Sitting down to chat with Aaron Munro, Fin Gareau and Ethan (“just Ethan”) is an easy, fluid thing to do. The three transgendered men are amiable, comfortable in their skins, eager to share and deeply committed to community activism.
But when it comes to asking them to receive kindness from their community–that evokes an entirely different response.
When performance artist Amber Dawn approached Munro to be the latest recipient of her annual trans fundraiser For The Boys, he was hardly quick to jump on board. Munro has spent the last few years fundraising for others, such as YouthCO and the Trans Youth Drop-in.
“It took me about four months before I said yes,” he laughs. “You start thinking about how much privilege you have, whether or not you are the person who needs it the most. It is difficult to accept anything from anybody.
“But I also think that it is about committing to making sure it happens next year, to that continuum. That is what I am excited about,” he adds.
Munro’s initial hesitation came as no surprise to Dawn.
“I’ve been on Aaron for awhile saying, ‘I’d love to fundraise for you,’ but people are unsure about being fundraised for as an individual. Aaron is the prince of fundraising in Vancouver as far as I’m concerned; he deserves to finally receive something.”
Gareau still remembers the moment Dawn approached him to be the Boys’ beneficiary two years ago.
At the time, Gareau was living under a host of stresses: though his body had embraced the testosterone shots that deepened his voice, gave him facial hair and, most importantly, provided him some sense of being in the right body, he still had breasts and was having a difficult time binding them.
After booking his breast-removal surgery, Gareau had to work inhuman hours to come up with the money to pay for the unsubsidized operation. “I gave up my place so that I wouldn’t have to pay rent and I worked 16 hours, six days a week, sleeping in my car and on friends’ couches. It was really hard but definitely worth it. There was no doubt in my mind that that was what I had to do.”
With the surgery date rapidly closing in, Gareau discovered that he was about $1,000 short of the procedure’s costs. “Then Amber Dawn approached me about doing a fundraiser called For The Boys and that was amazing. I needed that last chunk of money to make it happen.”
Dawn produced her first For The Boys in 2003, after a local trans group lost its meeting space and couldn’t afford to rent a new one.
“I had heard that FTM Etc–a peer-driven support group–had lost use of a free space at a community centre and suddenly found that they had to pay rent elsewhere. I just thought, ‘that is easy, I can raise $400 and put on a good show.’
“At the night itself, there were a lot of people there and it felt very warm and supportive,” Dawn recalls. “It was a really good cross-section of the community.”
“Afterwards,” she says, “I received a card from some of the guys who use the support group; it was really sweet. One person wrote, ‘I had no idea that there would be someone out there who would want to do stuff for trans guys.'”
That’s when she decided to make it an annual fundraiser.
And so it continues. This year’s “new and improved” For The Boys will take place Aug 18 and 19. Since its inception, the event has doubled in size; the latest installment promises two different nights of performances with appearances by drag king troupes DK United and $3 Bill, Sweet Soul Burlesque artists Malaika Millions and Your Little Pony.
This year’s beneficiaries, Ethan and Munro, have similar plans for how they’ll use the money. “We’re both going to use it for chest surgery which, for me, can cost up to $8,000,” Munro explains.
As a person of colour, Ethan (aka Buttah from DK United) says his costs will be considerably higher. “Because I’m dark, my skin keloids really badly, so I have to be really specific about the surgery I want to get. The scarring for this specific surgery is going to be pretty bad as it is, but if I want to do anything like pursue modelling, acting or anything that involves taking off my shirt, do I really want to commit to having really bad scars? I’ve gone for five consultations now, and it ranges between $9,000 and $15,000.”
All three men are grateful for the love and support Dawn and the community have shown them.
Munro still feels moved when he remembers Gareau’s fundraiser. “It was amazing. There was all this love and people were really respecting the cause. At the time, I wasn’t out as trans. I came out shortly afterwards. Seeing the community supporting trans people definitely made me feel safer coming out in it.”
“Many trans men are doing wonderful activism,” says Dawn, when asked what inspired For The Boys in the first place. “It just really blows me away to see someone who has to do so much work in their life–on themselves, on their gender, in their bodies–and yet they can go out and be totally generous with their lives. That is such an inspiration, and has me constantly witnessing things that really motivates me to give something back.”