Gender, Identity and Social Impacts with Alex

Sports, Homelife and School

Meet Alex! Her identity as a cis-gender woman influences how she experiences her day-to-day interactions. She considers how her mannerism and social pressures change depending on the social setting. From the sports locker rooms, to the arenas, to the classroom, to her home life and chilling with friends – Alex recognizes that socially, she is expected to perform a certain way based on her gender. This is her world! This is her perspective:

As part of her project, Shayla Hickerson organized interview-based discussions based on topics of gender, identity and social impacts.

Volunteers had the option to answer one or any of the seven questions which served as discussion starters. They also had the option for voice-recordings or written responses to create a comfortable environment to tell their story.

Gender, Identity and Social Impacts with Connor

Conforming and Clothing

Meet Connor! His identity as a transgender man influences how he experiences his day-to-day interactions. He became aware of the necessity for comfort during the transition process. Being read as male or female influences how others treat you. As a result, clothing is a safety measure. Although Connor doesn’t connect with fashion, being able to pass is important. This is his world! This is his perspective:

As part of her project, Shayla Hickerson organized interview-based discussions based on topics of gender, identity and social impacts.

Volunteers had the option to answer one or any of the seven questions which served as discussion starters. They also had the option for voice-recordings or written responses to create a comfortable environment to tell their story.

Gender, Identity and Social Impacts with Alisha

Non-Conforming Newlywed

Meet Alisha! Their identity as a non-binary individual influences their day-to-day experiences. Alisha recognizes that their identity is non-conforming, but overall, they are read as very feminine. Even thinking back to their recent heterosexual marriage, they realize that people will make assumptions that align with the binary. Nevertheless, Alisha talks about the challenges they face, especially in their marriage, that dismantle the binary social pressures. This is their world! This is their perspective:

As part of her project, Shayla Hickerson organized interview-based discussions based on topics of gender, identity and social impacts.

Volunteers had the option to answer one or any of the seven questions which served as discussion starters. They also had the option for voice-recordings or written responses to create a comfortable environment to tell their story.

A Poem for my Mother

Happy Mother’s Day to a woman who constantly inspires.

My mother is a beautiful soul that was never told she could smile. Through intergenerational trauma, she was told she wasn’t worth a smile. And yet, she has inspired a fire inside my soul that radiates outward through the shine of my white teeth peering between crescent lips. I smile, because of her.  I smile because my mother has inspired me to find greatness when I am told there is none.

None? What type of concept is that? It’s subjective, but if you enter this world being told of nothing great, then you tend to internalize that you’re no one too great… No one matters except those that you want acceptance from. No one matters except a five year old girl who is sitting in front of a camera. She smiles larger than what her face can contain. It is the escape of true happiness, and the happiness escapes the infant’s body completely with a slap that wipes the smile right off her face. There is no forced friction of hand hitting skin, but rather a mother’s hateful words which suggest that her daughter is unworthy of smiling; that her daughter is unworthy of happiness; that her daughter is unworthy of existing. This narrative is not my own. I am not that five year old girl. This narrative is my mother’s, encased in maternal jealousy, fueled by unresolved pain from being denied her mother’s acceptance. As I said before, the cause is generational, and my mother became the first woman to rewrite the narrative. The journey is emotional, but it is also a story of healing. 

Healing is a process of undoing all the damage that we are fed as children. Healing, so we can find our sense of self beneath the preconceived notions of who we ought to be. My mother is an enigma. The more I talk with her about her accomplishments, the more wild her story gets. During the time that I’ve known my mother, she has been through clown college. She has openly talked about her experience with weed and being a paranoid high. She has been a woman in business doing everything from a woman’s adventure club (going dog sledding, gun shooting, horseback riding and organizing a two week backpacking trip across Italy) to having her own catering business. One of my favourite projects that my mother humoured was her desire to start a lounging stool collection. Needless to say, my mother embodies greatness. I’d like to think that she is proving her worth by partaking in so many wild and vastly different projects, but I also wonder if it was an attempt to find her sense of self after never being given the opportunity to develop agency in her mother’s embrace. 

They say a mother’s embrace is crucial for a child’s development, but the relationship that I’ve had with my mother was impactful from conception. My mother never knew she could get pregnant, until she had my older brother. Then she had people pray over her to get pregnant with me. Her pregnancy was life-threatening. There was a tear which caused significant amounts of blood loss. The doctors had to perform an emergency c-section and I lived my first week inside an incubator while my mother regained her health. Eventually we would both be sent home in full physical health. We know that emotionally, there was still healing to be made. My mother would often apologize for being emotionally absent in my early years. She fears that she was rewriting her upbringing. She is the only girl with three brothers, and I am the only girl with three brothers. In an attempt to free me of the intergenerational trauma between mother and daughter, my mother distanced herself. She didn’t want to become her mother, and she didn’t want me to turn into that five year old smiling in front of a camera and being told that I don’t have the right to be happy.  

