“Professionally, my name is Sarah Race. That’s my work drag name. My nickname’s Emmett. I identify as genderqueer—I fall on the transgender spectrum. I moved to Vancouver from Portland in the early 2000s. Since I’ve lived in Vancouver, I’ve only lived in Strathcona. I like it because I know my neighbours.
Emmett (Sarah Race) shoots from the hip
Everyone is very friendly. Here, just by how it’s structured as a community, you meet people. You meet people who are in your community geographically, not just subculturally, which I find really nice.
“Elsewhere in Vancouver, people here, I feel, stay so closeted in their own worlds, whether those divisions are based on sexuality or class or race. People talk about how diverse the city is—yes, it’s diverse, but no one talks to each other. All these groups of people live in the city, but there’s so little communication.
“Photography’s one of those ways where you can have that communication. I’ve met so many great people in so many different walks of life that my little group of people would never infiltrate; we’d never connect. I think you grow as a human being by having the ability to do that and meet people outside of your social network.
“I do mostly event photography and portraits. I also do a lot of babysitting and random jobs, whatever I can get to make my income. I find the biggest barrier [to securing work] is tied into homophobia, specifically gender phobia. If you’re crossing a certain gender line where people feel uncomfortable, that really has an impact on possible income and mentorship and access to building and growing and becoming better in what you do.
“I’ve been yelled at so many times about inappropriate clothing choices. There’s been a lot of times when I go into a [job] interview and they go, I love your work, it’s awesome. And then they see me; it’s either about my weight or it’s to do with my gender reflection. I’ve not even said anything, but their opinion of me completely changes and I’m not what they need.
“A lot of it is a fear of queerness, in some ways. [Even in politics], you can have people get elected only if they’re a very specific sort of queer.
“[Former Vision Vancouver park board candidate] Trish [Kelly] is one of my friends, so we’ve talked about this quite a bit. You have people who have a very specific idea of queerness in their minds, and if you’re another sort of queer—if you talk about your sex life, if you’re polyamorous, if you’re any of the other things that are part of the queer community—it’s no longer acceptable. That extends to class, race, how one speaks. It extends to many different fields.
“My current housemate got a job in the Silicon Valley so he’s moving down to the States. I put an ad out, and hundreds and hundreds of people replied. Four of them were families. And they all knew it was just a room.
“To me, it showed we’re at a point of desperation. They were at such a place where it was a reasonable decision to make: to move into a stranger’s house in a room with a child, as if they have not very many other options. And I find that kind of shameful.
“These parents don’t have housing, and there’s so many of them. Isn’t that what a city is supposed to do? Support the people who live there? It really affects our community when people are put into these sorts of situations, when there’s that element of desperation.
“Housing has so many impacts on so many different parts of one’s life. It’s not only about having a safe place to live. It impacts the art world because you need the spontaneous ability to make art and make it in a way that’s not always commercial.
“When I’m taking people’s pictures, to me, it’s a collaborative project. They’re informing the picture as much as I’m informing the picture. I feel like photography is about communication. You’re working with how people want to be reflected, how their identity wants to be reflected.
“Art is not always used to make a profit. It can be used to heal; it’s a way of expression. And if you limit that, if you don’t have outlets for people to express themselves, you’re hurting a city, in my mind.
“I do believe that solving the housing crisis would have an affect on the art that people produce.”