LWD: What is your name?
Joanna: My name is Joanna Morrison. And because I’m a therapist, I use my full name Joanna in private practice situations and professional situations. And I use Jo with friends, lovers, and family.
LWD: What pronouns do you use?
Joanna: She, her and hers.
LWD: Where are you from?
Joanna: I’m from New Zealand originally, born there. And been back and forth most of my life. Although my kids I had with a woman over here, and their donor was from the States. So I am a Kiwi but I have Canadian citizenship.
LWD: What brought you to Canada?
Joanna: I came over here originally to go to high school because my stepfather was at UBC.
LWD: Can you describe who you are today in three to five adjectives?
Joanna: Open, inclusive, kind, hard-working, playful.
LWD: How do those differ than when you were a child or as a teenager?
Joanna: I don’t know if I would have been hard-working as a child. And inclusive, I wouldn’t really know what that meant. I think our family was pretty open in lots of ways, but just not in the ways that I am, and my kids are, for example.
LWD: Can you describe your family growing up?
Joanna: A little bit chaotic and my mother left our family when I was five. And I had an older sibling, 15 months older, and a younger sibling, younger sister, who was two years younger. I say chaotic because my parents separated, mostly due to my mom’s post-partum, after having a stillborn child, fourth child. And my father fought for us, fought custody for us, and he was sort of the secure figure in our lives. And we got to see our mother every second weekend for a time.
LWD: How did moving to Canada affect your relationship with your father? Was it difficult to leave?
Joanna: Yeah, it was difficult, and it was unplanned. So when my mother moved to Canada with my stepfather, we were invited for the first Christmas, the three of us. And then my mother had really wanted to have us live with her. And there was some stuff going on back home in New Zealand. After five years of just being with my dad, and kind of cared many type people, my father remarried when I was 10, and my stepmother was quite cruel to us as children.
So when we were invited to stay in Canada, because at that time, my stepfather was about to receive tenure. My sister and I said yes and my brother said “No, I can’t leave dad with our stepmother on his own. I’m at boarding school anyway, I need to finish school, and then I’ll come over,” kind of thing. So yeah, I became a Canadian teenager, and went through the high school system that way. Always knowing that as soon as I finished high school that I’d go back to New Zealand to do my teaching degree, et cetera.
LWD: Can you tell me about the first time you realized you might be a lesbian, or part of the queer community?
Joanna: Yeah, not until I was 22. And I was out on a supply boat with my sister and my grandmother, and a few other passengers, not many. And the, not the Skipper, what was she at the time? More like the assistant skipper, but anyway, kind of the assistant to the Captain. She thought I was a baby dyke.
And she made a move on me and I, at the time, went, “Oh sorry, if I misled you, I’m not gay, I’m not a lesbian.” She was touching me in a very lovely way. And I said, “But wait.” And she said, “Oh, sorry, sorry about that.” I said, “Wait, no, that felt really nice. Keep doing that.” And so it was like, boom, all of a sudden, all those crushes that I had on female teachers growing up, and singers, and my tomboy behaviour …. Everything sort of fit together. And I realized, “Oh, okay, what now?”
LWD: Previous to that, did you ever hide your true self, and if you can, give me an example of what it was like for you.
Joanna: Well, I was a tomboy, like I remember having chemistry sets, and not liking dolls and things like that. But I was denied certain things, like boiler suits or coveralls … I had a school uniform fortunately, when I was in my younger years, but since I came home, I was into my clothes that suited me, which included things like, not just jeans, but a cowboy hat and things like that. My mom would let me, when we would go on holidays to see her, because at that point, she had moved back to Auckland, so we could always see her on holidays, she would allow things like cowboy hats and things like that, and jean jackets.
I’d come home with these favourite items of clothing and they would disappear. My stepmother would take them without my permission and I don’t know, send them somewhere. I don’t know, put them in the garbage. There were lots of times where I felt like my whole identity was not respected. And I had to hide part of that.
