CHASIcast: Getting deep on gender identity with Stacy

What does support and care look like for gender diverse people today? On the latest episode of the CHASIcast, we spoke to Stacy (he/him), a registered social worker (MSW) and UFV Alumni (BSW – 2015) who has spent much of his social work career working within healthcare, along with offering private pay counselling. For almost two decades Stacy has dedicated much of his personal and professional time to supporting trans, Two-Spirit, gender diverse, and non-binary individuals — as well as their families— in accessing information and resources around the topic of gender identity.

A pull quote. A faded image in the background shows four adults and a child walking together, away from the camera. The quote reads: "Believe people with who they say they are, and it doesn’t have to be a problem. And it inherently isn’t. The only reason it becomes a problem is if we make it a problem. And [remember] that people know themselves better than we ever really will." The quote is attributed to Stacy, Registered Social Worker.

A subject that seems to feel quite new to many, gender identity is a topic that has been around for centuries, and due to the impacts of colonization, this fundamental aspect of human diversity is intentionally left out of history books.

By sharing his knowledge on the area of gender identity and the impacts of the current political and social climates, Stacy hopes to increase awareness around how education and allyship can reduce barriers and improve health outcomes when community members and service/healthcare providers get informed and make the decision to care for their community and come alongside trans, Two-Spirit, gender diverse and non-binary folks.

Hosted by CHASI’s director Dr. Martha Dow and recorded in CIVL Radio’s studio at the University of the Fraser Valley, the CHASIcast is available to stream below, or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music/Audible, and other platforms!

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Stacy: Believe people with who they say they are, and it doesn’t have to be a problem. And it inherently isn’t. The only reason it becomes a problem is if we make it a problem. And knowing that people know themselves better than we ever really will. So, whether you’re a friend or a loved one who has somebody who is questioning their gender identity or knows their gender identity, they’re getting connected to the right people.

I think that that’s what most people want, is for their loved one to be safe and cared for and for it to be a decision that is best for them, but you can’t know that. So coming alongside of those people that you love in their journeys matters.

Intro: Based out of the University of the Fraser Valley on unceded, traditional lands of the Stó:lō people, we are the Community Health and Social Innovation Hub, or CHASI for short. We support the social, mental, emotional, physical, and economic health of those living in our communities by bringing together experts from across disciplines. Those experts have some incredible stories and insights. To share those with the communities we serve, we bring you the CHASIcast, a monthly program where we drill down on a current topic and chat about how it impacts our lives.

Dr. Martha Dow: Well, I’m really excited today to be able to have a conversation with one of my favorite people, a former student. Stacy, thanks so much for taking the time today. I wonder if we can just start by you introducing yourself a bit and talking a bit about your experiences.

Stacy: Yeah, I mean, thanks for having me. I know we’ve been trying to get this together for quite some time, but hello everyone. My name is Stacy. I use he and him pronouns. I live in Mission. So, on the land of the Leq’á:mel, Matsqui, Sumas, Kwantlen, Sq’ewlets peoples. I guess a little bit about myself: I ended up getting my social work degree at UFV, although met you [Dr. Dow] in sociology, which changed my life, by the way. So, thank you for that.

Honestly [it was the] first time I ever really felt successful at school. But got my social work degree. I’ve been involved in social services and healthcare work for the last 10 years, mostly at a youth health clinic, but connected to often youth and young adults and lower-barrier healthcare services. And also, what we’ll be talking about today, I have been supporting conversations so people of all ages around the topic of gender identity for the last 17 [years]. And I also have my master’s degree in social work with a clinical specialization. So, counselling is also part of my career path, as well as supporting a team who can provide information and resources around gender identity and gender diversity.

Dr. Martha Dow: So, you’ve been doing that for 17 years. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s—how it’s changed? I mean, we’re in times that are very difficult and what’s it—what do you think about when you think about the last 17?

Stacy: I mean, so different. I think the conversations being had—visibility just has increased so much.

17 years ago, there were, of course, trans people. I mean, hundreds of years ago, thousands of years ago there were trans and gender-diverse people and non-binary identities. It wasn’t really recorded into history in the same way, but social media really kind of—people are sharing glimpses of their life and their exploration of that and how powerful and meaningful it is to them.

Of course, with that visibility comes folks seeking access to care. And so, the pathway 17 years ago was often one place in Vancouver and only by knowing someone in real life, IRL. Did you really know what that looks like? And so, a lot of information sharing from person to person was how care used to be accessed.

Whereas now you can pop on the internet, Google almost anything—which comes with good and bad—to figure out what it looks like. And so I think it’s so amazing that there is the awareness. Because a lot of people didn’t know anything before, and it was only when it mattered to them immediately that it was remotely a topic of conversation amongst people.

Whereas now it’s a very big topic, used as a political token now, which it wasn’t before, which there’s, I think there’s very specific reasons for that, but…

Dr. Martha Dow: I would love for you to talk about that. I hear that a lot from my students, right? So they, they really so often are trying to fig—as quite frankly, sometimes am I—trying to figure out how we got here, right?

So you look at that lineage and you think, I thought we were going there. You know, are we back there? Are we someplace new? But it doesn’t feel very good. And how did we get to this spot?

Stacy: Yeah, I’m sure it’s a super complex answer. If you really dive deep into it, I think what stands out to me as a part of that answer is… it’s political in that people are like, no, we don’t want that part to exist. We don’t want what we think comes with gender identity and gender diversity to exist in, in society. And so it’s using it as a topic of conversation to put bills up against accessing or banning access to, to care for trans and gender diverse and non-binary folks.

