Gender Journeys is a program offered by the Canadian Mental Health Association — and it’s a program I’ve heard about a lot over the last few years from friends of mine. It’s a support program for trans people, their friends, family, partners and other loved ones. For the trans community in Peterborough, it seems like it’s becoming a mainstay and integral part of the support system for gender diverse people.
I spoke with education support worker Drew Whatman about Gender Journeys and what the program hopes to achieve.
Drew Whatman on Gender Journeys:
“Gender Journeys is a program of the Canadian Mental Health Association Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge and we’re funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
“Gender Journeys is a program that specifically works with trans individuals and their loved ones. So we provide educational groups and also peer support for people. So if folks are kind of at the beginning stages of their transition and they’re looking for answers to the questions: How do I transition? What are my legal rights? Or they’re looking to get help around self-esteem, healthy boundaries, dealing with social isolation – those are things that we can deal with. Or if you’re a parent of a trans youth and you’re needing help specifically answering: how do I advocate for my youth? Or how do I actually get support for myself without necessarily leaning on that youth or the other loved ones in my life and asking them a whole bunch of questions? How do I get help too? …
“Ideally people are able to make lasting connections through the Gender Journeys program. We’ve known folks who have bought homes together. We’ve had people who have ended up being friends and they have dinners together, they visit. They’re able to have really long lasting connections with each other. And also they’re able to take steps towards transition that might have otherwise been daunting for them to do on their own – perhaps changing their name or having someone advocate on their behalf to help them be able to access hormones. So those are the really key things for us.
“For trans folks in particular, social isolation is one of the main factors to increased suicidality. In case people are unaware, trans people are at a very high risk of suicide especially when they’re early on in their transition and they’re looking for supports and they’re not finding them. Or they’re wanting to make substantial changes or be able to move forward with their transition whatever that might look like for that person and they can’t. So for us it’s being able to help those folks make those connections and hopefully decrease that risk of suicide.
“A lot of family and partners feel alone in a different way. They feel that I’m the only parent or grandparent of a trans person in my community. And there’s a lot of stigma in our society towards trans people that they have to work through and feel out. A lot of times parents might go through a grieving process where they feel like their child might have died and they have a different child here.
“Or they you know really want things to go at a very fast rate like I need to support this child and I need to go really quickly but that child might not want to go at that rate. So making sure that they understand that there support for them but also that it’s not necessarily just about what their needs are. It’s about that person’s needs are and how they can be a better advocate for themselves as well as for that person in their life that might be trans.”
Drew’s comments have been edited for length and clarity.