Happiness is one of the perks to the human experience, and arguably, so is the gorgeous phase of teenage angst. Regardless of my mother’s efforts, during my adolescence, I was tainted by the intergenerational thought that we are never good enough. I failed to see my own mother as worthy. I was aware of my painful, ill understanding of my mother. Embarrassment filled my bones. It weighed me down, drowning in the sea of invisible love. I couldn’t express any form of love or acceptance to her because I actually thought my mother was dumb. I fought so hard to challenge this thought because my heart begged me to fight. My heart begged me to support my mother and her differences. My heart begged to scream WORTH! from the rooftops, until the top of my mouth hurts, until my heart drops. And I realized, this is a woman who inspires women to recognize their own worth.

Worth. I have used that word a lot. If you did a search of how many times I used that word in this story, you’d find thirteen results. Although it’s a word I don’t struggle using, it’s a word I struggle with in terms of association. As my mother heals and recognizes her worth, she has opened a dialogue where I can explore ‘worth’ alongside her. I know that we have progressed as dynamic characters in this narrative because I no longer see my mother as dumb. I haven’t associated that word with her for a long time. Instead, she inspires me to arrange a multitude of words of affirmation. Words that can be arranged in a poem for my mother, who inspires:

Would you believe me if I told you, that
Half the time, I let life get ahead of me, but you, 
Often remind me of how precious time can be.

I am, time and time again, the moments of wonder that
Never cease, and I am the time you spend counting the 
Seconds until life really begins when it already has.
Perchance you are still with me, even with all this distance.
In every second of the day, I hear your voice.
Reminiscences of teachings only a mother could conceive.
Even with all this distance, you remind me that I am worth
Spending time on, because of how precious I can be.

I told my mother that I wanted to write about her, and she texts: 
“I am honored that you want to write about me for the contest. I got emotional about the implications of that choice (we are not my relationship with my mom!).” 

It’s not only that I want to tell a story about a woman who nearly died because of me, but it’s that I truly felt inspired, nearly compelled to write about the enigma that circulates through my thoughts. I want to tell the story of a woman who inspires greatness. This is a tough story to tell because it is emotionally loaded, but I want people to recognize my mother as the beautiful soul that she is. People that are meant to be her support system failed her, and they continue to fail her. She is worth so much more than what she has been given, and she gives these people so much more than they’re worth. When they tell her she can’t smile, it’s because they are projecting their own twisted belief of self-worth. But you already know that, don’t you mother?`

My mother is a beautiful soul that was never told she could smile. And yet, she continuously inspires a fire inside my soul that radiates outward through the shine of my white teeth peering between crescent lips. I smile because of her. I smile because my mother has inspired me to find greatness when I am told there is none.

A Poem for the Romantics

In one swift gesture,
I wrapped the comforter around me 
And through my legs,
Surrounding me in a warmth
Similar to when we’d lay
On our sides,
Bodies pressed together.

I breathed out heavily,
And a ‘hey’ escaped with it.
It was a response
As if you were there –
Arms wrapped around me,
Bodies pressed together,
Laying on our sides –
And had just recited

The Words of a Romantic.

A poem by Shayla Hickerson

A Swelling Heart Can Easily Shatter

I know that you love me because you do express your feelings, although sometimes I wonder if I’m actually that special. It makes me extremely happy when you tell me things like how much you love my laugh, my eyes, and my smile.

It leaves me feeling something that no one has ever given me. When I don’t see you for almost a week, it’s a feeling that develops in the center of the chest as if all the deep sorrow one could contain gathers up into a tight ball. Then it starts to rip at your insides. It leaves you feeling empty everywhere else in your body, but in the center of your chest, it feels like the world is collapsing in on you. You have the power to make my world collapse in on me. You the power to break me.

Yet, when we are together or when I read your heart-filled texts, the feeling is not full of sorrow. It is a feeling of eternal joy and happiness that swells in my heart. It still makes my world collapse, but not into ruins because at those moments nothing else matters when considering how happy you make me then.

Journal entry by Shayla Hickerson

Letters to My Love

Part 5

I had a dream that me and my mom were in our old house on Brock St. My brothers were running around but they didn’t do much else in the dream, I was just aware of their existence. My mom was asking for me to take pictures of her for work, but as we were putting dishes away, a fire started in the entrance hallway. She seemed indifferent towards it and asked if I was ready to go. I started upstairs confused, I was about to grab my camera when the fire expanded. I asked why she wasn’t doing anything to stop it and she stood before the flames, I saw the glow on your face, and she just stared off into the fire saying she’d think the light would be too orange and it was too hot to take photos by. I came back down the few stairs I climbed and grabbed a small fire extinguisher and started passing it along the fire. But I noticed it went through the vent and was burning in the basement. So I went down there and saw that the fire was coming from a burning, hanging drape and  candles/lamps set around the basement floor. I thought the source of the fire was weird, but at this point, I admired the burning candles and lamps (it was the bulbs which were on fire). Although I observed it as a beautiful sight, I extinguished one by one.

  • Although you weren’t in the dream, I think it relates to the past few days. I’m not sure what it means, but it seems positive. I also dreamt of you earlier in the night but I don’t remember much, other than seeing your face and knowing we were talking and that it seemed positive.

