Over the past few years, conversations surrounding trans rights, drag bans, age restrictions on hormone blockers, bathroom access, and more have been coming to the forefront of mainstream media. Though we often associate them with the United States, Canada is also heavily involved in these conversations. Maxime Bernier with the People’s Party of Canada is currently trying to implement an anti-trans platform; New Brunswick has passed Policy 713, which requires students to have parental consent to use their preferred name and pronouns; and anti-trans protests have popped up in many major cities across Canada this year.
Valley native Clay Nussey is a popular drag queen in the Montreal drag scene (his stage name is Kitanna Sweett). Though he has been performing for years, the conversations over the past year have caused a shift in the way he interacts with audience members. “People that have been going to Mado’s for many years – they’ll often ask about it now. So you can tell that it is definitely impacting people, more than we think. Even the people that are on our side,” he explains.
There are a lot of misconceptions about drag, most of them being that drag is always sexually explicit and inappropriate for children. But Nussey reminds people that “It is an art form,” like music, movies, or TV; and performances will vary depending on the context. “If you’re watching a movie, you can get a Disney movie, which is great for a child to watch. And you can get a horror movie that is not safe for a child to watch. That is exactly the same thing for drag,” he says. A drag performance at a library with children will be very different from one at a bar.
Though he has been fortunate to have not lost much work over the past year, “It kind of makes you not want to take as many adventurous gigs,” he explains. The fear of not knowing what could come from a new setting has definitely increased. It has made him even more aware of how important safe spaces and community are for queer folks.
Another trans man from the Valley (who asked to remain anonymous) says that though things are definitely worse in the U.S., “It’s not an irrational fear” to feel nervous in Canada too. Many of the laws being passed either force young people to detransition, prevent them from accessing hormones, or prevent them from having access to queer books or education at all.
“I don’t think I would ever understand why people feel the need to police other people’s bodies,” he says. These laws can be incredibly frustrating and difficult to hear about, especially considering suicide rates are significantly higher for trans youth. This man feels that there is a huge lack of compassion. “I tried to understand people; that’s just something I don’t need to understand. And I don’t want to understand, because I think it’s just beyond human empathy.”
Nussey adds that it seems like this year is the first in a while to show regression in terms of queer rights, saying “Safe spaces have become even more important than they have in years.” Safe spaces for queer people were initiated more as an underground scene for protection, but they are significantly more mainstream now, like the Gay Village in Montreal. “Safe spaces have always been where queer people get together and have a good time, but also just feel like they can be themselves.” Some people believe it’s just a party scene, but Nussey reiterates that it’s a place where people go to find their queer family.
In terms of how folks can keep better informed and aware of these issues, especially in rural areas, Nussey says, “I think it’s just education. And asking and seeking resources. Ask queer people! I think that’s the most important part.”
The anonymous man adds that queer people exist everywhere, even in the Valley where they are often forgotten about. “We’re just doing our jobs, and we’re at home cooking, and we’re doing our lives,” he says. “We’re here, we’ve always been here, and we’ll always be here!” He adds that though not everyone will understand the trans or queer experience, “We can all have empathy.”