By now I'm sure you've heard of the Saskatchewan government's attempt to implement a policy that would jeopardize the safety of trans and genderqueer students in schools. Here is a letter I wrote to an MLA about it. If any part of this text is useful to you and you are similarly motivated, please consider it a template and make it your own. I am not a trained political organizer and I may well have made mistakes in describing the legislative process. Any errors or omissions are my own and you are welcome to correct or change them as the situation shifts. I know we are all hurting after the nonsense of that hateful march a few weeks ago, and this is one more thing. I'm very angry about it.
October 4, 2023
Dear Nathaniel Teed,
I am writing in grateful response to your call for letters, in the event that a filibuster is required to stop the use of the "notwithstanding clause" to implement the ludicrously-named "Parental Inclusion and Consent Policy" on October 10th. It is my sincere hope that this letter will contribute to the protection of transgender, gender-diverse, and Two-Spirit youth in this province. Should it serve your efforts, you are more than welcome to read this letter in full, with attribution.
I am a Saskatchewan resident, cisgender lesbian, and writer whose work on gender-based violence against queer and trans young people has been recognized by the American Library Association. In 2016, I won Canada's only prize for emerging LGBTQ2S+ writers. I am deeply concerned about the use of the "notwithstanding clause" to implement Premier Moe's policy for the following reasons:
- it poses, as Justice Megaw has recently suggested, an attack on Charter rights that will enact serious harm;
- it directly contradicts a number of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, including #10 iii, which calls for "culturally appropriate curricula in education;" and #62 i, "Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students";
- it demonstrates an alignment with far-right trans-antaognist movements on the rise in the United States and the United Kingdom, which often tacitly or overtly intersect with additional conspiracy theories that threaten the safety of the general public, such as antisemitism, and anti-vaccination;
- it reinforces a deeply outmoded, colonial, and heteronormative model of the family that we know does not and has never represented the norm on these territories;
- it presents a deep misunderstanding of the rights of the child and a gross misuse of the notion of "parental rights;" and
- it perpetuates the myth that trans, Two-Spirit, and genderqueer people are not already present in our education system as exceptionally gifted and valued teachers, medical professionals, administrative staff, and loving parents and guardians.
It troubles me deeply that this policy has already come so close to implementation without proper consultation (see the recent response from the Federation of Sovereign Indian Nations), and with zero involvement on the part of the dedicated, hardworking, under-resourced support services that exist in this province for gender-diverse families. Moreover, when so much robust research and documentation already exists on how gender-affirming schools and classrooms save lives, it disturbs me that parents and families of gender-diverse youth may feel required to share their deeply personal, often humiliating and retraumatizing stories of discrimination in public fora to discourage this legislative act of violence. This over-reliance on personal stories of harm puts young people and their families at risk, and is part of why I am motivated to write to you as a cisgender woman who does not experience transphobia.
Nonetheless, in the event that it contributes to our collective struggle, I am motivated to share with you the following: my own experience of the discrimination I faced as a cisgender child, who used pronouns congruent with the sex I was assigned at birth, and was merely suspected to be gay. In the early aughts, my family relocated to Saskatoon from a small town in northeastern Saskatchewan after I experienced repeated acts of homophobic violence in elementary and middle school: the regular use of slurs; physical attacks while alone in the washroom and gym change room; a attempted head injury in full view of adults and other children. This harassment began when I was eight years old, and continued unceasingly. My parents and I relied profoundly on the direct and repeated intervention of teachers to prevent me from permanent bodily harm and alleviate my emotional distress, but ultimately, it was not enough for us to remain in our community. We left when I was thirteen, where I was dismayed to learn that even in the supposedly safer haven of high school in the "big city," there were considerable efforts made among the administration to prevent the formation of our first Gay-Straight Alliance. Nonetheless, our inaugural meeting proceeded thanks to determined and informed educators, and was so well-attended that students had to sit on the floor and on top of desks. Some of those students, and supportive teachers, are no longer alive today, whether by direct or indirect systemic impacts and social determinants of health that will only be emboldened by this proposed policy. I am not interested in losing any more loved ones. Even as a cisgender young person with a supportive family, I think it's also clear that I could have easily been one of those preventable deaths.
I share this with you to demonstrate the critical stakes for youth who do not benefit from the cis privilege and community support that I have had, and what a silencing of teachers as proposed by this policy could produce. It is my most sincere hope that this province will not revert to this echo of its recent colonial past, and drive other marginalized families to relocation elsewhere. As a child of a Saskatchewan teacher, I must add that I hope the supporters of this policy will one day come to understand their gross underestimation of (and deep insult to) the educators of this province.