LWD: Did that ever change with your stepmom at any point?
Joanna: Yes once I came out she made some effort to accept me. However later on when she found out that I was pregnant, I can’t remember, through my sister. She said, something like, “That is disgusting, it’s one thing being lesbian, but to bring children into the picture,” and blah blah blah. That child is now 28 so things have … and she’s mellowed, and my father is no longer with us but yeah. It’s been a journey. We are closer now than ever before.
LWD: How did you come to a place where you felt comfortable coming out to those around you?
Joanna: I was at Teachers College in that day and also in a spiritual community, so I had a spiritual practice with a bunch of women, I don’t know really . I was just super brave. And part of it was because I was super excited, and I knew that it was really me, but yes I came out. I came out to my family and some friends. I had to be careful, so to answer your question let’s see. So my father accepted me, my mother accepted me, my stepmother did at first. There were people in my life that, yeah they were horrified, like a close auntie, my father’s sister. And ex-boyfriends; there was one particular one here in Canada that in no uncertain terms said he would never speak to me again and that was, yeah, a terrible thing that I was choosing.
So yeah, and then later on I lost a job because of it, but I followed a legal process and went through this with support yeah, and they offered the job back to me and gave me remuneration and things like that. But yes, I’ve had some times in my life as a queer person that have been tough. By the way, now I call myself queer.
Identifying as queer, so that was a bit of my kids getting used to because I feel … I think that in the times where I came out it was pretty scary. I was in Wellington and it was, there was a lot of separatist women around. You know if you didn’t fit it you were isolated from the group… yeah there was a dress code, and you could barely even own a boy dog, let alone a boy child. And I lived in a women only house for a little while. But if times had been different, if it had been today, I might not have … I mean I might have been pansexual or at the very least bisexual. Yeah, but I felt there was only one choice … you’re either straight or queer … or gay. I felt like I even had to give up my desire to have kids … I knew one day I’d like to have children and when I came out I felt like that was something that I would have to sacrifice.
LWD: So you’ve mentioned a few struggles in the years after you came out, is there anything else you would like to add to that?
Joanna: I think by the time I fell in love with my long term partner I had a few kind of brief relationships. I still maintain contact with my first love Meggie, who became a captain on a container ships .We’re still very close and we’ve been even briefly got together the last about three years ago, but yeah we’re still very close 30 years along. But when I feel in love with Shelagh, who was Canadian, it was easier in those days because, to live here, because she couldn’t live with me in New Zealand, and I had the dual citizenship. I think, you know, that with our love I was encouraged me to be even more out … but I was a teacher and a teacher like starting out, so I had to be pretty in the closet in terms of who I told on staff, and that kind of thing for a while. For a few years there.
LWD: In hindsight would you have done anything differently?
Joanna: Yeah, I would have been braver and I would have been more up front about my lifestyle and orientation, yeah.
LWD: What do you feel bravery is for a queer person? What does that mean to you?
Joanna: I think that, I’ve lived my life sort of that way ever since, so by realizing that just by way of who I am and as I am an out person, and I’ve chosen this.You know you can’t be in the closet when you have kids. I have been very visible, like I always have a sticker on my car, and things in my office, and so I’m very there to let others know that I’m a safe person. I didn’t have those role models. We didn’t have Ellen on TV and that kind of thing. I’ve done things like run coming out groups and I’ve educated’ help liners ‘ volunteers at the gay helpline in New Zealand. I don’t know, I’ve kind of made my life about the safety, being safe for other people. In that way I’m brave.
LWD: If you have any religious beliefs, what are they and how did they influence you?