Yours truly,

Letters to My Love

Part 4

To me, it seems like a question of whether I’m worth working it through. In my opinion, if you wanted me, conditions wouldn’t influence how you wanted to relate to me. They don’t influence how I want to relate to you.

If I approached life with the perspective of having the ideal foundation, I’d end up single my entire life. Relationships aren’t perfect. People aren’t perfect. There are ups, and there are downs concerning both. This may be a serious down – but again, it’s a down I’d want to work through. It’s a down I’d have to work through as a friend – the only difference is you believe its a down which is sabotaging my chances at a good foundation, as it sabotages your life. 

You asked what I’d do in your situation, and I said I’d probably think the worse, that my life is over and push everyone away. It seems like that’s what you’re doing. It seems rational, but I’d also hope someone would be there for me regardless of my beliefs, and I want to be there for you with all my love and affection. 

You may think that I’d be throwing my chances at a relationship with a man that can promise me the future because your future is being thrown away. But I don’t want to throw away the chance to give you my love and affection in a intimate, romantic sense while I still can. The circumstances aren’t forcing this to stop. In my perspective, you are.

You asked if there was a better way to have this conversation. I still think there isn’t. You feel like its a conversation needed to happen. You did the best you could. My heart is broken, and I’ll probably feel this way for a long time. To me, I’ve noticed the hurt stays until I learn to live without someone. If we had waited until the bitter end – I would no longer have any way to live with you, and so I think the pain would have been easier. I’d have to force myself to learn to live without you, because I wouldn’t have a choice. Neither would you. If you still believe in ending ‘this’ and want me in your life as a friend, the pain will probably hurt all the same or more because instead of learning to live without you, I have to learn to love you differently – which is more difficult in my opinion. It’ll be hard for me to accept, regardless of how you presented your reality of ‘this’, because I strongly believe its not my reality, at least not yet.

Now I don’t expect you to hear this and change your mind – I certainly hope you don’t cake this info and think you need to end contact for me not to hurt. I agree with you; I think it’d be a shame having ourselves out of each others lives. I think we can still benefit from having each other – I just wanted you to know I’d still like something to develop, but I don’t expect you to change your mind. I don’t expect you to do anything with this information. I’m just wanting to be open with you. I don’t think you were aware how far in I fell. I’m just presenting my script. You presented yours.

I just want to be positive knowing this is what you want. And now this leaves me with questions:

Why did you keep the sketches of the drones?
Regardless of how this turned out, have your feelings for me changed?
How long have you been thinking of ending ‘this’?
Is this ultimately what you want, ending romantic pursuits? 
Do you whole-heartedly not want to be with me?

Yours truly,

Consent is Conditional

Rewind my life a few years back:

I’ve been violated. He said sorry and I couldn’t figure out why he did, until he finished. I consented to sex, but I asked to use a condom. I didn’t consent to unprotected sex, yet he slipped the condom off anyways.

I felt violated. He took my body for granted for his momentary pleasure, and he didn’t think twice about what that split second decision could’ve meant for my future. The thought of a man putting my future second, and his orgasm first was mortifying to me. I wasn’t on birth control so I took Plan B the next day, and starting bleeding randomly not much longer after that. I was scared. I never wanted my safety to be jeopardized by a man ever again. And so, I went on birth control.

Fast forward a little bit:

A series of late-night, consensual hookups led to a series of un-consensual mornings where they woke me up by playing with me. I didn’t know what to do – because I was never taught that I was worth respecting and they never learned that women were worth respecting – but I stopped seeing them every time that happened. Eventually, I stopped dating because the unawareness regarding the lack of respect towards my body and self became too apparent.

Fast Forward a year later:

I finally felt like I found a guy that respected me as woman, but also as a person. Although maybe I imagined finding a guy that respected me, I tried to fit him into that narrattive. He fucked me, and broke my heart right afterwards. I asked why he slept with me if he knew that he was going to break up with me that night. He replied that he felt like I wanted it… and I did, but for some reason I still felt violated.

Resume in the present moment:

I kept thinking about what he said: that ‘he felt like I wanted it’. I realized that my consent had been given on the presumption that our intimate actions were building blocks towards a committed relationship. I acted the way that I did, opened myself up the way I did, because I was invested in something more than just sex. I ‘wanted it’, but only because I wanted the intimate relationship that I tied to the sexual relationship. My consent was given based on the conditions that he wasn’t going to break up with me right after. If he was honest about his intentions, maybe I still would’ve wanted it, but at least I wouldn’t have felt violated.

Now, I realize how important it is to me to be transparent in a relationship, whether it’s serious or casual. If I let them know exactly how I feel when I get clarity on my needs and desires, then maybe the honesty will be reciprocated. So far, it’s proving to be true.

Entry by Shayla Hickerson


Mother me until my insides bleed out a sea of warmth.
Utter nonsense that strings through the air and creates a dialogue of langue.
Seize the opportunity to care for me tenderly, unconventionally, unintentionally, infinitely…
Eternally, internally twist my insides so that I become a thread, wrapped around your finger –
warped around your linger. Stay.

A poem by Shayla Hickerson