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Photo by Jenny Fisher

On September 18th, the organizers from Hollaback! and Courage Peterborough, along with the Peterborough Aids Resource Network (PARN) hosted the Transgender Day of Resilience as an extension of Peterborough’s annual Pride Week. One event included was the Transgender and Gender Variant Panel.

Entering into Seeds of Change, the venue in which the Transgender Gender Variant panel was held, I was met with an incredibley diverse group of people in terms of gender expression, ethnicity, class, sexuality, race, age, and ability. As a recent newcomer from Toronto, Peterborough has proven to have salient reputation of social conservatism in many ways. In contrast to that, the plethora of individuality, liberty of personal expression, and sheer defiance through existing in and supporting non-normative identities I observed was not only refreshing, but also necessary.

The panel consisted of Kaz Cousins, a local community organizer as well as non-binary trans queer feminist witch, writer Ezra Loyer, member of the Rainbow Youth Program, Jack Landon from ‘Come as You Are’ in Toronto, and Lillian Phillips, a trans woman who volunteers and works with Fleming’s Positive Space program, facilitating for students, facility staff and faculty.

A wide-ranging variety of topics relevant to the trans community were discussed, including the issues of passing as a transgendered/gender variant person, representation of trans people in the media, suggestions for cisgendered allies, and resiliency in the trans community. The issue of “passing”, or being perceived as either a cisgendered male or female, is a controversial topic in the community.

Jack Landon describes the issue of passing as being a “flawed concept, because it suggests that one is passing for something they are not”. Issues of passing on a gender binary have incredible implications for personal safety in the trans community. Lillian brought to light the issue of human rights lawsuit on washrooms for the trans community, as it is technically illegal for them to use a washroom in Canada. A common sentiment among the panelists was the very casual transphobia that is used in academic, professional, and social settings, and how it contributes to the larger paradigm of gender essentialism and ciscentrism.  Subsequently, this leads to safety issues on even the most essential of human rights, such as using the washroom.

Other concerns raised were representations of transgendered people in the media, and how the focus on physical transition in trans and
gender variant communities detracts from issues of more concern, such as violence towards the trans community (especially trans women of color), and discrimination. A hard-hitting point brought up by panelist Kaz was that trans people usually only exist in mainstream media when they are “successful or brutally murdered”. Another commonplace illusion is that transitioning (for those who wish to, as not all trans and/or gender variant people do or experience physical dysphoria) is accessible to many trans people. Lillian Phillips added,

“Many people have to go through the system, which takes years… transitioning is probably only accessible to the extent of the law. Government bureaucracy affects the daily loves of trans people”.
Another important element of the panel was the discussion around allyship from cisgendered demographics. Kaz speaks to the matter of amplifying the voices of people who are affected by systemic transphobia rather than speaking for them, in addition to seeking education about trans people from a diverse group; not just those who have media exposure as well as economic and racial privileges.

Panelist Ezra Loyer mentioned how essential listening to the voices of members from the trans community is. He stresses the importance of “thinking about gender through the voices of those who have been silenced for so long, and learning to build those voices up. We need to validate what they’re saying”.

The panel ended with a reflection on trans resiliency. The trans day of resiliency exists as a reaction to the fact that the only other day dedicated to the trans community is the trans day of remembrance; a sobering reminder of trans and gender variant lives lost to murder and suicide on a daily basis. Existing as a person with a trans identity in a society that does not celebrate gender diversity is revolutionary, but also difficult. The act of self-care and self-kindness were stressed in the pursuit of self-preservation. It was also mentioned, however, that ultimately the existing dominant paradigms and structures that perpetuate violence and discrimination towards trans and gender variant people need to ultimately be dismantled in order to move from self preservation to tolerance, acceptance, and ultimately celebration of these infinitely diverse identities.

I would like to extend a sincere thanks to the eloquently spoken, insightful, and resilient participants of the panel: Kaz Cousins, Ezra Loyer, Lillian Phillips, and Jack Landon, as well as the organizers. An extended thanks to Food Forest, Electric City Gardens, The Planet, Sam’s Deli & Seeds of Change for catering and venue.