My Gender Transition: An Open Letter to My Family, Friends and Colleagues

Marni Panas

I have known many of you a long time and others a short time.  Some of you I have yet to meet.  What I must tell you is very difficult for me and is taking all the courage I can muster.  I am writing this both to inform you of a significant change in my life and to ask for your patience, understanding and support, which I would treasure.

I have been diagnosed with Gender Identity Dysphoria.  I am transgender.  I have been in therapy for it for many years.  This is something that has been a big part of me since early childhood.  I always had a sense of not fitting in to what was expected of me as a boy and later, a man.  For most my life I sought validation and acceptance; trying to fit in to a social norm that I felt was expected of me … but never succeeding.  Being in a body that does not match my mind and heart has caused me great loneliness and despair.

I cannot begin to describe the inner turmoil that I have faced for most my life.  There comes a point in a journey like mine where all that you fear losing by finally being true to yourself (including the loss of your family, friends, career, and even life) is diminished by the reality of what you WILL lose if you do not face it.  I have now come to this point in my life.  Towards that end, I have begun taking the steps to live my life with complete authenticity as a woman.  I have been under the care of an Endocrinologist since February, 2013 at which time I began hormone therapy.  In March, 2013, I underwent significant surgery.  I continue to receive extensive care through my psychologist.  All of these changes within my mind, body and soul have brought me to this next important and necessary step in my life.

March 21, 2014 will be my last day in every part of my life as a man.  After a brief vacation with my family, with the incredible support and leadership of my employer, Alberta Health Services, I will return to my current position at the Stollery Children’s Hospital as a female on Tuesday, April 8th, 2014.  My name after March 21, 2014 will be changed legally to “Marni Marcelle Panas”.  It would be appropriate at that time to begin using my new name and the proper pronouns for my true gender when referring to me (e.g. “She”, “Her”, “Ms.”).

As many of you are aware, I have been married to a wonderful woman, Laurina, for over 15 years.  She has known about this side of me since a month into our relationship.  Together, we have endured many challenges.  Among the most challenging was the birth of our twin boys, Alex and Andrew, who were born 3.5 months early, our lengthy journey in the NICU and, eventually, the passing of Andrew.  These experiences have not only brought me to my role at the Stollery, but also to this place in my life where I have learned the value of being true to one’s self.  To live each day fully and without regrets.  To truly appreciate each special moment.  To love yourself completely so that you are able to love the other special people in your life unconditionally.  I am very grateful that Laurina is accepting of the real me and we are both committed to our marriage and raising Alex with an open mind and heart. Our family unit has never been stronger or happier.  I feel so very blessed to have their love and support as we move forward in our new lives together.

I am also very grateful for the incredible support I have received from many of you who I have already shared the news of my journey with.  It is through your friendship and support that I have gained the strength to continue down this road.

I realize that some of you may have difficulty understanding my transition. I am committed to full transparency and honesty as I travel down this new road.  I am open to any respectful dialogue that may provide a deeper understanding of the issues that transgender people like me face in our society.

At this stage in my life, the three most important things to me are living authentically, loving my family unconditionally, and creating the best possible environment for our patients, families and staff.

I look forward to you getting to know the real me; Someone who is happy, genuine, confident, dynamic, energetic, and compassionate.  Thank you for supporting me on this journey and in my new gender role.



Marni Panas

Farewell Feast

Tonight was the farewell dinner.  It actually seemed to be a two night affair.  Last evening the chefs and waiting staff paraded through the dining room to thunderous applauses and a sea of white napkins being waved in the air.  But tonight was the feast.

The menu consisted of (among other amazing selections) Duck Pate, Caviar, Smoked Salmon, Shrimp (Jumbo!) Cocktail and Escargot for appetizers followed by soups and salads and for the main?  You guessed it … the most tender Filet Mignon with non-stop lobster tails.  Following the dessert in the dining room was the “Chocolate Extravaganza”.  This “event” (and “event” is the proper term) took up three floors.  The aroma from the chocolate fountains wafted up the atrium stairs.  Alex’s eyes were HUGE!  Our tummies stretched to match.

Alex’s days at Club HAL are coming to a close.  He has had the most amazing time.  Pirate treasure hunts, games nights, pillow fights, Wii, crafts, video games, and the list goes on and on.  He usually attends until 9:00 pm while the rest of us take in the shows.  Last night we went to pick him up at 8:30 (thinking we would spend some extra time with him) and the look of disappointment in his eyes emphasized his words “You’re … early …” … So mum and I walked around the deck for the next 30 minutes so Alex could enjoy every last moment of Club HAL.  On a ship with 2,500 adults and 2 kids one would think we would be challenged to keep him entertained.  But, thanks to the kids program at Club HAL, he has had a most amazing time which means we’ve all been able to get the most out of this 15 day cruise.

