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Transgender Day of Visibility celebrates diversity, identity and expression

Skipping Stone Foundation president Amelia Newbert, right, and Vice President Lindsay Peace.
(Photo by Jp Pitogo/SAIT)

According to Trans Student Educational Resources, International Transgender Day of Visibility is a day of empowerment for the transgender community. The day aims to highlight the accomplishments of trans people worldwide, while at the same time spreading knowledge to battle transphobia and cissexism.

Started by Rachel Crandall in 2010, Transgender Day of Visibility takes place on March 31 every year worldwide. This year’s theme is “surviving, thriving,” to acknowledge all that the transgender community has accomplished over the past year.

For Amelia Newbert, president of the Skipping Stone Foundation, Transgender Day of Visibility is “an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate all of the wonderful things about people’s gender diversity and gender identity and expression.”

Newbert founded Skipping Stone with her partner Lindsay Peace in 2016. The non-profit’s mission is “to empower transgender and gender diverse youth by providing them with the resources and opportunities to follow and achieve their goals and dreams.”

On March 31, International Trans Day of Visibility, the Skipping Stone Foundation held a free family event to celebrate the day. It was an open house-style event with arts and crafts, music, movies, food and games.

“We’re really hoping to make the event as welcoming as possible,” said Newbert the week before the event.

She added that the foundation hoped that not only people in gender diverse communities would attend, but that people walking by would stop in too.

Newbert said anyone who wanted to come by to learn, to eat or to play a game would be welcome.

More people might be familiar with Transgender Day of Remembrance, which occurs annually Nov. 20 and honours all of the transgender people who were murdered over the past year due to transphobia.

“So many of the instances in which the trans and gender diverse communities gather are around days of mourning,” said Newbert.

“[Trans Day of Visibility] was created to not take anything away from the continued challenges and barriers that need to continue to be worked on, but to create some space for celebration and some positivity and recognition.”

Alaine

Up until this week, Alaine, who uses they/them pronouns and wishes to not use their last name, had not heard of Transgender Day of Visibility, even though they were involved with a great queer community in Guelph, Ont.

“I think it’s amazing. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but it needs to have more attention drawn to it,” said Alaine.

Alaine identifies as gender non-conforming, and was pleased to see that the Transgender Day of Visibility is more of a celebration than commemorating those who have “lost the fight against society.”

Alaine was engaged when they started talking about transitioning. Excitedly, Alaine brought that up to their fiancée’s mother and sister, expecting support from the generally liberal and progressive family.

But the response they received from their soon-to-be mother-in-law was not what Alaine anticipated or hoped it would be.

“She felt like she wanted to grieve. She’s not the crying type and it made her want to cry because she felt like she was losing a daughter.”

Alaine said they were so excited to discover that other people were going through the same struggles as they were. They thought their fiancée’s family, which they considered to be their own family at the time, would be supportive, especially considering the joy Alaine felt at the chance to feel comfortable in their own skin.

“It was extremely difficult and really disheartening when she reacted that way,” said Alaine of their fiancée’s mother.

Alaine’s fiancée’s sister was supportive, but their fiancée herself had a difficult time dealing with Alaine’s news.

Their fiancée said she felt Alaine would be a different person, someone whom she wouldn’t know.

“She was just expecting that I would be an angry stranger, basically,” said Alaine.

“It’s not easier to move on when strangers mis-gender me, but it happens a lot sooner than when my fiancée and basically my mother-in-law have a hard time with the thought of me transitioning.”

A couple of weeks ago, Alaine reconnected with their parents for the first time in a long time. They hadn’t spoken in a few years because Alaine had been excommunicated from their family’s religion. A few days into this reunion, Alaine decided to bring up homosexuality and being transgender.

Alaine’s mother started crying, and the family began talking about instances in Alaine’s childhood when they would come home from school and change out of their school uniform’s skirt as quickly as possible, putting pants on instead.

“They just thought that it was a phase. That I was just a tomboy. That if they don’t talk about it, it’s going to go away.

“It made me super upset that my mom cried, but also made me feel really guilty that she cried.

“Nobody makes my mom cry, but I made my mom cry.”

This led Alaine to start thinking that maybe they shouldn’t pursue transitioning at this time, because they feel like they’re hurting the people closest to them by exploring that.

“I’ve managed to go this far in my life without doing anything about it, I guess, so I might be okay.”

Mackenzie Wesolowsky – math teacher, Calgarian, advocate. 
Photo by Rorie Stannard

Mackenzie Wesolowsky.

Transgender Day of Visibility is just like any other day for high school math teacher Mackenzie Wesolowsky.

“We live trans every day,” she said. “It’s great to have a day that celebrates that recognition, but it’s definitely more important for, say, my students.

