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Tolerated, but not accepted
This summer Daphne Shaed gave out 300 resumés. She went to 30 interviews. She hoped to land a summer job that suited her skills as a workshop facilitator and Camosun College Student Society Pride director.
Eventually she took the only job she could find working the graveyard shift at a Saanich hotel.
“I would get called for an interview and then when I met (the employers), you could just see it on their faces that I wasn’t getting the job,” said Shaed, a transgender woman. “The community here is tolerant, but tolerance is different from acceptance. Tolerance just means they’re going to leave you alone, but they’re still not accepting; they’re still not willing to have you come into their workplace and work on a front counter.”
Shaed has become a community leader in trans education. Last year she organized a series of workshops at Camosun aimed at understanding trans-identity and self-identification.
Sessions on social etiquette in the scope of gender, pioneers in trans-identity and medicalization drew full audiences and this fall she continued her work with an added focus on sexual health for trans men and women.
Shaed’s approach to education reaches beyond workshops to her willingness to share her story with new classmates to coffee shop baristas who mistakenly refer to her as a man, in the name of making things better.
“I’m a woman, but I’m a different kind of woman,” Shaed said. “People meet me and say: ‘I’ve never met a transexual before.’ Well they probably have, they just don’t know.”
Shaed was assigned to the male sex at birth and named Kelly. She suffered violence throughout her years in Victoria middle and high schools by peers who thought her to be gay – an assumption she allowed to continue for fear of the repercussions that would arise if her true trans-identity was revealed. She left school in Grade 10.
Ten years ago within the privacy of her home, Kelly began to transform into the woman she felt had always existed within her: Daphne, a name she chose for herself as a young child, based on the Scooby-Doo cartoon character.
Like the fictional character’s penchant for danger, Shaed hasn’t shied away from risk. Four years ago, she transitioned into living as a woman full-time and has proceeded with the full medical process involved.
“I felt like I wouldn’t be accepted. I wouldn’t be a viable citizen. I wouldn’t be able to go to school or get employment, to find a partner, be folded into another family unit. The sense of potential loss of your social mobility is what keeps people buried for so long.”
Shaed is optimistic regarding employment, but for a large segment of Vancouver Island’s transgender population, challenges remain.
Nearly one third of the transpeople included in the Vancouver Island Transgender Needs Assessment reported their trans-identity having a negative effect on employment.
The assessment is based on a series of interviews conducted by Matthew Heinz, a professor in the school of communication and culture at Royal Roads University, who transitioned in 2009 and recognized a lack of available regional resources.
Health care, social support, social acceptance and public education, mental health care and access and legal assistance were the highest priority issues identified by the study, posted on the website transvancouverisland.ca.
“The website is a Band-Aid,” Heinz said. “We maintain it as a volunteer effort, but ideally, we would have funding and ideally through a governmental authority or body, so we could have counselling support available to the community – perhaps a hotline.”
Information regarding transitioning exists online, but the details at a local level, such as how to obtain a general practitioner with knowledge of trans issues, or a psychologist able to administer a hormone readiness assessment, are sorely lacking.
“To find people to talk about that process, the resources are limited,” he said. “You have to start the journey somewhere and it would be a lot easier if there was a central point.”
Yet the world’s nucleus for academic resources on transgender history reside in Saanich. Last month the University of Victoria officially launched what is believed to be the largest archive of information relating to transgender activism on the globe with more than 1,000 titles of books and journals on the topic within the McPherson Library.
“We’ve had inquiries from people all over North America about use and access. (There’s) general interest from all over the world,” said archivist Lara Wilson.
For Shaed, being the bold advocate who elects to stand in front of a new class and introduce herself as a transsexual is a role she’s satisfied to have taken on, but it doesn’t immunize her against the constant judgment many transgender people face daily.
“I need to breathe in that strength just to go to Wal-Mart because I know people are going to stare and whisper and when I walk in there I need to have my head up,” she said.
“I need to look people in the eye, to engage them. That takes strength and sometimes I’m just too tired. I can’t go out and have my head down and not engage them in that way. I have to present that level of strength.”
-The Transgender Day of Remembrance is Nov. 20. Exact location and time of a community vigil is most likely 7 to 9 p.m. on the UVic campus. Email Lynne Risk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-The UVic Libraries and Cinecenta present the documentaryTRANS at 7 p.m. on Nov. 21 at Cinecenta in the Student Union Building.