When I first met Cheri Petty, she was on the stage at the Artful Dodger, a local restuarant/club in Regina. She walked up onto a stage, put down a card with some scribbles on it, picked up a microphone, and I laughed full belly laughs for the next 15 minutes.
It was then that I and producer, Austin Davis, knew that we had a compelling subject for a documentary exploring comedy, pain, and getting through. Little did we know at the time, how important Cheri's story could become.
This documentary was produced and filmed in Regina in the winter/fall of 2013. Trans* issues at the time were very close to my heart because I'd watch two friends struggle through transition and identity in a society that wasn't ready for it. They've now both become active members of society and Trans* activists making a huge difference in the Saskatchewan LGBTQ community. But at the time, all they saw was a stonewall which they were up against without any tools to climb over.
That's where Cheri was when we met her. She had faced a lifetime of pain and confusion. She told us how she'd contemplated suicide after nearly 50 years living in a body that didn't match her gender identity. She told us how she transitioned working at a brewery where they delegated her to a specific bathroom because both the men and women were too terrified to run into her washing her hands.
She also told us some truly funny stories, because in the end that's Cheri - a hilarious, tender, observant woman.
Luckily Cheri had found a support group that helped give her stability as she navigated this world, it also gave her humour and direction to follow her dream of being a comedian.
There were so many barriers in Cheri's life and she faced each one head-on.
So why post this again now?
With Halloween creeping around the corner, Cheri's struggles and the struggles of an entire community of people have been made the gag line of a really NOT funny joke.
This powerful Vanity Fair cover, which made every small town and big city start talking about Trans* issues, has become a costume.
“Caitlyn Jenner has proven to be the most important real-life superhero of the year, and Spirit Halloween is proud to carry the costume that celebrates her," Trisha Lombardo, the company’s head of PR and marketing, told the Daily News. She offered no further details about the item, which will go on sale within the next four to six weeks.
Lombardo rejected the notion that the costume was problematic in an email to The Huffington Post.
"At Spirit Halloween, we create a wide range of costumes that are often based upon celebrities, public figures, heroes and superheroes. We feel that Caitlyn Jenner is all of the above and that she should be celebrated. The Caitlyn Jenner costume reflects just that."
I'm not going to post a picture of the costume because it's no celebration and it doesn't make Caityln into a hero, it makes her into a "freak" and something to be gawked at. It's a man, with stubble (clearly identifying as a man) dressed in that iconic white bathing suit.
How does it celebrate Caitlyn when it literally categorizes her in the same way it does witches, cowgirl, clowns, and 60s chick. It takes an entire sect of people and strips away their humanity, leaving them as a costume. It makes the general public see Trans* people as putting on a disguise.
Halloween is a night for villains and monsters, it cannot ever represent one of the most vulnerable groups in society. Seriously, Trans* suicide rates are a travesty.
According to surveys, 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population has self-reported a suicide attempt, with that number climbing to between 10 and 20 percent for lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents. By comparison, 41 percent of trans or gender non-conforming people surveyed have attempted suicide, Vocativ reports.
So that's why I decided to share STATIC and Cheri's story. Society needs to see Trans* people as PEOPLE, and making them into costumes does the complete opposite. If you want to show your support to the Trans* people in your community, ask them what is the best thing you can do? You can call your MPs and ask them put the Trans* bill back in to provide equal rights and securities for Trans* people. You can call your MLAs and make sure that Trans* issues like homelessness, unemployment, and suicide rates are being addressed in things like mental health strategies. There's a lot you can do but probably just be nice, have some tact, and be a human yourself.
Cheri's journey wasn't over when we left her. Caitlyn's journey is certainly not over, it's playing out each week no TV. And for the hundreds-of-thousands of other Trans* people around the world, living or leaving their homes, puts their lives on the line.
The Trans* journey is not over, it's not fictional, and for too many people the consequences are far too real.
In this documentary we never outright talk about Cheri as a Trans* person, we talk about her as a struggling comedian, because that's what defines her. Absolutely her lived experiences as a Trans* person shape who she is as a person and a comedian, but in the end we wanted to tell Cheri's whole story and I think that's how we need to start addressing all people.
Kelly Geraldine Malone is a freelance journalist, podcaster, and radio producer based out of Manitoba, Canada