Colin Mochrie is a comedic icon both at home in Canada and abroad. But the roles he truly values most he plays at home where he is a committed and loving husband to his wife, Deb (who also happens to be Canadian actor Debra McGrath), and a committed and loving father to his daughter, Kinley. About two years ago, Kinley came out as transgender to her parents. After some time, and with Kinley’s permission, Colin put out a tweet that expressed both his bewilderment and surprise about the lack of support for trans people. Since Kinley’s coming out, Colin, Deb and Kinley have worked alongside each other to raise awareness and rally support for the LGBTQ community. Colin spoke to me from Toronto:
It’s been a couple of years since the ‘tweet heard ‘round the world’…where are you at now as a family, as activists and advocates and educators?
All is going well! Kinley is now into her second year of hormones, she is happier than she has ever been. We’ve been going to Queen’s Park and taking part in some of the protests about the sex education curriculum because they want to put it back to the 1995 curriculum which doesn’t involve the LGBTQ community, or cyber-bullying, or consent… and along with buck-a-beer so how can that be bad?!
Kinley has been speaking at the rallies and being well received so things are going well.
When we started telling people about Kinley’s transitioning, everyone around her age would go, “Congratulations!” and everyone our age would say, “And how are you doing?” [Chuckling] We’re fine…
Since it’s been a couple of years, what are you the most proud of since Kinley’s coming out and do you have any wishes for a ‘do-over’? Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I’m proud of Kinley. The fact that she took ownership of who she is and the person she was meant to be – I mean, the gender she was meant to be. She has always been the person she was meant to be. And just taking ownership of that and being proud and using her experience to help other people going through the same thing who may not have the support that she’s had. She just amazes me every day.
When I look back, I can’t think of anything in particular – I’m sure there are some things we did wrong [laughing] – but from the very beginning Kinley was great. She sent us videos, research materials so we could look through them and we did. I certainly don’t know everything about transitioning, or everything about the LGBTQ community, but it helped give us a foundation to work on. The three of us have always been very open and communicating, so that didn’t change.
No, I can’t think of anything I’d do over. [Laughing] I may just be blocking it from my mind.
It’ll wake you up at some point tonight.
So, you’ve emphasized that keeping the lines of communication was essential – were there ever conversations that were difficult to have and if so, how did you navigate them as a family in a way that protected your relationships?
We’ve always been very open. Whenever Kinley would say, “Can we go to the kitchen?” we would always go, “Okay, what’s happening?” So, I think the first time was she was breaking up with her girlfriend, the second time she was coming out as bisexual, then the third time was she wanted to explore more of her feminine side, then the fourth time she was coming out as transitioning. So if she ever asks us to go to the kitchen again, I have no idea where we could go from here!
Probably the hardest conversation was about the transitioning. Not so much the transition, but the fears we had – have – as parents. Today’s world is probably the best time to transition, but it still has a long way to go.
We were afraid for her safety, for all the things that go along with someone announcing they’re changing their sex and gender. It was hard not in how we talked about it, but the subject matter. You’re always worried about your kid anyway, and all of a sudden the worries were quadrupled.
Now that Kinley’s been taking hormones, how has that been going?
I would say it’s going well. It’s like she’s in a mixture of puberty and menopause. I mean, me going through puberty and then going through Deb’s menopause, I thought, I don’t know if I can handle this, but it seems to have been fairly smooth. She’s definitely been more emotional and she is able to cry more. She used to be someone who could watch a movie and not be emotionally moved by it, but now that has changed. Actually, I think it’s a good thing for her.
I know you were able to educate yourselves so you could support Kinley every way you could, was there anything you were surprised or intrigued, or even relieved, to learn about gender transition and the culture?
Mostly the thing I was surprised about was the lack of support from the parents of someone transitioning. Usually when people have differing viewpoints than me, I always try to see their point, but this is the instance where I just can’t see that point. This is your child. With Kinley transitioning the only thing that is changing is her gender, she’s still the person that we love and raised. She’s such a great person. I don’t understand how you can turn your back on a child, especially at a time when they really need you.
The statistics surprised me – how high the number is of people going through it who get no support at all.
I know a young person who has been kicked out of her house because she is not willing to be a boy anymore. This is 2019!
I know. It’s insane. I truly don’t understand. I try to think of things that would make me not support Kinley and even if she murdered someone, I’d probably think, Well, maybe she had a point…[laughing]. I hope it never comes to that.
You have talked about Kinley’s 90-year-old grandmother going to hear a trans person speak in church. Is that your church?
It’s her church and my wife’s church. It’s the United Church.
Ahhh, that makes sense, the progressiveness of it. I’m wondering if you ever had to grapple with your faith and what Kinley was going through?
I’ve never been a religious person of any sort. I like to think I’m more spiritual and I believe everything that happens is because it’s supposed to happen. I never felt that Kinley was going against any natural law, I just felt that she wanted what we all want: to be happy, to be proud of who we are, to be the best we can be. And she was making a strong stand in doing that which more of us could do. We certainly don’t have to change our gender, but we could find ways to make ourselves better people and to make ourselves happy.
