Trans PG

🕔Dec 01, 2011

I gulp nervously, then enter the fluorescent-tinged darkness of The Generator. It’s my first time at this Prince George nightclub, and I am here strictly for research purposes. I always avoided this place because of its reputation for being way too—well—annoyingly straight: a bar where the dames dress skimpily and the gents macho, and the script is one of butting heads and cat-fighting over who gets to go home with whom.

Conducting research on the dance floor, I soon get the opportunity to use one of my new words, gleaned from interviews with members of PG’s transfolk community: when a baseball-cap-wearing dude tells me I should shake my hips harder, I make the mental note that The Generator isn’t as heteronormative as I had suspected.

I undertook this trip to the Genny to compare it with Lamda, the gay-friendly club a block away that opened full-time in July 2011. My scientific conclusion is that Prince George has a strong transgender streak that is clouded by its reputation as an industrial town. There are many people who are living outside the standard categories of man and woman, and it’s not as black-and-white as Lamda vs Generator.

Open places
The Pride Centre at UNBC opened in the fall of 2010. Now, when you walk through the main doors at school, you pass beneath a rainbow flag. The double whammy of Pride and the fully licensed Lamda make the queer scene way more mainstream, especially compared to the old days of low-profile gathering places in the late ’60s and ’70s.

“A diversity of colours makes a beautiful picture,” says Reeanna Bradley, adding that the common term “pride” and the symbolic rainbow were responses to counter the persecution of queer people during the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s. An MA candidate in Gender Studies, Bradley moved to PG from Florida seeking a more accepting society north of the border. Also a deft linguist, they [sic] brought me up to speed on the lingo of the queer scene and the transfolk community in particular.

When a person doesn’t identify with being either a “him” or “her,” one pronounal alternative is “they.” The choice is up to the individual—transfolk have already endured being mislabeled at birth or even before, and part of being genderqueer is reclaiming the power to define oneself. Another way of referring to people who do not identify with the pronouns he or she (or him and her) is by using the androgynous pronouns zhe and zher.

Alex Faktor, born and raised in Prince George, identifies himself as genderqueer and doesn’t see humans in terms of “distinct circles of men, women, and other.” By presenting in masculine attire, Faktor is just being themself. They point out that when I use the term “spectrum” in an attempt to chart the extent to which someone is transgendered (from just transgender attire on one end to full sex-change on the other), I am neglecting the fact that some people might bear physical resemblance to their unassigned gender but do not identify as transfolk. Thus all binaries, categories and simple spectrums are inadequate when discussing the trans community.

As for the still-common use of the “that’s gay” putdown, Faktor calls this “hipster escapism from accountability,” a line of thinking that goes something like, “I know I am not being PC, but it’s okay because I know it.” They doesn’t put any stock in “those kind of escapes.”

Faktor’s experience of Prince George is of a city that contains a hybrid of rural and urban values, and that offers a supportive community despite some rather frightening discrimination lingering on the edges.

Foxy wisdom
Outrageous posters around town inspired many people, myself included, to attend a drag show last year at the UNBC campus. Several pageant-winning transgendered PG performers rocked the stage, singing all sorts of pop songs. One of them is named Travis Shaw, whose performance name is Foxy. A combo of Asian and First Nations descent, zhe presents as a seamless femme when performing, and a fellagirly by day.

“Talking with high-school kids, what they go through is half of what I did. It has come a long way,” Shaw says of queer life in Prince George and zher experience working with youth in the local high school-associated organizations GLOW (Gays, Lesbians, and Whomever) and GSA (Gay Straight Alliance). Organizations such as these didn’t exist when the 27-year-old was a teen and making waves in the pop-culture world.

Shaw has taken zher community work to another plateau and is running for city council this fall. Zhe is no stranger to rubbing shoulders with politicians: a few years ago, dressed as Foxy, zhe welcomed mayor Dan Rogers to a local GSA meeting. Prince George Citizen paparazzi snapped the gotcha shot and controversy raged for weeks.

The history of drag is one of insurrection and revolution—which is why Travis/Foxy leading the charge into public politics is no surprise. “The drag queens in New York threw the first stones in the Stonewall riots. They are the first ones out talking and making the changes and taking all the crap,” zhe explains to me.

Shaw tells of how allies in the south are flabbergasted that zhe manages to get by in the rough town of Prince George. After years of wearing skirts in minus 30, zhe has taken on a distinctive northern pedigree.

“I understand the fashion part [of the North]…” Shaw says. “When you want to go outside and chop your wood you have to be comfortable.” Stories of this grounded wilderness savvy are offset by details of dress such as the Versace sunglasses and apparently $1,200 pre-ripped jeans zhe wears to the interview.

Shaw’s talents have brought zher to Jasper, Dawson Creek, Terrace—smaller towns where gender-benders are a staple of the underground party scene.
For Faktor, however, one-off gender-bending is slightly problematic. “It’s something that’s beautiful in itself but it’s sad that they can’t do that outside of the space of the party.”

Transfolk I spoke to seem to agree that the presence of UNBC has contributed fundamentally to the solidification of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Two-Spirited, Questioning) community.

The fostering of transgender knowledge is visible in the creative writing scene too. For example, several male writers—Justin Foster, Rob Budde, Jeremy Stewart and Earson Gibson—undertook a literary experiment several years ago where they created a fictional female persona named Iris Ann McCarthy and attempted to write poems and create a cover design from this female perspective. The results of their transgender literary experiment were compiled in the chapbook Post(It).

According to Budde, the exercise felt kind of like “cross-dressing intellectually,” and in hindsight he wonders if it wasn’t merely “gender tourism.” These days Budde is more interested in deconstructing the masculine than attempting to inhabit the feminine.

Even bushmen of days past engaged in trans activity; there is proof in the literary records of the early 20th century. Woodsmen of the West (1908), by Martin Allerdale Grainger, offers a glimpse into this ultra-male society. After a week of coastal logging, the narrator describes a typical night off at the saloon: “Noise was my first impression—noise of shuffling feet, stamp of dancing men…to the tune of a fiddle played by an old man.”

Now there is a historical transimage: drunken coastal loggers dancing together in their boots.

I asked Reeanna Bradley what they thought of this.

“There is historical precedence,” they affirm. “Any time people are deprived, they find ways to satisfy themselves. Suffice it to say that bodies are attracted to bodies.”

Dancing in a morass of bodies at The Generator, I have to agree: all these bodies seem to stick together like magnets… sweaty magnets. I think it’s time for some fresh air. I’ve done enough research for one night.