It’s, it’s meant to give other people who really don’t know anything about the topic, a point of contention so that they can get a voting base I think is part of it. I think the other part of it is that fear is a driver. Oppression is real. And as we were chatting about a little bit earlier, this is something that we’ve seen happen to oppressed and marginalized communities in the past, right?

Like interracial schools. Segregation with Black people. HIV and AIDS epidemic, and not wanting to address that in healthcare. LGBTQ rights and gay marriage. I think all of those things are topics that ended up being political, but they weren’t previously. It was that somebody loved somebody else or somebody had this medical condition that they contracted through engaging in activities with a partner or partners. But somebody has something to gain out of it and I often question what do they have to gain?

And then I realized it’s power. It’s control. More privilege than they probably already have, often coming with money and decision making off of the backs of people’s bodies. Yeah.

Dr. Martha Dow: I’m wondering in these times, we’re coming out of Pride Month, although, we extended over the summer, which I think is fabulous, having Vancouver celebrated a little later than others because we get to enjoy it.

How do you, in these times, balance this fear factor, this oppressive discourse, and yet we were mentioning earlier this need to celebrate and be proud. What’s that like for—how are you seeing that manifest itself? What’s that like for you?

Stacy: Yeah, I think. There’s a lot of joy and connectedness amongst community when they’re with community.

I think the fear comes from the backlash from the mis- and disinformation that’s online of people who are presences online who have maybe some knowledge in, in other areas that people come and align with in terms of their ideology, and they’re like, ‘Oh, that person must know what they’re talking about.’ And then you listen to them, and it’s very clear on this topic, they do not, and so they share and spread this disinformation, which elicits fear and outrage because what they’re talking about is often portraying gender identity and, and access to medical care related to transition, or transitioning, because that looks different for folks, to like, violence towards young people. And also backtracking to talk about mental illness. And so I think that the fear around that and being exposed to that as people, like for people with lived experience can be really difficult.

And then you’re trying to navigate life. Which for some it’s, it’s very visible in trying to access just community life, going to the bathroom, going to a grocery store, anything and, and having people promote hate speech. And, and sometimes talk about violence as, as an answer or solution when, when dealing with the community. And I think those are all very real, which is the importance of talking about it and having allies and really educating, right? Like combating the misinformation. And so, then you have people who are misdirecting their energy putting it to where it needs to be, and it makes me think of Drag Story Time at, for Pride, and how there’s protesters who are protesting about sex trafficking and pedophilia, and it’s like, well, hey, those things do matter. And so let’s get you connected to the community organizations and nonprofits that are doing something about it. Let’s take your outrage around those things, which are shared, by the way. That’s, these are not, that’s not something that divides the, the queer and trans community from the cis heteronormative communities.

I think that sex trafficking, violence against others is a shared topic. And so trying to direct them and say, take that hour, take that time instead of just surfing and coming across stuff on social media that’s just easily accessible, which is often hate speech. It’s just disguised as care for other people which is blocking care from other people, by the way.

So this is the mis- and disinformation part that it’s like, hey, spend that hour connecting and getting proper information from the experts, whether that’s on gender identity or whether that’s on sexualized violence and survivors, how to support survivors of sexualized violence and engage in broader awareness activities.

Dr. Martha Dow: I find that really interesting because, it’s an interesting angle in, right? So there’s a big part of me that in those moments simply wants to say your hate is toward me and my community and my family. And therefore this is your avenue into that hate. And I think it’s really interesting and potentially very productive the way you’re looking at it to say, well, what if we flip that and say that the issue is the issue for the person, they’re just directing it and they’re wrong direction, right? Which I think is really interesting.

Stacy: Totally. And I think that that’s a tool of the oppressors, right? Is to go, oh, but this, the problem is this, but this is where you go to address it. And it’s the trans community that’s the problem because they’re making our young people question their gender identity.

And my thing is, well, technically lots of people question their gender identity. That’s how cis people know they’re cis and trans people know they’re trans and non-binary people know they’re non-binary. And same thing with sexual orientation. That’s how people know they’re gay or straight or bisexual.

We are meant to question so we can know our truth and our answer. And so by saying, hey, this is the problem, this is where you, this is the target. People get, certain people, a very few small people, mostly with political agendas. That’s where they send people to. And it’s fair.

When I hear the narrative that young people are being forced to do anything especially when we’re talking about altering bodies, that, of course, is concerning. Yes, that is concerning. Who is forcing anybody to do anything on their body? That is violence. That should not be happening. Consent is a real thing.

Accessing experts who…Who are really considerate and hyper-aware of the climate, who’ve done work, who continue to do work because they’ve seen the good outcomes for their individuals that the rest of community doesn’t see, because people are just going and doing their lives. People don’t get exposed to trans, non-binary, gender diverse, and two-spirit folks who are and doing things.

They just aren’t. And so, therefore, if they don’t see them, that must just be a false scary narrative. And so they believe the people that are spouting off about it. So I think challenging that and saying, hey, what are you most concerned about addresses the fear that drives them.

And then they’re like, oh, yeah, I don’t have to be afraid of Two Spirit, trans, gender-diverse, non-binary people. I have to be focused on being part of the solution, which is connecting to the matters, the agencies, the organizations, getting educated on topics that matter to me. And unfortunately, social media isn’t always the best resource.

But it can be. And so, I think supporting people to be consumers—there’s a word I’m thinking of—aware of what they’re taking in, who is this person, what are they speaking about, how do they know this information to be true. Versus just going, hey, I think we align politically, so maybe this person knows what they’re talking about.

Because we’ve been taught that when people are talking about things thoroughly and passionately, that they know about them. And that isn’t always true.

