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The QUeerBC Post: Nov 2019

In this month’s edition of The qUeerBC Post, Christopher Cook shares how theatre (and a deep appreciation for Star Trek) provided him with an outlet to explore his queer sexuality. He details how his immersion in the arts ultimately led to a shift toward a career in Counselling Psychology, and ultimately to a doctoral program at UBC. In his captivating editorial, Christopher shares how he has weaved his passions for theatre, research, and mental wellness through his involvement with UBC’s Research-Based Theatre Collaborative. Chris concludes his piece with a link to register for Don’t Rock the Boat, a free theatre workshop about graduate supervision and wellbeing.

We Are All Artists

“How are we going to do this?”

I am standing with a group of four researchers of all different experience levels – a Ph.D. student, a post-doc, and two professors – in a university classroom with the desks and chairs shifted aside. September afternoon sunlight is washing over the displaced classroom furniture and our faces, making everything look overexposed. We are in a circle.

“Who will be writing it? Who’s going to be the actors?”

The questions come from all around the circle. These researchers are all part of a lab embarking on a collective play creation process, and I will be facilitating this process. Our goal is to turn their research on the experience of health care professionals and students with disabilities into a theatre piece. Looking around the circle, I see uncomfortable shifting. The last time most of the people here were in a play was in grade school.

The researchers’ questions are familiar. I have heard different versions of the same concerns in most of the theatre creation processes I have had the privilege of facilitating. The core question underneath all the others seems to be: “How can we possibly make a play?”

When I was a kid, I either wanted to be a counsellor like the character Deanna Troi, on my favourite TV show, Star Trek; or I wanted to act alongside Deanna Troi, starring in my favourite TV show, Star Trek. My passion for performing developed at a young age. I realized I was queer when I was ten, and this was the early-1990s. Apart from a few gay characters that I had watched in Hollywood movies and tried to use as reference points, I had no idea what being gay meant. I only knew that it was not safe to tell anyone around me. Acting seemed like a natural outlet.

I ended up turning this outlet into a career. But during my undergraduate performance courses, I was wracked with imposter syndrome. I felt this inadequacy late into fretful nights of not sleeping, staring at breakfasts I felt too nauseous to eat, and before I walked on stage for most of the four years of my BFA in theatre performance. One place I did not feel like such an imposter was in the warm-up circle with which we would start every studio class, slowly waking up our bodies, voices, and imaginations. There, in that circle, I felt connected and in relationship with everyone around me.

After several years of working as a theatre artist, I chose to explore that other version of what I wanted to be when I grew up – not an actor, but a counsellor. I enrolled in my first undergraduate psychology course just before I turned thirty, and I was sure that I would jettison theatre from my life entirely. But as I pursued graduate training in Counselling Psychology, I continued to write plays that focused on mental wellness journeys and lead collective theatre creation processes with diverse groups. These experiences showed me that we are all artists. Engaging in art-making creates a constellation, or a map, that supports others to lean into creativity in whatever way they choose.

While a graduate student at UBC, I have had the privilege to work with the UBC Research-Based Theatre Collaborative, which explores the intersection of theatre and research. One of our current projects, Don’t Rock the Boat, dramatizes scenes exploring grad student and supervisor relationships. If art-marking creates a constellation, I learned part of the map from the workshop process for Don’t Rock the Boat. Across all the different contexts I’ve worked in – theatre studios, therapy rooms, or grad school – relationships are primary. Whether it’s two actors staging a scene or a grad student and supervisor designing a research project, whatever we produce doesn’t matter as much as the relationships we create – the connection of constellations we contribute.

I am back standing with researchers in a circle. Their questions that all point to, “How can we possibly make a play?” are hanging in the air.

Ten months from now, in July, we will have created Alone in the Ring, a twenty-minute touring theatre production in which all four of the researchers will play multiple roles and share stories from their research on disabilities with audiences of students and health professionals across the Lower Mainland. But I do not know this yet, none of us do.

I look around the circle before I reply, “Let’s acknowledge all these questions and see if we can put them aside, just for now.” I explain what a theatre warm-up looks like and then say, “We always start in a circle.”

Christopher Cook is a therapist, playwright, and theatre creator. He is passionate about using theatre as a therapeutic, learning, and research tool. His plays include Quick Bright Things (Persephone Theatre, 2017) and Voices UP! (UBC Learning Exchange, 2017), a collaborative creation with community members in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Chris is currently completing his Ph.D. at UBC, focusing on the intersections between mental health and research-based theatre. Quick Bright Things will be published by Playwright’s Canada Press in 2020.

