“Do you think you want to be a boy?”
Through tears, Tyler said, “Yeah, I do.”
Tyler, now 16, remembers that pivotal moment when they* came out as trans.
“I was in Grade 6 at an outing with Art City,” Tyler said. “I had really long hair, and I twisted it up and put it in a cap to make it look like I had short hair. But then I was told I couldn’t wear a cap, and I just started crying.”
Claire, a staff member at Art City**, knew this wasn’t about a cap. It was about a young person coming to terms with who they really were. It was about a boy. That’s when she asked Tyler the question that changed their life.
“I started telling Claire how I felt, and she said, ‘I think you should tell your mom,’” Tyler said. “And I did. I’m so happy I have such a supportive mom.”
Though Tyler’s mom and friends were supportive, their experience at school was another story.
“The first day I went to school with short hair, I walked into the classroom, and everyone stared at me, “ they said. “When it was time to take attendance, I corrected the teacher and said, ‘My name is Tyler now.’”
Tyler said many of the kids at school would say Tyler was too young to be trans.
“They said, just watch in a few years, and you’ll feel different,” said Tyler. “It made me really mad. Even though I was 12, I knew.”
Tyler said the staff at Art City were supportive right from the start.
Staff like Eddie, Josh, and Toby knew Tyler from when they were five and first started coming to the donor-supported agency with their brother, Bradley, who is three years older.
“They started calling me Tyler instantly, not my dead name,” Tyler said. “I’ve been through a lot of stuff, and it was so great having a place like Art City to go when I was growing up. It became a second home to me; a place people can connect with others and feel less alone.”
Tyler said Art City is also a great place to go to make new, life-long friends.
Over the years, Tyler participated in practically every program and activity the agency had to offer – pottery, sketching, painting, photography, and countless art creations. Tyler joined the agency’s youth mentorship program, or “ARTsquad,” where they engage in various community-building activities, including walks with the Bear Clan Patrol, painting over graffiti, and making murals on buildings in the neighbourhood.
Tyler also makes their own jewellery, clothes, accessories and even had an art show at The Edge Gallery & Urban Art Centre.
“Sometimes, it’ll be 2:30 in the morning, and I’ll still be sewing. I’m constantly sewing,” said Tyler.
Tyler’s mom, Azure, jokes, “I haven’t slept for the past 16 years, but that’s okay, “she said. “I’m so happy to have kids that are so creative and being themselves.”
Azure said she loves that kids in the neighbourhood have Art City as a place where they can express themselves creatively, and it’s also a safe place to go.
“There’s not always a lot to do where we live, and the neighbourhood can be a little rough,” she said. “The world’s a little crazier than it used to be, and it’s nice they can stop in and do their own thing; do what makes them happy. And I can drop in, too.”
Azure said when COVID-19 hit, Art City was highly resourceful and came up with innovative ideas to keep the community connected.
“When everything first closed down, they (staff at Art City) were cold calling people in the neighbourhood and asking if our kids need art supplies, and then they’d drop them off, “ Azure said. “They also had curbside pickup, which has just been wonderful.”
Tyler said because they didn’t have art at school during the pandemic, having Art City provide supplies to make art at home made a real difference.
“I wanted to make all these things, but I didn’t have money for supplies,” Tyler said. “The pandemic has been a really stressful and lonely time, especially since I went from going to Art City literally every day during the week to nothing,” said Tyler. “And most of my friends aren’t in my classroom or go to school with me at all. And even then, it’s for only an hour at lunch.”
It may be a while before Art City is back in full swing, but in the meantime, the agency continues to provide creative workarounds.
Tyler said Art City is for everyone, not just those artistically inclined.
“Everyone who works here is so supportive of everyone,” said Tyler. “And Art City’s helped people to be more artistic and embrace creativity.”
*Tyler’s pronouns are they/them/their
**Art City offers free art programs for youth and adults in a safe setting in Winnipeg’s West Broadway neighbourhood. Through instruction, collaboration, and mentorship, art becomes a powerful catalyst for building community across many social barriers.