Tag Archives: Queer

Huffington Post: LGBTQ kids living their truths at camp

11 Mar
Meet Rose.

Meet Rose.

I recently wrote a piece in the Huffington Post about Rose and how her involvement in the Ten Oaks Project changed her life.

Rose always knew she wanted to be a girl. She wanted to dress like a girl, play with dolls and wear pink clothes.

Secretly, she could be a girl at home. But outside of her house, she lived a lie and her life as a boy. Rose wasn’t safe enough to live her truths and authentic story.

“I was unhappy and sad before I transitioned,” explains Rose in a beautiful letter. “I wasn’t who I thought I was to be.”

Her life drastically changed when she went to Camp Ten Oaks, a one-week, sleep-away camp for children and youth from LGBTQ identities, families and communities. Camp Ten Oaks is part of the Ten Oaks Project, a Canadian-based organization that engages and supports young people from LGBTQ communities through camp.

Something changed in Rose at camp. She was in a supportive environment and surrounded by others like her, which gave her the courage she needed to live as a girl.

“In that moment, I could see a different future for myself,” Rose says. “If it weren’t for camp, I think I’d still be a boy. And unhappy about my life.”

When I think about the young people who go to Camp Ten Oaks and Project Acorn (Ten Oaks’ other camp for youth), my heart is filled with so much joy. These young people can experience community, belonging and live their truths.

That time I hated dresses and only wanted to play baseball.

That time I hated dresses and only wanted to play baseball.

I think of the Jenna of my past and how my life would’ve been so different if I had a place like Camp Ten Oaks or Project Acorn to call home. Perhaps I would’ve seen a different future for myself at a younger age, which would’ve helped me accept all the pieces of my story sooner.

The sooner these young people can experience this freedom, acceptance and belonging, the sooner they can blossom into the beautiful roses they are meant to be.

Ten Oaks’ bowl-a-thon fundraiser is also coming up on March 21. The group is hoping to raise $40,000 to help send kids to camp. This year’s bowl-a-thon will help subsidize camper registration fees (80 per cent of participants access the sliding scale) and send 10 extra participants to camp.

Please support my bowling team, the Team Players here, so we can help send children and youth like Rose to camp. I’ll write you a personalized haiku or poem based on how much you donate!

On another awesome note, I know I know I know you want to hear this news. Tegan and Sara have also donated several prizes to our bowl-a-thon, including an autographed poster, varsity jacket and a rare vinyl box set collection. You can check out the awesome awesome swag here!

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My latest Huffington Post piece: why GSAs in Catholic schools matter

22 Dec
TCDSB

Speaking at the retreat. (Mary Gomes)

Inclusion and belonging: words that don’t often come to mind for LGBTQ people in the church.

But this space was different.

I recently spoke at the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s Inclusion and Belonging Retreat, which you can read about in my latest Huffington Post piece. It was a beautiful space where high school students could come as they are, encourage one another, share their struggles and know they weren’t alone.

This retreat opened up inclusive spaces for Toronto students involved in gay-straight alliances (GSAs), a place where LGBTQ and straight students come together as allies. It’s pretty incredible this student-led space existed, let alone for the second time this year with more than 170 students.

When I went to a Catholic high school more than a decade ago, I could have never imagined having a GSA at my school. Homophobia was alive and well, and those who were out or suspected of being gay were often marginalized, mistreated and shamed.

I wish I had the courage to speak up and be visible.

But I wasn’t ready and it took many more years to accept and come to terms with being gay and Christian. These students, however, are living in a different time where they can exist, be visible and share their stories. The students give me courage to keep fighting and believing LGBTQ people could feel safe and belong in Christian communities.

TCDSB

Leading a spoken word workshop. (Mary Gomes)

Right now, there is much debate in Alberta on Bill 10, which would allow school boards to rejects students’ requests to create a GSA. There are no GSAs in Catholic schools in Alberta, which I hope will change as we have seen in the Toronto board.

It won’t be an easy road ahead, but to see students know they belonged — even if it was just one day — is worth the fight.