Don’t Rock the Boat is a theatre workshop about graduate supervision and wellbeing that runs through November at the UBC Point Grey Campus. Book tickets at

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The QUeerBC Post: Oct 2019

In this month’s edition of The qUeerBC Post, Xiao-Tao shares her experience of relocating to Vancouver to pursue a Master of Arts in Political Science. In her candid editorial, Xiao-Tao shares structural and social challenges that she has faced as she navigates campus as a pansexual trans woman. The editorial concludes with some resources for LGBGTQ2SIA+ students on campus and an open invitation for suggestions regarding how the GSS can better support queer, trans, and Two-Spirit students.

Please be advised that this story contains themes of transphobia and self-harm

My Journey to UBC as a Trans Graduate Student: Expectations met and Hopes unmet

When I was considering/applying to the University of British Columbia and other places for graduate school in the fall of 2018, having a strong LGBTQIA+ community on campus was not on my list of priorities. I had just come back from a study abroad program in Taiwan the previous summer, ready to finish off my bachelor’s degree and looking for that next big adventure to further my education and career as a young political scientist interested in Chinese comparative and gender politics. It was not until after I had finished applying to all of my graduate school picks in January 2019 that I started questioning my gender identity.

“I don’t know if I can be the boyfriend anymore”

The catalyst that sparked me to start questioning my gender was an altercation I had with my significant other; I had been struggling to express intimacy in the relationship since the start of it. I had put all that failure on myself and this led me to commit an act of self-harm in front of her to punish myself for what I had done to the relationship. I had reached complete disillusionment with the performance of masculinity in the relationship and life generally. This moment helped me realize that I had been personally struggling with this issue long before the relationship and college. In order to fully support myself financially through my undergraduate, I had to repress the negative emotions and memories of my upbringing in the rural, conservative parts of Washington State to survive. But it was only a matter of time before all of this would start flooding back to me. What were once past isolated experiences all started consolidating into one question in my head in the following days after this event: “Am I a girl?”

“If you are watching this video, then you are most likely transgender”

Growing up in a conservative Christian household, I was always told that the gender-binary was like brick wall where God would decide to put you on one side or the other when you were born. If you ever tried to cross over this wall, not only would you be unsuccessful in the attempt, but you would forever be a strange, sexually deviant freak trying to avert God’s will. This view of gender and archetype of transgender people was mostly reinforced in the movies and TV shows I had watched as a child like: Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, Lois Einhorn in Ace Ventura Pet Detective or Him in the Power Puff Girls. In many ways, my femininity was always on display while growing up for others to ridicule and judge me over including: mannerisms, clothing choices, hairstyles, hobbies, etc… I was mocked in middle school by the other kids for “looking like a girl”. My favorite shirt during this time was a women’s Joan Jett and the Blackhearts t-shirt my mother bought for me at one of their concerts. I later learned that Joan Jett is in fact a large Queer Icon. During my high school’s ill-conceived Battle of the Sexes week during my freshman year of high school, I defiantly wore my mother’s frilly kitchen apron to school out of sheer contempt for everything that was happening around and to me. Whenever I could not resist the temptation to dress up in either my Mom’s or sister’s clothes throughout grade school, I looked at myself in the mirror and initially feel instant relief and internal peace; however, the influence of these harmful ideas and experiences on my young mind made me resent and hate myself soon afterwards, leading me to battle with anxiety, depression issues and preventing me from further exploring my gender identity.

Now at the age of 21 I, like most transgender youth, turned to the internet looking for answers to the many questions I had about being transgender. YouTube for years has been a major platform for transgender people of all walks of life to communicate with one another about trans issues and experiences. I began binge watching videos of the many transgender content creators on the platform like Stef Sanjati, Ty Turner, Contrapoints, Kat Blaque, Jammi Dodger, etc… The transgender community on YouTube helped me discover that many transgender people have happy and fulfilling lives. This is where I had finally fully realized that gender was a social construct. There was no wall separating the two genders, in fact, gender is a vast spectrum that people can move along as they so choose. Sometimes, the genitalia a person is born with does not correlate to their gender and I was okay with that. I was ready to forgive myself for being who I was, and accept that if I was transgender, my identity as a woman would be valid. So after a month and a half of questioning and starting therapy sessions with a psychologist, I decided to start my transition.

