For the Love of Learning
TransVersing is a fishy tale, to use the metaphor of co-crafter Daze Jefferies; it slips along, weaving six unique narratives of transgender (trans) youth in Newfoundland and Labrador. The beauty of the “fishy” metaphor is in its capture of the queer-ness of trans identities, its harkening to the ecosystem and culture of the province, and its use as means of connecting embodiment and place.
The stories presented in transVersing are diverse. They come from around the bay, with vernacular and local accents well represented; from life in the capital city and from experiences crossing borders. There are stories of growing up in small town Newfoundland, small town USA and small town Ontario. These stories converge in St. John’s.
TransVersing is a layered series of convergences really, both in narrative and in its creation. It grew out of a need for a trans-specific opportunity for expression and was born of a collaboration between the Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland theatre company and For the Love of Learning, an arts-based and skill-building program. First funded by a Canada 150 grant, transVersing was written originally for stage. It’s had three runs and continues to evolve in an iterative, collaborative way; keeping time with lives and loves, hopes and dreams, politics and passions of the six young writers and performers.
Before this collaboration was created, another had been tried. A few years prior, Gemma Hickey–local trans activist and educator and a household name for many–had invited LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual) community members to stage a performance called “Queer Monologues.” There was keen interest from folks who identify as LGB but Hickey found few trans folks wanting to participate.
In a place where religion has figured prominently in community life, and where difference has been seen as dangerous, identifying as LGBT, or queer, in these parts has meant risking everything. And for trans folks, even LGB/Queer spaces have at times not been understanding of trans identities, trans embodiments or trans ways of being. It became clear to Hickey that trans people in Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t feel safe or comfortable or even welcome in many queer spaces. But if you know Hickey, you know how tenacious they can be!
Hickey approached Artistic Fraud, identifying that a space for the plurality of trans narratives was needed, that it was–and is–essential to foster spaces that give rise to trans voices. And so transVersing was born. Dramaturge Bernadine Stapleton of Artistic Fraud has helped weave these narratives into a cohesive piece of theatre they regularly receive requests to perform.
The strength and vulnerability of this creation is its magic, as is its distinctly local voice. The narratives presented raise authentic, and too often silenced, voices of trans people in the enclaves of Atlantic Canada. Following a recent performance, an audience member commented that having come out as trans in their small town, they were told that there had once been someone else trans in the community … back in the 1970s. Imagine the isolation of knowing that the only other person from your hometown who might have understood your experience had left more than 20 years before you were born.
Isolation in these parts is stark and true, and the feeling of being frozen out is all too real. But, this person says, they have been going home as trans for more than five years; there are now three young people in that same community who have bravely opened up about their own trans identities.
Sharing our trans and queer stories changes lives. Sharing our local stories creates community, builds trust and makes our lives real–and even normal–for the people around us.
And now these stories are being shared even more widely. The incredible team behind this project has worked with Breakwater Books to bring their fishy tales to the page, captured this time in stillness and no longer living within their transmorphic qualities or slipping through iterative presentations.
I imagine however, given the creative strengths of these youth, and of Artistic Fraud’s contributors, that while the book will freeze these narratives in a particular moment, their slippery, queer qualities will not be lost. This book is both education and emancipation.