Transitioning Into Visibility is the art show at Arts Underground that brings together the work of transgender, two-spirit and non-binary Yukoners and their families. The show opened on May 4 to a packed gallery. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Anonymous show offers Yukon trans artists a chance to share their stories

‘These pieces are windows into a soul’

Each painting has the same price tag —$150. By no coincidence, that’s also the fee for a single session of therapy.

The 20-plus individuals whose work is currently on display at Arts Underground arrived at that number together, explained Chase Blodgett during the opening reception for Transitioning Into Visibility, which brings together the work of transgender, two-spirit and non-binary Yukoners and their families.

“When we were asked to decide what the price of each piece was going to be, all we wanted was more therapy,” Blodgett, founder of All Genders Yukon, told a packed gallery on May 4.

“These pieces go beyond what you’re seeing. These pieces are windows into a soul, into a journey and into a story that was carefully articulated and has never been told before.”

The works were taken from roughly 400 pieces created between September 2017 and April 2018.

Whitehorse-based Ignite Counselling hosted twice monthly art therapy sessions for members of All Genders Yukon, and twice-monthly sessions for the supporters of members.

Sessions were facilitated by Zoë Armstrong, a registered art therapist who is also one of two people in the Yukon (along with co-facilitator Erin Legault) who has training and certification from the World Professional Association of Transgender Health.

Armstrong said painting was a new way for people to express themselves, and, because each of the paintings are anonymous (labels feature names, initials, and aliases such as Vulnerability Warrior), it was a safe way for them to advocate.

“It’s powerful. And I hope that it really creates some action because my heart goes out to these experiences that most people don’t know,” she told the News. “We (cisgendered people) come from a very privileged majority place. We don’t think of, ‘Can I use the bathroom?’ You don’t even have to think when you fill in a box on a form.… Art can be so evocative in being able to actually feel someone’s experience.”

“Borders,” for example, is a chalk pastel by Len Row. The piece features a black X through light swirls and colours. “Some countries allows ‘X’ as a non-binary identifier/marker on passports,” reads the artist statement. “This option is a sign of freedom for some and oppression for other non-gender conforming people.”

“Stumped!” by an artist identified as EGC, shows a pair of clasped hands. Above, a flower blooms from a black orb that’s filled with multi-coloured seeds.

“I’m a trans man on a fertility journey with ovaries but not uterus,” reads the statement. “My partner and I are trying to grow our family. Living in the Yukon is a dream come true, but the lack of resources, especially medical services, makes trying to grow our family costlier, complex and at times emotionally, physically difficult.”

“A lot were super excited to advocate in this way and share their experience,” Armstrong said. “Some people are also like, ‘This is fantastic that I get to be part of this but I also just get to live my life.’”

Shaun, 49, grew up in the Yukon. At the opening, he stood in the centre of the busy gallery, explaining to a woman what the term “cisgender” means. He was more comfortable speaking directly to his experience, even though this was his first time participating in a visual art exhibition.

His piece features a man, viewed from behind, peeing in the forest. Shaun said he didn’t realize his own jealousy around not being able to do the same until he started painting.

“It was a chance to talk about something that is roaming around in your head for years sometimes,” he told the News at the opening. “And sometimes words fail us when we’re talking about these pretty big issues — gender, identity, sexuality. When you get to do a painting or a piece of art, there’s so much said in that picture … it’s also very freeing.”

He said he was amazed by some of the artists whose work was shown alongside his — artists as young as six, who are already assertive about their gender identity.

When he grew up, he wore the clothes he was given, he said. People called him a girl, or a tomboy, but he knew there was more to it than that.

“There was no attachment to this label that I was given at birth,” he said.

He said it took him a while to realize there were words for what he was feeling, but even when he first started hearing the term “transgender,” he thought it only applied to men transitioning to women.

“I didn’t consider that you could go the other direction,” he said.

That’s part of the reason he’s so open to talking with people when they have questions. He said everyone has someone on the spectrum of queerness in their lives. Not asking questions doesn’t help.

“Ask questions respectfully because that’s how you learn,” he said. “Sometimes it’s better to get the answers from someone who’s living the experience than it is going to the internet.”

Transitioning Into Visibility is on at Arts Underground, in the Edge Gallery, until May 26.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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