“As a parent, I understand why other parents would not want people like you around their children at school”

Fortunately, I decided to start my transition in a relatively positive setting. Western Washington University (WWU) is about one hour’s drive south of Peace Arch on the US-Canadian border. It had an active queer community with clubs, group therapy sessions and a resource center. In the summer before moving to Vancouver, I even took advantage of free voice training lessons offered by the WWU Speech and Language Clinic. I ended up losing some of the professors I made connections with including a Chinese language professor and a history professor among others. They decided to disassociate from me completely instead of being supportive or accepting. The strongest bonds I made with professors were with the women of the Political Science department, some of them even wrote the recommendation letters for my UBC application. In fear of being rejected by them too, I decided not to tell them about my transition before leaving. Outside of my university, things were a bit harder. I decided to stay closeted at my workplace until the last two weeks before immigrating to Canada. Although my family has increasing been supportive, they continued to dead name and misgender me in public during move-in weekend at UBC.

A culture of acceptance or toleration?

Canada is reportedly one of the most LGBT+ friendly countries in the world. I had a lot of high hopes about moving to Vancouver, expecting it to be a more accepting environment than the one I came from in the US. So far after my first week here at UBC, my feelings have been mixed. I have had ongoing complications with my preferred name. Getting a legal name change is complicated, especially if you are an international student whose is here on a study permit. Although I submitted a preferred name request through the SSC website, some systems like the name on my email account did not change. Most of the responses I received from the IT Centre during the summer was “just get a legal name change”. I had to reach out the Equity and Inclusion Office to straighten things out, but other issue still have not been resolved. The overall atmosphere on campus has not been very accepting to me so far; I don’t think I present myself in a partially attention grabbing or provocative way. Whether I decide to wear no makeup with a flannel shirt, toque and blue jeans or a bunch of makeup with a plaid skirt and a flowery blouse, students, staff and various workers on campus have been staring at me a lot. I think these microaggressions come out of a place of genuine misunderstanding or ignorance. During these first few weeks, I have not been able to walk to my classroom from my dorm without getting stared down by at least a handful of people. I made the decision to transition knowing well that I may raise a few eyebrows from strangers I come across in the beginning. But it sometimes gets to a point where I do not even want to go downstairs to do my laundry in my dorm because I am tired of being stared at by other students either in confusion or disgust. Despite all of this, I have decided to be active and advocate for a better, more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students here at UBC.

We at the Graduate Student Society want to ensure that students of all sexualities and gender identities and expressions feel supported and heard. Please click this link to help us better understand how to support LGBTQ2SIA+ students on campus:

To find out how to have your work featured on an upcoming edition of The qUeerBC Post, please click here:

For resources on gender inclusivity at UBC, please visit:

For LGBTQ2SIA+ support, please visit:

For information on graduate student advocacy, please visit:

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Contribute to the qUeerBC Post

Hello fellow graduate students,

My name is Mathew and I am a Peer Support Specialist with your Graduate Student Society! I am so excited to be starting in this role as we diversify the ways in which we support the graduate student body at UBC.

With that in mind, I am thrilled to announce The qUeerBC Post, a monthly column that highlights UBC graduate students’ experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, Two-Spirit, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQ2SIA+) embodiment, resilience, and pride! As an engaged member of the community, I know we are importantly comprised of many intersections of queerness, including different axes of ability, ethnicity, Indigeneity, and age. My hope is that The qUeerBC Post will serve as a space to celebrate the rich diversity of queer and trans experiences amongst UBC graduate students.

The qUeerBC Post will feature work from our talented and inspiring queer- and trans-identified graduate students and alumni and we want to invite you to share your work! Is there a queer or trans issue on campus that you wish to write an editorial about? Have you created a video, poem, or piece of art you wish to share? Have you recently seen a queer or trans film or read a book that you want to review? We want to hear from you! Your submissions will help shape what The qUeerBC Post becomes, so please complete our submission form and submit the queer- and trans-related work you wish to share to

We acknowledge that work related to sexuality and gender identity and expression can be highly personal and sensitive in nature. Your trust is important to us and we will work with you to portray you and your work in a way that feels comfortable and safe. If you have any questions regarding how your work will be handled, please do not hesitate to email

We look forward to reviewing your submissions and showing our 10,000 peers that we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re able to do more than grade papers!

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