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March 31, 2020
Written by Out In Schools Program Manager, Gavin Somers
Today is Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV), and I’d like share my thoughts on the importance of visibility for LGBT2Q+ communities. For those of you who are unfamiliar, TDoV began back in 2009, and is described by its founders as: “an annual holiday celebrated around the world. The day is dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments and victories of transgender & gender non-conforming people while raising awareness of the work that is still needed to save trans lives.”
I am proud to work at Out On Screen, an organization that shares these same values and dedicates its time to celebrating queer lives through film, education, and dialogue. Out In Schools travels to all corners of the Province to deliver presentations that include transformational film, our team’s personal narratives, and valuable insight into the lives of LGBT2Q+ communities.
During presentations the Out In Schools team deploys the ever-epic Gender Unicorn to support students and educators in understanding how things like assigned sex and gender identity are actually two different things, and how while gender expression may be an indicator of someone’s gender identity, it isn’t always! Sounds complicated? It can be, but at the end of the day, it’s about respect, and how witnessing diverse experiences can teach us to treat each other better.
“Transgender”, “gender creative”, “non binary”, and “genderqueer” may be new words, but it’s simply a different way for people who have always existed, to self-identify. I particularly love this story about James Allen, a documented “female husband” because even before the possibility of medical intervention, it proves that we (as trans folk) have always been here.
Within many Indigenous communities, how gender was understood before contact/colonization looked very different than it does today. The word two spirit was coined in the 1990s as an english translation of the Anishinaabemowin term niizh manidoowag. It sometimes (but not always) describes a person’s experience of their gender and roles within a community.
We share lived LGBT2Q+ experiences by showcasing a wide variety of films, using them to uplift and make visible the incredible stories of trans and gender diverse people from around the world. In the famous words of transgender activist Laverne Cox:
“I would never be so arrogant to think that someone should model their life after me. But the idea of possibility, the idea that I get to live my dreams out in public, hopefully will show to other folks that it’s possible. So I prefer the term ‘possibility model’ to ‘role model.”
I find Laverne’s words relatable because I believe Out In Schools is all about providing possibilities.
There is no singular experience of being transgender, much like there is no singular experience to being cisgender. I love to share these diverse stories with youth and engage in dialogue that helps them see that the possibilities are endless.
“When I was in grade 4, I told a friend “I feel like God, or whoever, messed up when it came to me.” I didn’t have the language to know that my experiences were like those of thousands and thousands of people- I didn’t know or even know of any trans people at all. It wasn’t until Grade 9, by which time my mental health had hit a horrid state, that I first saw and connected with a nonbinary person: a contestant on a reality TV show. It was then that I realized how vital it is for people to be able to see themselves represented. Transgender Day of Visibility is a day that epitomizes representation; it’s a day to celebrate our existences, see our successes, and connect people to community.”Avery Shannon, Out In Schools Facilitator
Possibility gives us hope, so now more than ever, we need to continue uplifting the stories of trans and gender diverse people.
Join Out In Schools program manager, Gavin Somers, in conversation on Wednesday April 1st on Instagram at 6PM for a Q&A around transness, visibility, and the context of film and storytelling.
If you would like to support the work of Out On Screen, you can make a donation here. Your gift ensures we can continue to engage youth through film in the promotion of safe and inclusive learning environments, free from transphobia, homophobia, and bullying.