in separate lines for processing. They say we are not married.
Bill C-279 assures protection for people like myself with gender identity or gender expression needs. These needs are not willfull, of passing choice, or ignorable. For trans- and cross-gendered 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. We need the same rights as our Canadian brothers and sisters of all races, creeds, denominations, and identity.
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 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 the buses and subways. Where I was laughed at by government officials, when applying for a name change.
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As a child, my favorite composer was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. When I was eight years old, my grandmother, an accomplished seamstress, made me my very own Mozart coat and frilly blouse. She did -- purple velour, and plenty of lace. I was 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 up, and there was blood on the blouse. My glasses were broken right in the middle, too. My teachers did nothing to protect me, or my fledging gender expression. My parents, however, were sent a note from the school principal, advising them that their son was not to wear girl’s clothing to school ever again.
I know that some of you harbour concerns about transgender people in our public bathrooms, fearful of cross-dressed rapists lurking in stalls. To my own knowledge this has actually never happened anywhere, ever, in the entire North American continent. On YouTube, however, you can find a few stomach-turning videos of transgender people being beaten within an inch of their life in public 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, I was one of those people who risked a beating every time I went to relieve my bladder. If I had walked into the men’s room, I would at best have been re-directed, 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 inter-gendered, bi-gendered, people of one gender who nonetheless look like they are another. My dear friend Hsia-Jung with surgically-removed breasts who cries when called “Sir,” which is often. My 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 we trans-folk are. We are just, as they say in music, the Variations on the Theme -- the Human Theme.
I will let other, more statistically informed witnesses here, speak to the numbers of trans-folk who experience harrassment, discrimination, violence, or death -- either as murder or at their own hand. I know it all first-hand. In my uneducated fear, as a young adult, how many times did I drink up with pills, hoping to die, because I did not understand why I felt as I did, or know what to do about it. 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 to the world. I am fortunate to be married to a wonderful spouse, fortunate to see my brother’s two beautiful daughters grow up -- they love their Aunt Sara and I love them.
Fortunate to be alive and around to help my aging parents. Fortunate to be teaching wonderful students, fortunate to be making music again, talking to audiences and playing the piano for folks in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Winnipeg, Red Deer, Edmonton, Montreal, Timmins, Toronto, Guelph, too many other towns large and small to include right now.
Fortunate to be living In the most progressive and humane and beautiful country I know, Canada. I am beyond grateful to be able to make my home here with dignity and integrity. And I am confident too, that my fellow Canadians will see the importance and necessity of passing Bill C-279, to help all of us to live in safety and equality.