“The public awareness is good, but sometimes we put too much into it. We should have awareness all the time, not just on a single day.”

Wesolowsky said her life is the same as anyone else’s.

“I just live my normal life. I do my normal thing. I have a family, I have a kid, I have a job. I pay taxes, I buy groceries. I consider my life pretty normal.”

Wesolowsky said because she has a family and a young child, it isn’t always practical to get out and participate in events such as the Skipping Stone Foundation’s open house.

“It is important to have that visibility and focus on the positive as opposed to the negative. I mean, we do need to address that, but it shouldn’t all be doom and gloom and ‘look at all the terrible things people do’, because my experience is, it only takes a few terrible incidents to offset all the good that’s happening.

“We should be framing transition as a positive thing, not a negative thing.”

Wesolowsky has been out socially for a little over two years and medically for just over a year and a half, but has known she was transgender since she was young.

She said she waited so long to come out because she was awaiting legal protection. The school board passed amendments to protect staff as well as students, and after those policies were put in place, Wesolowsky felt comfortable enough to begin coming out.

“Although I’d never go to court over stuff like that, you at least have a framework to fall back on if need be.

“It’s a positive feeling to have that society has gotten there.”

Since beginning to transition, Wesolowsky said she feels better “on every level.”

“It just feels right. It was a good change.”

Wesolowsky said her five-year-old son has had “zero issues” with her transition.

“To him it’s a natural thing. He doesn’t care; he has a parent that loves him.”

Cassandra Simpson.

Transgender Day of Visibility is “huge” for 43-year-old Cassandra Simpson, who has been transitioning since Dec. 21, 2016.

“I didn’t even know there was a day for us. There are no words to describe it. There’s a day just for us.

“It’s not pride day, it’s not lesbian day, it’s transgender day.”

Simpson has been on hormones since June 6, 2017.

“When I first started taking hormones, it was like this huge balance,” said Simpson.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life.”

Every time she puts an estrogen patch on it’s a relief, she said. She’s even going to talk to the doctor about upping her dosage at her next appointment.

Even a few hours extra without taking testosterone blockers have a major effect on Simpson’s body.

She said she was experiencing effects such as her voice beginning to get deeper again, which is a big concern for her.

She would have needed to start taking spironolactone, a drug that has side effects including preventing young voices from deepening, at around age 12 to avoid having the voice she has today, which is deeper than she’d like.

Simpson said hearing about people getting beaten up and killed for being gay or transgender in Brooks, Alta., where she lived for eight years, deterred her from coming out for many years, despite the fact she suspected she was transgender since she was four years old.

“This isn’t something that I want to play with, this is serious.”

“I could lose my life.”

When a co-worker mentioned to Simpson that, while she presented as male, she was often identified as a woman by her co-workers, she felt like she was in danger.

“It brought me right back to when I was 21 years old, thinking, ‘There’s no way. You guys can’t think that. My life is on the line if you think that. If you know that I’ve wanted to be a woman every day of my life.”

Monica Conaway. 

Fifty-one-year-old veteran Monica Conaway was raised as a boy, but discovered she was intersex later in life.

“I found out my body didn’t want to be male, it wanted to be female,” said Conaway.

Conaway, who started developing breasts at age 13, said she found out she was intersex because she was having medical problems and had to see a doctor. The doctor revealed to her that not only was she intersex, but also allergic to testosterone.

“I chose to just go with what my body decided.”

The doctors didn’t know what to do, so they classified her as transgender, which Conaway accepted.

“I got the label of gender dysphoria. Because I was born both genders, therefore I had to have a mental illness,” laughed Conaway.

Conaway is currently engaged to a man who is fully aware of her gender identity.

“He’s quite happy with me.”

Many young trans people are afraid to come out for fear of rejection or humiliation, especially when it comes to relationships, said Conaway.

“If you’re going to build a relationship, you’ve got to start with the honesty and go from there.

“You don’t want to be with somebody if they’re not going to love you for who you are.”

Conaway joked about “bugging” her partners about being bisexual because they’re in a relationship with both a man and a woman.

Conaway’s previous spouse of 21 years was not understanding of her gender identity and told her she had no choice but to live as a man.

“She did everything to try and embarrass me publicly, as well as financially destroy me, and she succeeded in the financial destruction.

“She had threatened my life.”

Conaway has two children, one of whom doesn’t speak to her at all. The other “kind of” speaks to her.

The Unitarian and Mennonite churches in Calgary have been open and accepting places for Conaway and other transgender people.

“For those just starting to come to terms with what they are as far as transitioning, just stay strong and keep a positive attitude.

“Even when you don’t feel like you blend in yet, the biggest key is to own what you are and to just push forward.

“If people see that confidence in you, they’re less likely to question you even if you’re not at a point where you really pass as the gender you identify as.”

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