Writing a memoir was transformative for filmmaker Joshua M. Ferguson
'I'm one of many stories and my story has a lot of privilege, being a white trans person.'
Joshua M. Ferguson made history in 2018 as the first person to receive a non-binary birth certificate in Ontario. Their year-long battle with the province ended with a momentous policy change, which Ferguson asserted would "save lives in the trans community."
The advocate and filmmaker chronicles their life in the memoir Me, Myself, They, describing a painful upbringing in southeastern Ontario — being forced to change schools multiple times due to bullying — and the long journey to discovering their gender identity.
Below, the Vancouver-based artist describes the experience of writing their debut book.
Writing as transformation
"At first I thought, how could I write a memoir? I'm 35 years old. Have I really lived enough of a life to write a memoir? But it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. The writing was so profound in terms of helping me rediscover myself again — from who I was as a child and coming full circle with the parts of my identity that I had lost and that were ripped away from me because of decades of dehumanization.
"The writing has really become about the transformation of the trauma into creativity, strength and empathy. It made me realize too that we're more alike than we are different from one another. Writing Me, Myself, They was about opening up various parts of my identity — so that I could branch out as wide as possible to allow people to connect with my life experience.
"All memoirs have struggle, trauma, triumph. That's what a good memoir is. I was asked the other day, 'Why do trans memoirs always have to have this struggle or this transition and triumph story?' And I said, 'Don't all of our stories have that?' It's not just about trans memoirs. It's about how the memoir should act as a piece of art."
The emotional journey
"I went on a multifaceted emotional journey. It took me to many different places emotionally and I think some of it was necessary and therapeutic — and some of it was probably re-traumatizing and painful. There were times when I was writing through tears and where I had to take breaks and remove myself from my writing space and take distance from the page or from the screen.
"I often found myself wanting to write in public spaces because of that distraction and the necessity to not completely fall apart in public helped me to remain composed and focused. So I did write a lot in public, at a cafe or that type of space. The transient energy has been really beneficial to me as a writer. The vibrant electric energy around me, that in-between space where I'm situated and rooted in the chair with the table with my laptop, but so much is moving around me."
Conversation and meditation
"This type of book needs to be conversational in order to connect with the reader. I knew early on that I wanted to have a conversation with the reader. I wanted the reader to walk in my heels, to exist in my space for a little bit, if possible. I wanted that conversation to be not an assertive or forced conversation. I wanted the conversation to be open with whomever may connect with it and relate to it.
"One of the reviews called it a meditation, which I think is really great because when we're meditating there is no real coherent plan. Things come in and out. You're quieting the relentless thinking. I resonated with that because it was almost as if I was opening up to the stories. I don't think I was necessarily too concerned or focused on structure or organization at the beginning. It was really about feeling it all again and how to get there through the writing and on the page."
"I really resist the title of 'spokesperson.' I am not a spokesperson for the community. I'm one of many stories and my story has a lot of privilege, being a white trans person. My book is one of many books and stories of transgender, nonconforming and non-binary people out there. I don't want to classify this as a 'trans memoir' because it's a memoir. I know there will be a time where I'll go into a store in my lifetime and I'll see an entire section or an entire table devoted to stories that showcase the diversity of our community.
"I feel like I'm part of a growing tradition. What's really exciting right now are the black, Indigenous, trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary people of colour who are really creating phenomenal work and whose voices need to be supported and elevated because we can never stop. There's isn't an end to this. We need to continue to make sure that the most marginalized are represented and have a platform.
"It's so easy to think that someone who is visible and vocal like me is the representation and that's not true. The representation is much more diverse. It's really important that people who are more marginalized than myself are able to tell their stories too. "
Joshua M. Ferguson's comments have been edited for length and clarity.