GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, N.L. – For something so many people have strong opinions on, gender diversity remains a largely misunderstood thing in the general public.
To help rectify that situation, an event called Beyond the Myths: Trans Children & Youth Info Session is coming to Grand Falls-Windsor to help alleviate some of the confusion and misapprehension.
“Every single person a trans or gender diverse person interacts with — including parents, families, partners, caregivers, educators, school administrators, and medical and mental health service providers — has the ability to help or hinder them on their gender journey. And oftentimes, that impact is felt long before they come out,” TJ Jones, executive director of Trans Support NL, and the facilitator of the Trans Youth Group in St. John's, told The Central Voice.
“In other words, this session is for everyone.”
The session will take place Aug. 2 at the Harmsworth Library, 6-7:30 p.m., the day after the same workshop touches down in Corner Brook.
“There are as many trans narratives as there are trans people - that's just how human diversity works, in my opinion. And they are all valid and warrant acknowledgement, even if 'understanding' is not in the cards.” — TJ Jones
While it may be only one event in one town in central, it is part of a growing voice in the region when it comes to LGBTQ issues. From communities like Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander holding their first Pride marches to brightly-coloured crosswalks sprouting up on streets across the province, this spring and summer have seen the breaking open of a conversation too long kept silent.
Kirsten Dalley is non-binary and from Bishop’s Falls, and says they have never seen Pride activities on this scale here before.
“I think it’s great,” they told the Central Voice last week. “I’ve grown up in central and seen the attitude shift. It used to be that high schools couldn’t have GSAs, and now we have community celebrations.”
Shining a light
Whether or not these developments would have happened eventually, the controversy in Springdale in April helped spark the conversation. When Indian River High School’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) was denied permission to paint a rainbow crosswalk in the community, it prompted reaction from across the country and polarized many people living in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I think it shone a light on a lot of things,” Dalley said. “Before, they were kind of there, but no one was talking about them.”
While a lot of the online reaction – at least locally – was and has been negative, Dalley sees progress being made all the same. They said they don’t think it will happen quickly, but that even small steps make a big difference.
“There are some new places in Grand Falls-Windsor that are looking at putting in gender-neutral bathrooms,” they said. “It makes a real difference.”
More than anything, Dalley hopes this growing discussion will increase awareness in the general public about what it means to be transgender.
“A lot of people think trans means being the opposite gender to what you were born as,” they said. “And that’s definitely too simple.”
The session Aug. 2 seeks to dispel those misconceptions. Jones said it by no means represents all trans and gender-diverse experiences, but rather aims to “open the door and help people feel more comfortable walking through it.”
“Every community is different. Fear and misunderstanding exists, but so does love. In our groups, we have seen many trans children and youth who have been embraced, supported, and celebrated in their communities. That gives me great hope for the future.” — Julie Temple
They too would like to see more conversations happening about gender identity, including incorporating discussions of gender diversity more broadly into all post-secondary curriculum, especially in terms of medicine, psychiatry, social work, and education, among other fields.
“As a transmasculine person that doesn't relate to the 'born in the wrong body' narrative that some trans folks do relate to, and certain gatekeepers expect all trans folk to fit, I would really appreciate if more people understood there is no one, right way to be trans,” Jones said.
“There are as many trans narratives as there are trans people - that's just how human diversity works, in my opinion. And they are all valid and warrant acknowledgement, even if 'understanding' is not in the cards.”
There is, however, a growing collection of resources in central to help people work towards that understanding.
Parents of Trans and Gender Diverse Kids NL’s central chapter, organized by Rebecca Blackmore, held its first meeting April 22 at the Corduroy Brook conservation building. Since then, they’ve held three more meetings and seen an increase in attendees.
“It’s been really comforting as the parent of a trans child to have that group there, to have others to talk to,” Blackmore told The Central Voice last week.
The group is meant for parents and caregivers only, in order to keep it a safe place for everyone to share and speak openly.
The session Aug. 2, however, will be open to family members, teachers, counsellors, and medical professionals, as well as parents and allies.
“For people working with the public in general, but especially those professions, it will be very beneficial,” she said.
Blackmore was also part of the committee that organized Pride events for Grand Falls-Windsor this year. While there has been a flag raising each year for some time, this was the first march. She said she wanted to show people, particularly youth, that even if they are not accepted for who they are at home, they are welcome and supported in their community.
“It hurts my heart when I think of people, kids specifically, feeling rejected because of their sexuality or because they’re gender diverse,” she said. “It really breaks my heart.”
Blackmore also credits the situation in Springdale earlier this year, at least partially, with opening up the conversation about gender and sexual diversity in the region.
“As negative as it was initially, it ended up being an amazing spotlight on LGBTQ issues, and on LGBTQ people living in rural areas,” Blackmore said.
“A lot of people think trans means being the opposite gender to what you were born as. And that’s definitely too simple.” — Kirsten Dalley
Since this spring, Jones has been asked whether the Springdale situation is indicative of Newfoundland and Labrador in general. As a resident of the capital city, they said they are not in a position to make that call, but that coming to central with the session will be an opportunity to learn from people here about their experiences.
Fellow session organizer Julie Temple, director of Trans Support NL Inc. and facilitator of Parents of Trans and Gender Diverse Kids in St. John's, however, is from a rural part of the province.
“I think it is really important for all of us not to make assumptions that people in rural areas will be more conservative or less open to understanding the realities of trans and queer people,” she said. “Every community is different. Fear and misunderstanding exists, but so does love.
“In our groups, we have seen many trans children and youth who have been embraced, supported, and celebrated in their communities. That gives me great hope for the future.”
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