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TRANSitioning Spaces

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Issue: 79 Section: Sexuality Geography: Atlantic Halifax

August 19, 2011

TRANSitioning Spaces

Organizations slowly becoming more trans inclusive

by Shay Enxuga

Many organizations in Nova Scotia are moving to become trans-inclusive, but struggling to figure out what that means. Photo: Miles Howe

HALIFAX—In July, Halifax had its first ever Dyke and Trans March, celebrating the identities of queer women and trans- people and challenging continued oppressions, particularly gendered oppression.

A similar march occurred last year; first called a Dyke March, then a Dyke and Trans March, the name was finally changed back to a Dyke March a week before the event. The flip-flop in names points to a larger trend in Nova Scotia: many organizations are moving to become trans-inclusive, but are struggling to figure out what that means.

Rebecca Rose, one of the organizers of both the Dyke March and Dyke and Trans March describes how the march evolved to be more trans-inclusive. Last year’s march was originally, “for women-loving-women,” explains Rose,“[but]a lot of folks understandably had some concerns because that definition is quite narrow and doesn’t encompass a lot of people in our community.” Organizers changed the name to the Dyke and Trans March, but some members of the trans- community felt that the “T” was simply being tacked on without adequate representation from trans- people.

This year, more members from the trans- community helped organize the march and the process was longer—including five meetings to settle on a name—making the event more trans-inclusive.

“I think that the work that went into the dialogue and the discussions were well worth it,” says Rose. It is important, she explains, “[because] people are complex and issues dealing with identity are complex. These things can be messy and uncomfortable and can take a long time and should take a long time because if not, you’re probably not doing it right."

Being a trans-inclusive space requires more than just adding “trans-” to the name and assuming that everything will be fine, says Ellen Taylor, the New Campaigns Co-ordinator at the Dalhousie Women’s Centre. Trans-inclusivity requires training and centering your mission and services to meet the needs of a diverse community.

The Dalhousie Women’s Centre is undergoing the long and sometimes uncomfortable process of becoming a trans-inclusive space. Taylor notes that part of that process is recognizing who the centre has been excluding. “The Dalhousie Women’s Centre has been in the past primarily a women’s space, primarily a white space, probably a middle class space and starting to think about how those things emerge through the services we provide or the events we hold as the centre...that is sending a message that [the centre] is primarily a women’s space and then we are just allowing other genders to be here," she says.

So, what is trans-inclusivity? What does that look like? What does it mean in terms of institutional structures? These are questions the facilitating team for the Tatamagouche Social Justice Youth Camp (SJYC) are tackling this summer.

In the past, sleeping arrangements at the SJYC have been sex-segregated into male and female dorms. Sex-segregated dorms are problematic, says Andy, one of the co-ordinators of the camp, “because it puts people on the spot and requires people to ‘out’ themselves. It can be a really horrible experience.”

“This year we decided to do it differently,” they* continue, “and a big piece of that is around queer and trans- stuff, and trying to make the space a safer, more accessible space for queer and trans- people.”

The team has been given the go-ahead from the Tatamagouche Centre to implement non-gendered sleeping arrangements this year. Participants will be given the opportunity to self-identify their gender and to choose whom they want to room with. “It’s pioneering in non-gendered sleeping arrangements for Nova Scotia,” Andy says. “I think it’s something other organizations, groups, or people should be encouraged to adopt or use.”

This is a great opportunity for structural change on a community level, says Andy, which is something you don’t hear about very often.

"As a trans- person, as a queer person, it's really important to me personally to address those things on a grassroots level where I feel like it can actually make a difference," they said. "It’s a really political decision that SJYC has decided to do...I don’t know if we all realize that it’s a political thing.”

*This article uses the singular, gender-neutral pronoun “they”. This is used interchangeably with the pronoun “he” because not all identities can be easily expressed in a two-gender, two-pronoun binary system. Andy requested that both of these pronouns be used in the article.

Shay Enxuga organizes with queer and trans- communities in Halifax. He was one of the organizers for the Dyke and Trans March, sits on the board at the Dalhousie Women’s Centre, and is a facilitator with the Tatamagouche Social Justice Youth Camp.

This article was originally published by the Halifax Media Co-op.

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