A transgender man from Inuvik, N.W.T., is sharing his transition process on social media in the hopes that it will help other transgender youth who lack the necessary support to transition in their northern communities.
"I just came out a couple months ago and it was always kind of a big thing for me," said Draydon Allum, 20. "I feel like now that I'm out and transitioning, that it would be a good time to talk about it a little more."
Allum opened up about his experience through an Instagram post in light of Transgender Awareness Week, which runs from Nov. 13-19 each year. The week is an opportunity to increase the visibility and understanding of issues transgender people face, and ends with Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, which recognizes the victims of transphobic violence.
Allum said he always knew he wanted to transition someday, and to start taking testosterone as part of that process, but with limited access to transgender-specific care in the territory, he wasn't sure how.
Growing up in the remote, northern town, he said there were no resources available to learn about being transgender — until he helped start the Aurora Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at East Three Secondary School.
The group was formed in 2017 after students attended a five-day Rainbow conference in Yellowknife. They wanted a way to represent the two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (2SLGBTQ) community in Inuvik, and to educate others about it.
"It was really good to get that going, because a lot of other kids came out and it kind of made me feel a little bit better about it," Allum said. "Until that, there wasn't really any place I could go to talk about it or learn about it, so I just turned to social media."
Seeing other transgender people share their stories of transitioning wasn't always easy for Allum. It left him longing to be at that same stage in his own life, where he could openly be who he is.
"But it also made me feel good to know that it would be possible," he added. "It taught me a lot and it showed me what I should expect while I'm transitioning, and the kind of things I need to know when it happens."
'I knew I was ready to come out'
Allum said he had always kept quiet about being transgender because he was afraid of how his family and other people would respond. For a long time, he struggled with his mental health because he didn't know how to help himself.
He credits the editors behind Inuvik's new youth-led magazine, Nipatur̂uq, with giving him the "little push" he needed to come out.
"I knew I was ready to come out. I just didn't know how to do it," said Allum. "Mataya Gillis [one of the magazine's editors] actually messaged me and my fiancée and asked if we would be interviewed for it, and since it was about mental health, I thought I would bring up being transgender."
Allum said he started using his current name publicly during the Nipatur̂uq interview in July. The interview was published in the magazine in September.
I wasn't expecting to get so much support from the town, because you don't hear about many transgender youth around here. - Draydon Allum
"It was really scary," he said, adding he didn't want any negative feedback. "I thought a lot about it and I kind of hesitated at first. But, I thought, if I didn't do it then, then I wouldn't do it at all."
The response was nothing but positive, Allum said.
"I wasn't expecting to get so much support from the town, because you don't hear about many transgender youth around here. But I received nothing but support, and everybody started using my name without a problem," he said.
"I think that was probably one of the best decisions I made."
Lack of community resources
Allum has now been taking testosterone since October, and is sharing his transition progress on Instagram.
He said he's lucky that it didn't take him long to start the process; he first spoke with a doctor in June. But he knows that's not the case for many transgender youth in the territory who are seeking advice or medical expertise.
The Rainbow Coalition of Yellowknife is currently the only organization in the N.W.T. that provides advocacy and programming for 2SLGBTQ youth, adults or families, said executive director Chelsea Thacker.
They said the coalition takes calls, texts, emails and social media messages from people across the territory, and tries to connect them with the resources they need. But it's much more difficult for people living in smaller communities to access those resources, Thacker said.
"In communities, it's a lot harder because there's limited, next to no one who is safe to talk to about being transgender or non-binary," Thacker said. "We have such a limited staff of health-care professionals and therapists and other medical staff just even having the training to be able to be inclusive and work with transgender and non-binary people."
While the Rainbow Coalition tries to "decentralize its work as much as possible, Thacker said the coalition doesn't yet have the funding to extend its reach to communities outside Yellowknife.
Thacker said the coalition is fighting to make the N.W.T. a safer place for transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming youth.
"We want them to see that they matter, and that we see them and recognize their experience in the N.W.T. and we're not OK with how they're currently being treated and we're trying to make it better," they said.
Thacker said that in the absence of appropriate health care, establishing a gender and sexuality alliance group in every school would be a good first step.
"We need to normalize the existence of transgender and non-binary people because we are here and we're everywhere. Just because you might not see us, doesn't mean we don't exist."
Find what makes you happy, Allum tells youth
Allum said he's grateful to have had the support of some of his teachers while growing up. Some of them knew his pronouns, and he could talk to them about the struggles he was facing, he said.
Allum said he would like to see a gender clinic opened in Inuvik, so youth have someone to talk to who understands what they are going through.
He said that if the first adult you speak to about your gender is not receptive, to keep reaching out until you find someone who is.
For now, his advice to others is to embrace who they are, and to do what makes them happy — whether that's wearing certain clothes, or styling their hair a different way.
"It's really hard to deal with [gender] dysphoria. You know, everybody handles it [differently]," Allum said. "I think if you explore more and take more chances, you'll start finding more things that make you more comfortable and make you feel better.
I just hope that [people] learn that whoever comes out as trans isn't any different, like it's kind of who they've always been. - Draydon Allum
In the spirit of Transgender Awareness Week, Allum also wants others to recognize the importance of accepting transgender people, and to understand that individuals who are transitioning are still the same person.
"I just hope that [people] learn that whoever comes out as trans isn't any different, like it's kind of who they've always been," Allum said. "I don't think it changes anything about them, other than, you know, their name and pronouns."
He said he hopes people will learn more about what it means to be transgender, "ask lots of questions, and just show their full support."
"Because that's what they need the most," he said.