Toronto Public Library – “A January 1991 Yonge Street protest of the Gulf War organized by gay activist groups. Stonewall and the bath house raids opened the door for activism both during and outside of Pride Week. Toronto Star Photograph Archive.“
Allegra Morgado, 2SLGBTQ+ Special Projects Coordinator
As we’ve wrapped up October, it’s time for us to take a (belated) look back at 2SLGBTQ+ histories. Instead of focusing on historical moments, such as protests or acts of heroism from the queer and trans figures of the past, we decided to focus more on local history—or histories.
To celebrate 2SLGBTQ+ History Month, we spoke with two members of the Peel community about their own experience growing up as part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, reflecting back now as middle age and older adults. Check out their answers below and learn a bit more from those who have come before us and continue to fight the good fight for 2SLGBTQ+ rights and freedoms.
Note: answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What was your self-discovery process concerning your 2SLGBTQ+ identity like?
Rosalyn: I grew up an age when we did not have the internet, that cell phones were communicators on Star Trek, the original series.
Not knowing who I am, not knowing if I were the only one, not knowing if there was something wrong with me, not knowing if I were normal…these are questions I did not really have the answer to.
It was lonely, isolating and a very self destructive period of time that took me a long time to get out from.
Will: Growing up during the 70s and 80s in small town blue collar Northern Ontario, there was little to no representation/role models to emulate. The language of ‘trans’ was not yet a part of the nomenclature of 2SLGBTQ+. We were not visible in mainstream culture.
Although I was quite sure I was a boy who was attracted to girls, my embodiment betrayed me. So I donned the identity that made the most sense at the time – lesbian. During university I discovered feminism and the label of lesbian became dyke as a political stance against patriarchy and the misogyny both within and outside 2SLGBTQ+ communities. During my work in the Violence Against Women movement, I came into contact with trans women and realized that opportunities to change my physical embodiment to be more aligned with my felt sense of self as male, was a possibility. So at the age of 40, I began the process of socially, legally and medically transitioning.
What is one of the biggest changes you see in 2SLGBTQ+ youth today versus your own experience growing up?
Rosalyn: The ability to find community, resources and support.
Will: The decreased constraints/ increased availability of identity categories and the fluidity of sexualities and genders.
Is there anything you believe you benefited from growing up as a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community during your youth that youth today don’t?
Rosalyn: No not at all. The one thing that I suppose prepared me was the fact I already faced bigotry as a young black person.
Will: The politics of being queer and how my identity, whether as a dyke or trans man, has always been intrinsically tied to the ongoing fight for our safe existence. Marches, sit-ins/die-ins, in many ways, galvanised our communities -as well as created fissures within. I feel my generation of 2SLGBTQ+ folks are very aware that our identities and the legislative rights created to provide protection, can be taken at any time.
What’s your favourite part of being part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community?
Rosalyn: This is an interesting question. I don’t know how to answer this part. I believe for everyone everywhere the best part about being alive is to be able to be completely and as openly every part of yourself inwardly and outwardly.
Will: Strong sense of community care. Having been part of the early years of HIV/AIDS, I learned the importance of mutual aid/networking/advocacy and a reliance on community in looking out for and after one another. In all of the ways that the mainstream social service industrial complex continues to fail us, community continues to fill in the gaps/crevices. And although I often felt a strong sense of support within the queer community, being part of trans communities has only increased those feeling of connections.
Do you have any advice for queer youth and younger folks today?
Rosalyn: Yes. Gather, reach out and find community, learn from the past, understand the laws that are now there to protect and support you and continue creating more. Understand that you are not the only one like you but at the same time you are a unique perfect you.
Don’t allow others to tell you who you really are.
Will: Do not become complacent. Do not allow your privileges-whiteness, class, gender-to box you into a homonormative standard/viewpoint. Do not become the ‘palatable’ queer/trans person that does little to disrupt cisheteronormativity.
Continue to make room for the most marginalized within our communities to have a voice at the table. Legislative rights only protect a very small portion of our communities. We need to build stronger alliances with other grassroots movements whether it be disabilities movements, Black Lives Matter etc. Together we can move forward in ways that leaves no one behind. The police state is and always will be antithetical to all progressive movements. Support the defunding of the police state.
It is important in October and beyond to create intergenerational relationships within the larger 2SLGBTQ+ communities as so much can be lost without them. Will and Rosalyn were gracious with their time and allowed us to learn more about their own personal experiences which are part of the fabric of the larger queer and trans communities in Peel and beyond. Without them, and folks like them, our existences and experiences would not be what they are today.
Community care, as both made note of, is paramount. We must come together and focus on collective care today and everyday as there are unfortunately often moments when some of us only have each other.
Thank you to Will and Rosalyn for sharing their time with us; I encourage everyone to look for folks 10, 20, 30 years older than you in your community to build relationships with—there is so much more we can accomplish when we learn from each other.