Dr. Martha Dow: Yeah, great point. Pronouns, they seem to be the lightening rods. Can you talk a little bit about that, what you’ve seen and how to respond?

Stacy: Yeah, I think—I mean, everybody has pronouns, right? Everybody has a gender identity, even if it’s a non-binary identity. And so, I think it’s easier, and almost a way of deflecting, by saying, oh, well, I don’t know how to use they/them pronouns. It’s like, ehh? But you do it, you just—nobody’s ever pointed it out to you.

And so, I also think it’s—sometimes individuals reject pronouns as an important piece. As a way of controlling, if I’m being honest, right? Controlling the narrative about somebody, and it’s like, I don’t want to validate that for you. And my question would be, why? Why? And if we were just inherently validating people’s pronouns, this wouldn’t be a conversation. Right? We would be like, hey, your pronouns are they/them? That’s great. Mine are he/him. What are yours? Great. Thank you. And move on. And same thing with gender identity. It doesn’t have to be a topic. It does because it’s being politicized and because people are really trying to fight against it. But otherwise, if we just supported people to go to the right pathways, the right people who are also looking out for their well being.

So if those people are like, ooh, there might be a little bit more support needed here. They’re gonna try to support the person before just ushering them into some form of transition. That doesn’t really—people don’t want that. They’re not risking their livelihoods and their professional careers of 10 years, plus whatever they’ve done in the field. That’s just education for 10 years to rush somebody through something that they don’t feel is an appropriate fit for them.

But yeah, but—I also think pronouns are super important. So I think that honoring somebody’s pronouns, finding ways, finding strategies on how to do it. It might not be easy, but it’s practice, and it’s definitely not hard, right?

And if it’s hard, it’s because you’re resisting it, because we use pronouns to talk about people all the time. Yeah.

Dr. Martha Dow: I wonder if you might relate it to that—you know, New Brunswick and the conversation about notifying parents in schools. So that’s been—it’s really interesting, that coalescing of political power around organizations that are using that to motivate political participation of, I would argue, far-right interests around that.

But what about that? So the concern—so it’s interesting to me because I love how you’re saying, what’s the fear, what’s the worry, and then how do we address that? And the worry that’s raised is to say, well, if parents aren’t supportive, then you don’t want the teacher to have to tell the parents that there’s a choice around pronouns or name.

Others obviously are arguing we want parents to know because we want them to be able to wrap themselves around children who might be asking or thinking about identity or pronouns. What do you think?

Stacy: Yeah, I, again, I think if we think about the fear of that, it’s like, well, a big narrative that comes up around fear with youth is being influenced, right?

They’re being somehow being influenced to question their gender identity and to be a part of the trans and Two Spirit and non-binary communities. And I don’t—it’s been my experience that isn’t true. Simply talking about it doesn’t inherently make it somebody’s truth.

But if there is that concern for a select few, maybe, young people who have lots going on in their life—and maybe this isn’t—maybe there’s something they’re exploring and they’re just not sure how to handle it. I mean, talk with the young person, have that conversation. Be like, hey, I’m noticing that you’re using this name or using these pronouns at school. And you’re not sharing that with your family. What’s going on there? And, and looping in other professionals that can maybe support that conversation for that young person, because maybe they just needed support to come out to their family.

I think outing someone is—we’ve seen this with the 2SLGBTQ community historically—is super problematic and can be dangerous so I think that, if it’s the fear that somebody’s being influenced, then maybe that can actually be the conversation is, ‘Hey, I’m noticing that there’s something going on for your young person. And they’re connecting with their peers in ways that I’m curious, are you noticing anything at home?’ Have the conversation about influence. Don’t make it about gender identity. Where is a young person being influenced? And see how to support them best. Outing them just changes the conversation to be back about gender identity.

It doesn’t focus the conversation around—hey, how are you supporting that young person to navigate growing up and making decisions that are best for themselves, and coming into their own autonomy and independence. But those are harder topics. Even though they’re not, right?

It’s easier to blame gender identity. It’s easier to blame this ‘new’—I’m using air quotes here—but trending topic as the issue. So I think it causes further harm, which people are trying to avoid in the first place, but it’s by outing young people, and then it’s going to put young people at risk.

And we know that and there’s research done by accredited universities that do talk about the risk factors to young people. And part of that is it’s not because of their gender identity. Or their gender diversity, but it’s because of the lack of support, violence they experience that puts young people at risk, and when they have at least one supportive adult, that increases their [positive] health outcomes.

So, I would invite people to—and I recognize that this is their work livelihood is put on the line if they don’t do this because that’s what’s being asked of them, and that’s what they’re being told they have to do—but to really explore what other ways can I support this young person versus just having to default to a rule that if they really asked why this rule is here, is it in the best interest for the young person?

And that’s who they’re saying they’re looking out for. Right. Yeah. And that’s why we have Mature Minors Act in healthcare. Right. That’s why we have laws supporting young people who have the ability to consent, or not, like those kinds of things in place.

Dr. Martha Dow: And so I was going to ask you another question about pronouns, but I’d love you to talk about those ideas of consent and mature minors and a bit of that because it’s so connected to people’s worry and fear, right?

And, and, and not understanding aspects of autonomy that are so much more nuanced and complex. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Stacy: Yeah. So I don’t, I don’t have it all in front of me, but my best recollection is mature minor is essentially somebody that’s at the age of 12, depending on their individual situations, may have the ability to provide consent to accessing certain aspects of healthcare that is assessed individually.

