Join me in Fredericton for The Walrus Talks!

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I always knew I would share my story publicly in some way, but I had no idea the places it would take me, the people I would meet and the ways I would grow. I've been privileged to speak on many stages across the country on the challenges and complexities of being a queer Christian woman of colour.

I'm excited to continue this dialogue when I speak at The Walrus Talks in Fredericton in April. From March to June, the Walrus Foundation is hosting national conversations across the country featuring 50 Order of Canada recipients and 50 young leaders.

As you may have guessed, I'm one of the "young leaders" and will be speaking on the intersections of sexuality, faith and race.

I've struggled deeply with these parts of my identity, silencing and hiding different pieces at various times. It has been exhausting to live a fractured life, wondering which part of me will be accepted.

As a result, I've spent most of my life trying to make sense of who I am. I no longer live in silence, and I want to encourage others to see the power of their stories and realize they aren't alone in their experiences.

But it has been a deeply painful journey.

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I recently went through some of my old journals, revisiting a chaotic and challenging time in my life, including the first time I admitted I was gay: "It makes me feel sick to actually acknowledge this part of me I've been trying to hide and push away, but it's eating at me. I can't concentrate. I'm getting headaches and I just need to get it out. I think I'm gay."

There were so many entries where I spoke about this part of me as if it was disgusting, broken and untouchable – as if I was disgusting, broken and untouchable. Shame and self-hatred filled many pages in my journals. I wondered if I would ever be okay with this part of me, let alone be proud and celebrate my sexuality.

My journals took me on a journey where I eventually got to witness healing, freedom and growth. One of those moments was sharing my story publicly on my blog several years ago: “I never thought I would get here. I’m happy with who I am. I’m proud of who I am. I’m free.

This was an important time where I needed to tell my story for me, to find and speak my voice again.

These questions and challenges have caused me to advocate for and with other LGBTQ+ people who are trying to survive their Christian and Catholic communities. Although I've seen many changes in schools, churches and the media, heteronormativity is still prevalent in our culture.

I've spoken to many other LGBTQ+ Christians who are struggling to make sense of their faith, sexuality and gender orientation. There are still many communities that aren't affirming or open to having this dialogue. For those of us who are also racialized, intersectionality is deeply lacking. We aren't represented in those spaces and our stories aren't included in these conversations.

But we are here. We exist and we will continue to fight.

If you're in Fredericton on April 24, I would love to have you join this conversation and hear from others who are doing great work around the country. You can get a free ticket here, and the talks will be filmed and shared online at a later time.

I can fully be myself: Windsor-Essex Catholic's first GSA conference

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"This is the first time I've come out as queer and can fully be myself."

I hold onto these words from a student who recently shared at Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board's first GSA conference, WEshine. It was a day to support and celebrate more than 100 LGBTQ+ students and allies across the board.

I saw the weight of this day for many LGBTQ+ students. I saw them relax. I saw them laugh. I saw their courage in showing up and being fully seen.

It was incredible to witness these moments and hear how much the culture has shifted in Catholic schools since I was a student. They could share their stories, including letting me know they were here because they were "really gay." I was amazed they could speak so nonchalantly in front of their peers.

A former student in the Windsor-Essex board, Eli, also shared his coming out story publicly for the first time. If he could share his story so openly only a few years after graduating, what would that mean for the next generation?

"Those who identify, you have an amazing community of support... You are loved by God and the community. We want you to feel that every day."

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It often brings me to tears to hear words like this and see educators stand in support of their LGBTQ+ students. Many educators, students and community members have been advocating and working tirelessly for years to have these spaces.

It matters for these students to know there are people who love and support them in their Catholic communities. This saves lives.

When I asked if they believed it was possible to be LGBTQ+ and Catholic, many students put up their hands. They shared stories about family and friends who are out and still practicing their faith.

These young people have representation in a way I never had.

But I know it's still hard for many of them. I know there were students there who are struggling deeply and haven't found the words to say their stories out loud. They're afraid of what their family, friends and faith communities will think.

There were also students who struggle to see themselves represented as queer people of colour. Several racialized students approached me to talk about the challenges of being in predominately white communities.

How do they share this part of themselves? Who are the queer and racialized Christians and Catholics they see?

I was impressed they were already thinking about intersectionality, exploring these different parts of their identity in such a nuanced way. I was never in a place to come out in high school, let alone think about how my racial identity intersected with queerness, gender and faith.

The culture is shifting in these spaces. Sometimes, it feels really slow. Other times, I'm shocked at the changes that have happened since I was in high school.

It's exciting to be part of this movement and to see the ways LGBTQ+ students can be seen, heard and fully be themselves.

You can see what happened at WEshine in this video by CTV Windsor.

Huffington Post: from tears of shame to proudly existing at my first Pride

Toronto Pride (Caro Ibrahim). Imagine this: you're on Church Street for your first Pride and find yourself crying in a sea of people, "I don't want to be gay." Let's just say I had a lot of internalized homophobia to work through and I've come a long way.

Going to my first Pride in Toronto helped me see what was possible, especially being at a dance party with many people of colour and seeing lots of women in dresses. At the time, I didn’t realize the multiple ways I could present as a queer woman and it was still okay to wear dresses.

There were people who looked like me. It was possible for me to exist. I didn’t have to change.