Today is October 4th, the National Day of Action on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two-Spirit, and Gender Diverse Peoples. It is my sincere request that on October 10th the official opposition will act in the spirit of this day by urging this province to take tangible action to prevent suicide, abuse, and violence; re-instate and improve comprehensive and culturally appropriate gender-affirming sexual education in the school system (including third-party resources and a robust curriculum on sexual consent); uphold its Treaty responsibilities; and honour our Charter obligations by using any means necessary to resist the implementation of this policy.
Treaty Six - Saskatoon, SK
Coming up! I hope you'll join me online or in-person this Thursday, September 21st in Calgary as I pass the Calgary Distinguished Writers' Program Residency on to the wonderful Francine Cunningham. I'm reading all new work, including (gasp) some fiction! We're going to have a grand time. All the details for both parts of this hybrid event can be found here.
Earlier this month I was thrilled to learn that Moldovan Hotel has been shortlisted for a 2023 Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature. Do take a look at the incredible full list here! All the mazel to my co-listers, especially Adam Sol (of Broken Dawn Blessings) and Aaron Kreuter (of Shifting Baseline Syndrome) in the poetry category!
L'Shanah Tovah, everybody! May 5784 usher in a safe and sustainable future. Wishing you all a peaceful and sweet year ahead <3
What a whirlwind - I can't believe my residency at the University of Calgary is complete. If I have my numbers right, I offered forty-one manuscript consultations, organized nineteen events, and wrote one novel (novella, maybe? but still) in eight glorious months. Phew! I've learned so much from this experience and have a little thank-you for everyone I met included in the video below.
In even better news, I'm passing the torch to Francine Cunningham, an award-winning Indigenous writer who was recently longlisted for the Carol Shields Prize. Best of all, Francine and I studied together during our MFA programs at UBC, and so it's going to be an absolute riot to perform together at the Hello/Goodbye event on September 21st. Tickets and livestream information coming right up! This won't be farewell to Calgary by any stretch of the imagination, and I'm very excited to see you there. (How is next month September already? I'm counting down, but not too fast!)
We're coming up on the home stretch of my residency at the University of Calgary! I've planned a couple of workshops for the next few weeks to give myself a break from my tornado of drafts, and explore some themes that are really important to me, especially after co-organizing REVERB for so long.
I'll be in amiskwacîwâskahikan next week as part of an exchange with the University of Alberta's Department of English and Film Studies. It's been ages since I've been to Edmonton so please do come say hello if you're in town! I'm so looking forward to reading with their Writer-in-Residence, Bänoo Zan. I'm guest lecturing for Marilyn Dumont's poetry class today as a teaser, too - what an honour! Find more information about our event next week through this link. If you're planning to attend in person, please scent-reduce and wear a mask. For those of you who would prefer to attend online, we're recording this event for later; I'll have more details on how you can access it soon. Huge thanks to Jessica Leeper and Thomas Wharton for all their work putting this visit together.
If you're a Canadian citizen or resident (and especially if you're a cis gay person like me) I hope you'll join me in taking some meaningful and concrete action this week by signing House of Commons petition e-4268. This petition calls upon the House to "extend to transgender and nonbinary people the right to claim asylum in Canada by reason of eliminationist laws in their home countries," and specifically names the criminalization of gender-affirming health care in the United States and revisions to the Equality Act in the United Kingdom. It's open for signatures until May 26, 2023, and can be found here.
I can only imagine the increase in demand for services from organizations like Trans Lifeline right now. If you're not able to sign petitions because of the impact of borders on your life and personhood, but maybe have a little bit of extra money to share right now, they might be one place you could consider donating.
And if your #IWD2023 feed was disappointingly terfy or swerfy, glorified women's suffering, or was otherwise a letdown: here's a poem. And all my love.
I'm so looking forward to this slate of upcoming events in Mohkinstis! The two-week countdown is on! Each of these in-person events is free and open to the public, with the exception of the Writers' Guild of Alberta workshop. Please, please wear a mask if you are attending. If you can't attend and would be interested in online reduxes, drop me a line and I'll see about making it happen. All accessibility information is through the registration links.
On the evening of February 6th, I'm leading a workshop on the University of Calgary campus for poets and writers at all ages and stages called "The Woods." Let's get specific about your writing; I'm here to help you forget everything you've ever been told about being "too niche," or everything you've ever feared in that regard. Register for the waitlist here. Huge thanks to the Taylor Family Digital Library for their support for this event, which is astonishingly already full.
On February 7th in the evening, the Writers' Guild of Alberta is generously hosting me for a workshop on figuring out when a poem is done. (It haunts us! How do we know when?!?) This workshop is free for members of the WGA. Register for the waitlist here.