We know 12-year-olds that maybe aren’t as far along and some 12-year-olds and you’re like, I can’t believe you’re 12. We also know that of 16-year-olds, some of which have jobs and drive. They can become lifeguards and literally guard human beings’ lives and have that level of responsibility, operate machinery that could take somebody else’s life.

And so they do have the ability to, to discuss aspects of healthcare and speak with a provider who will determine with them if they know enough to be able to provide consent. So it’s not just inherently somebody’s 12; they have the ability. It’s kind of, 12, there is a general understanding that someone at that age can. They could be able to consent to care, but that is not just inherently meaning that, yes, they have access. So, that’s what stands out to me around that. And it is, it’s law. And it—from my experience, not just around gender identity, but—healthcare access for young people, that is so important.

Because as adults, we try to govern and protect. And in doing so, we limit care and support for young people often. Some people are like, 12 is too young to be able to consent to sexual activity. I am not in disagreement of that. I also am not, and do not—just as others don’t—have the ability to be there and stop every moment where a young person might choose and make a decision for their body, even at 15, to engage in pleasure, if that’s what it is for them, or maybe it’s pressure and so that’s why these conversations about consent overall are so important and consent isn’t also just about sex, or accessing healthcare. Consent is about understanding oneself and their ability of knowing how to say no, and that is so that they don’t get taken advantage of in, in their work, in life, in their partnerships, in so many different areas. So, I don’t know, I think adults infantize [kids] in certain ways when it benefits them, and, but we’re also willing to give them super, tons of responsibility, and that just differs based on the benefit to the adults, I think.

Dr. Martha Dow: How important is age in trans care and thinking about that? Because that comes up continually.

Stacy: Yeah, I think it for sure, it’s a very sensitive topic. Individual assessment, again, is super important, right? Not all 15-year-olds are the same. Not all 15-year-olds’ goals are the same either.

And so, it isn’t necessarily a determining factor, but it’s an extra consideration for the providers who are going to do the care. It’s like, hey, what about this is an option for this young person? Let’s make sure what they understand about it. So the age indicates the conversations and safety precautions, I would say, that go into care planning.

Because it’s not a one size fits all. And it’s not a slippery slope. It’s not like, well, [that] person’s trans, let’s get them on the trans train.

Dr. Martha Dow: *Laughs*

Stacy: That doesn’t exist… I don’t know why I felt the need to say that.

Dr. Martha Dow: I think now it does.

Stacy: Yeah. Right. So, so I think it really frames up for the adults and healthcare providers and professionals involved.

What is the care planning look like for this young person? Because it doesn’t—it also needs to be age-appropriate, and the development of bodies differs at different ages and stages for young people. So age is just an indicator of that, I think. And also I think the conversation around consent and capacity consent is a lot more structured and thorough compared to adults, right? Because adults can engage in informed consent fairly easily. It’s like, yes, this is what I know to be true. This is why I want to access this care. This is what I’ve researched. And so adults can have those conversations. But it’s also shocking how many young people also are so well-versed and researched.

And also, it doesn’t mean that the care just switches to that of the same access of an adult. Those—there’s still those conversations. There’s still how are you supported? And that also happens at all ages. I, so yeah, that’s how I think age is viewed. And there’s a lot more involvement of other specialists, depending on age, too.

I think the younger that folks are, that is definitely a part of the care planning. So pediatric endocrinologists are involved, making sure that if puberty blockers are a part of the care plan, everything is monitored. And so that’s one piece there. And I think the other piece that’s specific and very intentional mis- and disinformation is surgery for young people, and especially altering bodies and genital surgeries specifically, and the age of majority is really where the main point of access is for most people, I would say, where it comes in for older youth is where there is the history where they’ve been involved in programs and care.

And there’s that documented medical history where it shows, hey, this is the—this person is persistent and consistent with their identity. They’ve been waiting probably longer than they would have wanted to, to still be able to access those points of care. So it’s not, it’s not a quick turnaround time. It’s not an agenda to have somebody just rushed in, and, oh, well, now they’re part of the community. That’s not part of how it works.

But people are led to believe that that’s the case, and that there’s a ‘trans agenda,’ and they’re somehow co-opting young people and their bodies into being trans or gender-diverse or non-binary is part of that, and I can’t speak for a community of people, but I would venture to say that nobody wants people to be trans or non-binary that aren’t. They want people to be able to be themselves.

And I think that that aligns with queer community, broader queer community, in terms of hey, love who you love. You might be attracted to certain bodies or not. Engage with people in a consensual way, however you choose to do, as long as they’re able to provide consent. And there’s some legal ramifications around age of consent, around sexual activity and those kinds of things. So of course, but also thinking in reducing harm, because if people are going to do it, how do you make sure they’re as safe as possible? But that’s a little different. So talking about the two, but for gender identity.

Dr. Martha Dow: And it’s interesting. I’m always struck, and I think I have been since probably I was thinking about coming out when I was in my early 20s, right? About this idea of enticing or, somehow this identity that, right now, when we think of where we are, and certainly when I was in my early 20s, that was not appealing. People hated who I was at my core. There was no incentive. There was nothing that drew me on that side in terms of who living my true self. And I think of where we are now, and it’s hard to engage when people are so attentive to this idea that young people could be enticed into an identity that is hated with such vile at the moment, right?

Stacy: Yeah, somebody’s like, great, I’m choosing somehow to be a part of a community that’s hated and politicized and accessing healthcare is difficult. I mean, that’s also changed to come alongside people in a little bit of a different way these days. But previously, it was quite rigorous and very dangerous for people to go through with medical transition in a sense of they had to live outwardly for real life experience before even accessing care.

