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Gender Journeys post #2: Helping to guide your way forward

This is the second post in a series of three that shares what the Nanaimo Family Life Association’s Gender Journeys program, supported by United Way CNVI, is all about. In this post, we’re taking a look at the new outreach worker supports. 

 

Hiking-trail-with-trees-WEBSIZE.jpgThere is no better guide than someone who has been on the journey themselves. 

For those who feel their birth gender doesn’t fit who they are, and are seeking to better understand themselves when it comes to their gender, Sarah Cameron is that guide. 

A former facilitator of the Gender Journeys support group, Sarah is a trans woman who has worked as a support worker for seven years. Now, she’s thrilled to offer a new support to the community as the Gender Journeys outreach worker. 

It’s a position she takes very seriously. 

“I think of it as a sacred responsibility,” says Sarah. 

That's because she understands what it can mean for people to get the help they need to learn who they are, and how to express that. 

“It’s hard to describe the feeling of isolation and being alone prior to coming out,” she says. “And then that terrifying threshold of ‘now what?’ once I had made the decision to transition.” 

What made things easier for Sarah was the Gender Journeys support group, and the past facilitator.  

“I had anxiety about going out in clothing that matched my gender. I had anxiety about just being in public. It was scary, and I was able to go to a group of 10 or 20 people, and we could all come together as a community and be comfortable and share our experiences and know that others can relate.” 

But some people have barriers to engaging in a group, or even finding out that such a group exists. That’s where Sarah’s outreach work comes in, providing one-on-one support to anyone on a gender journey, be they housed or not. 

“Having an outreach worker is really important because for some folks, they don’t get out a lot,” says Sarah. Even before the pandemic, fear about being out in public and presenting your gender in a way that feels comfortable to you can result in some negative responses from others.  

“Spaces aren't necessarily inclusive for non-binary people. They might be hesitating on how to present and are needing some guidance there. They may be early in transition, and looking for resources … The resources that are out there may be harder to find. They may not have the ability, or tools or support through family or friends to find those resources.” 

The pandemic has only amplified these issues and these feelings of isolation, as they have for all of us. As an outreach worker, Sarah hopes to make a big difference. 

Sarah has been connecting with outreach workers from a variety of local organizations to get her name out to folks that are questioning their gender and who are looking for services. 

“Transitioning, name change, hormones, finding a doctor, any other kinds of support,” says Sarah of sorts of things she can help with.  “And there is quite a lot around that. But connecting them with resources and even assisting them with creating a plan.  

“A lot of us kind of find ourselves out there in the wild, so to speak,” says Sarah. “We are not a part of the dominant culture, and it’s a kind of an unwritten choose-your-own-adventure, which is wonderful, and every choice is valid. But certainly some help in knowing what the options are, some help with direction or getting other help that is available that we might not know about, that’s what I’m hoping to provide.” 

While Sarah’s focus is on the trans community, she said she is also happy to speak with parents, other family members and those supporting a trans person who have questions. 

“If there is an opportunity to educate, that’s part of the work I’ll be doing as well,” she says. 

If you are in need of support and have questions about your gender journey, you can contact Sarah at 250-754-3331 ext. 425, or via email: s_cameron@nflabc.org 

 United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island supports the Gender Journeys program 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 one more post on the Gender Journeys program, discussing the training program that NFLA is developing to help service providers, health care workers and counsellors become better equipped to support trans people.