Beyond the bay and binary, Stephenville teens say they’re experiencing less hate for their identity since moving to St. John’s.
Sebastian Lafitte was born and raised in the town of Stephenville, but doesn’t take much pride in their hometown.
Lafitte came out as two-spirit, neither male nor female, in high school and began using they/them pronouns. Two-spirit is an Indigenous term used to recognize a person’s feminine and masculine spirit. When Lafitte came out to their friends and family in Stephenville, the response was not supportive.
Insults were hurled at Lafitte and they were purposely misgendered by classmates, even when Lafitte would attempt to correct them on their preferred pronouns. Family members told Lafitte they were just going through a phase and chose to ignore referring to them by their preferred name and pronouns.
The lack of acceptance from people throughout their hometown led Lafitte to feel like they didn’t belong.
“I get a lot of dirty looks here in Stephenville, an incredible amount,” Lafitte said, “It doesn’t feel like I have a home, even though I have one. It doesn’t feel like a home, and my parents don’t feel like parents or neither does the rest of my family.”
According to a national 2015 study, one in three youths who identify as gender fluid have attempted suicide.
Lafitte became fed up with the lack of acceptance they were receiving and decided they needed to leave their hometown. They moved to St. John’s in September and noticed a difference in how they were treated.
“It’s easier to be accepted in St. John’s,” Lafitte said. “ I get more people going about their day without giving me dirty looks.”
Lafitte is not alone.
Stephanie Russell moved from Stephenville to St. John’s in 2020. Russell identifies as non-binary and uses she/they pronouns.
Non-binary people consider themselves neither male nor female. Pronouns such as they, theirs and them are commonly used in place of he and she.
Growing up in a rural area Russell questioned her gender early in her childhood, but weren’t familiar with the non-binary gender identity. Russell was unsure what their feelings meant until they found out about being non-binary through their own research.
“It’s not as much black and white as it is grey,” Russell said, describing the non-binary gender.
Although Russell was unaware of the term for their gender identity, the 19-year-old music student still chose to express themselves to match the way she felt. When Russell was 14, they cut off all their hair because it felt comfortable.
“I would walk around Walmart with my parents and I would hear it all the time ‘is that a boy or a girl?’ from strangers who did not even know who I was,” said Russell.
Russell was confused why people they didn’t even know were so concerned about her gender identity.
When Russell moved to St. John’s, she decided to cut her hair again. The reaction was much different than expected.
“Here I was, freshly shaven head, practically bald. I was surprised that the seniors I expected to have a (negative) reaction to it were really positive,” Russell said.
Russell and Lafitte agree moving to St. John’s has made it easier for them to express their gender identity. They believe more awareness and education on gender identities are needed.
“People don’t realize that we’re your friends, we’re your family, we’re your aunts and uncles,” Lafitte said. “We are the people you care about.”