So people were targeted and so lots of—especially trans-femme and non-binary femme presenting folks—experienced violence, very real violence. And we see that in the States still, too. So, yeah, I would, when people are like, yeah, there’s this co-op of people coming together to try to make people trans… when there’s violence the way that there is, and the rates of murders and violence, especially in the U. S. that we see, but it, of course, it happens here too is as high as it is, what’s the actual benefit?

And as you’re saying, for your own experience, they’re just… It’s not, you’re just needing to live your truth and it’s hard when you have other people, which maybe even is your family, who would love you unconditionally and now they’re saying, no, what you’re going through is a phase or that’s not real or you’re mentally ill—who will love you, who will care for you and really putting these harsh things in your face and when people are supported, again, this is in research, they do, they do better. They can get along with their lives. They can have a partner or partners. They can have friendships. They can have connection to community in not just queer and trans community, but their local communities or specific areas of interest communities. And also give back to community.

I think that’s the other thing that I very much see in queer communities is the sense of caring and coming alongside of each other and looking to create solutions to social problems that don’t just affect the community that are broader in scope. And so I think that’s the greatest power.

So I think we often talk about the fear and the challenges that come along with it. But there’s also this beauty and strength that comes through being a part of a community that is lied about. People lie about them and people, right? So yeah, I think it’s queer and trans joy.

I’m trying to find that in these times, and that isn’t actively and readily available in society, right? I mean, if Pride needing to be a thing after all these years—when for the queer community it was fighting for their rights, it’s the same journey that trans people and non-binary people are going through right now.

Dr. Martha Dow: I think we’re really good. We talk about it a lot in the Hub. The queer community is really good at bringing protest and celebration together. I think we do it maybe better than anybody else, right? And finding those spaces and I—but I’m also struck with that desperation around celebration.

I was mentioning the Tea Dance was so amazing, but it was also palpable that there’s so little celebration of who we are. And so I think you really could feel that, right? So I think we’re pretty darn good at it.

Stacy: Yeah, I agree. And I think it’s because it’s like, hey, I’ve worked so hard against odds to be who I am, to show up and make it and find community and find my purpose and just belong. And belonging is super powerful, and there’s a lot in society that tries to make people not belong. Well, if you’re into this, you can’t do this and right. They put up these superficial barriers and that doesn’t have to be.

And when I think about the rainbow and Pride, a lot of people are like, well, straight people don’t fit in there, and it’s like, well, then that’s a choice because if you’re really celebrating identity and diversity of humanity, including sexual orientation and gender diversity and ability and race and culture and all these things that are involved in humanity, and Pride is centered around queer identities, but that can be brought out.

And it’s like, you—it’s really asking and stepping into, hey, celebrate yourselves, everybody has a place here. As long as you’re willing to also say that people have a place here. And also… Something that I find is super interesting is there is a book by Dr. Martin Brokenleg around belonging.

And so, whenever somebody is… [there’s] this idea of a circle, and when somebody does something wrong, they’re removed from the circle. And then this idea of ‘you can only come back if you fit our standards,’ as opposed to expanding that circle and going, you know what? Maybe you made that mistake. Maybe this is a wrong thing. By behavior, not by identity and who they are, but by certain actions, maybe they choose to expand the circle and go, we’re not rejecting you, you still belong here, but let’s figure out how to support you to come closer to the circle, to be who you are, to find mastery and independence and these other topics that are talked about.

And so I really think that there is the need for that celebration, because when you think about it, if the whole internet—and it’s not the whole internet, but a lot of the internet—and people who are protesting against, are showing up in spaces where you just are trying to be who you are and belong. You do have to connect with people who see you.

And so I think that’s where Pride [is], and it’s also fun and beautiful. And also it’s a little bit commercial these days in certain ways, but people can choose not to engage in those moments, but it also allows people to feel safe and seen. And I think, especially for trans community, not everybody feels safe being seen, and when they are seen, they’re usually denied, and [other people are] like, no, no, that’s not you. You’re born this way. That’s who you are.

So, I think it’s a bit of activism in that way, but also why not have fun and it be beautiful and sparkles and all these other things. Obviously that’s not all of it, but I think it does also uplift. And for some, I think it’s a rejuvenating thing to be able to be like, yeah, I’m going to keep going.

I’m going to keep moving forward with this work and I can still also have fun and be celebrated and celebrate others.

Dr. Martha Dow: What does allyship look like for you then? Because some of the threads you’ve been talking about, what does that mean in 2023?

Stacy: Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s super broad. I can talk about a few of the pieces that stand out to me. Allyship is introducing yourself with pronouns and saying, if anybody [else] would like to share, please feel free to. Or asking people’s pronouns is one way.

Dr. Martha Dow: Can I ask you about that, Stacy, for a second? Because it’s an interesting one that came up at UFV.

In terms of we—there was a bit of a conversation about including [pronouns], and I don’t include mine. And the reason I don’t, obviously, I’m out as a lesbian and I try to be as supportive and provide space for students [as I can]. But I was struck by a student who came to me really early in the conversation and said, ‘I’m not sure what mine are because I’m navigating that at the moment. And I’ve been in spaces where I’m asked to give them. I’m not sure what they are, but I’m not comfortable saying not sure because that feels like it outs me a little bit.’

So it was a really interesting conversation. So, I try to, I just, I think there’s an interesting piece about outing around pronouns that is intriguing.

Stacy: Yeah, and that’s, again, the invitation is not [that] everybody has to share, it’s if you’d like to. And so part of that is for allies to be able to create space around like, hey, I recognize pronouns. So if you want to tell me your pronouns, I’m also here for it. Some people will use their name and say if you could just go by my name that’s great.

