Gender Journeys post #1: The journey to 'They'

This is the first post in a series of three that will share what the Nanaimo Family Life Association’s Gender Journeys program, supported by United Way CNVI, is all about. First, we’re taking a look at the Gender Journeys support group. 


Group-of-people-holding-hands EDIT WEB SIZE.jpgCasey Brisson is the new facilitator of a support group called Gender Journeys. 

This is a huge landmark on what has been Casey’s own gender journey. 

And on that journey, this is what Casey has arrived at: 

They are neither male nor female. Neither of those genders feel true for them. 

But, when you refer to Casey as them or they (rather than he/him, or she/her), that’s what feels right to Casey. So those are the words they ask people to use. 

That has all been part of Casey’s gender journey, leading to them to discovering and living as non-binary. In other words, they have never felt that ‘man’ or ‘woman’ represents their gender, but are somewhere outside of those two boxes. They are them. And that feels right, says Casey. 

“I’ve always known that I was never one or the other,” says Casey of the traditional gender binary. 

“Hearing other people use they/them pronouns for me … it just feels like how people talking and using pronouns was supposed to feel. It just feels comfortable, and it feels validating.” 

Getting to that feeling of comfort and validation has been a very personal journey, but one helped along by the Gender Journeys group in Nanaimo: a peer support group for trans, gender-questioning and gender non-conforming people, run by the Nanaimo Family Life Association (NFLA) and supported by United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island. 

In the group, there are non-binary people like Casey who don’t identify as a man or woman, and use they/them pronouns. There are also trans men and trans women, those whose physical sex does not match their gender. Attendees are at all stages of social and medical transition, moving towards a life of alignment and authenticity that represents who they are. 

Together, these people support each other as they each search for what feels right and true for them, after years of feeling like the gender society tells them they are isn’t right. 

For Casey, their journey with the group began about two years ago, during a difficult time in their life. 

“I had been going to counselling at the time, and because I had been laid off from my job, I was like, ‘I have to get back to work. So don’t talk about that gender stuff. I’ve got to just get back to work.’ But, sure enough, as sometimes happens, it ended up coming up,” says Casey. 

“I said to my counsellor, ‘I know I’m not a woman, but I don’t think I’m a man, either.’ And that’s all I had. Luckily, he knew about Gender Journeys, and said I should reach out to them.” 

When you check in at a Gender Journeys group meeting, you give your name and pronouns.  Casey was still going by their old name, and didn’t know what pronouns to use. 

“[At the time], I kind of knew a little bit about what being nonbinary was, and using they/them pronouns, but very little,” says Casey. 

“I kind of had this misconception that that was for people who don’t know if they are one or the other, [male or female] … “But there were these people [at the group] who were just very confident and strong in ‘[they/them] are my pronouns. It’s not that I don’t know - I know that this is who I am.’” 

That made a big impression on Casey. 

“Wow, just, to see and become friends with these people and to hear them talk about their experiences and how they were so similar to mine, growing up. And what it was like to just feel like you weren’t even human – you felt like an alien.” 

But, by seeing other people living their lives as non-binary people helped Casey to realize the possibility for themselves. 

“I was like, ‘Oh, I can be who I am and be a person, because there are other people doing it.” 

“I could use they/them pronouns.” 

So, one of the next times Casey attended the group, “I decided to try it out and see how it felt, and tried out a different name to see how it felt. And it felt good. It felt really good. And I just kept doing it.” 

Society still isn’t built to be accepting of people who don’t identify as their gender assigned at birth. But attitudes are starting to change for the better. Things like government forms and identification, too, are beginning to include gender identities other than male and female. 

But the journey to becoming comfortable with your gender that some of us need to take can still feel like a mystery. And so having the Gender Journeys support group shows people still discovering their gender identity that it is possible to live as the person you know you are, and how to do that. 

But the NFLA’s Gender Journeys program is working to do even more to support trans and gender-questioning folks in the Nanaimo area, with support from United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island, through the federal government’s Emergency Community Support Fund. 

To support essential supports like this in your community, please consider donating to United Way CNVI. 

We will be putting up two more posts on the Gender Journeys program, sharing what the new outreach portion of the program is seeking to do, and then discussing the training program that NFLA is developing to help service providers, health care workers and counsellors become better equipped to support trans people.