“Before I began my transition, my life was comfortable,” said Pepper Laughington, a co-facilitator of the Social Issues Discussion about Transgender Women in YYC a few weeks ago.
“I was married. Our kids were grown up and starting their own families and careers and doing well. My wife and I both had good jobs. Sounds like a life many would want and desire. For me personally, something didn’t feel quite right.”
Nearly 40 women were in attendance for the workshop to learn about Calgary Outlink’s Resiliency Model and hear Pepper’s story. Annie Hartle, a Mount Royal University Social Work Practicum Student with Calgary Outlink, started off the session with a few group activities. Together, we talked about the various spectrums of gender identity, gender expression, biological sex identifiers and sexual orientation.
These discussions helped women gain a better understanding of the great diversity represented in the LGBTQ community and were the perfect segue into Pepper’s moving personal story of becoming the resilient trans woman that she is today.
“I knew it when I looked in the mirror,” said Pepper. “My reflection did not match who I was. Why was that? The answer never came until May or June of 2014 and then, I understood ‘I am transgender’.”
Pepper spent two months question and examining herself mentally and emotionally to think through all the challenges she was about to face; she knew her life would drastically change.
“These were very scary and insecure times – accepting myself as transgender and starting the process of moving forward and transitioning. A few of the fears and insecurities I felt were losing family, friends and employment, poverty, homelessness, personal safety, self-harm. It begs the question…Why would anyone put themselves through this? I did it to feel comfortable in my own skin and to be able to look in the mirror and have the reflection match the person I am. No more, no less.”
Women who came to the workshop said they learned a lot about the complexities of transitioning and the different forms of oppression trans women face. Statistics from Canada and the US paint a picture that leaves plenty of work to do:
- A study in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario revealed that 28% of transgender and Two Spirit people had attempted suicide at least once.
- Trans students surveyed in 2011 consistently reported the highest rates of harassment in schools. Seventy-four per cent said they had been verbally harassed because of their gender identity, while 49 per cent sexually harassed, and 37 per cent said they had been physically harassed.
- In the US, transgender people are four times more likely than the general population to report living in extreme poverty, making less than $10,000 per year.
The first step to creating change lies in listening and learning from women with lived experience. Pepper summed it up nicely by saying, “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”
Out next Social Issues Discussion will be on Anti-Racism in Calgary on April 5th from 6-8pm. All women are welcome to attend, child minding will be available.