Guest post

Guest Post: Shedding the Cocoon of Shame, A Pandemic Self-Discovery

This guest post was written by A. Wray.

Pre-pandemic, I worked in a toxic work environment. Every day I left overwhelmed by the weight of the feelings of the people around me and ready to crawl into bed. I don’t recall where or how I learned to be responsible for other people’s feelings, but at some point it became embedded in me just like the idea that girls should be feminine. It’s the way I’ve been conditioned. 

Once I rebelliously wore my Blundstones to work (it was rebellious not because Blundstones aren’t professional but because they aren’t feminine). Wearing them to work felt bold until a coworker commented that her husband had the same pair. I became consumed by shame for not being more feminine, like her, my muscles constricting and shoulders creeping towards my ears. When I had worn make-up or dresses my coworkers gushed over how nice I looked, congratulating me for fitting the part prescribed by society. Now, they looked at me, puzzled.

Truthfully, I will never be feminine like my coworker, and I question if I ever really wanted to be. I was following the script I was given. But despite reviewing my lines frequently, I couldn’t get them right. I have been described as ‘fake’ on several occasions, but admittedly I was fake; I was faking being a woman. It was convincing enough to fool even myself. Inside I felt ugly, stuck behind a mask of femininity used for protection from threats, exclusion, and from myself. I had wrapped myself in a cocoon of shame named internalized transphobia. 

Working from home offered a break from the performance of gender with less pressure to be nice, calm, and collected. I exhaled deeper. I collected the energy I saved from not having to brace for the next rant debating the existence of trans folks. I re-invested that energy towards connecting with my nervous system, shining a light on the cocoon’s presence. Instead of being immobilized by its heaviness, I was able to shift ever so slightly. I began to release the toxic energy I had absorbed and increased my capacity to fight for my existence. 

Over time, the cocoon became less constricting. I shed a particularly stubborn layer while delivering a presentation on how to support trans folks. It was my chance to speak up, not only for others, but for myself. As I shared, I felt a warm tingly sensation spread throughout my body that lingered long after – the feeling of allowing myself to accept that I could be non-binary. An opening in the cocoon emerged and escape from the shame of not fitting into the gender binary seemed possible. I could set myself free. 

All along I thought it was my co-workers and the toxic work environment that prevented me from discovering the real me. Instead it was the part of me that was weighed down by internalized transphobia that I needed to escape. Like with most gender discoveries, I changed my hair, my pronouns, but most importantly, how I carried myself. I replaced shame with self-appreciation; toxicity with healing. I swapped out the inauthentic performance of femininity for the real, non-binary me. 

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Guest post

Guest post: the elusive queer bar

When I worked in renovations (I know, I know, a lesbian in Carhartt) there was a bar where trades people met after work. We would discuss the day’s problems over a cold pint, rant about customers, and make connections within the industry. It helped relieve the stress of a hard day, and garnered a sense of comradery. As a 40-year-old, single, non-binary lesbian, meeting other queers in the tri-city area has proved to be a kind of queer quest of the Holy Grail: awkward, elusive, and futile. I feel a similar need for a space to exist with like-minded folks – a gay bar to call our own.

I’m imagining a place where we can freely discuss the topics affecting the LGBTQQIP2SAA community without always having to tip-toe or explain, which can happen in mainly straight spaces. A spot where queer haircuts are the norm and suspenders glisten, where everybody knows your pronouns (or politely ask if they don’t), and Sam the pansexual bartender is a retired women’s softball pitcher who flirts with genders across the spectrum. No womanizing here, folks! Sober peeps welcome! (Sam can make a great mocktail).

Of course, the queer world isn’t always a perfect utopia, and violence, misogyny, trans-hate, and bad drunks can be found under the rainbow, too – but, having spaces to connect with other queers can provide a safety net and help alleviate the stress that individuals experience. The baby gays, late-to-lesbians, and “queeretirees” (yes, I just coined that) need somewhere to have that first date, or the one they’ve been waiting for their whole lives.

I remember going to my first lesbian dance party in Toronto years ago, and dancing with a girl for the first time. She kissed me as I twirled her around the crowded bar, and we were safe to be ourselves. While I crave that kind of experience again, I also just want a place to grab a bite with friends, or somewhere to play trivia at. A place for the local drag queens and kings to showcase their talent, for the next generation of Tegan and Sara’s to play, or for local showings of Drag Race instead of having to drive to Toronto to find some semblance of queer fun and community.

And while I’d be happy with a gay bar in Kitchener, there’s an even greater need for lesbian bars at the moment. They tend to be more inclusive, especially for trans and non-binary folx, whereas “gay bars” cater mainly to cisgender gay men, and can be intimidating to other queer sexualities and identities. There are currently no lesbian bars in Canada, and only 21 in the States compared to around 200 in the 80s. This is not a COVID-19 problem. Head over to the big smoke and you can find Crews and Tangos, Woody’s, and a number of other male-centric establishments. The nearest lesbian bar is the Cubbyhole in New York City. I don’t want to have to dig out my passport every time I want to hang out with my people.

This guest post was written by Emily Gleeson.

