Impact Stories

Nurturing the seeds of growth

“It’s the seed that starts something else,” says Ellis, the facilitator for Transcend Nanaimo. On the surface, this refers to the program and how it connects youth, who are transgender, two spirit, gender diverse or questioning, through the group and beyond. A deeper interpretation can be one that looks at life from the start and how it blooms in natural, beautiful, and unique ways.

Gender is something we learn, especially what it means to be a boy or a girl. From the moment the doctor declares “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy,” the idea of gender is introduced and reinforced through parents and society. Gender is more of a spectrum though, with all individuals expressing and identifying with varying degrees of both masculinity and femininity.

For those who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned by the doctor, or even find themselves questioning what that means, they enter a world that seems to only want them to fit in a particular way. When it comes to mental health, research finds that transgender youth are at greatest risk of suicide (compared to their non-transgender peers) as a result of rejection, bullying, and other victimization.

Growing a community

“I think that we’re all kind of isolated. But I think for trans people and especially for people who are maybe at the beginning of that journey, people can collapse inwards.” Ellis is thoughtful when they speak, aware of how words can impact, as well as the journey many of the youth that attend the group are travelling.

Part of Nanaimo Family Life Association’s Transcend Nanaimo’s beginnings was a seed from United Way BC. Through its Community Investment Grant funding, the group began in 2022. However, it went on hiatus when the previous facilitator left. Since Ellis joined in December 2023, the program, along with its adult counterpart, has started on a weekly basis in 2024.

“It’s powerful work,” says Ellis. “It’s really beautiful to see this community grow. It can be tough times for sure.”

With a warm smile and a considered approach, Ellis connects and supports youth 15-17 years old as they become who they want and are meant to be.

Resilience and Understanding

Tough times leads to a thoughtful discussion of the negative influence of social media, the recent tragic death of a trans youth in the United States, and the proposed policies and comments by provincial governments and politicians. “It’s hard to look away, like you feel sort of compelled to bear witness to it.”

Even for Ellis, who despite the recent discourse, expresses their words and experience more positively, has been taken by surprise by certain events. When a school talked to the group about putting on a drag show, much of the conversation included how they can protect themselves. “It’s a bunch of kids trying to put on a fun show, like dancing, music, and fun costumes. And they’re talking about security and how to make sure this event isn’t disrupted. Why? Why should they have to?” It’s a valid question but one that doesn’t have an answer, even with the support of staff who are prepared to handle the situation.

Creating a safe space

For youth navigating their way through a miasma of negativity, ignorance, and trauma that threatens to drown out the seed of their spirit, groups like Transcend Nanaimo are vital to acknowledging and vocalizing who they are and who they want to be.

“It’s important to have a space with other transgender diverse people, to have these conversations that you’re not going to have with other friends or family. Here, it’s with people who have a common lived experience, where you don’t have to preface the conversation.”

Providing a safe space for the seed of someone’s spirit is important to helping all youth thrive and grow, regardless of gender identity. Inclusivity is more than a buzzword, especially when it comes to youth learning who they are and how they fit in their communities. With support from United Way BC, youth in Nanaimo who find themselves questioning, are transgender, gender diverse, or two spirit, have a safe place to meet and connect.