A St. Paddy’s Day Afternoon at SAEFTY’s Human Library
While the bars on Elgin Street were filling up early in the afternoon for St. Patrick’s Day, I was at the Jack Purcell Community Centre for SAEFTY’s Human Library. SAEFTY (Support and Education for Trans Youth) is Ottawa’s newest and only by youth for youth trans, Two Spirit and gender diverse youth group. In a human library, individuals volunteer as human ‘books’ and visitors to the event can have a one on one conversation with the volunteer and share in a dialogue about that individual’s experience.
It was a larger event than I anticipated. The helpful available brochure indicated there were 21 tables at which were seated 23 human books representing a wide cross section of the trans community. (Two tables had two people each.)
I was a little dazzled upon entering and didn’t realize there was a handy road map in the brochure that listed the location of each participant along with his, her, or their life experiences and areas of expertise. Consequently I started at the first table on the left upon entering and found myself talking with Agnes of Venus Envy, who pleasantly pointed out the trans friendly products available. A partial list of the expertise for Venus Envy was “binding, packing, and tucking”, which while valuable and necessary was not especially useful to me. So after a quick chat I moved on.
My original purpose in coming was to learn more about the issues facing trans youth and in this regard I had a chat with two young trans men, first with Jaimie and then Rowan. I still hadn’t flipped through the brochure at this point or perhaps I would have asked more pointed questions about their experiences. Nevertheless, both answered my questions patiently, and while speaking with Rowan I did blunder upon a topic I was interested in and which happened to be on Rowan’s list of experiences, namely transitioning in high school.
I wanted to speak with Kaeden, who I understood was one of the founders of SAEFTY, but there was a lineup to speak with him, and while standing in this lineup I finally read the brochure in my hand. Duh! Very helpful. Rather than wait, I decided I’d speak with Amelie.
Amelie works for the French School Board. Among her topics was “starting a career as a young trans professional” and she shared with me the challenges of being open about her trans identity. I admit I was a little disappointed that certain schools are not yet as enlightened as I imagined they would (or should) be. Overlooking the advantages of having a trans teacher who could help the trans students the school no doubt had, several administrators were instead terrified of “what the parents might say.” A little backbone, please.
Amelie is also involved with Foundations and Pathways Ottawa, a trans and gender diverse peer support program that meets every Saturday from 12 pm to 4 pm at 222 Somerset Street West, Suite 404. (For more info contact Keyah Prempeh at email@example.com).
After this enlightening visit, my now handy brochure directed me towards Alyssa, whose description read that she is an “autistic, Hispanic, transfeminine immigrant.” That sounded like an interesting life experience to me. As a child of immigrant parents myself, I was interested to learn a little about the Hispanic community in Ottawa and how comfortable and accepted she was within it. Alyssa’s origins are Cuban-Puerto Rican, and in some respects our immigrant experiences overlapped. However, because the members of Ottawa’s Hispanic community come from numerous countries and cultures hers is a far more complicated diaspora than my homogeneous Polish one. The Hispanic community is large, but it narrows quickly. I also wondered if she found the noise and activity within the room difficult, but she said she had found ways to overcome the challenges her autism had posed. This became especially clear when she gave me her business card and I found she had a PhD in Biology, specializing in Environmental and Chemical Toxicology. Another highly enlightening visit.
On to Cara’s table! Cara is gender diverse, an artist and a teacher with whom I had a most interesting and wide ranging conversation. Their performance art pieces were brilliant deconstructions of gender. I felt they could not help but make cisgender people question preconceived ideas they might have, but for me personally I couldn’t help laughing at them. So many of the ideas on gender I’ve had over the years and which it would take me a long essay to explain, Cara nailed in these pointed installations. I won’t disclose what they were working on next, but as we promised to keep in touch, I’ll let you know when it appears. Cara’s clever performance art is well worth seeing.
By this time it was almost three o’clock and I had my own St. Patrick’s Day appointments to keep. I was reluctant to leave. I had 17 more human books to access, an impossibility in any case in the hour remaining for the event. I stood there in the centre of the room and looked around me. I had spent almost two hours with a most interesting and diverse collection of people from the trans community and I suddenly felt strangely proud of these people’s accomplishments and how they were addressing their challenges. This was my tribe, and they made me proud to be trans. When I stepped out of the Jack Purcell into the crisp, bright afternoon I was still feeling that positive energy coursing through me.
Congratulations to SAEFTY for organizing such an enlightening and enjoyable event. For more info on SAEFTY visit facebook.com/SAEFTY.Ottawa.