photos: Nikki has founded a new group at the Drug Users Resource Centre to build solidarity and community for trans-identified people in the Downtown Eastside. Photo: Jackie Wong

Improving trans visibility in the Downtown Eastside

"There's not a lot of resources for trans people in the Downtown Eastside." -Nikki

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She’s only 34, but Nikki has lived through more than what many people experience in an entire life. She spent a formative part of her early 20s in prison, during whichtime she came out as transgendered. Today, Nikki lives in the Downtown Eastside, and in late April, started a new group for trans-identified people at the Drug Users Resource Centre (DURC). The group aims to build solidarity among trans-identified people in the Downtown Eastside. In a community noted for its diversity, transgendered people in the neighbourhood continue to face discrimation and misunderstanding.

“There’s not a lot of resources for trans people in the Downtown Eastside. There’s a lot of stigma against trans. And there has been for a lot of years,” Nikki says. “We’re in the process now of doing something for our community [to change things from] the way it was before.”

Nikki is no stranger to being out in a hostile environment. Never one to take things in half-measures, she describes the experience of coming out while in prison: “When I came out, I came full out,” she says. “I went straight against what they told me that I could do. I didn’t have makeup or anything like that. So I came out with a pen. They sent me down to the captain’s office and he threw me in the hole for three weeks for that...prison was a very, very bad experience for me.”

But that episode didn’t keep her down. She sought out allies, making friends with the two other trans-identified women in prison at the time. “It was really good to have them around. Other people weren’t so understanding,” she says. “One girl was on hormones because she was taking hormones when she was on the streets. And another girl, just like me, she came out in prison.”

Nikki’s trans group at the DURC is only in its first months of operation, and she’s excited about its potential. She wishesto empower the group to determine the direction of the weekly sessions.

After spending most of her 20s in prison, she’s eager to give back to the community. “I missed all those years,” she says. “[Before], I wasn’t even sure who I was.”

Nikki welcomes all trans-identified people to drop in on her group at the DURC. She’s eager to connect with people andis keen to explore, through discussion,the complexities that make us who weare. After all, she says, “I’m a human being, just like everybody else.”

Nikki’s trans group meets each Friday afternoon from 1-2pm at the Drug Users Resource Centre (412 Cordova Street).


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