Although initially worried about his father’s reaction to his coming out as a transgender man, Tanner Phillips’s father, Lloyd Phillips accepted and supported his decision because what matters to him is his son’s wellbeing. (Courtesy Tanner Phillips)
The Knights of Columbus was packed Wednesday with Kanien’kehá:ka and over 200 Indigenous people from different communities from across Canada for the Indigenous Gender and Wellness Idea Fair and Learning Circle.
The initiative, co-hosted by the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project (KSDPP) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Gender and Health (CIHR-IGH), came to be after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action.
“We need researchers and Indigenous communities collaborating and developing ideas for research projects on themes like mental health, LGBTQ health, transgender health, two-spirit, and others,” said Kelly Marquis, event coordinator at KSDPP.
According to CIHR-IGH, there is a wide gap when it comes to research regarding concepts of gender in Indigenous communities and the effect it has on wellness.
June is LGBTQ Pride Month, which commemorates the Stonewall Riots that took place in New York on June 28, 1969 when the New York Police Department raided The Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village. Patrons and members of the LGBTQ community came together and fought back. The raid and aftermath is widely regarded as the beginning of the modern gay liberation movement.
LGBTQ rights have made strides since the early ‘90s, but the lack of information and resources highlighted by this week’s fair at the Knights continues to have grave personal repercussion for LGBTQ people.
Kahnawake Fire Brigade paramedic Tanner Phillips is a trans man, who never knew what trans meant growing up.
“If I would have been around people who were trans then, I might have figured it out earlier and had support, real-life support rather than on YouTube that I can’t actually interact with,” said Phillips, who finds support on the online video sharing site.
Tanner’s story is a positive one. When he came out as transgender earlier this year at the age of 28, his family and loved ones came together to offer support and love. When he announced it to his co-workers at the fire brigade, they were accepting and understanding.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case for LGBTQ and two-spirit people, who get reactions stemming from ignorance and fear.
“It needs to be out there. I still think that everybody knows gays and lesbians, but a lot of people don’t understand what transgender is,” said Tanner.
Growing up, Tanner felt different, and he never really understood why. He came out as a lesbian after dealing with depression for years.
Though his family and everyone he encountered was accepting of his coming out, that feeling of “something not being right” eventually returned.
When he was 20, he moved to Pittsburgh to become a paramedic, and it was during this time that he became acquainted with gay, lesbian, trans and other individuals more like himself.
“I met new people, and one of them was trans, and I was like ‘Oh. Okay.’ When they were living as a woman, they were dressing like me and acting like me, and they liked the same things as me. That’s kind of when I started thinking about it (being transgender). But it wasn’t conscious. And then I went through another depression,” said Tanner.
He met and fell in love with his wife, Acacia Prophet-Phillips, in November of 2013, and the two tied the knot in October of 2016 (as profiled in The Eastern Door vol. 26 no. 09). Two-and-a-half years into their marriage, while dealing with another bout of depression, Tanner asked his wife what would happen if he became a man. She reassured him that they would deal with it together.
He eventually went to see a therapist that dealt with gender issues.
“I didn’t go there thinking I am trans,” said Tanner. “I went there because I was depressed and suicidal. But I specifically chose a therapist who deals with gender issues hoping that eventually, it would get to that point.”
First, he changed his name. He said that was hard, but being trans made it easier because people understood the reasoning behind it. However, the last thing he wanted was to insult his parents. They named him, after all.
“To me, it was not a major issue at all,” said Lloyd Phillips, Tanner’s dad. “Obviously, there is some level of adjustment as a father who had a daughter that now identifies as a male.”
Lloyd’s wife Wendy Walker and daughter Ashlan Phillips also are supportive.
“I’ve always been supportive of him in his life, through school and everything else,” said Ashlan. “For his transition, it’s been no different.”
“My feeling was whatever makes him happy, whatever he needs to do to feel comfortable in his own skin, I will definitely support that,” said Lloyd. “As a parent, your primary goal is that your kids are happy.”
Tanner is currently on hormone therapy, and he is looking into masculinizing chest surgery.
Tanner’s main goal now is to spread the word about what it really means to be transgender.
“I think people in town are way more accepting then they want to believe. Don’t be afraid to say the word transgender. That is why I am letting the community know. I want people to be comfortable talking about it. It might make it easier for people who are questioning their gender identity.”
The second part of the Eastern Door’s LGBTQ series will be published next week.