I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin (poem)

16 Oct

Have you ever heard a Christian person mention,
“I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin”
Can I tell you how annoying that comment is?
And I grew up Christian.

(Michael Vidler)

(Michael Vidler)

I recently had the opportunity to film one of my poems, I Don’t Hate the Sinner, I Hate the Sin, in a Vancouver church. I’ve wanted to film one of my pieces about being gay and Christian in a church for several years, and I finally had the opportunity during my Vancouver Biennale artist residency over the summer.

It was an interesting experience to film in a place that has become foreign and scary to me. I had many thoughts and feelings of belonging (or lack thereof) while I was there.

It brought me back to the place in which I had written this poem. It brought me back to harmful comments that many Christians say to people who are LGBTQ without thinking twice.

It was a place of hurt, pain and shame.

One of the most common phrases is, “I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin.” Christians often say they don’t hate LGBTQ people, but their “lifestyle.” It’s a shame that same-sex love is somehow reduced to a lifestyle and not simply love.

But this poem reminds me that change can happen.

Since writing this piece, I’ve grown in loving myself and accepting my story. Others have also grown in listening and understanding my experiences. We may have different perspectives, but I know how much they love me and our hearts are softening.

It would mean a lot if you checked out this personal poem when you have a chance. Thank you to Michael Vidler for producing this video, and Canadian Memorial United Church for allowing us to film in their sanctuary.

Let’s keep chatting, breaking down walls, hearing each other’s stories and living in the grey.

To be or not to be a minority – that is the question (poem)

1 Oct

To be or not to be a minority – that is the question
A question I have been revisiting and trying to comprehend
From the outskirts, being a minority doesn’t seem like the ideal position
Being different, perhaps a dissident, maybe exotic
And I’m all too familiar with these words and trends
Having used them, even in my favour.
But as I have come to understand and accept my story
This minority status has become a fallacy
A malicious status imposed on me
The dominant norms and ideologies that have bruised and broken and beaten me
Boxing me in to this tiny crevice of being a minority.

Have you ever felt different, or that you didn’t quite fit or belong?

Most of us have felt that way at one point or another in our lives. It’s not an easy place to be, especially when we desire love, connection, acceptance and belonging.

Puzzle

Trying to find the right pieces. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

I’ve felt different for most of my life and my puzzle pieces never seemed to line up. There was always a part of me that didn’t quite fit the community I wanted to belong to. It has been really challenging negotiating the various pieces of my identity and figuring out how I belonged (or didn’t).

In some groups, I held back certain aspects of my identity and part of me was missing. In other spaces, I hid different pieces and didn’t feel whole. There was silence, insecurity and often shame.

Gay AND Christian? Chinese AND Jamaican? Say what?!?

Many of us never feel like we’re enough.

Never forget these powerful words. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

And yet we are. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Can I tell you how awesome you are? It’s true! Many of us navigate these in-between spaces and yet, we often marginalize others who are different. We really need to listen and hear each other’s stories, and not be afraid to bring our whole selves.

I’m still figuring out what it looks like to bring all the pieces of Jenna to the table. It’s tough and will be a lifelong journey, but I know it’ll be worth it. When you have a chance, check out my poem, Minority, and I hope you can connect.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? How have you negotiated the various pieces of your identity?

Pride is marching in your first Pride Parade

24 Aug

Several years ago, I had the chance to walk in my first Pride Parade in Ottawa with a friend. However, fear controlled me and I wasn’t ready to be involved. I was too afraid and ashamed of being gay.

Today, I’ll be walking in my first Pride Parade in Ottawa with the Ten Oaks Project. It has been a long journey of acceptance, which you can read in my Ottawa Citizen op-ed and CBC interview from last year. I’m excited to walk with my friends, and celebrate our beautiful and diverse tapestry.

“Don’t deprive people of who you really are.”

Those are some wise words from that friend who wanted to walk with me in the parade. I keep that quote in my wallet to remind me to be proud of who I am.