Joanna: I grew up as a young child as an Anglican kid, and I went to Sunday school, and I didn’t have a choice. But it was an integral part of my father’s life , kindness for others and service was one of his passions I think, and so mostly for him. But then when I moved to Canada at 13 years of age , I didn’t have to do that anymore, and then as I grew older and found out about kind of the narrowness of some religions and stuff, and when I came out as a lesbian … well first of all I was free to choose what felt right to me.so I was kind of on a spiritual path that was about meditation and Kirtan chanting and being vegetarian … somewhat similar to what I do now through Buddhism. But after that I went fully into kind of being honouring of the Goddess and nature, being more of a pagan I would say.
I decided for my own kids that they could be exposed to church when we’re in New Zealand on Christmas Day, but they could be free to make their own choices … and they certainly knew that their parents, both of us, their mums had women’s … kind of Wiccan, like pagan circles and stuff in our home or we would go to other people’s homes once a month, so they were fully exposed to our spirituality. And I guess my spirituality so right now I haven’t found a women’s circle … I’ve been in Victoria for just over two years to join but I am part of a Buddhist meditation group.
LWD: What do you love about the person you are today?
Joanna: I think what I love about me today is that I have great friends, I have an ability to still be playful I am grateful, I have a gratitude buddy, Jeremy, that I … in the morning first thing … we send off one thing that we’re grateful for. I feel blessed that I have a good therapy practice going and that I get to live in a safe environment and be who I am. Be a queer person.
LWD: What does it mean to you to live in an authentic life?
Joanna: That I’m not hiding. I’m not living in secret or hiding, or I can be there and help others and I can stand up for people. I mean I’m currently dating someone who’s bi, who’s just coming into the community. This has been a bumpy ride at times. Yeah I just feel at peace with myself as opposed to somebody that’s newly discovering or taking one step forward two steps back…, yeah, has a lot of fear. I don’t have a lot of fear around my life.
LWD: Was there a defining moment or moments that enabled you to step into your own authentic self?
Joanna: I think when I moved back to Canada to be with my partner here, I think I was just happy, and I realized that there were lots of other queer people around and especially that there were queer people having babies on the west coast, so I could … we could do that as well. I think all of that, just my journey to being fully me and happy with my choices. I don’t know if there was a date or a time, but definitely when I was in a committed relationship with my long-term partner and creating a life together gave me the security I guess to be fully me and fully authentic. Love helps make us blossom into fullness
LWD: I think you’ve really kind of covered the next one in some of your previous responses. What obstacles have you faced while becoming your true you?
Joanna: Yeah, as I said before, losing a job, losing friendships. For example I don’t have a lot of people from my high school days that I would be friends with. Like my sister is very close and has maybe four or five close friends that she’s had all along and I feel like, partly because I’ve moved back and forth from New Zealand to here, that I’ve missed out on some … you know a lot of my friendships are … I’m always forming new friendships, but it doesn’t mean that I have long term or not ones that are close by. Yeah, so sometimes I’m lonely. Yeah, I don’t have those people that I share history with.
LWD: Who do you chose to surround yourself with?
Joanna: Other people that are authentic, whether they’re straight or queer. People that I can trust and people that love me and are nurturing. And family. I’m very close with my kids. I have a bunch of foster kids as well. Yeah people that I can be honest and authentic with I guess. I enjoy being with friends who live nature the way I do. Since my long-term relationship … I really haven’t had a long-term relationship longer than three years, and partly that’s because I have been attracted to people that are incompatible or not into their own self growth in the same way. So there’s struggles there for me. I have expectations and you know I wanna find somebody that’s easy for me to be with in all kinds of ways and skilled with communication. Like everyone I want shared happiness.
LWD: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Joanna: I think that I’d like the fact that I love exploring, the fact that learning is for a lifetime and my personal journey keeps evolving. I’ve kind of dipped into being poly and tried that out for a while and found that doesn’t fit anymore … I am exploring very fluid and asking for what I need, and most of all seeking peace in my heart.
In Sex therapy practice about a third of my practice are clients /people that are trans identified or non-binary and I also write up hormone readiness assessments. I’m very proactive in my life in terms of supporting others to be their best selves.