At noon on February 8th, come hang out with me and Outreach Engagement Librarian Christena McKillop! We'll talk about applying for residencies, the extremely winding road of being a working writer, how much I love libraries, and more. Big thanks again to the Taylor Family Library - and Christena! - for this one. Register here!
And that evening on February 8th, join me at the Alexandra Writers' Centre for a workshop on setting boundaries as a writer and poet. Register here!
On the 9th and 10th, I'll see you at the events for Jamaica Kincaid! Find out more about this incredible opportunity and Professor Kincaid's visit to Calgary here.
Safe and protected new Gregorian year to us all, friends. I hope you're emerging from holiday time either rested up and recovered, or ready to rest and recover from the holidays themselves. One of my workshops last month was on that very topic—sharing some grounding and creative self-protection exercises for the wonderful peer mentors at Skipping Stone, one of my favourite community organizations. If you're looking for ways to protect and build the absolutely critical movement for trans rights on the prairies, please consider supporting their work.
My residency with the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program continues! I'm grateful for how they've supported my request to offer an overwhelming majority of online events due to the pandemic. Come log on with me on January 16th for "Parallel Time," a free writing session I'm trying out as an experiment. No facilitation, no prompts, and no group chat! This will be a completely voice-off experience with cameras optional, where we are just getting work done together. Bring those projects you can't seem to carve out time for, or life admin lurking on your to-do list, or just come spend some quiet time with other writers in a way that might cut down on any screen-time burnout you might be feeling. If you benefit from body doubling or do well in online environments with minimal distraction, this might be a good fit for you, too. Register for Parellel Time here.
Now that we're back from the university holiday break, free manuscript consultations are open for booking again! You can sign up for a consultation spot here. These are very chill! Feel free to sign up even if you don't have a draft you'd like feedback on. Come with an idea or a question! If you're feeling stuck, we can talk that through together, too. Last semester was quite packed; since we're booking ahead into the spring now, it's best to sign up sooner rather than later if you're interested!
I'll be back in Calgary in February for a short slate of free, in-person workshops; more news on that soon. Most importantly, I'll be there to celebrate and learn from Harvard professor and legendary author Jamaica Kincaid, the incoming Distinguished Visiting Writer at UCalgary. If you are attending in-person events (while hopefully still masking! if so, I appreciate you!), you could join us for a free evening with Professor Kincaid, hosted by Giller Prize winner Suzette Mayr. If you can't attend in person (maybe because you're choosing to stay home and protect yourselves, or the immunocompromised, disabled, sick, and/or very young people in your lives), you can register for the livestream here, and I'll be glad to know you're online with us.
See you soon! Lots to look forward to now that the calendar has flipped. Desperately wishing us a collectively safer year ahead!
I had an absolutely beautiful evening co-presenting with outgoing CDWP Writer-in-Residence Teresa Wong on Monday night. If you couldn't make it or tune in, you can watch the replay here! Professional captions are embedded in the video. You won't want to miss this glimpse of Teresa's gorgeous forthcoming work; you can find my reading, including a sneaky announcement about my new project at 26:55, and Teresa's presentation at 44:25.
I'm so lucky to be back at Shelf Life Books, a beloved indie who hosted one of the book launches for Moldovan Hotel, on Thursday night! (And with such an excellent line-up!) Livestream is available by registration or you can join us in-person; Zoom auto-captions will be available for the livestream. Full event information is here! The fastest way to find the accessibility information for Shelf Life is to scroll down past the map on this page. Hope to see you then - it's so wonderful to be back.
So...remember when I said I hoped I'd have a reason to visit Mohkinstis/Calgary again soon? Scant days ago? It's an absolute and total honour to be succeeding Teresa Wong and Marjorie Celona as the University of Calgary Distinguished Writing Program's Canadian Writer-in-Residence. As Marjorie steps down from the role for important reasons, I'm very grateful to them for their kind words and the chance to take on the position for the remainder of 2022-23.
Please get in touch to book a manuscript consultation (they're free!), or an event! Not in the city? Not a problem! I'm conducting much of this residency virtually, with pandemic safety and accessibility in mind. It's important to me to connect with writers and communities in, around, and beyond Calgary.
I hope you'll join us on October 17th on the captioned Facebook livestream, or briefly in person (I'm still masking & boosting - I hope you are too) at the cSPACE King Edward Studio Theatre to celebrate Teresa's residency and kickstart mine. I'm so grateful to my referees who supported my application to this program, and I'm so excited to share more with you about my proposed projects soon.