Each one of us has so much to offer the world around us, so shine brightly. Happy Pride!

The Team Players at the Ten Oaks bowl-a-thon. (Kathleen Clark)

 Hanging out with the Team Players at the Ten Oaks bowl-a-thon. (Kathleen Clark)

“Do you have hope for the church?”

25 Jun
(Michael Vidler)

Leading a workshop at Heartwood Community Cafe. (Michael Vidler)

(Michael Vidler)

Some powerful reflections and dialogue. (Michael Vidler)

When I arrived in Vancouver a month ago, I wasn’t sure where my Vancouver Biennale project would take me. I’ve led numerous workshops, had a few performances and met some incredible people who have inspired, encouraged and challenged me. My mind and heart have been filled with thoughtful dialogue, as well as powerful stories and perspectives.

In my workshops and meetings, people have raised questions and comments that have caused me to reflect on my project and what it looks like to build bridges between LGBTQ, Christian and feminist communities:

  • “Is this pain worth it?”
  • “I think it comes out as hate, but a lot of the time it’s actually fear… People are just trying to protect themselves.”
  • “I want to step into community that understand me.”
  • “I feel really disoriented because I feel like I have to hide parts of myself from different people.”
  • “The healing part is figuring out in all the displacement, how we can find place and hold one another.”
  • “We need to put ourselves in other people’s shoes… The shoes may feel uncomfortable.”
  • “Do you have hope for the church?”
(roaming-the-planet)

(roaming-the-planet)

(Jarrah Hodge)

What comes to mind when you think of feminists, Christians and LGBTQ people? (Jarrah Hodge)

When that person asked me if I had hope for the church and these communities, I told him I couldn’t do this work if I didn’t have hope. I have to believe that change is possible for these seemingly dissimilar communities. I’ve seen movement and transformation in these spaces, even if it’s slow and takes a long time.

Identity is complex and difficult, but I also believe that understanding and reconciliation can occur between LGBTQ, Christian and feminist communities. There’s a hunger for these conversations, and a strong desire to find community and belonging.

This project is also timely in Vancouver.

The Vancouver School Board recently passed a new policy that allows transgender students to be addressed by the name and pronoun that best represents their gender identity. The changes also discourage sex-segregated activities and allow transgender students to use whatever washroom they feel most comfortable.

Chinese and Christian parents have been represented as a homogenous group by the media, tying race and faith to homophobia and transphobia. For example, the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente recently wrote about the policy and said, “Many of the Chinese parents, like Ms. Chang, are Christians…” She didn’t check her facts because Cheryl Chang is actually white.

I recently chatted with Fiona Chen, a Chinese-Christian mother who defended the new policy and has been outspoken about supporting her transgender child. I admire her courage to tell her story, as well as the stereotypes she is breaking down and bridges she is building. You can hear more of her story in this CBC interview.

Fiona’s story and desire to fight for her son has encouraged me to keep fighting. 

This work is tough, but I know it’s worth it. It’s worth the risk, pain and messiness. Change occurs when we fight and are unwilling to accept the status quo – especially when that marginalizes individuals and tells them they are worthless.

I’m looking forward to my final event where I’ll bring together voices from my workshops and various conversations. There will be some spoken word poetry, storytelling and video this Saturday, June 28 at Our Town Cafe at 7pm. There’s a hunger here for these discussions and I hope my time here starts more conversations in Vancouver.

Check out some photos from my workshops at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House and Heartwood Community Cafe. Heartwood is a beautiful space that focuses on community building and social justice, so check it out if you have a chance!

I’m off to Vancouver: building bridges as a Vancouver Biennale artist-in-residence

22 May

I have some very exciting news to share with you. I’ll be taking part in the Vancouver Biennale’s artist-in-residence program in June!

The Vancouver Biennale is a non-profit organization that celebrates art in public space. Over the next two years, the group is inviting 92 artists from around the world to come to Vancouver to create public art and dialogue. Some of the incredible artists include, Ai Weiwei and Jonathan Borofsky.