And so it does, it creates awareness. It creates visibility. And also I think respecting another person who’s like, hey, this puts me in a really tricky spot. You’re like, yeah, cool. How can I address you? How can I respect you in the best way possible?

So yeah, it used to be like, oh, well, everybody needs to in the circle. And now it’s shifting to being more individual, invitational to do that. But yeah. So, and also sometimes for people being like, I use he/him pronouns, but I also say, if somebody called me they, I’d be okay. If somebody called me ‘she’; I’d be like, I don’t really know what you’re talking about, but also that doesn’t hurt me. Whereas it would be hurtful for other people. So I think, yeah, just being as respectful as possible and offering that, I think, is better than demanding it.

Dr. Martha Dow: So other parts of allyship you were mentioning, what else? ‘Cause it just feels so important right now to me. So I’m mostly trying to get your wisdom on it.

Stacy: I think there’s allyship in different levels, right? I think there’s on an individual level—so, micro, macro, mezzo, I can’t get them in order at the moment, but I do remember them—and so what area do you feel called to support community on. If it’s on an individual level, that might be somebody [at] a family gathering or just in a group of peers, hanging out at a park or whatever, and somebody’s like, pronouns are stupid. Maybe active allyship is going, ‘hey, maybe you feel that way. But other people don’t.’ It’s simply addressing the story that people are making up that blankets a whole community.

So that could also be validating somebody’s chosen name, and simply [if somebody is] being like, ‘Oh, well, why is this person going by this name?’ and ‘I can’t think of them that way.’ But we do that for other people, often. Culturally, we do that for people, so people who go by shortened names or defer their cultural name to a more white name, right?

So I think pointing to some of the things where it’s like, ‘well, just because you believe that doesn’t mean it’s true for everybody,’ and also vocalizing that. Challenging these little moments with people that you’re in relationship to can be an act of allyship.

Getting educated, of course, and that can be in super small ways. There are resources where there’s “gender 101s” so you can learn about gender identity. So you don’t have to figure this out on your own and come across random stuff on the internet or listen to people who don’t know anything about it.

You can spend one hour, or do an advanced one, which I think is another hour to an hour-and-a-half, which also—for anybody that needs continuing professional development credits like these—go towards that. That can help you in your profession, as a student in your education, but also [as] a member of society, too, for an hour of your time.

And there’s a lot of folks that spend an hour of their time just scrolling looking for something meaningful, and maybe actually taking that time and carving it out to be like, you know what? No, I’m gonna learn about this, because maybe in my life I don’t know somebody that’s trans or gender diverse at this point, but maybe I will. And also if I’m a professional in any capacity, I’m probably gonna come across somebody, and I can either be somebody who gets it, even if I don’t fully understand it, but I can be respectful of somebody and come alongside someone, versus being like, ‘yeah, I know I don’t get it. I’m not gonna try.’ Because wow, what privilege comes with that, of being like, ‘hey, I don’t know who you are, but I’m not even gonna bother. That’s how much you don’t matter to me,’ like in a workplace or just in general public. And confronting somebody about it.

Dr. Martha Dow: In academia, we have professors that are still so resistant to calling a student anything other than what’s on our class list. And that’s obviously targeting particular individuals, and it’s just so…

Stacy: But I would ask why. And would you do that for another student who maybe would be teased about their birth name? Yeah, you would. They would. So what is the statement they’re trying to make there? And why? Why? Why are you outwardly denying somebody something that—for whatever reason, because people also change names for different reasons. Maybe their birth name brings up very hard memories, right? Would you do it for that person? Yup. There would be so many reasons why you would accept and honour somebody’s wishes to do that. Yet for someone around gender, you’re saying no. Andif you’re a professor in academia, are you not here to help literally educate and help people evolve and develop and learn how to be critical thinkers?

Ideally. And no matter what, even if you’re in something like science or mathematics or engineering, critical thinking is also going to be important there. It’s not just social service-related. It’s not just humanities and those kinds of things. The invitation is for them to look into that and again, to decide, are you going to be a part of the problem, which is causing active harm to people? Or are you willing to be a part of a solution by that small piece of saying, ‘great, you go by that name? Thanks, that’s what we’ll do here’ because it also, for university students, if they don’t legally change their name, and there’s a lot that that is required of people to do that. It is not just like ‘go to Vital Statistics and they can figure it out.

Depending on where people are born, it is very challenging, if not impossible to change that. And so people have to go through this whole rigmarole to even get their degree with their chosen name on it. That’s who they are and how they go by. So, tying to be accessible, I think, is so important.

Dr. Martha Dow: It’s interesting, you talked about education, and I just wonder, I know how it—the Waterloo stabbing of the professor in the gender studies course. Not sure if you heard about that.

Stacy: No.

Dr. Martha Dow: Oh yeah, okay. So, interesting from a university point of view, because the individual walked into the classroom as the professor was teaching a gender studies course, and I thought it was, you know… as a prof who teaches sexuality, and many of us are talking about all those things, but symbolically for me, what was so profound is—and we can’t know the motive, we can’t know, and we don’t need to in many ways.

The symbolism for me was, we’re not going to talk about that. Like that education piece, that discourse piece needs to be stopped because that’s where the threat is. And I thought it was fascinating to see the reaction and the framing around that. And quite frankly, so much media that focused on the fact the alert system didn’t work—which is important, of course—but almost a worry about really engaging with which course, it was intentional. It was that course was targeted, that subject matter was targeted. So that broader chilling effect.

Stacy: Yeah. I mean, the discourse is important because if we’re not having active conversations and discourse, that really talks about truth and the breadth of truth, because truth is also complex, right?

