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Nicole Lynds: free at last

March 6, 2019

Wise indeed
Nicole is pictured here with her pup, Brian, a purebred Canadian Kennel Club Champion American Eskimo. Photo: Nicole Lynds
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Welcome to our International Women’s Day (IWD) special edition! To celebrate IWD, an annual, global event that promotes gender parity and inclusivity, we will introduce you to six strong, smart and successful women who work in untraditional roles at Vale locations across Canada and the UK. Ready to be inspired? Read on!

If you haven’t met Nicole Lynds yet—consider this your unvarnished introduction. Nicole, a 12-year Vale employee, is a cage tender at our Coleman Mine in Sudbury, ON., whose responsibilities include transporting employees and material in and out of the mine shaft.

She has a Heavy-Equipment Technician diploma, can bend scoop trams around tight corners with the precision of a contortionist, is a self-described “techy,” and a proud member of the Sudbury chapter of Women In Science and Engineering (WISE).

This offspring of a small-town mining family is also a transgender woman. And this is her official coming out to Vale at large.

“Teetering on the edge”

“I’ve been teetering on the edge of this for a long time,” admitted Nicole, whose birth name was Cole, “but with this article, I’m finally taking that one big step.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign website, “A transgender person is someone whose sex assigned at birth is different from who they know they are on the inside. It includes people who have medically transitioned to align their internal knowledge of their gender with their physical presentation. But it also includes those who have not.”

Before we continue with Nicole’s story, please give this Genuine Act of Kindness exercise a try: Imagine what it would be like to be born male, but feel female, with every fiberoptic of your body and your mind. You want to be a macho badass but you can’t quite pull it off. You try to ignore the voice within. But you can’t. You push it down. It pops back up. Again. And again. And…

To be crystal clear: being a transgender man or woman is not a choice. So, what is it? Biological? Environmental? A combination? Studies to date are mixed, which may very well exacerbate the misinformation and confusion around this sensitive subject.

“It has driven me crazy trying to figure out ‘the why,’” Nicole said. “But I’ve reached a point where ‘the why’ has becomes less relevant because when people see me, they’ll do their own analysis regardless; and having a reason may or may not make things easier for me.”

A torturous journey

When it comes to being trans, nothing is easy. Perhaps most difficult of all is the letting go. Letting go of what society says you should be. Letting go of trying to force fit oneself into the should. And when that fails, letting go of the shame and self hatred that inevitably accompanies this torturous journey.

For Nicole, who is now 36 years old, it took almost three decades to let go. She first sensed she was “unique” at age six, one year after her father moved the family of four for a steady mining job to the tiny township of Manitouwadge, population 2,100, located in the far reaches of northern Ontario.

“I knew something was different but I didn’t know what it was. It was hard to piece it together because you don’t wake up and have an ah-ha moment. It’s present, not prominent. But as time went on it was constant, it never stopped. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Do I say something to my parents? Someone else? In small towns everyone knows everyone, and if you put something out there and it doesn’t go over well, there’s a serious risk.”

And what exactly are those risks? To be vilified, ostracized, possibly excommunicated from the community and – worst of the worst – her own family: father, mother and sister, who she loved more than anyone.

Hanging out with Alpha males

And so the thin, nerdy, sensitive child who was born into the wrong body, locked up the secret and threw away the proverbial key. Over the next 12 years, Nicole (who was going by her birth name Cole) used every ounce of energy to shove the gender pendulum to the other side: “I began hanging out with the most Alpha males I could find at school, and at the pool hall, to help exemplify that in me.”

This locked-up life laboured on after Manitouwadge, when Nicole moved to Sudbury for Cambrian College’s Heavy Equipment program, worked in a succession of stereotypically “masculine” jobs like metal fabrication, went further north for a couple of years to get mining experience driving scoop trams and haulage trucks, took the Common Core Training, a mining 101 course; finally landing back in Sudbury, and at Vale, in 2007.

“Overcompensating,” is how Nicole describes those years. And yet… the primal call to more feminine pursuits was becoming harder and harder to resist, so it was also at this time that she allowed herself to dabble in women’s fashion. “Very loosely, though. I’d quickly hold a skirt in front of me but not try it on because I was so nervous.”

Dabbling in women’s clothing

Eventually she granted herself permission to purchase a few items, and while she was awash in relief, and it felt so right, she was on high alert and furtively careful about leaving “any breadcrumbs.”

But then, the pressure to fit in would bear down hard, and she would succumb to bouts of angry purging. “I’d throw all my clothing in the garbage and start over again.” Of course, this didn’t last long; it couldn’t, and the gender pendulum would soon enough give way. “Gender is embedded. You are who you are.”

Nicole credits therapy for helping her to slowly develop a sense of self and acceptance.  She tentatively began reaching out to friends and family – one-by-one, face-to-face – and these overwhelmingly positive responses fuelled her confidence to continue on. “My parents were great and my friends were, too,” she said, adding, “I have not had a single negative response.”

The truth came out

This includes her Coleman Mine colleagues, who learned, last March, the truth about the cage tender they had worked alongside for 11 years. The pivotal moment occurred during a presentation by a gender awareness expert who our Sudbury-based HR team hired to provide education around gender diversity in general, and about Nicole specifically.

Vale: a leader in gender diversity

For this, and the gender neutral Dry that has since been built, Nicole said she will be forever grateful to Vale. Specifically, she thanks Coleman mine manager Gilbert Lamarche and the leadership team who played “a significant role in helping,” as did Krystal Messier, HR business partner, and the rest of the HR team, who asked the simple yet powerful question: How can we help?

In the workplace, Vale’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has helped forge a path for Nicole, one that she intends to widen for others. “Statistically speaking, there are other trans people at Vale. I want to do this for the others; I need to be successful for them.”

Since that day, Nicole has taken small steps: growing her hair out, showing up to work with freshly painted nails, wearing traces of makeup. Her next step? To wear the clothes befitting the person she truly is. And when that day comes, she will walk into the cage a free woman, at last.

If you’d like to reach out to Nicole, you can email her at cole.lynds@vale.com or on Twitter @nicolelynds.

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