It’s not everyday that you find yourself at a party in a startup gourmet pet food store with 80 people and ten dogs. But in this case, at the launch of a new movement to elevate trans awareness, it made perfect sense.
Toronto-based and Canadian newcomer trans-preneur Jack Jackson and New York-based Deb Klein are both professional photographers and multi-skilled entrepreneurs with a passion for dogs and gender justice. They came together to create Don’t You Want Me (DYWM), a globally sourced photography project that showcases stories about trans and queer people whose lives have been transformed by the acceptance and unconditional love they experience from their rescue dogs. The startup photo-plus-stories project will leave you wondering, who rescued who?
The launch was held in Toronto, Canada at Tom & Sawyer, a socially progressive pet food store with an onsite production facility, doggy bakery, plus comfy couches and Wi-Fi. The exhibit opened on March 31st, International Transgender Day of Visibility, a global initiative founded by Human Rights Campaign, a 3M+ membership-based LGBTQ civil rights organization based in the United States.
“I do think that a part of me was trying to heal myself by taking care of someone else that was broken and forgotten, our new skinny, sick, terrified Lunie-bear.” – Reuben
“I work 70 hours a week in my current venture but wanted to work on developing this project as well because frankly, I’m furious,” said project co-founder Jackson. “Why? Because discrimination causes so much harm. Let’s take Charlie over there, 22, who volunteered here tonight. His family has actually disowned him. Things are still really, really hard for [trans] people. No one is doing anything about it.” Recent research shows that 16-24-year-old trans kids who have supportive parents are far less likely to suffer from depression or attempt suicide.
Jackson adds: “I think these kinds of stories need to be told. Because people still don’t get it. They think oh, you’re trans, and they think that is the issue, but being trans is not the issue, discrimination—society’s perception of trans people, is the real issue. Trans people have something really important to say. Something that doesn’t just affect trans people, but also women, effeminate men, basically anyone that doesn’t fit the heteronormative norm.”
At present, there is little data on the total number of trans people in Canada, or their experiences. However, qualitative research is clear that there are significant barriers to social and economic inclusion. TransPulse, an Ontario-based community research hub estimate in 2014 that “as many as 1 in 200 adults may be trans (transgender, transsexual, or transitioned).” And while Canada has recognized trans discrimination as a hate crime and illegal in its charter of rights and freedoms, trans people continue to face physical abuse, unemployment at three times the national rate, and high rates of mental health issues.
The pain experienced as a result of social exclusion and brutal discrimination, especially from those who at one point, loved you, were part of many stories shared at the launch event. T Thomason is a UK-born 23-year-old who was raised in Halifax. The “trans-guy” indie pop star was recently signed by Taylor Swift’s record label and performed an acoustic version of his latest singles, “Bliss” and “Hope”, the latter of which he says taught him a lot about being a trans person.
I just walk, and the farther I go
I am stepping with a changing shadow
I just walk and I hope I am getting close
Catching up with all the ghosts I would like to get to know
Past all your fears, you will find bliss
Hold onto this, move past your fears, you will find bliss.
— T. Thomason, Bliss Lyrics
Statistics show that over 43% of trans people eventually attempt suicide, yet Jackson is hopeful about the future. “Deb [Klein] and I were talking about trans people going swimming. In Brighton [U.K.] that is a real issue. For me, in Toronto, I was scared shitless about the first time I went swimming, just in shorts. And absolutely no one gave a shit — that was awesome.”
Klein, a New Yorker, scout for the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” production company, bass player, and foster mom to rescue dogs, found Jackson on Instagram. She loved his idea and his photography, and quickly signed on to partner on Don’t You Want Me. Klein and Jackson plan to grow the project into a global movement. “This launch is just the beginning. We hope to see a thousand more photos and stories like this submitted to our project from around the world,” says Klein.
The DYWM “minimal viable project” exhibit will stay in east Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood at Tom & Sawyer until April 6th, and will then be moved to Black Lab Brewing for rest of the month. Tom & Sawyer co-founder, Kristen Mathews, a former forensic accountant whose love of animals led to starting her doggy bakery and pet food company three years ago, didn’t hesitate to host the exhibit. “T & S is very welcoming to the community. A lot of LGBTQ community members have dogs and cats who they consider part of the family.”
For those who can’t make it to the exhibit, don’t worry. LiisBeth has prepared a two-minute slide show of the event, including some of the featured photos. We hope you take a moment to watch and share, in support of equality and visibility for trans people in your community and everywhere. Enjoy.