Celebrating Trans Pride, Challenging Transphobia
Despite the overcast drizzle, dozens turned out for the St. John’s Trans Parade on Saturday. After moving speeches by members of the trans community, the parade, unofficial and unauthorized, began. We stormed the streets with chants like
“Arrest us! Just try it! Stonewall was a fucking riot!”
Trans activist Taylor Stocks felt it was important to have a separate event outside the sanctioned parade.
“It provides the political teeth that I think a festival like this needs. There’s only so much that St. John’s pride as an organization is able to do and I think events that are coming from the community and are able to say things that larger organizations aren’t able to say is going to keep us honest and keep the movement going forward.”
Trans people and allies came out to highlight the important issues that are specific to trans people and that they felt are not being addressed. Strong strides have been taken for LGB rights over the past few decades as people have become more aware and accepting of homosexuality. Trans people, however, have not reaped those rewards. Being trans still comes with stigma and confusion as people are remain more close-minded towards gender than sexuality.
“There’s still challenges in a lot of organizations that call themselves LBGT. There’s not a lot of T representation at the top of the food chain: the board of directors, the executive directors. A lot of the money that’s donated by mainstream society goes to gay issues but not trans issues. And there are trans organizations out there who are being poo-pooed by our very own LGB brothers and sisters and that’s not good either.”
Society is still struggling to disconnect mind from genitalia and how from a very young age we can know that we are not the gender identity that was placed on us.
High school student, Damian Joyce, spoke of the struggles of coming out at a young age.
“Most kids don’t get it and a lot of kids are really mean. There’s always kids in my classes that say things like “trannie” all the time. They’ll yell out and say “trans people are disgusting” and things like that all the time. Especially in bathrooms and stuff. Everyone kinda glares at you like you’re not wanted here, you shouldn’t be here.”
After the parade, I took a picture of two young people posing with signs. Afterwards, I was kindly asked to delete it.
“Don’t put that picture online because [this person] is only a wee child and we don’t want to destroy their lives yet.”
The strong sentiment behind this sentence reflects the real challenges young trans people are still struggling with. Jude Cutler, organizer of Trans Support Group, told me about how rampant trans youth homelessness in St. John’s is.
“It’s very common. I myself was homeless as a trans youth. A lot of people end up homeless coming out as trans whether they’re running from the transphobia and abuse they’re facing at home or their parents just say ‘No, sorry, you’re not my kid anymore.’”
For those stuck in these situations, there is help. Cutler’s Trans Support Group meets biweekly to support the trans community and help mentor youth.
“We’re here to show youth there’s a future for you. There’s a life.”
To help these homeless youth, Trans Support Group enlists the help of organizations such as Choices for Youth and Thrive.
“Sometimes we house them in our own homes. I’ve done that.”
The Trans Support Group run a binder exchange program as well.
“If someone gets top surgery or gets a little bigger, they’ll donate their used binders. I promote binder safety. A lot of kids will wrap with a used bandage which unfortunately will lead to morphed ribs and lungs and heart problems. I did that for a lot of years and
I have those issues.”
When I asked if this group was receiving any government funding, I was laughed at.
“We don’t get any government funding. That would be awesome. Sometimes we get private donations but really our main support groups, and I love them to pieces and I don’t know what I would do without them, are the Memorial Students’ Union, the Graduate Students’ Union, and LGBT at MUN.”
Trans people are still facing difficulties getting the medical surgeries they need. In her opening speech, Jennifer McCreath spoke of the $30,000 on her credit card that was used to pay for her surgeries. Speaking to her afterwards, she told me of the discrimination that is still prevalent in the medical industry.
“We’re one of only two provinces that ship people to CAMH, a hospital in Toronto, for assessment. My doctor said, “Don’t even go there Jennifer. The people in CAMH will treat you poorly anyways. You’re better off spending your own money going to your doctors here in Newfoundland who can help you, sign off on the assessment, and go fund the surgery by yourself.”
The systemic discrimination that trans people face does not stop there. Jennifer McCreath, a long time advocate of trans issues, was well-versed in them.
“I also lost a job and trans people are still being denied employment. They’re being denied housing, being kicked out of their communities. The youth, some of them are getting kicked out of their homes. We got teenagers looking for a place to live.
We also tend to forget about the older folks, 40s, 50s, 60s. It’s very difficult to live your life 40, 50, 60 years and all of a sudden realize you’re trans. And especially the seniors that are going into long-term care. A lot of the senior resident housing are not very LGBT friendly. Sadly, we’re seeing a lot of seniors have to go back into the closet for their own safety and that has to change too.”
Trans means change. Trans people are seeking to change their bodies and their communities. Change where someone can get government-funded surgery to be the person they feel they are. Change to create more inclusive spaces where people are not asked about their junk in order to justify their gender.
Trans rights are finally getting more recognition. Kept in the dark for so long, trans people are suddenly visible in the media. The idea of being trans is not a new one though. Many North American indigenous peoples understood that some are “two-spirited” or that in spirit some are more than their cis-selves and think beyond their assigned gender. It is time we too accept that mind is greater than matter and we do not need to define people by their biology.
Creating inclusive spaces is a necessary step forward. Gender neutral bathrooms. Asking people their pronouns before assuming. Ensuring organizations make inclusive statements. Shutting down transphobia when you see it. Take these steps and maybe together we can make that change happen.