Tomorrow is our last day at sea.  The good byes are slowing being said by the many people we’ve met aboard the MS Westerdam.  It’s amazing that after 15 days, differences in ages, cultures, religions and occupations seem non-existent.  Perhaps the most special souvenir we will take home with us is the memories of the many really great people … crew and fellow travelers … we’ve met on this journey.

And now, we are all trying to come down from this sugar high before trying to sleep.


“Aruba, Jamaica, oooo I wanna take you to Bermuda, Bahamas … Come on pretty momma!”

Couldn’t help but keep humming to “Kokamo” all day as we relaxed and chilled out on this small, Caribbean island.  This was the perfect, final, port of call on this voyage.  With the whitest sand and the bluest, calmest, warmest sea water … we enjoyed swimming, riding the inflatable behind a speed boat and dining on the spectacular beach.  Our taxi driver told us that although almost 90% of goods are imported and the only real industry here is tourism and the refining of Mexican oil, the economy is great, jobs are plentiful and crime is rare.  Now we spend the next two days on the open sea as we make our way back to mainland, USA.  We end this incredible journey on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale.

Sailing the Panama Canal

On this day, we transited on of the seven man made wonders of the world, the famous Panama Canal.  It’s quite remarkable to think that this canal opened nearly 100 years ago.  Although some of the technology has changed over time, the basics of moving ships from the Pacific to the Atlantic using gravity and a lot of water has not.  It took nearly 11 hours to transit the 80 kilometres at an average speed of 2 knots.

Everyone (except Alex and Laurina) woke up before 5:00 am to get a good spot for viewing.  And it was worth it.  Laurie and I managed to get onto the bow as soon as it opened and secured a spot at the pointiest end of the ship.  Once we started approaching the first lock, I had radioed Laurina to bring Alex in to the spot daddy had saved for him.  It was a great moment to share with Alex.  We talked a lot about how and why the canal was made.  He was quick to point out how the water in each lock changes the levels of the ship so it can move to the next lock.  He was so enthralled by this piece of engineering, he couldn’t decide if he wanted to go back to Camp HAL or continue watching.  Eventually, after eating some of the sweet and yummy Panama Rolls that were supplied by the crew, he did go to camp.

The rest of us stayed on deck until we went through the last lock.  Laurie thought it quite funny and appropriate that Van Halen’s “Panama” came on her iPod at some point through the transit.

It truly was an amazing experience.  The engineering continues to be impressive.  Especially as they build a parallel set of locks to accommodate the larger ships that exist today (these will be open by 2014).  As we all drifted off to sleep, a knock was made at our door.  A crewmember had dropped off Alex’s new book “Peter the Cruise Ship” … on the inside cover was written:

“To Alex, Thank you for sailing the Panama Canal with me today.  Captain P.J.”  Alex feel asleep quite quickly with the book signed by the Captain of the MS Westerdam.

Melting Eskimos

Dad and I had one mission in mind today.  Find a place to either watch or listen to today’s Edmonton Eskimo playoff game.  We managed to find the perfect internet place at the end of the dock in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.  I hooked up my Blackberry Playbook, found a place that sells cheap local beer and we were set.  The only negative part about this day was the game itself.  Oh well, at least we didn’t have to drive home in 2 feet of snow … rather, we wiped the tears from our eyes, the sweat off our brow and took the mini train back to the ship for the afternoon Mexican buffet.  The loss was soon forgotten.

The beaches and higher waves weren’t much to Alex’s liking today so they returned to the ship early and spent the afternoon in the Lido deck pool before heading back to Club HAL.  After dinner we enjoyed a fabulous show put on by the Westerdam dancers and singers.  The Vegas style show was very well choreographed and high energy.  The theme was “Stage and Screen” with all songs being mostly well known numbers from movies and Broadway.  My only question … why include the theme song from Titanic aboard a cruise ship?   I guess this far south the only icebergs is the lettuce in the kitchen.

We returned to the open sea.  It will take us the next day and a half to reach the first lock of the Panama Canal.  We are all looking very much forward to experiencing this wonder.

Luxury vs Reality


There is no question that I have enjoyed the experience of this cruise very much.  Our family is spending some great quality time together.  The food is amazing.  I’m able to take time to do all of the things I’d want to do if I had the time … daily running, yoga, cycling, reading, studying, fine dining, shows, etc.

