New group offers support to Yukoners exploring gender identity

There was a time when Chase Blodgett didn't know what his name was. People who knew him called him Blodge. Then, of course, there was his birth name.

There was a time when Chase Blodgett didn’t know what his name was.

People who knew him called him Blodge. Then, of course, there was his birth name. But Blodgett identified as male, though he was born with a female body. That birth name, a female name, didn’t reflect who he was.

So in professional settings, when he couldn’t introduce himself as Blodge, he didn’t know what to do.

“Standing in that moment, there was this part of me that was just raw and exposed and filled with embarrassment and shame,” he said. “You’re 28 years old and you can’t answer the simple question, ‘What is your name?’”

Since then, Blodgett has chosen the name he’ll keep for the rest of his life – Chase. But picking a name can take time.

“I’ll be honest – it’s a relief that your parents do it for you,” he said. “You don’t want to mess it up. Think about having to pick a new name for yourself, and to actually pick one that’s you.

“And all the good ones are taken by people you know,” he added with a smile.

It’s challenges like this that Blodgett hopes to address with All Genders Yukon, a new support group for people exploring gender identity and expression.

The group meets monthly, and is open to anyone who identifies as transgender or gender non-binary. That could include people who are agender (who don’t identify as male or female), gender-fluid (who identify with different genders at different times) or gender-retired (who once identified with one or more genders, but no longer do). Family members are also welcome. Blodgett said he would have appreciated a support group when he began to go through his own transition.

“It would have been really nice to have somebody to ask questions to who’d already been there or who could relate,” he said. “It would have saved me a lot of heartache.”

There have been two meetings so far, Blodgett said, and between five and seven people have showed up to each. Each meeting begins with people sharing their chosen names and preferred pronouns (he, she, they or ze, to name a few). They then have an open discussion about how they’re feeling and the challenges they’re facing. They also share resources, including names of good doctors or places to seek out information.

Blodgett said the meetings usually end with laughter. But they’re not all light-hearted. “I would say there’s a lot of grief that comes up, frustration, confusion, just not knowing where to go.”

Some of the major challenges people face are around health care, he said. “Not every doctor in this community is friendly to gender non-conforming people. Some are known to drop you from their practice.”

He said the Yukon has yet to adopt transgender standards of health care, which have been implemented in some other Canadian jurisdictions. Those standards include the right to be referred to by one’s chosen gender or name, and to have access to appropriate services.

“Looking the way I do now, what if I need to see a gynecologist?” said Blodgett, who has been taking hormones for nearly a year and now has facial hair. “You want me to sit in that room? You think that’s going to go well for me?”

But All Genders Yukon is not a political organization. It exists simply to provide support – to give people at least one place where they can express themselves freely.

Len, a member who uses the pronoun “they,” said the group is a “wonderful place” to talk about gender identity.

Len is currently trying an unofficial name change, and said they’re considering some physical changes. But it’s a gradual process. They’ve told some of their good friends about the change, but they’re not ready to tell everyone.

“I’m being selective,” they said. “I’m not up front with every person I meet. When I’m ready to let more people know, then I will.”

Len said they’re still getting used to the name change themselves, and the group is a good place to talk about it. “It’s an important part of identity, I think, a name. For me, that is a big step.”

Blodgett and Len both said they feel the Yukon is a fairly welcoming place for people living outside the gender binary. Blodgett said he found little “niches of community” when he began taking hormones – pregnant women in the hockey dressing room, for instance, who could sympathize with his “hormonal crazies.”

Still, though, the Yukon’s gender non-conforming community is small. And All Genders Yukon is meant to be a safe place for it to thrive.

Together with Shaun LaDue, another transgender Yukoner who recently made news when the motor vehicles branch refused to change the gender on his driver’s licence, Blodgett has become a champion of transgender rights in the territory. Last year, he was part of a group pushing for gender to be explicitly recognized in the Yukon Human Rights Act, a change which has not yet been made.

It’s a position Blodgett has taken on with a sense of humour. He said it’s not his intention to be adversarial.

“I try to actively resist starting fights,” he said. “I like to think of them as dances that we invite people into. I’m not going to lie – not everybody wants to dance with me and then it does turn into a fight. But that’s never my starting point.”

And his work goes beyond organizing meetings and taking on political challenges. He also meets individually with people who are exploring gender outside the binary system and who might not be ready to attend a meeting with others. It’s a role that demands a lot of time.

“It’s exhausting,” he said. “The emails, the hours you put in that are unpaid… it’s really exhausting.”

But he feels honoured that people turn to him and trust him, and he feels a sense of responsibility toward them.

“I’m a trans person with a lot of privilege,” he said. “I’m white, I’m educated, I’m employed, I don’t have addictions issues, I don’t have mental health issues. I’m literate. Not all trans people have that. In fact, few do, because of how challenging it is to walk the world in a way that’s outside the gender binary. So I looked at it and said somebody needs to do something.

“And then I realized that I was somebody.”

To join the support group, email allgendersyukon@hotmail.com.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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