Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Non-Binary Activist Savours victory:'Pretty Amazing to See Life from Both Sides'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Non-Binary Activist Savours victory:'Pretty Amazing to See Life from Both Sides'

Article excerpt

Non-binary activist savours N.L. victory


ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - From early childhood, Gemma Hickey rebelled against wearing dresses and never felt female.

It was a misfit sensation of not belonging that Hickey wants to spare other kids -- starting with their birth certificates.

Hickey describes as a "big victory" what happened Friday in a St. John's courtroom that could go a long way to ease stigmas and increase acceptance for those who linger between genders.

Hickey's legal challenge of the province's Vital Statistics Act, which allows birth certificates only to have male or female sex designations, was delayed at provincial Supreme Court in St. John's while the province enshrines another option.

Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberal government said Thursday it will bring in legislation this fall allowing for a change of sex designation to non-binary.

Hickey hopes other provinces will follow suit -- only the Northwest Territories now allows gender-neutral birth certificates.

"It's a proud day for Newfoundland and Labrador," Hickey told reporters. "We weren't the first place in Canada to do it, but second is pretty good and I feel very happy today. I feel very validated."

Hickey was also celebrating the debut of the documentary "Just be Gemma" airing Saturday on local CBC television (Newfoundland and Labrador). It will be available for viewing online as part of CBC's "Absolutely" documentary series.

Produced by Nine Island Communications, it traces Hickey's physical transition from female to non-binary -- neither male nor female -- beginning in 2015. The journey starts with testosterone shots before surgery to remove the breasts Hickey says never felt right.

Hickey recalls never identifying as female, and recounts being sexually assaulted for the first time at the age of five by an older boy who lived on their street. Years later, a priest who had taken special interest in Hickey, buying presents and offering visits at his home, became an abuser.

Hickey describes falling asleep one night on his couch, and awakening with him "on top of me."

"I just thought: 'Oh my God.' He had a cross around his neck and it would hit my face. That's what I remember, is just the cross hitting my chin."

Hickey took that trauma and, as an adult, formed the Pathways Foundation to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse. In 2015, Hickey walked 930 kilometres across Newfoundland raising funds for the group.

Hickey talks in the documentary about wanting to be called "they" rather than he or she.

"It's pretty amazing to see life from both sides, so why do I have to pick one?"

It's an awkward transition for Hickey's mother, Lynda Hayward. She still refers at times in the film to her "daughter" but accompanies Hickey to Ontario for plastic surgery and is often seen offering support and love. …

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