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Toronto Company Celebrates Transgender Awareness Week With 'Ties To Love' Bow Tie

11/20/2015 11:47 EST | Updated 11/20/2015 11:59 EST

Jack Jackson’s story reads like that of innumerable other transgender and gender non-conforming individuals: Migration to a large city to escape a small (read: small-minded) hometown, discrimination and alienation in the workplace, and rejection by family.

The 41-year-old transgender designer, who identifies as gender non-binary and uses the pronoun “they,” moved to Toronto from Guernsey (an island of 65,000 in the English Channel) with their wife in 2011. Following their decision to transition, however, they found their wife’s family less than accepting — ultimately leading to divorce.

“Losing family is one of the most difficult things for trans people,” says Jackson. “At the same time, I don’t want to be part of a family that doesn’t accept me for who I am.”

"Losing family is one of the most difficult things for trans people,” says Jackson. “At the same time, I don’t want to be part of a family that doesn’t accept me for who I am." — Jack Jackson

Common trans experiences like this, coupled with public aggression on a daily basis, are what make Transgender Awareness Week (November 14 - 20) so important. The event is annually celebrated across North America and, according to GLAAD, helps “raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues these communities face.” The week finishes with the Transgender Day of Remembrance (held every November 20), which honours the memories of those lives lost to transphobic violence.

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AllJackedUp's commemorative bow tie celebrates community’s game changing pioneers.

Violence is an inescapable part of many transgender individuals’ lives. Susan Gapka, founder of chair of the Trans Lobby Group of Ontario, includes stabbings, mutilations, shootings and burnings among the horrific realities of trans communities globally. More indirectly, violence can include a lack of housing, health care and social services — what Gapka describes as “the social determinants of health.” Perhaps more troubling, particularly when considering youth, is that 40 per cent of trans people have attempted or considered suicide (compared to 1.6 per cent of the general population), reports Vocativ.

It is facts like these, coupled with their own personal struggles, that fuel Jackson to disrupt the status quo. Refusing to return to their career and wishing to stay in Toronto, they founded AllJackedUp: an accessories line for gender nonconformist individuals and their pets.

The brand’s associated campaign Ties to Love (formerly Bow Tie Fridays), an international movement of solidarity, love and support for the gender non-conforming and trans community, is producing a one-off special bow tie in honour of Transgender Awareness Week. It is meant to commemorate transgender activists, pioneers and heroes, including “Orange is the New Black” star Laverne Cox, performer Buck Angel and model Andreja Pejic. Half of the proceeds from the sale of the bow tie, as well as all other AllJackedUp products sold during Transgender Awareness Week, will be donated to the Sherbourne Health Centre’s Supporting Our Youth (SOY) program.

all jacked up bow tie

The Ties To Love bow tie.

Founded in 1998, SOY improves the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgendered youth (aged 14 to 29) in Toronto with support in order to empower them and help them build resilience. The dynamic program services 250 young people every week, providing connections to health care and community resources as well as population-based support groups and one-on-one work.

“Trans youth have issues around transphobia, instances of bullying, social isolation… We see issues also of homelessness, refugee status and mental health concerns,” says Catherine Argiropoulos, development officer at Sherbourne Health Centre. SOY’s Transfusion Crew is an effort aimed at providing support, open space and community for trans and gender questioning youth, just some of the 500 transgender clients Sherbourne Health Centre regularly assists.

“Having AllJackedUp onboard is an example of how people get really excited to support SOY through their own dynamic work,” explains Argiropoulos.

andreja pejic kenneth cole

Andreja Pejic stars in a Kenneth Cole campaign.

Beyond Ties To Love, trans positivity has been popping up more frequently in fashion recently, with Andreja Pejic becoming the face of Kenneth Cole, H&M sister brand & Other Stories featuring trans models Hari Nef and Valentijn De Hingh, and period-proof underwear line Thinx expanding their offerings to include a transman-friendly boxer short design.

On the heels of Caitlyn Jenner’s Diane Sawyer interview (and subsequent Vanity Fair article and television series “I Am Cait”), there been an increase in attention by fashion and the media on trans issues. Sawyer Devuyst, the 30-year-old transman who starred in Thinx’s recent campaign, tells HuffPost Canada, “In general, not just in fashion, I think Caitlyn Jenner has opened up so many people’s eye to the trans community.”

"So many people pay attention to fashion and the media that when you see [trans] people portrayed on TV or on a screen or in a photograph in a magazine — it’s just making more people aware that more life experiences exist."

While Jenner may have helped propel the cause forward, it was already gathering steam in a way similar to women’s liberation and gay rights movements. Gapka notes how Canada, and Ontario in particular, has become an example to the world in terms of access to health care and rights.

Recent wins in Ontario include the banning of gender conversion therapy for those under 18 in Ontario, more inclusive policies for trans prison inmates and the dethroning of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) as the sole institutional gatekeeper for access to gender affirming surgery. (CAMH’s reliance on clinical psychology remains controversial in the trans community.)

With so much attention on trans issues, the natural question is, “Where do we go from here?”

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Sawyer Devuyst for Thinx.

For fashion, Devuyst suggests opening discussions and media portrayals to being more inclusive of a plurality of trans and gender non-binary experiences including people of colour and those of different body sizes.

For Canada, Gapka hopes to hold Justin Trudeau’s newly minted Liberal government to their campaign promise of amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity (and hopefully include gender expression as well). This would provide sweeping protections across the nation for trans and gender nonconforming individuals, particularly in federal prisons and the three provinces without such safeguards already in place.

Ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance, Gapka says, “I’m looking forward to a time when we don’t have to commemorate people’s deaths — direct or indirect.” Who could disagree?

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