On a surprisingly warm March day at the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton, medical student Avery Buchner looks radiant and peaceful.
It’s a change he says has been pointed out by friends in the time since he came out and started transitioning about a year and a half ago.
“I was talking with a friend who I hadn’t seen for a couple of months, and she commented that it just seemed that my confidence had gone through the roof and I was so much more comfortable being myself and there was a light in my eyes that really hadn’t been there before,” Buchner said.
He said although his life would be easier if he was cisgender — that is, not trans — he doesn’t wish he was.
“Before coming out and before even figuring out my gender, I had a hard time imagining what a future would look like for myself. And now I can imagine that future,” Buchner said.
Buchner hasn’t decided what exactly he wants to pursue in the medical field, but is interested in emergency medicine and transgender health care.
“I think it is really important to have trans people working in health care who can provide that perspective on what it’s like to be a patient within the system, and also be working to influence policy and culture within the system.”
Buchner acknowledges the hostile energy towards trans people, but turns to fellow queer people to find happiness.
“Most of my close friends are queer or trans. And I think that we take our friendship as a bit of an escape sometimes from the rest of the scary world out there,” Buchner said.
Ahead of Transgender Day of Visibility or “TDOV” on March 31, Global News spoke to transgender people in Calgary and Edmonton amid ever-increasing hateful rhetoric towards 2SLGBTQQIA+ people in Alberta and across the world.
Protests against queer people have been on the rise over the past few years, according to Anna Murphy.
She advises the City of Calgary on equity, diversity and inclusion, and is an advocate and leader for queer issues in Calgary.
“This has been coming to a slow boil over a period of time, especially here within Canada,” Murphy said.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network said every week protestors demonstrate against queer people across the country — whether it’s at Pride-centered events or drag shows — with the common refrain being that queer people are pedophiles that are coming after your children.
Calgary has been hit especially hard, with protests leading to cancelled events and a new bylaw.
Calgary city council passed a bylaw earlier this month that mandates distance between protestors and city facilities like pools and libraries after multiple drag queen storytime events were interrupted and one event had to be postponed.
Murphy said the rising hate has been on the horizon for at least five years, as discriminatory legislation aimed at limiting gender expression has been debated in the U.S.
“Hundreds of pieces of legislation have been brought forward, specifically targeting gender identity and gender expression and trans youth especially,” Murphy said.
This TDOV, Murphy, who is trans, said she is motivated to stay hopeful when she thinks of trans youth.
“We have to be those mama lions. We have to protect and defend those kiddos. … They don’t need to know what’s going on,” she said.
“We stand together. … That’s how we get through this. We’re there for each other, but we also need to be there as a community.”
Karla Marx, a drag queen in Calgary, has been directly affected by protests in Calgary.
She was supposed to perform at Chinook Blast, but protests and related safety concerns caused the drag shows to be cancelled.
“There’s kind of really no other option than to soldier on,” Marx said.
Marx said she finds happiness in connecting with other trans people.
“I’ve been kind of a resource sometimes for people because I’ve been out for a while and quite public in my persona. … People often ask me questions or want to come for a coffee or something like that,” she said.
“That’s always gratifying to help people and share my experiences with folks that are coming out or transitioning.”
Lending listening ears to fellow trans people is common in the community.
“I can’t tell you how many phone calls I receive on a daily basis,” Adebayo Katiiti said with a laugh.
Katiiti says he is a “hub” in Edmonton’s trans community and he’s available, especially for Black trans folks, who need help with everything from locating a doctor to fights with friends.
Callers are “asking questions like, ‘What do I need to do with my life?’… They go on and on and my place is to hold space for that.”
Katiiti is proud and open about being trans — plastered on his social media are joyful, sexy, charismatic photos of him at the beach, singing and hanging out with his mom.
“Transitioning tends to be sweet,” reads the caption of a video showing before and after pictures of his transition. “I am Black Trans Excellence.”
Katiiti said this year, TDOV needs to be given more attention than ever.
“It’s literally a time for me to be visible and very joyous because I believe joy is also a tool to fight oppression,” he said.
“We need to flood the internet with our bodies, with our souls, with our stories, and let them know that we can’t be erased.”
“Our ancestors have raised the flag and we have to uphold it and maybe raise it even higher.”
But some trans people feel a little differently, like Edmonton skateboarder Violet Whyte.
“As much as I love being trans and stuff, it’s kind of a label that I don’t necessarily wish I was a part of,” she said.
It’s complicated, she added. In certain environments that aren’t welcoming, she pretends to be cisgender.
However, Whyte skates with Tigers Skate Club, a group that encourages women and girls to take over the skatepark and said she feels safe in a group with other women and gender-diverse people.
“The skate park for the longest time has been kind of a hostile environment. So when on these rare occasions we can make it a safe space that is so powerful,” she said.
Whyte’s partner, Né Tole, is nonbinary and identifies under the trans umbrella. They said the pair might have a little party as there is a lot to celebrate.
“Every year, more people are coming out. More of your friends are getting to know themselves more,” Tole said.
“It’s a really beautiful thing to get to experience and to get to watch your friends, your loved ones, your family members go through.”
But the two of them will probably take it easy.
“Honestly, trans visibility should be every day. I mean, every day is my trans visibility,” Whyte said.