The theme of this Biennale is Open Borders/Vancouver Crossroads, and the residency program is inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, I Have A Dream speech.

I have many dreams for change, freedom and equality.

I’m planning to lead numerous creative and hands-on spoken word poetry workshops, which will culminate in a public event and dialogue at the end of the month. In particular, I’m focusing on bringing together voices from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ), Christian and feminist communities.

There is often a lack of dialogue and understanding between these groups, and I’m interested in helping foster conversations and peacebuilding through spoken word. There are many bridges and connections to be built.

My purpose is to create spaces in which people can openly and freely share their stories through poetry. I also hope the workshops and event help participants see ways they can use their voices as a tool for social change in their own lives and communities. We understand the world around us through stories, which helps us to grow, learn and be challenged.

Let's bring these issues out of the shadows. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Let’s talk and bring these issues out of the shadows. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

I also want people to sit in the complexities, messiness and ask questions.

This dialogue is not about finding the answers, but living the questions and mutually learning from one another. Change takes time, but I believe it begins when we listen to one another and come to recognize our similarities and common humanity. I really hope participants will be open to having these important conversations.

Change is happening and it’s exciting to be part of the movement and dialogue. 

Last month, I spoke to high school students at the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s first gay-straight alliance (GSA) conference. When I was a student at a Catholic high school, I could’ve never imagined having a GSA or attending one of these conferences. It was amazing to see these students step out in courageous ways, and create safe and open spaces for LGBTQ people.

I’m excited to see what’s happening in Vancouver and to hear people’s stories. If you are in Vancouver and would like to be part of this dialogue, please be in touch at jenna.tennyuk@gmail.com. I hope we can build some connections and bridges together.

“ I have a dream that one day… we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

My Huffington Post piece: a gay Christian goes back to church

18 Apr

Easter is the most important time for Christians in which they believe Jesus died on the cross for their sins and resurrected three days later. This season reminds me of the last time I regularly went to church. I wept uncontrollably for most of the Easter service several years ago as I was still struggling to accept my sexuality.

I didn’t believe I belonged there as a gay Christian and left the church.

I recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post on the challenges and complexities I’ve experienced going back to church. You can read my post, From Familiar to Foreign: A Gay Christian Goes Back to Church.

Spoiler alert: it’s really, really hard! Despite many challenges and feeling overwhelmed, I’ve met some really kind people and this community is an important place I long for.

My "church challenges" have been lonely and rocky. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

My “church challenges” have been a lonely and rocky experience. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Last year, I started a challenge to go back to church. On one of my church challenges, I caught myself looking around as I entered the building and part of me was afraid of being seen by anyone I knew. I had similar thoughts and fears when I started going to gay bars. I laughed at the irony of the situation and how much life had changed.

How could a place that used to feel like home become so foreign to me?

I’ve become a stranger who sat at the back of the church and planned an escape route in case it was too difficult to be there. I know you don’t need a church building to find God, and I’ve experienced his presence in powerful ways outside of the church and Christian communities. However, I’ve missed having that community and actively seeking God with other people.

Nature is one of the places I experience God. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

God shows up in nature. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Spoken word has felt like church to me. (Artemysia Fragiskatos)

God shows up at poetry shows. (Artemysia Fragiskatos)

The church is so broken, but it has also been a place of love, safety and refuge for many people, including myself. Many of my friends who are gay and Christian long for this place of community again, but many don’t feel welcomed there.

We need to do something different and not be afraid of the tensions and complexities. Let’s be okay to sit in the mess and questions with one another. Let’s remember what Jesus’ message was actually about.

Take this season to reflect on your journey, but also think about those individuals who are on the margins, desiring a place to call home.

Be a team player and help send LGBTQ children and youth to camp

4 Mar

Dear little Jenna,

It has been a while since I last wrote to you. I think the last time was that letter on coming out and supporting LGBTQ youth through the Ten Oaks Project. You should read it again when you need some encouragement and a reminder of your awesomeness.

