New project provides gender-affirming items to Nova Scotians

1 July 2022 Posted by: Lake Lawn B&B Great Yarmouth News

A new initiative by Sexual Health Nova Scotia provides gender-affirming items to people free of charge. The Transformation Closet offers binders, gaffs and packers to those who are transgender and gender diverse.

According to newly-released census data, Nova Scotia has one of the highest proportions of gender diversity in the country, with nearly one in every 200 people identifying as transgender or non-binary.

However, transgender or non-binary people still face discrimination and marginalization, which can impact their mental and physical health, safe housing, employment, community safety and social isolation.

Julie Veinot is the executive director of South Shore Sexual Health, where the program began. She says people use gender-affirming items to express their gender identity.

“Basically, it makes the outside reflect what their gender identity inside their brain is. Such items typically include binders, which can compress the chest for a more flat appearance,” says Veinot. “Gender-affirming items are not necessarily permanent. Some gender-diverse folks may go on to have surgeries, but some may not. So gender-affirming items are just ways that folks can express their gender in an everyday fashion.”

She says there are two reasons why having access to the items is so important.

“I think the most important is that you get to see yourself as your own gender identity. When you look in the mirror, you see yourself. That’s so important. And of course, when you’re out in public and you want folks to gender you correctly. Sometimes those items can help the public, and your environment, gender you correctly as well. So it’s kind of two pieces.”

Veinot knows first-hand that such a small item can make a big, and positive, difference in people’s lives.

“I’ve had folks try on different items and I can hear them crying when they’re trying them on. I’ve had people hug me after getting something. I’m blown away by the impact of these items. If you’re cisgender you may not understand the importance of wearing a binder for the first time. But we definitely see it when we give these items out.”

The Transformation Closet typically sees young people using their services.

“They seem to be the primary demographic that’s in that position of using these items. They’re discovering their gender for the first time, or going through puberty and needing to sort of alter things. So we’re seeing it in really young people. And it’s profound.”

The idea for The Transformation Closet came from listening to the needs of those in rural communities. Veinot says gender-affirming items are a difficult thing to order, and try on, through the mail.

“Binders have to have a very specific fit so that they’re as comfortable as possible, while giving you as much compression as possible. Being able to try these on in person, and to just see the items, is very helpful and we didn’t have that before. It’s a barrier to have to order things online. You have to have a credit card to actually order this stuff in from the United States.”

The initiative was also made possible with support from the “Kia Communities in Motion” program. Kia Canada is spending $1.4 million over four years to support inclusive community projects across the country.

Previously, The Transformation Closet was only available in the Sexual Health Nova Scotia South Shore centre, which covers Lunenburg and Queens counties. Now, people across the province will have access to the service.

“A lot more people are going to access this program,” says Veinot. “We’re going to use centres across the province to help distribute it, and hopefully get some partners along the way. The goal is to make it as barrier-free as possible.” 

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