There could be an absolute truth, but when you pick it apart, there’s lots of working pieces. But if we’re not talking about it, the alternate discourse is the people who are talking about it, and they’re being radicalized. And we know that there’s a lot of tools of white supremacy that still exist.

And so there might be some people listening to this that are like, how does that fit in here? And it does, right. If you think about racism and the history of racism, there were narratives created and discourse around the inferiority of people of colour, so that’s what’s also happening here. And that ‘wow, this is being talked about, this can’t be talked about. It’s gotta be shh… like, we’re not gonna expose other people to it because it’s not what they believe.’ It’s like, well, this isn’t a belief. This is a reality.

And so, what was this person? I don’t know their age but a student, so could be 17, 16, plus, going through—and what were they absorbing radicalized them so much that they had to go—’I’m going to go take a weapon and I’m going to go and attack this person because this person has these beliefs.’

And again, it’s not beliefs. This is what we know. This is history live today and tomorrow and the next day. And so by being a subject that is an afterthought often, I think it allows that to fester—that idea—as opposed to being positive conversations about, hey, this is a part of it. And hey, also, if this doesn’t match for you, that’s okay, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong or scary or any of these other things for other people.

Thinking about other reasons that people are radicalized outside of this—and there are. There’s research, there’s knowledge, there’s certain things around the radicalization of people versus helping people belong and fit in and be like, hey, maybe you’re not—maybe you are cisgender and straight, but there’s also a place for you to exist in society, most of which is built for you. But just because this topic seems new doesn’t mean that people can’t coexist.

Dr. Martha Dow: It’s interesting hearing you talk about language of existence. We heard a student talk about that on the last podcast, and I thought made me—honestly, really quite sad to hear that language, which was the 70s and 80s language that I grew up with—just looking for a little tiny corner to exist in, right? And the fact we’re here, how does living in the Fraser Valley, for all of us, or working in the Fraser Valley, what does that add to this mix in your experience?

Stacy: Yeah, I think the level of complexity comes in around certain people who argue that it’s a part of their faith. And I say certain people and part of their faith because I don’t inherently believe that just because people believe in God, they automatically…

But interesting how some people do use God or certain scripture to say, ‘see, this is why it’s wrong.’ But there’s other people, too, who see their faith and go, ‘no, but part of the goodness of my faith is caring for people,’ and so those people are able to come alongside and use their allyship, and go and talk about faith, because they aren’t inherently separate.

I do think that religion is often used as a reason for hatred from people who are religious and also have their other motives. It’s not just inherently the religion, but… and also I think that on the wonderful side, there’s also a thriving queer community and it’s not everywhere and all the time, but I do think that there’s people that are out and living and are wonderful, successful, contributing members of society who are part of the 2SLGBTQ community.

But it’s a little bit trickier. In certain places, in certain moments, it’s very polarized. At other times, I think it’s just kind of, eh. Everybody’s just doing their thing and getting along, and I think people would be surprised by that. But also, yeah, I think there’s certain people that  want this community to look a very particular way, and will do and say things to make that happen.

Dr. Martha Dow: Yeah, I agree. And I think it’s an interesting time where religion in some ways is being used to a greater extent to marginalize and oppress. There’s greater permission around that. I come from a family from the United Church

Stacy: I grew up Catholic.

Dr. Martha Dow: *Laughs* Yeah, okay, a whole ‘nother podcast.

Stacy: Oh yeah.

Dr. Martha Dow: But there’s all sorts of affirming churches and all of those, so I completely agree with you that it’s not religion at its core. It’s all of that noise around it in many cases. And I think that’s increasingly difficult, again, when people are using language around freedom of expression and religious freedom, and that some of those aspects we just know would not be asserted if we were talking about a religious position that was racist.

Stacy: Oh, for sure. Yeah, like, the hypocrisy of it, I think is a big part of it. If the tables were turned, how would that look? And if we’re not asking that, if we don’t, if we’re not critically thinking about it, people are just buying into, ‘well, this is what scripture says. Oh well, this is the stance on my faith and my religion.’

And also I think the other thing is it’s—religion is quite centered as a big part of privilege and identity to be able to be like, ‘well, my religion doesn’t accept you. And look at how religious this community is. Therefore you don’t have a place here.’ And so I think that using faith as a weapon—I mean, that’s problematic in and of itself, right?

That’s not what faith is meant to be. That’s not what religion is meant to be. If you’re looking at it from a God and faith perspective, it’s stepping into… how does that impact just the one community that you’re talking about, because it wouldn’t be allowed in other ways. Oh, but historically it was right. Religion just can’t be used as a tool to argue one’s position and again deny the existence of historically documented humans and diversity as a whole, right? Like, that’s kind of, again, what it is, but…

Dr. Martha Dow: I’ve got a few more things I just want to touch on, but I also invite you, if I haven’t had a chance—I could sit and talk with you all day. What do you think the university’s role is—and broadly, I don’t just mean UFV, obviously—but the university role in these times around these issues?

Stacy: Yeah. I mean, to me, the university was a place where you’re coming to learn, to be exposed to ideas, ways of thinking, more information from people who are experienced, from people who have studied, who are professors, who have done and continue to do this good work. If it’s being reduced so much to being like, well, I’m only talking about the things that I know, and that’s the only law, or that is only a trade, and they’re not leaving room for their students? Like, who are these people that are coming and showing up who are also meant to be shaped. And by shaped I don’t mean academia and the professor shaping them—like to come into their own shape so that they can experience and go, ‘oh, this fits for me. This doesn’t.’ Yeah. So I do think that the university, the way that it was started was like, hey, we need to share and spread information and knowledge and create critical thinking and also to a certain extent expertise that somebody gains over the course of a lifetime.

