With the voices of those supporting equality rights for trans-identified people becoming louder and more numerous, the creation of some of the city’s first trans-positive spaces could not have come at a better time.
One such group, Trans Youth Ottawa (TYO), was formed last summer to provide younger Ottawa-area trans people with mutual support, friendship and social activities.
According to the group’s co-founder and facilitator, Caitlyn Pascal, TYO is open to anyone under 30 years old that is transgendered, transsexual, gender-queer or questioning. Meetings are held on a monthly basis at Pink Triangle Services (PTS), located at 177 Nepean St, Suite 508.
Pascal, a transsexual, says the discussion group seeks to promote the exploration of gender in a positive manner.
“I really want an atmosphere that encourages people to share, because there always is a lot to talk about,” says Pascal. “I wanted to meet people that were going through the same thing [as me]. Because a really big thing about being trans is just the intensity of it, and the alienation you feel, that there is no one around you that can understand or just connect with that, and that’s really difficult, and so there is a strong desire to overcome that.”
Pascal adds that she felt it was important to create a specific discussion group dedicated to younger trans-identified people, as most TYO members share a “different set of experiences” than older trans people.
“We’re primarily dealing with issues surrounding high school, college or the beginning of a career, as opposed to older individuals, who may be more established,” she explains.
According to Pascal, TYO initially existed only in cyberspace, as a Yahoo Group that was created last spring. But after conducting its first physical meeting at a local coffee shop during Pride Ottawa 2004, members decided to formalize the group’s meetings.
“Then, at one of the meetings we had, we suddenly had 15 people show up, and it was too big for me to host at my house anymore, so we got in contact with PTS and asked about renting space,” says Pascal.
To help with costs, Pascal has begun to organize “Divergence” parties: a trans-positive environment for Ottawa’s night owl crowd to socialize, dance and network. The first party, held in November, was a resounding success with more than 140 people attending.
“We had so much positive feedback we’re going to be doing it as a regular thing in Ottawa, with events planned to end off Carleton U’s Pride Week, as well as another for Trans Awareness Week,” says Pascal. “And, for the first time, Ottawa will have a specifically pro-trans scene.”
In honour of Campus Pride, Pascal has organized the next Divergence Party for later this month. It will be held on Fri, Jan 28 at the Shanghai Restaurant (651 Somerset St W), with festivities beginning at 10:30pm. Tickets are $4 at the door and all proceeds will go to Trans Youth Ottawa.
“I kind of view it as a selfish act, because I wanted to have a trans-positive space, but also, as a DJ, I just wanted to spin,” says Pascal. “The last party we broke even, but this one I want to say explicitly that the proceeds are going to Trans Youth Ottawa, and then see if we can raise enough money to put some of it towards the group.”
In addition to organizing and promoting the Divergence parties, Pascal says she is hopeful the discussion group’s informational pamphlet – a robust document that includes a resource list and vocabulary/glossary list, as well as answers to frequently asked questions – will soon find its way into all area high schools and college campuses and into the hands of medical professionals who may come into contact with trans youth.
“For most trans people, going through high school is a very traumatic thing, and most people don’t make it through, with the pressures and everything,” says Pascal. “So, in a way, this [TYO] is somewhat redemptive of that, because you have so many negative emotions surrounding those years, you think, maybe I can make it better for someone else – and that will make it better for me.”