When Milo Leraar came out as non-binary to their evangelical family, they were promptly disowned. Leraar was 18 years old, a single parent to an infant and on their own in the Lower Mainland.
It’s taken a decade of conflict and conversations, but Leraar has tentatively been invited back into the family. It’s a work in progress, but it’s a start.
“Maybe I’m an optimist,” Leraar said. “I always like to focus on where the growth is happening, because that’s where I get my strength. That’s where I get my hope from.”
That history helps Leraar relate to people in their work as ANKORS’s Trans Connect co-ordinator.
Leraar provides peer support to trans, non-binary and two-spirit people and their families, acts as an advocate, help clients with medical or social service needs, and speaks about trans issues in schools or workshops.
One of those workshops, called Trans 101, was held Tuesday at Community Futures, where Leraar spoke to a group of 20 people about experiences and challenges faced by transgender people.
Participants included a couple interested in learning about their transitioning grandchild, people working on providing inclusive services, and some allies of the community with their own stories to tell.
Most of the conversation centred on language. One person spoke about customers who insist on referring them as a man even though they identify as a woman.
Leraar said asking for and then using a person’s correct pronouns — he, she, or in Leraar’s case, they — can be daunting for people privileged enough to take gender for granted. But it also comes easy, they said, once another person’s identity becomes accepted.
“That has united trans communities across other experiences,” said Leraar. “The one thing we have in common is that we want people to refer to us correctly and show us respect.”
Respect is an important theme for Leraar, who avoids getting into debates about science or religion and instead opts for conversations about shared experiences.
For the trans community, those experiences can include daily discrimination and anxiety. One participant Tuesday said she has to avoid Nelson bars for fear of assault.
“I find that’s something that’s a lot more difficult for people to debate,” said Leraar. “Most people have some understanding of what it feels like to be respected and what expectations they have around wanting to be respected by other people around them.”
That conversation, Leraar added, tends to be far easier in classrooms. Teenagers, they said, are generally well educated in gender issues.
“It feels like light years different than when I was in high school. Most classrooms that I’m in presenting, there will be a trans kid in the room, which I think is amazing.”
That might be, Leraar said, because there is far more information available online for trans people, as well as family and community members learning how to make Nelson a little more inclusive.
“There’s a lot of generosity in the trans community in this town for education,” said Leraar. “If people are feeling fearful of messing up or avoidant of trans people because they don’t want to accidentally step on anyone’s toes, it’s not actually as hard as you might think.”
The Transgender Day of Remembrance will be held in Nelson on Nov. 20 at Ward and Baker from 4 to 5:30 p.m.