My name is Milo Applejohn, I use He/They pronouns. I am Métis and my ancestors come from Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 territories. I work on the unceded ancestral territory of the Musqeam, Squamish, and Tsleil Waututh First Nations.
I am Métis, and I am Two-Spirit. While I am accessing hormones and have had surgeries to masculinize my body, this process is about aligning with my sense of self rather than a colonial ideal of masculinity. I identify with being an advocate, a scientist, and an artist. My life partner and non-monogamous relationships are masc leaning, gay presenting.
Growing Up in a Colonial, Binary Household
My connection to my body was amorphous when I was presenting as a woman. I was the child of a single mother, who was sister and daughter to single mothers. There was a deep hatred of men in my family, particularly indigenous men. Masculinity was defined by violence, and where my mother worked to connect me to our heritage, my white grandmother took me as a teenager and imparted colonial, often hateful ideals.
There was an image my grandmother, Trudy (not her real name), wanted for me, a life she desired that I would embody. Where my mother encouraged me to run wild in the woods, Trudy bought me dresses, and often, highly sexualized clothing. At eleven, she enrolled me in Weight Watchers and congratulated me when I developed an eating disorder as a teen. ‘If I hadn’t taken you in, you’d be barefoot and pregnant.’
Femininity was sex, and sex was power in our household canon. I created online personas as a young teen to embody my masculine side. Trudy showed me a movie called Boys Don’t Cry where a trans man is raped and murdered.
When I met my partner at 17 and married him at 20, this was the realization of Trudy’s dreams and my escape from her household. His family did not maintain typical gender roles and so he did not place these expectations on me.
Presenting feminine became untenable after my first and second pregnancies. As a parent, the world became viciously binary. My body was no longer mine to control, nor was my time. The world no longer received me as an artist, but as a mother. Existing in my skin was agony, and even when I reached out for medical support to transition, I was declined because of my severe, unrelenting depression. Two serious suicide attempts happened before I knew I had to transition.
Losing Family, Gaining Community
Initially, I identified as a gay, transgender men. I had planned to announce this upon my admission to graduate school, as though this academic validation would protect me. One night, in a fugue state, I began making comics to announce myself. They were raw, ripped straight out of my soul rather than a conscious decision. I could not survive pretending to be a woman for one moment longer.
My art and comics community was incredible. I was buoyed by their support, and that of my partner, for a blissful honeymoon period.
Then, Trudy revealed herself to have enrolled with violently transphobic rhetoric. She, along with the rest of my maternal family (except one aunt), as well as my father and half brothers I had found as a teen left my life with various degrees of violence.
Suddenly unmoored, I was left grasping for connection. My father and brothers had given various accounts of our indigenous heritage, but my paternal aunt gave me a real chart that traced our ancestors and let me locate myself in our shared histories. In this research, I encountered the neologism Two-Spirit which represents a relation to the community rather than an identity. It felt like coming home. I could finally release defining my gender by violence and instead locate my soul and my body in love and healing.
This label feels firm to me. It does not restrict my identity and does not require me to be defined beyond my comfort zone. Most importantly, it instills a purpose and reminds me that my ancestors have survived so much for me to be here.
Coming Out Carefully
Coming out is, of course, a constant process. While people who know me are aware of my identity, I will not usually correct being misgendered even though it is painful as I am very tired and looking to invest my energy elsewhere. It has also been my experience that outing myself in situations like this can provoke violence.
Because I have landed in a hopeful place, entering graduate school with positions in queer and indigenous research spaces where I believe I will be able to use my experiences to help others, I would not change anything about my experience. Coming apart has allowed me to remake myself over, and over, so that I can construct my identity to my desires and no-one else’s. Every mistake has been a lesson I can pay forward.
- Learn about your heritage and culture, and the land you occupy. If your parents have not done enough healing to guide you, look for lessons from your ancestors.
- Make conscious decisions about what defines you, and interrogate whose voice you hear in your head when you are making decisions about yourself.
- Robust mental health requires support. Seek out safe spaces where you can be your entire self and invest time in seeking a good therapist, counsellor, or guide.
- Hurt people hurt people, and we are a community. While personal boundaries are very important, it is also vital to recognize the themes of trauma within our community and strive to take slights less personally and to mitigate harms by checking in with our emotional reactions before we act on them.
If you live in British Columbia and would like support understanding your identity or sharing that identity with others, Tricia McGarrah is a queer-identified Registered Clinical Counsellor who offers online sessions to adults (18+).