And it was really forward pushing in a lot of ways, right? A lot of areas of study came from universities. When we’re thinking about women’s rights and we’re thinking about all these different areas, that was so forward thinking. I feel like now universities are scared and are at the whim of the public and are being like, well, if we get too politicized, what happens to us?

And it’s like, yeah, but that’s what you were here to do. You were here to create those conversations. I’m also not somebody who’s super specialized in anything. So I think that in university, I got to take classes that were around philosophy, sociology, criminology, social work. I did psychology. I did kinesiology at one point. Very briefly. I’m not a science person. But that allowed me to understand and think, and there weren’t really the conversations back then around pronouns and those kinds of things. So it wasn’t that somebody was automatically denied their true self, but now those conversations are being had by students in universities. And if universities are going ‘no, we’re not gonna, we’re not gonna tackle that problem. We’re not gonna tackle how that’s disrespectful to you in this space that’s meant to support and foster you into becoming yourself.’ I don’t know, it just… Again, I think it’s fear driven, or you have people who are politically motivated in certain positions in universities that they are benefiting from not having those conversations.

And I would also ask why? Why are you, in the position of power that you have, going to dictate who another human is, and the level of just, decency, human decency, simplicity, respect, of people that are paying to get an education here that want to better their lives, that want to better their communities also. I don’t know many people that are only in it to not be a part of a broader university community. And in lots of areas to want to change the world or make society better and also make money while doing it, ideally with a career and all those kinds of things, but to be forward thinking, and I think in some universities that’s quite stalled and intentionally being stalled just to see how things pan out.

Dr. Martha Dow: Yeah, and you nailed it. It’s always fascinating to me when you hear someone taking a position or an organization that says, well, I don’t want to be political and not seeing that by not doing what they’re doing is political, right? Silence is political. We always think about that.

Stacy: Yeah, very much so. And also people who just by their existence are, are political. So you need to show up. You need to show up. You need to make these changes. And also, I recognize too, there is some work that goes into that. But also, get the people who know how to do the work in and let them do it. Bring the support to you. It doesn’t have to be you starting from scratch.

It’s not new; other people have gone through these things. So there are blueprints around how to start. So yeah, I think that they need to come around and to be like, no, we’re in charge here. This is a business, and it’s a business in people, and it’s a business in spreading knowledge and in research and in understanding so we can create a better future, I think. Maybe I’m wrong on that, but that’s what I think most young people or people of all ages who come to university or college think. And so if the college or university isn’t really doing that, then what are you doing?

Dr. Martha Dow: If you had a message, what’s the most important thing that you think about these days in terms of what we’ve talked about?

Stacy: Oh, yeah, that’s big. I think it’s really… Believe people with who they say they are, and it doesn’t have to be a problem. And it inherently isn’t. The only reason it becomes a problem is if we make it a problem. And knowing that people know themselves better than we ever really will. So, whether you’re a friend or a loved one who has somebody who is questioning their gender identity or knows their gender identity, they’re getting connected to the right people.

I think that that’s what most people want, for their loved one to be safe and cared for and for it to be a decision that is best for them, but you can’t know that. So coming alongside of those people that you love in their journeys matters.

And then, I think that grows love, as opposed to spreads fear, and then hatred. And so I think that growing of love and connectedness still matters. And to also celebrate lots of different people for lots of different reasons.

But also when times are hard, come alongside the people you love. If you have privilege, which lots of us do in lots of different ways, to be able to try to harness that and figure out how to use it. And if you don’t know, you’re probably not alone. But that’s where different organizations that are really centered in doing good work and coming alongside people in good ways, not just in the area of gender identity, but if you’re talking about so many different areas of health, the messages are in there, and they can just be broadly applied.

So, you can find it, just be good consumers of knowledge that’s on the internet. So, I’m sorry, I can’t summarize that further, but be good consumers, know that there is really well put together resources and information. If you can’t find it, there’s community organizations, so look up your area and you can find people. And there is absolutely room for allies in this… I don’t want to call it a battle, but it feels like it is at the moment. And it’s not because we want to be combative. It’s because defending oneself against violence and hate—there needs to be a position where you’re standing up and saying this is wrong.

And again, when we look at different movements throughout history—on women’s rights, on queer rights, on rights for Black people, HIV, access to healthcare… people might think, none of these things have to do with me. You’re right, you’re so lucky, wow, what privilege. And that truly is because none of these hard, difficult things ever came across your life.

But for the people that it did, those are the people that are continuing to stay in, to advocate for, to make sure that people are cared for. And that’s what changes our society and shapes our society. So, I’m hopeful in that way. But yeah, there’s so much out there. And to not, hopefully to move away from fear as a main driver.

Because fear makes us do all kinds of things that I think—if we were in a place of curiosity, we would find much better solutions than the one that fear drives us to, which is often violence and hatred of some kind and, and othering. So yeah, curiosity, leaning in, and connection.

Dr. Martha Dow: Perfect. I mean, that’s just such a lovely space to end this conversation. I’m looking forward to having others in the future, but I’m so appreciative of your time. I learn something every time we get a chance to spend time together. So thank you very much.

Stacy: Yeah, thank you. And also, I’m no expert, so I think I’m just speaking from a place of all of the places that I’ve been connected to, learning from others who share their great work in emergent strategies, in research, in medicine, so just trying to bring it together and summarize for you here, but thank you for having me. And hopefully this leaves a few nuggets for folks to feel that they can connect with. So, thanks.

Dr. Martha Dow: Great, thank you.