For more than 15 years, Jay Gallant has been sharing parts of his story to help create safer and braver spaces across PEI for gender diverse folks. He works with organizations like PEERS Alliance and the Human Rights Commission to bring education and awareness of gender diversity to Islanders.
As a trans man who came out later in life, Jay is called to share his gifts so that other queer Islanders can be inspired to be authentically themselves. Though we were speaking on the phone, I could hear the love and liberation in his voice when he said, “it’s ok to be yourself.”
“There were no supports when I was younger so I have a responsibility now to do what I can to support the queer community.” The ever-optimist, Jay acknowledges that there has been some hopeful change in the past several years and he notes that we all still have more to learn and apply as it relates to gender diversity within our communities.
Jay and I go way back to the early 2000s when we were both Philosophy students at UPEI. We shared stories about how the pandemic has given us both time, space, and just enough courage to create and share our artist-selves. Throughout the pandemic, Jay has stepped far outside his comfort zone by engaging in a variety of creative classes and workshops: spoken-word, sketch comedy, improv, and now an online clowning course.
“The clowning instructor has said that we will be pushed far outside our comfort zones and then we’ll be pushed some more.” Jay’s courage radiates through his actions, and he perpetually lives outside his comfort zone, uncomfortably in the growth zone. “Every class I do brings on a little bit more anxiety than the one before it, but I’ve also learned that the more the anxiety, the greater the reward.”
Jay started dabbling in these creative outlets during the pandemic to support himself through both the pandemic and personal health issues.
“I was having lots of health issues and feeling down about my physical limitations. I used to love acting and being involved in the theatre but now my health wasn’t allowing me to engage in the ways that I was used to and wanted to. Then I thought, ‘what about writing for theatre?’”
Alongside his hopeful ideas to write, Jay also shared about some of the challenges in even getting started. “I never thought I could do this; the last time I really engaged in creative writing was in high school. I used to love creative writing when I was younger, until I became a perfectionist. I was afraid of the critical aspects of creative writing until I finally started to share. Now I see how helpful, constructive, and encouraging other folks are about the creative process.” Quietly, he says: “When I am struggling, I am braver.”
The pandemic and Jay’s personal health issues were also the impetus for his first foray into playwriting. In 2020, one scene of Jay’s play, What’s eating you? was performed as a stage reading at the Island Fringe Festival’s Pounding the Pavement: Celebrating and Amplifying Artists from the Fringe. He went on to further develop the play in 2021 with dramaturgy support from Playwrights Atlantic Resource Centre (PARC) and did another staged reading at Fresh from the Island: A New Works Festival at Kings Playhouse.
“I am passionate about creativity and ways it has awakened parts of me.”
The play is semi-autobiographical as it explores a trans man coming to terms with his gender identity and some of the relational components of estranged friendships. And for good measure, there is a little zombie apocalypse in there as well. Jay brings humour and playfulness to some heavy and challenging topics as he addresses the pain and struggles for gender diverse folks reclaiming their sense of self-worth and power. Through relationships and forgiveness, Jay’s play is an extension of himself, inviting others to live authentically and compassionately.
“We all have a story to tell and for me, telling parts of my story in theatre is a natural addition to my advocacy.”
“There is so much power in sharing your queerness,” he says. I was reminded of the words of the late bell hooks as Jay was talking: “queer not as being about who you’re having sex with (that can be a dimension of it); but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”
“Art shows us what it means to be human, and we’ve all been shown the importance of both those things [art and being human] throughout the pandemic.”