So guess what? Ten Oaks is having another bowl-a-thon fundraiser at the end of March and you’re putting together a team again. You had so much fun last year and it’s such a great time of team spirit, dressing up, cheering and supporting an amazing cause.

You got pretty creative with your team, the Crayolas, last year.

You got pretty creative with your team, the Crayolas, last year.

This year, you and your friends came up with the name, Team Players!

Just to refresh your memory, the Ten Oaks Project is a volunteer-driven organization that supports children and youth from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) identities, families and communities. They run two camps, Camp Ten Oaks and Project Acorn.

That’s right, there are actually camps for people like you and you’re not the only gay person out there. Hooray! There will also be other campers who have two dads or two moms, which is pretty awesome. People won’t have to hide or feel shame there, including this participant:

“While camp may only last a week, the sense of belonging that I get from Ten Oaks is something that I feel year-round.”

You won’t go to the camp as a participant, but you’ll get to be part of this special experience. You’ll volunteer and do spoken word workshops at Project Acorn, and see how important this space if for many marginalized youth. One participant in your workshop will even recognize the power of their voice:

“I love and miss writing. I should make more time for it. My voice may help someone else.”

Yes, you can still wear dresses. (Caro Ibrahim)

Yes, you can still wear dresses. (Caro Ibrahim)

Ten Oaks is celebrating its 10th anniversary and hoping to raise $45,000 this year. Last year, the bowl-a-thon raised $40,000 and helped send 114 children and youth to camp. Isn’t that amazing?

This organization will be pretty dear to your heart because you know how difficult it is to accept your sexuality. You’ll want to do all that you can, so other young people won’t feel marginalized because they have same-sex parents or they’re struggling with their sexuality.

No one should be made to feel guilt, shame or self-hatred based on who they love.

You hope other people will connect with this group because they probably have a brother, friend, daughter or co-worker who is LGBTQ. Most people these days know someone who is LGBTQ. It won’t be something they can ignore or pretend doesn’t exist – even in those Christian communities you grew up in.

There has been a lot of progress, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. 

Don’t worry about helping everyone and changing the world right now. You’re not ready quite yet. Just work on loving yourself and seeing how awesome you are. You have so much to offer those around you by simply being you.

Your older, wiser and still awesome self,
Jenna

**

Please consider supporting the Ten Oaks Project and help send children and youth from LGBTQ communities to camp. The camps are heavily subsidized through generous support from people like you. Eighty per cent of campers access the sliding scale, so we want to continue creating an accessible place for young people.

You can support my team, the Team Players, by clicking here and donating. Every dollar counts and we really appreciate all your support! Check out this awesome video of some cute children bowling, which was made by Jeff Fennell, a talented filmmaker and Ten Oaks volunteer.

My op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen: why coming out still matters

18 Feb

Ellen Page, the Canadian actress and star of Juno, recently came out as gay. Since our society is obsessed with other people’s sexuality, the media exploded with this news.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) visibility is so important, but I couldn’t help but feel bothered by the amount of coverage she received. Why did people care so much about her sexuality?

It’s because coming out still matters.

We live in a heteronormative society in which opposite-sex attraction is seen as the norm. People are seen as straight until proven otherwise.

When I was struggling to come to terms with being gay, I spent countless hours crying in my bedroom and desperately searching the Internet for stories about people who were LGBTQ. These brave people – real or fictional – helped me realize I wasn’t alone and their experiences made a huge difference for me.

I could see myself in their stories. I could see myself in Page’s story.

There’s still so much stigma associated with being LGBTQ, and Page’s coming out highlights the need for us to continue sharing our stories without any shame. You can check out my op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen here and in the paper tomorrow.

I will continue speaking my story. (Caro Ibrahim/Pecha Kucha)

I will continue speaking my story. (Caro Ibrahim/Pecha Kucha)

When you have a few minutes, please watch Page’s speech. It’s beautiful, powerful, courageous and honest. Our stories can help people understand the world around us and help individuals know they aren’t alone in their experiences.

Page wanted to make a difference by telling her story. I hope I can do the same by continuing to share mine. 

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