Our third recipient of the BYTE Leadership Fund attended the Bridging Gender Divides conference at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre on September 20 to 22 and kindly agreed to reflect on the experience for our blog – please enjoy! 

“Bridging the Gender Divides” workshops had a positive impact on my life and I’m glad to obtain the experiences that had happened there. Entering the conference, I didn’t have much expectation other than thinking it was going to be like any other workshop where you sit and get preached at – like school, which was never my thing. But, to my surprise (and everyone else’s!) it was the opposite, really!

Day 1

The first hour was everyone arriving and being greeted with a smile by the facilitators, then doing the orientation activities. When Yvonne [the main facilitator] greeted me, she gave me a compliment and asked what I’m hoping to gain from these next few days, so I said “To learn more on the gender spectrum and maybe even make a friend or two” and she said I could consider her a friend. After everyone arrived, we sat in the shape of a circle because it represents connections and openness then proceeded to go around stating our name. Later on, we were taught how everyone is an iceberg only displaying a short percentage of themselves on top/over the water while the rest is hidden/drowned. We named a variety of things and emotions that we keep to ourselves such as joy, depression, mental illness, anger, sorrow, addictions, passion and trauma. To me, it was neat to see and realize all that we keep to ourselves isn’t all negative, but also that we can all connect if we lift the veils.

The facilitators then went on to do an activity called “If You Really Knew Me” and purpose of this is to allow yourself to be vulnerable, to go into those inner depths and show yourself. They each explained a bit of their own struggles, trauma and journey and you could see the room felt inspired. Honestly, I thought we were going to each do this in the circle and I wasn’t down considering it was only the first day and I hate being vulnerable to myself. Fortunately, we weren’t forced to do so, as they were only setting the atmosphere in the room mentally everyone “this is a safe and vulnerable zone. No one will judge or hurt you here. You are loved, listened and open here. ”

Day 2

We played a few group activity games and then were split into groups of 6, to which we would reunite several times throughout the weekend. We were given a well done presentation by one of the facilitators named Chase; great guy! My aunt came to these workshops too – to learn and understand more about the gender spectrum for my cousin/her son and she even attended an optional lunch presentation to gain even more knowledge. She told me she really understood a lot more now because everything was presented in such an understanding way, so it was truly great to see her openness and support. After the gender presentation was finished we regrouped into our team of 6 to discuss how gender impacted us as individuals in our every day lives. It was really neat to hear different experiences from each team member. Knowing people felt comfortable enough, I decided to be vulnerable myself and open up about my 2-Spirit identity. Afterwards, we did another activity and this one without even saying a word, we learned a lot more about each other….in a traumatic sense. It was the “Step over the line if” activity – if you were affected, impacted or dealt with whatever the facilitators would say.

Step over the line if you’ve ever been mistreated, judged or stared at because of the clothes/the way you choose to express yourself.

Step over the line if you ever physically hurt by someone because of your gender or sexual orientation.

Step over the line if you grew up in a household with violence or alcohol.

A lot of these questions got deep and the purpose was to see how many other walked over with you, that you’re never alone and you will always have support. The other side, those who didn’t walk over the line, would send love to you if they chose, by doing the sign for “Love” in sign language.

After this activity, the 6 of us regrouped to discuss how those questions impacted us and what they brought up, so when it was my turn to speak, I allowed myself to open up and I guess display a bit of what was underneath my iceberg. Maybe I felt comfortable enough because it was only our group of 6, but it was good to discuss. So I’d say, it was a powerful activity that created more of an open, non-judgmental, loving atmosphere for each of us.

Day 3

The final day consisted of more group activities and gender presentations. However, one specific stood out to be and it was a tool we were given to help other in need, if need be. One of the facilitators would invite a volunteer up with her and Yvonne would shout “I’M ANGRY BECAUSE” and the volunteer would announce what’s pissing them off, upset about, or even personal trauma. Then Yvonne moved to the next stage with them shouting YES or NO. The volunteer would choose which world to say, whichever they felt needed to be said more in their life. It was a neat experience to see and good tool to have gained.

Then we were told to choose a partner and practice them both on each other, so I paired up with my aunt and this was where we really connected and opened up to each other. Coming to the end of the final day, we sat back in the circle and did the “If you really knew me” activity to which everyone shared a personal, traumatic and vulnerable story with each other. After everyone had spoken, we placed an inner circle of people, blindfolded, while everyone on the outside would whisper something they are grateful of you for.

Overall, I’m blessed to have gone to the conference. The kind words I’ve been told, the vulnerability I’ve felt, connecting with other through trauma and struggles, bettering my bond with my aunt and cousin and gaining a new life experience will forever me remembered. Thank you!

To learn more about this conference you can contact the Yukon Circle of Change. If you or someone you know needs support, Youth in BC offers queer friendly online chat support for BC and Yukon youth daily between noon and 1 am. Visit https://youthinbc.com/ for more information or to access the chat. For information about queer events, queer friendly spaces in Yukon and more, check out the amazing work our friends at Queer Yukon are doing!