However, as much as I try, I find it difficult to reconcile the comfort and luxury that exists all around us while there is so much that is wasted when the warmers of the buffet are turned off at the end of the late night snack.  The kitchen tour proudly states that they prepare 12,000 meals per day … for 2,500 people (including guests and crew).  Even at 4 square meals a day, one must ask what happens to the other 2,000 meals at the end of the day?  Sure, we do our best by making sure we take only what we know we will eat (which usually ends up being more anyway) and using every opportunity to teach Alex that this is the exception and not the rule for most people.  But I wonder what some of the crew think … coming from countries where food is a luxury in itself.  Many have left their families for 10 months at a time because this is the only job they could get where they could get health care for their young family.

I think this became most apparent today as we docked at Corinto, Nicaragua.  This was certainly not the resort town of Hualtulco or Puerto Vallarta.  The main industry seemed to be hundreds of men driving tricycle taxis ferrying the tourists around for $5 / hour.  The luxurious ship at the end of the main street looked as much out of place in this port town as did the hundreds of mostly Caucasian people in their clean golf shirts holding Gucci bags walking around the square paying a dollar for this or that feeling good about helping out the locals … then heading back to the ship for more steak and lobster.  Not to mention the many people who stayed on board, overlooking the sprawling town from the Lido deck and now saying “I’ve been to Nicaragua”.  I can’t help but wonder what this town of 13,000 looks like when the cruise ship isn’t in port.

The teaching moment came for Alex when he asked where the playground was … well, there wasn’t one.  Well, none that we would refer to as a proper playground.  It seems that a playground in this town is wherever children gather to play.  We talked about the differences between children in our country such as Alex and children in other parts of the world.  Dad and I sat on the corner of a busy street.  As we drank our $1 Tona beer we chuckled thinking back years ago … if someone said one day that dad and I talking about the differences in our world while drinking a beer together in a small, Nicagraguan town … we would have said they were crazy.  These experiences are important for people of any age … whether 6 or 76, it helps you appreciate what you do have back home and the importance of helping where you can.

Laurina and I have both traveled to places where people seemed to have even much less. I think what makes this particular place stand out for us is the extreme contrast of living in this massive, floating luxury hotel and stepping off into a completely different world.  This is why traveling is important.  Anyone spending a day in a town such as this will complain less about having to spend an extra $1 for that cup of Starbucks or waiting a few hours in a Canadian hospital Emergency room.

Rockin’ and Rollin’ on the Tawanapecker

I wish I was clever enough to makeup that funny title of today’s blog.  But that’s exactly what we are doing.  There is a strong wind that is blowing from over the mountains east of our position.  The geographical formations tunnel the wind into a strong, billowing force reaching up to 40 knots.  This wind is called a … you guessed it … Tawanapecker.  The result is a rolling and pitching ship which makes walking a bit of a challenge.  It was entertaining watching the dancers in tonight’s show trying to hold their position.  As I write this on the Lido deck (with roof closed) I can hear the wind howeling outside.  The waves in the swimming pool are crashing over the edge.  The outside decks are all closed to make sure people stay on board as opposed to … well … the alternative … So tonight we shall be rocked asleep in our beds … hoping that we don’t roll out.

Yes, I know … there was no update yesterday.  It was our third day at sea and really, there is not much more to share than the first two full days at sea!  Just your usual 5 square meals a day (plus snacks), laying on the deck chair, reading, napping.  With the reports of the weather back home … I thought it would be best we gave our friends and family a reprieve from the awesomeness that is this cruise.

TODAY, however, needs to be updated …

Our port of call today was Huatulco, Mexico.  The ship docks just metres away from a great beach where we spent our entire day.  Drinking Pena Coladas, dining on fish tacos and swimming in the bathtub temperature water.  It was paradise.  Alex and I jumped it up a couple notches by taking a sea-do out on the water next to our ship.  There are many great benefits to taking children traveling around the world.  The most inspiring is the way children of various cultures come together and play even if they don’t speak the same language.  I think, however, on some level they do.  Alex met Dorian today on the beach of Huatulco.  Alex would talk to Dorian in English, Dorian would respond in Spanish and away they would go playing some new international game in the waves.  There is so much to learn from watching kids be kids.

An interesting fact shared by the owner of the beach front restaurant was that there are less than half the ships docking in Huatulco this year than in previous years.  Apparently, many cruise lines are forgoing the new port fees of $40,000 for an 8 hour stop for the less expensive (and often free) charges at other ports.

As we headed back to the ship, to wash off the sand in preparation for yet another amazing dinner,  Laurina said that there is something about … having your breakfast brought to your room in the morning, having a clean towel handed to you as you walk off the boat, your bed being made, your room cleaned and dinner being made while you play in the ocean, you return to the boat, hand in your dirty towel, receive a lemonade while being handed a chilled towel for your face, neck and hands then return to your room and get ready for dinner.  Yeah … there certainly is something about that …