Since childhood, getting in front of a microphone to sing has been something Robbie Van couldn’t bring herself to do. But now, having transitioned from male to female, she’s looking to not only grab hold of a mic and sing, but to turn her musical aspirations into a career and a force for good.
Roberta Joanna Vandermeer, who goes by the stage name Robbie Van, will be performing at Ground Zero Acoustic Lounge (464 Island Highway East, unit 8) on Sept. 27 (her 67th birthday), singing the songs that she says come to her like downloads from the universe, in the hopes of raising money for Haven Society.
“My whole life I’ve been in choir,” said Van. “But as a male I hid, and I couldn’t get in front of a microphone.”
That started to change when her dad passed away and she began to express her feelings about being female.
“Ten years ago, when my body finally gave up, I was a drywall contractor for 37 years, I decided I wasn’t going to fight my feelings about my nature.
“My dad had passed away… I was talking to my counsellor and my ex-wife that day about feeling female. My whole life I’ve been twisted, and that night at 3 o’clock in the morning, my first song came out, and I had to get up and write it down. Ever since, I’ve felt the call.”
Van said all kinds of songs come to her, from jazz to blues to pop and reggae — even country western, which she said she doesn’t actually like.
And now, having held a funeral for her male self/coming out party on June 26, Van said she’s determined to launch a music career, and is on the lookout for a band.
Van said she’s looking for four female band members (a guitarist, bassist, pianist and drummer) to form her band and perform locally while working towards a world tour.
Before that, however, is Van’s first concert on Sept. 27.
She’ll be performing solo with backup tracks. Van has been recording her music with the help of Michael Schutte with the Academy of Music and Art in Parksville. She’s also received support from the band Groundswell who’s members started Ground Zero Acoustic Lounge.
“They’re putting out nothing but good karma and supporting the artistic community,” Van said.
She’s looking to send out good karma herself, making her first concert a fundraiser for Haven Society.
Entry to the concert will be with a suggested donation of $20.
There will also be tea, coffee and cookies by donation.
The doors open at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at Ground Zero Acoustic Lounge.
To hear some of Van’s music, and for more info, go to robbievan.ca.
The concert will be Van’s second good deed this year, with three planned.
At her coming out party, donations could be made to Manna Homeless Society. In late December, she plans to donate her car to a single mom.
Robbie Van will be attending her own funeral — for her male self. Roberta Joanna Vandermeer, who is going by the stage name Robbie Van, has been transitioning to a female from a male. For the past eight months, she said, she as been on hormones. But Van, 66, began dressing as a woman in Parksville about three years ago.
“The first time I went out dressed as a female… The first time I finally had the courage and dressed as a female in Parksville, I went to Thrifty’s ,and the girl behind the counter goes, ‘Doesn’t that feel marvelous? You look amazing.’”
So as a way to say thank you for the community support, Van is holding what she calls an “awake” party.
Van is holding the awake, a coming out party, at the Parksville Community and Conference Centre Tuesday (June 26) from 9 p.m. to midnight.
There will be music from Groundswell, a cash bar and a table for donations for Manna Homeless Society.
The following day, Van told The NEWS, she will be holding a more personal and private funeral.
“It’s about introducing Robbie Van to the world, and also for me to say ‘thank you’ to Parksville for how kind they are.”
While the awake party is a way for Van to say goodbye to her male self, it’s also a way for her to introduce her musician side.
Van said she has been working on her music career for nine years, but now finally being able to be her true self, she has the confidence to go with it.
“If you look at people with open eyes and honesty and say, ‘Hey, this is me; take me or leave me,’ there’s nothing people can do.”
Over the years, Van said, she has had a couple of bad reactions to dressing as a woman before she began transitioning.
“What I usually do is blow them a kiss or wink at them and give them a smile. It diffuses all kinds of anger.”
Before going out as a woman in Parksville, Van said she went out a couple of times “nervously” in Vancouver and Langley.
“It’s pretty tough when you come from a male’s body and then try to emanate female,” Van said. “I’m fortunate that I’ve got a thin body and I can sort of blend in, but some of these girls (and women) are having a much more difficult time.”
She said there is an artistry in being a woman, especially when it comes to makeup.
“You know what you were like as a little girl, well that’s what I’m like as an adult male going to female.”
There are some support groups on the Island for people transitioning, Van said, but she hasn’t gone to any for herself. In her own family, Van said family support is “tentative.”
“It’s coming back as I become more confident in who I am and as they see I’m not a flake and just doing this for the kicks — this is who I’ve always wanted to be.”
She said her son is beginning to respect her again and her daughter is just worried about what other people will think.
“Fear is the thing that stops people from growing, stops people from accepting,” she said.
“For me, that was many, many years… I had to wait for my dad to pass away before I could say, ‘Yeah, I can’t do this anymore. I’m so broken, I feel like I’m trapped.’”