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20 Questions with Sarah-Dena Harnum

Sarah-Dena Harnum says people sometimes look at her and see only one facet. “But we are all – every one of us – so much more. Yes, I’m trans, but I’m also a woman, I’m a veteran, I’m a hunter, I’m an advocate. I’m all these things.” - Juanita Mercer/The Telegram
Sarah-Dena Harnum says people sometimes look at her and see only one facet. “But we are all – every one of us – so much more. Yes, I’m trans, but I’m also a woman, I’m a veteran, I’m a hunter, I’m an advocate. I’m all these things.” - Juanita Mercer/The Telegram - Juanita Mercer

Sarah-Dena Harnum knew there was something different about herself since she was six years old.

“But I hid. Now I don’t hide.”

Harnum said it was three years ago when she realized it was OK that she’s a woman.

However, she said accessing needed surgeries while transitioning has been a frustrating experience.

“I didn’t choose to be transgender. I am transgender. My choice was authenticity to live as myself, for myself and for my family.

“My son has a Mom who is much happier than his Dad was, who is much more present and involved than his Dad ever was because a big chunk of my mind and mental energy was going into building walls – because walls tear down, queerness bleeds through, and then you’ve got to rebuild new walls.

“And I’m not alone. I’m not a one-off. There are a lot of people out there like me.”

Harnum is lobbying the provincial government to eliminate the need to travel to the Canadian Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Ontario for an assessment before surgeries are covered by the provincial Medical Care Plan.

“We’re the only province in Canada that requires this.”

Harnum said people have to pay their own way to Ontario, but she believes there’s enough expertise to do the work in this province.

“Frustration is a nice, safe, polite word. I’ve had a lot more words regarding this process. I’m not looking for something frivolous. I didn’t choose this on a whim. Transitioning for me has actually made my life worth living again. Before I was going through a lot of motions of living, and just motions.”

Since transitioning, Harnum has begun writing and performing poetry at Spoken Word St. John’s events at The Ship. She also recently submitted a manuscript to a local publisher.

“That’s something I never would have had the nerve to do before.”

20 Questions

1. What is your full name?

Sarah-Dena Harnum.

2. Where and when were you born?

Markland, NL in 1967.

3. Where do you live today?

St. John’s, NL.

4. What’s your favourite place in the world?

The trestle (bridge) in New Harbour just behind my old house. For me, it’s magic. The river is very long; it’s got a lot of little falls and tumbles in it, and all that energy is compressed into this one little narrow shoot where the trestle is.

5. Who do you follow on social media?

A better question is who I don’t follow [laughter]. Not a lot of celebrities, just a lot of local people on Twitter, and a lot of people around the world on Facebook.

6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I was born with severe bilateral clubfoot, and I had a bad heart, and hydrocephalus – fluid on the brain. I spent 10 years back and forth to the Janeway. But here I am going to MUN, with 22 years in the public service. I’m a mom. A veteran. And I don’t let anything stop me; I’ll find a different way to do it if I can’t do it the way everyone else is.

7. What’s been your favourite year and why?

Other than when my son was born 21 years ago, last year was the year I gave birth to me. It was terrifying, exhilarating, peaceful, tumultuous. It was every feeling, but mostly it was right. And I’ve had some blowback, but when people accept you as you it’s the best feeling.

8. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

Transitioning, and raising my son.

9. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?

The birth of my son. It was probably the biggest change in my life. And I don’t know if it passes it or not, but the day I realized it was OK that I was a woman, and that I had to transition, and that was about three years ago.

10. What’s your greatest indulgence?

Poetry.

11. What is your favourite movie or book?

My favourite movie would be "Independence Day" with Will Smith. For me, it was just so well done. My favourite book would be a series, actually, called “The Dragonriders of Pern”. It is a fabulous series of science fiction fantasy books by Anne McCaffrey, who is probably my favourite author.

12. How do you like to relax?

I like to meditate; I find that very helpful in centring myself and grounding myself. I like to write poetry to relax, or go out with friends and have a glass of wine.

13. What are you reading or watching right now?

Right now, I’m reading the Gender Studies 1000 textbook because I’m a part-time student at MUN majoring in sociology. I never went to university when I was younger, but I’ve been to post-secondary three times prior to this, plus all of the training I did with the Canadian Forces and cadet program, but this is my first time actually going to university, and I’m in my 50s. I’m ultimately working towards a master's of education degree in counselling.

14. What is your greatest fear?

Not being enough. Not being enough to help my friends, not being enough to help myself, not being enough to make a difference in a positive way – just coming up short. Which is why I’m still here, and I’m still moving forward.

15. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?

Um, there’s been a struggle [laughter]. No, I’m just very relaxed with my style – definitely comfortable is the biggest statement I make. But I like cute and pretty stuff, too. I’ve had enough of blacks and greys and greens. Before I transitioned, I was in the closet, and it’s a very grey place to live.

16. What is your most treasured possession?

Probably my books. I have a library that I just finally got moved in (to St. John’s) from around the bay. Now I need more bookcases. [Laughter]

17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?

Perseverance. My Dad and Mom have had to rebuild things a number of times. They always work their tails off to get where they need to be. They’re retired now, and they’re still going strong.

18. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?

My grandmother Thorne; growing up, she was almost like a second mom. Anne McCaffrey because I want to talk about the series of books that she wrote. And the third person? I’m not sure. Maybe God. I have questions [laughter]. I have a list that starts with, ‘Why?’

19. What is your best quality, and what is your worst quality?

Best quality? [Laughter] Oh, gosh. I hate talking about myself. Best quality, um – I love easily, and I love deeply, which sometimes backfires. Worst quality is overthinking; letting my anxiety and my PTSD, my depression and my panic attacks get the better of me. But I’m living with them, and trying to achieve peace.

20. What’s your biggest regret?

Not being enough for my ex-wife, (and) not being enough for friends who needed something that I wasn’t equipped or able to give, but wished so much that I could have.

NOTE - These responses have been edited for space in the print edition

juanita.mercer@thetelegram.com
Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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