So, in our church we do the things I think you’re supposed to do – we love our neighbour. I have to say, though, I was quite shocked that the entire family to the person supported Kinley, because Deb’s family has quite a conservative bent, but the support was overwhelming and I think it’s because they knew Kinley as a person, and how great she is and they all love her, so I think it made it easier for them to support her.
It is different when it’s one of your own and not someone “out there.”
Exactly. The problem behind all of this is just ignorance. You know, when you don’t take the time to learn about it and you’ve just made up your mind without doing any research or getting to know someone going through it.
When Kinley spoke in an earlier interview about coming out to you and Deb, she said she knew there would be “nothing but support and love on the other side” of that conversation. As her dad, how does that make you feel to hear?
It was so lovely. When you’re a parent, there’s so much fear of doing the wrong thing. And you’re going to make mistakes because there really is no manual. I mean, we had all the books: What to Expect When You’re Expecting; What to Expect After You’ve Expected… and basically all you can do is the best you can and hope you don’t scar your child forever. God knows we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, as I believe every parent does, and we always try to learn from those mistakes. We always communicated. Kinley was always very vocal in telling us when we were off base, which was good for us.
In the same interview, the CBC reporter made a link between your ability to adjust and roll with Kinley’s transition to all your years of experience in improv comedy. You spoke about improv’s guiding principle of “Yes, and…” You said your personal philosophy is “Yes, and…within limits.” What are your limits?
If someone said, “Hey, wanna go skydiving with me?” They would get a definite “No, thanks.” I say yes to things that will not hurt me or my family physically or emotionally. Or that would do the same harm to anyone else. I will say yes to an experience that might not make me feel totally comfortable, but I’m willing to see what happens. Deb and I went to the Congo for a couple of weeks with World Vision – we had just decided to use the ‘Yes, and…’ in our lives. So when we were asked to go to the Congo, we decided to give it a try. It ended up being one of the best experiences we ever had. Going into the jungle, going to these villages that were absolutely poverty-stricken and seeing people who had this joy for life. They had nothing but they still had dreams and they were still trying to do the best they can. We went right after Christmas so going from the decadence of North American Christmas experience to something that was so far away from that.
It’s amazing when you can leave your world and walk in someone else’s experience for a period of time. There are so many ways to live life, aren’t there?
I think there should be a school program where everyone is forced to travel. I think the world would be a better place because we would all get to see how other people live. Usually it’s totally different from our own way and yet those people can be thriving in their way.
Empathy seems to be slowly dying out, which is sad. People can’t seem to put themselves in other people’s places anymore. Obviously this is a gross generalization, but it seems to be that way. Why can’t people try harder to see another person’s point of view? Travel is a way of doing that.
How do you take care of your mental health in the world that you work in or when something is getting you down or really challenging you?
I’ve always had a healthy relationship with my job. I just consider it my job. It’s not my lifestyle… I don’t think if anyone met me outside my workplace that they would have any idea that I’m a performer. I tend to be quiet; I keep to myself. Certainly when I was younger, the job part was more stress because you’re trying to make your mark and get in there, but now after some success I’m certainly much more relaxed. I’ve even learned with travelling that it’s out of my control. I try to believe that because I’m a good person, it’s all going to work for me and usually it does.
I’ve really learned to relax, to try to take things as they come, deal with the things I can, and the ones that I can’t I just trust it will work out. And if it doesn’t, then I will find a way to deal with that.
My wife is great. Probably the best thing I’ve ever done was getting married to her. We’ve had a great relationship and we’ve learned a lot from each other. Six months into our relationship she said to me, “ You know, I thought you’d be easier to change.” [Laughing] And I did eventually; I just did it on my own schedule. We have a very loving relationship… and I always knew my priorities which are my marriage and my job as a father… As a comedian, you cannot depend on your audience to give you your sense of self worth.
Do you feel any differently about doing comedy that would have you dressing up as a woman or a feminized character since Kinley’s transition? Why or why not?
On “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” I have had to play women and basically just did it as me with no affectation. Same if I had to play gay. I certainly put more thought into it than I had previously. It all depends on context. If there is no reason for that character to exist, except as the joke of the scene, then no, I won’t do it.
What advice would you give to anyone who is struggling with trying to support someone in their life who is transitioning?
I would say try to get as much information as you can – information about the whole process. There are websites out there that are support systems for parents who children are transitioning. If you know anyone at all who has gone through this, pick their brain about the things you can do right and things you can do wrong. Like anything else, it’s all education. All the problems you are having with their transition are your problems. This is an incredibly brave decision the person is making, and you’ve got to get over your prejudices and ignorance.
Thank you, Colin, for speaking to us, for dedicating your time to raising awareness and sharing your knowledge, and for being such a fierce and compassionate force for good in the world.