During this Transgender Awareness Week (2nd week in November) James Sieben interviewed Jade Walters, the facilitator of the Okanagan Gender Identity Group.
Jade Walters (she/they) is a trans woman and current facilitator of the Okanagan Gender Identity Group. She is a passionate, grassroots organizer that has provided gender diverse people across the Okanagan with one of the only safe spaces for expression and support.
For this article, I asked her, “what is something you want cis people to know about trans people?” Her response is poignant, insightful, and optimistic while still entrenched in the reality that much work is needed for trans rights, as well as within the trans community itself:
Transness affects many people in complex ways. For many trans people, it results in a fear of public visibility so great that it is hard to leave the house. For others, this public visibility (and trans existence in general) results in dependence upon substances, sex trade, and other illicit economies.
This is in part due to the difficulty involved in being trans in public. Not only is it more difficult to secure a job as a visibly trans person, but for those of us who transition before establishing a career, it often means working in high-visibility environments such as retail and fast food. For many of us, then, our ability to work becomes dependent upon how much harassment and fear of harassment we are able to withstand – thus leading to substance use, illicit economies, and homelessness.
If one wants to be “aware” of trans people, one has to be aware of more than just those few and successful trans people who have established careers, as this is not the case for most. One has to be aware of the trans people living in poverty, the trans people who are dependent upon others for their survival, and the trans people who live in the kind of mental illness where fear of leaving the house and being seen by others genuinely affects their ability to function on a day-to-day level.
In order for this to be effectively combatted, I believe the community has to come together. Funding is required for community initiatives that allow trans folks to support each other. Mental and physiological healthcare services need to be funded and also made searchable, perhaps by aggregating such services in easily-findable community directories. And additionally, there needs to be long-term services and community spaces made available for trans people beyond just their first year of transition, as being trans does not suddenly become easy upon acquiring hormones and coming out publicly.
Rather, it is my experience as a trans woman several years into transition that the difficulties of transition accrue over time, like sediment. Even if we grow accustomed to these difficulties, it doesn’t stop them from weighing on us, and even as I find myself adapting to these things, I continuously find myself noticing new struggles and limitations from existing as a trans person in this community.
I want to reiterate that the only way I believe these struggles can be effectively combatted is by direct community action in a “do it yourself” style. As trans people, we have the capability to support each other, to organize together, and to create places of mutual support and joy. Kelowna does not have to be a desert in terms of the trans community – all we have to do is stop waiting for someone to come along and start it for us. All we have to do is employ a do-it-yourself mentality.
The community is here – all it has to do is come together.