“We’ve had an overwhelming number of people contact us — some in total desperation, suicidal in some cases — and they have nowhere, absolutely nowhere to turn,” says Frances Mahon, one of the four-person team of facilitators for the new Trans Partner Network (TPN).
TPN has its roots in SOFFA Voices — SOFFA stands for significant others, family, friends and allies — a drop-in group that began meeting at the 519 Community Centre in 2001 . Mahon says SOFFA Voices had a series of facilitators but that the drop-in format made for a lack of continuity. In 2007 it became an online Yahoo group, with one or two facilitators available to meet with individuals for one-on-one peer support over coffee.
“But the need for a more structured group really emerged,” says Mahon, adding that in January two of the facilitators started the TPN, a core that soon grew to four.
Now TPN is offering an eight-week series of workshops cum support group sessions for the partners of trans people starting Sep 23 at the Sherbourne Health Centre — the session is already full.
Mahon says the facilitators weren’t surprised when the 10 spots filled quickly. “We gave first priority to former participants of SOFFA Voices, and for people who’ve contacted us in the past few years and weren’t able to find support.”
She says partners of trans people often feel invisible during their partner’s transition. “While we support our partners through their transition our own concerns are often put aside and actually it’s partners who often bear the brunt of the transition,” she says.
“When you have questions about the process of transition you can’t really turn to your partner during that time, because it’s such a stressful time for them. Then there are further isolation questions with class concerns or disability or other issues that affect people.”
At this point all of the facilitators involved in TPN are partners of trans men, says Mahon, “however we really see the need for diversity among facilitators so we’re open to having another one join us in the future. The group is open to partners of trans men and trans women.”
The group is also open to partners of any sexual orientation, including those who themselves identify as trans or gender-variant.
“We have this one common thing, but we all experience that in a completely unique and different way,” says Mahon. “It’s valuable to share that and strength comes from that diversity.”
TPN hopes to run a second session of its workshop series in the winter with more to come — there’s already a waiting list for interested individuals — and will continue to offer the online group and one-on-one peer support.
The workshop series will address topics including self-care and relaxation techniques, hormones and surgeries with Dr Jane Greenaway of the Sherbourne Health Centre, and creative journalling with guest facilitator writer Anna Camilleri (author of I Am a Red Dress). Each workshop will be followed by discussion.
Mahon is quick to point out that it’s a peer-facilitated program.
“We aren’t therapists, we need to stress that,” she says. “So we can’t provide that level of professionalism, but we can provide resources and a listening ear, which is what people might need in the moment.”
The Sherbourne Health Centre is providing space to TPN free of charge; Mahon says the group operates with little to no funding. “We were given one small donation from the Centre for Women and Trans People at U of T. We’re applying for nonprofit status at this time and accepting donations from the community.”
Mahon adds the group is accepting financial donations as well as gifts in kind — web design, snacks for the group’s meetings, art supplies, child care services and ASL interpretation top the wish list.