A new Guelph organization is creating space of creative expression for transgender and two-spirit individuals.
The TransArtivistProject is a Guelph non-profit which aims to support two-spirit (2S) and/or transgender spectrum individuals through arts-based programs in a community setting.
Maude Stephany is behind the TransArtivistProject.
Noticing the impact of the pandemic on friends and the queer community, Stephany said the community needed opportunities to celebrate who they are, talk about who they are and create beauty.
"TransArtivist (TransArtivistProject) came out of recognizing that everybody is struggling in different ways and needs an outlet to express themselves and to create beauty and see beauty within themselves," said Stephany.
One way the TransArtivistProject is helping others see beauty in themselves is OUTLOUD, the trans voices project. OUTLOUD is a program helping people with vocal dysphoria to disassociate gender norms around voices through singing and vocal training.
The TransArtivistProject funds eight sessions with a vocal coach for individuals to help grow their vocal range. Students get to choose the songs and techniques to work on, and can volunteer to do a performance after the program.
Since it started in January, the program has had 10 participants. Recently, the TransArtivistProject received a $5,000 grant from the Canada Post Community Foundation. Some of this new funding will support OUTLOUD for another year.
"It makes me feel really good,” Stephany said about running the program. “I know that our voice is something that is a part of us, it's a part of our bodies, and so feeling like you can't speak, that it’s going to give you away, can be so harmful and makes you afraid to be your whole, authentic self. Them being able to use their voice without fear makes me feel good.”
Stephany said some trans folks and others can experience vocal dysphoria, including their wife. This dysphoria can cause people to feel upset or experience a panic attack. There are surgeries and vocal sessions available, but Stephany adds some procedures are risky and potentially damage the vocal cords.
"This is a way to support people who are experiencing dysphoria, that anxiety around their voice, and doing it in a way that is, one not triggering, and two, get to hear the beauty of their voice and sing feminine songs."
Besides OUTLOUD, the TransArtivistProject hosts other programs including paint pouring events and a 2S/ally sharing circle.
The 2S/ally sharing circle is a monthly program held online for two-spirit individuals to come together to share knowledge, experience and to experience support for their unique experiences. The program is led by Musko Giizhigo Ikwe, a two-spirit knowledge keeper and ceremony carrier.
Stephany explains this program is currently on a hiatus and is considering running in-person and online workshops led by two-spirit artists to help individuals gain access to traditional arts.
"We have about anywhere up to 16 folks who have shown interest in our sharing circle, so we're hoping that we can do something,” said Stephany.
After recently obtaining non-profit status, Stephany said they are excited to take on more projects and support other groups in the community. Currently, the TransArtivistProject is working with the Guelph Civic Museum in part of one of its programs called 'Rainbow Futures.'
For Rainbow Futures, all participants will receive a five-inch disc on which they can draw, sculpt, paint, sew, glue or do whatever they want. Participants will be asked to take a photo of their creation, and a digital image of their work will be used by the museum in a Trans Day of Remembrance project happening in November.
"We asked people to create a vision for us of what they want to see in their future," Stephany said about Rainbow Futures.
The TransArtivistProject is looking for board members and people to help with fundraising initiatives. Right now, the organization is selling copies of Transitive, a poetry book written by trans author Katrina Stephany, as a fundraiser. To learn more about the TransArtivistProject, check out its website.
Someday, Stephany said they would like to see the organization help support trans artists who are looking for ways to financially support themselves. They would also like to offer some programs for non-binary individuals.
"My big dream is to eventually have a crew of folks, creative folks, who create art in different forms, but they collaborate and create new projects together."