UVic transgender conference billed as largest in Canadian history

The University of Victoria is home to the world’s largest archive of printed materials about transgender people — drawn from 17 countries over more than a century — and the first research chair in transgender studies.

Beginning Friday, it’s hosting another first: the largest “trans” conference in Canadian history, says university archivist Lara Wilson.

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Caitlyn Jenner can’t make it to Moving Trans History Forward 2016, but the welcome mat is out for 150 researchers, scholars, artists, transgender people, students and others from around the world.

Speakers range from those close to home, including Madison Thomas from the Esquimalt Nation, to those arriving from as far away as Japan: Sonja Pei-Fen Dale will offer her take on “translating toransujend” — making Japanese transgender identities “legible” in English.

Even English literature icon William Shakespeare gets his due from UBC English professor Mary Ann Saunders, who will present The (Transgender) Tempest: Shakespeare as Trans Archive.

The conference is limited to issues and scholarship specifically relating to transgender and gender-non-conforming people, as opposed to the entire spectrum of LGBTQ issues, Wilson said. UVic’s leadership role in transgender issues makes it a centre for research in all aspects of trans life — from law to history to anthropology and writing, she said, adding it’s a rapidly changing field.

“There is such an increase in awareness of transgender people and their struggles, and their contributions to society.”

An example of the change: Mayor Richard Atwell signed a proclamation this week naming March 31 as Trans Day of Visibility in Saanich, noting that transgender people “face many discriminatory barriers,” leading many to fear “coming out as themselves.”

Leading the conference is sociology professor and UVic chair in transgender studies Aaron Devor, who is transgender.

“My hope is that the conference will stimulate greater research into trans issues and that the increased knowledge will benefit the lives of trans people in the community and bring about more action,” he said in a statement.

The title of the virtual keynote presentation by Martine Rothblatt, who was born male, gives a hint at what trans people go through, even though the speaker was the top-earning female executive in the U.S. in 2014. The title: From Transgender to Transhuman to Virtually Human.

More than a dozen sessions are planned for the three-day conference, including:

• There is No Roadmap: The Transitional Narratives of Transgender Youth with Ai Miller

• The Incredible Evolution: Witnessing Transgender History Since 1978 with Mariette Pathy Allen

• From Sumer to Rome: On the Trail of the Great Goddess and Her Gender-Variant Worshippers with Cheryl Morgan

• Representations of trans bodies in porn with S Very

• The Man-Woman and the Female-Husband: A Comparison of Female Cross-Dressing in Early Modern England and Victorian Britain with Megan Fenkhuber

• Norming Abnormality: Discursive Constructions of Transmasculine Difference with matthew heinz.

Among the events open to the public is a $5 Friday night at the movies at Cinecenta Theatre from 6:45 to 9 p.m., including FLOAT, a short film by Sam Berliner, and Two4One by Mo Bradley of the UVic writing department. Both filmmakers will attend, and a conversation with them will follow.

Conference free events

• Ali Blythe and a poetry reading called Twoism from 4:30 to 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Upper Lounge, Student Union Building

• Art exhibits on display Friday and Saturday include:
Mariette Pathy Allen: The Incredible Evolution: Witnessing Transgender History since 1978
Dallas Denny: Andrea Susan, Casa Susanna Photographer
Heather Reid, Georgia Billman & Alex Campbell: The Gender Box

• Performance art by Andrea Jenkins & Erica Fields: Countering Historical Erasure of Transgender Narratives from mainstream LGBT History, 3 to 3:30 p.m., Friday, and 11:15 to 11:45 a.m., Saturday, Upper Lounge, Student Union Building

• Panel discussion by trans experts from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Sunday, Michele Pujol Room, Student Union Building

• Open house: The Transgender Archives, Mearns Centre for Learning/McPherson Library Saturday, 2-5:15 p.m.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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