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Year-end giving: donations needed for Chrysalis Fund

The end of the year is approaching, and with it the last chance for year-end charitable giving. SPECTRUM is in need of donations to support our Chrysalis Fund for Mental Health, which helps to provide no cost and subsidized counselling to members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, with a focus on transgender and non-binary people. 

This service is badly needed in our community; stigma, violence, and discrimination mean that 2SLGBTQ+ people are at elevated risk for serious mental illness, addiction, and suicide:

Transgender and non-binary people experience even higher levels of risk because of lack of community support and rejection by friends, family, and loved ones:

  • Per the Outlook Study, less than half (43%) of trans people in Waterloo Region have come out to people outside of their immediate family. Nearly a third of those who have (31%) say that the people they came out to are unsupportive.
  • In one Waterloo Region study, 42% of trans respondents reported having to move away from family or friends because of their gender identity. 
  • Of the 40,000 homeless youth in Canada, between 25% and 40% identify as 2SLGBTQ+. Family conflict relating to sexual orientation or gender identity is the main reason 2SLGBTQ+ youth become homeless.

In addition to there being a lack of mental health professionals qualified to provide trans and non-binary inclusive care, many trans and non-binary people who experience employment discrimination or economic marginalization are unable to afford counselling services, which are expensive and not always covered by benefits. 

Of especial concern is that trans and non-binary people have disproportionately suffered negative economic impacts of COVID 19 while also experiencing much higher rates of depression and mental illness:

  • According to Statistics Canada, almost 70% of gender-diverse participants reported fair/poor mental health, compared with 25.5% of female participants and 21.2% of male participants. Gender-diverse people were 2 times more likely than women to report symptoms of anxiety, and 3 times more likely than men. 
  • Gender-diverse respondents were 1.6 times more likely to report that COVID-19 had a “moderate”or “major” impact on their ability to meet their financial obligations or essential needs, such as rent or mortgage payments, utilities, and groceries. 
  • According to a 2018 survey, the age and gender distribution of the 2SLGBTQ+ population in Canada was also associated with higher risk for experiencing loss of employment.
  • 2SLGBTQ+ Canadians are also significantly over-represented among low-income earners.

Your donations are needed to continue providing access to this vital service for those most in need. We urge you to give directly to the Chrysalis Fund for mental health as part of your year-end giving. Monies from the Chrysalis Fund will be used to provide counselling services through the OK2BME program at KW Counselling Services. $130 will cover the full cost of a counselling session for someone in need. We thank you for prioritizing 2SLGBTQ+ mental health in your year-end giving!

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Non-Binary People’s Day: Non-binary people aren’t “new” or “trendy”

Non-Binary People’s Day: Non-binary people aren’t “new” or “trendy”

July 14th is Non-Binary People’s Day – a day to celebrate and raise awareness of people who identify outside of the man/woman gender binary. While many people talk about non-binary gender as though it’s something “new” that young people are just doing “for attention”, the fact is that cultures around the world have had traditions of non-binary gender for thousands of years, of which Two-Spirit Indigenous Canadians are just one example.

Non-binary people are often accused of “cramming” our “made-up” genders down “people’s throats”. But our society’s strict gender binary makes it extremely hard for non-binary people to live our lives without constantly having to teach impromptu Gender 101 classes to everyone we encounter.

As a non-binary person who came out as transgender at the start of the pandemic, here are just some of the situations that I have encountered in past year that have forced me to teach strangers about my gender in order to conduct my daily business.

  • Getting misgendered by official documents like school and employment records
  • Being unable to get medical care without being misgendered because Ontario Health Cards do not have a non-binary option
  • Having to misgender myself while job searching because of lack of a non-binary option
  • Nearly always being misgendered by service workers, even while wearing a face mask featuring they/them pronouns
  • Having to choose between remaining silent or correcting a coworker in public when they don’t respect my pronouns
  • Getting left out of Mother’s and Father’s Day activities at my kid’s school
  • Being intentionally misgendered by a childcare worker at my kid’s school
  • Being unable to find therapists qualified to treat non-binary people
  • Having to pay out of pocket for transition-related care because my doctor didn’t know anything about transgender or non-binary medical needs
  • Having to opt out of extended family gatherings because virulently anti-trans family members would be at an event

That’s only a small number of examples. Unfortunately, non-binary people don’t so much “come out” as they become unpaid Gender Studies and Queer Theory professors for everyone around them.

So, what can cisgender (people who are not trans and/or non-binary) do to make it less exhausting to be a non-binary person in our community, you might ask?

  1. You can’t know someone’s gender based on their appearance, so don’t assume you know someone’s gender because of how they look. Being misgendered is painful, but fear of provoking emotional or physical violence keeps many non-binary people from correcting people who misgender them. So instead, avoid gendered greetings like “sir” or “ma’am”, and avoid making references to someone’s gender (IE. “can you help this lady” or “this man is waiting”).
  2. Don’t stare at people you think may be transgender, non-binary, or otherwise gender non-conforming. You don’t need to know the gender of everyone around you. Also, it’s often impossible to tell the difference between someone who is staring because they’re curious and someone who is staring because they’re about to yell at you.
  3. Use Google to educate yourself. There are a wealth of resources online that you can use to educate yourself about the basics of gender and issues faced by transgender and/or non-binary people. Avail yourself of those resources.
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