I hope this Pride helps other LGBTQ+ people see possibilities and experience solidarity (especially after Orlando), and the beautiful ways they can exist. Check out my latest piece in The Huffington Post, as well as some of my thoughts on Orlando.

Catholic educators stand in solidary with LGBTQ+ students

Educators standing in solidarity. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk) Imagine this: you go to an all-girls Catholic high school and you identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Maybe you're out or perhaps it's something you're too afraid to say out loud right now.

Before the keynote speaker goes on, your chaplain and six other teachers and youth workers are standing at the front of the atrium. They tell you if you're LGBTQ+, there's nothing wrong with who you are and they are here to support you.

You've heard about gay-straight alliances (GSA) before, but don't know much about them. You find out it's a student-run club that provides safe spaces for LGBTQ+ and straight-identified students to meet and support each other.

I couldn't believe what I saw last week before I gave the keynote talk at Loretto College School's Health and Wellness Day in Toronto. Although I have done a lot of work in Catholic schools and have seen support for LGBTQ+ students, this felt special.

Staff were standing in solidarity with LGBTQ+ students at the front of the school.

Sharing my story. (Fatin Chowdhury)

I was deeply moved and quite emotional before I had to speak. I kept thinking, "I can't believe this is happening right now. How would my life be different is this happened at my Catholic high school?"

But that was a long time ago.

Before I addressed the all-girls high school of more than 500 students, I thought I'd break the ice by having them guess how many years have passed since I was in high school. They shouted out responses from one year to four years. When I told them I started high school more than a decade ago, they couldn't believe it.

Forget being gay, my age was the shocking news of the day!

After they recovered from finding out I was no longer a teenager, I shared some spoken word poetry, the challenges of coming out and the importance of GSAs. I told them how different my high school experience was more than a decade ago. There was no GSA and the students perceived of being LGBTQ+ were bullied and tormented.

A great crowd! (Fatin Chowdhury)

GSAs are so crucial to help LGBTQ+ students know it's possible to live their truths. Even if I wasn't ready to come out in high school, it would have changed my life to know I could exist and there was support for people like me.

After I spoke, students had the opportunity to sign a rainbow flag in solidarity with their LGBTQ+ classmates. Dozens of students came down to sign the flag and after the talk, several students wanted to start a GSA at Loretto.

There was so much light and warmth in the room and it was an honour to be in that space. This is the start of something beautiful and will impact generations of students to come.

Your words feel like home

But you were never meant to stay hiddenDespite those years spent in claustrophobic, concealed and confined places Seeing the beauty, life and creativity that happens when light enters in Needing to remind yourself that ambiguity and being lost is just part of the journey, not the destination And one day, maybe you’ll see that home wasn’t as far as you thought it would be. - An excerpt from Home by Jenna Tenn-Yuk

Learning from Michael Blair.

I have been thinking a lot about home lately. 

This past weekend, I was the artist-in-residence at New Direction's conference for LGBTQ+ Christians and allies. It was an affirming space for LGBTQ+ people to share, learn and grow.

Coming out as gay has left me with a complicated relationship with the church and I didn't know what to expect. I have been to many Christian conferences over the years, but it has been several years since I was immersed in a space like this.

On the first day, someone who had found my website approached me and said, "Your poem helped me to come out." I had never met this person before and had no idea how my story impacted them. My poetry gave this person the courage to come out, live their truths and realize they weren’t alone in their experiences.

We never know who needs to hear our story.

My workshop participants. (Betsy Johnson)

I had a great time sharing my spoken word, and connecting with other participants over the weekend and in my workshop. The workshop gave participants the space to write, reflect, connect and speak their stories out loud. Several people have shared their beautiful work that was inspired by the workshop.

"Your words feel like home."

I am still reflecting on these words that a participant shared with me. Many people at the conference told me they connected with my story and the challenges of negotiating their identity.

There is so much power when we can voice experiences other people may not be able to describe or say out loud. Our words and stories can heal and feel like home to someone else.

Huffington Post: LGBTQ kids living their truths at camp

Meet Rose. I recently wrote a piece in the Huffington Post about Rose and how her involvement in the Ten Oaks Project changed her life.

Rose always knew she wanted to be a girl. She wanted to dress like a girl, play with dolls and wear pink clothes.

Secretly, she could be a girl at home. But outside of her house, she lived a lie and her life as a boy. Rose wasn't safe enough to live her truths and authentic story.

"I was unhappy and sad before I transitioned," explains Rose in a beautiful letter. "I wasn't who I thought I was to be."

Her life drastically changed when she went to Camp Ten Oaks, a one-week, sleep-away camp for children and youth from LGBTQ identities, families and communities. Camp Ten Oaks is part of the Ten Oaks Project, a Canadian-based organization that engages and supports young people from LGBTQ communities through camp.

Something changed in Rose at camp. She was in a supportive environment and surrounded by others like her, which gave her the courage she needed to live as a girl.

"In that moment, I could see a different future for myself," Rose says. "If it weren't for camp, I think I'd still be a boy. And unhappy about my life."

When I think about the young people who go to Camp Ten Oaks and Project Acorn (Ten Oaks' other camp for youth), my heart is filled with so much joy. These young people can experience community, belonging and live their truths.

That time I hated dresses and only wanted to play baseball.

I think of the Jenna of my past and how my life would've been so different if I had a place like Camp Ten Oaks or Project Acorn to call home. Perhaps I would've seen a different future for myself at a younger age, which would've helped me accept all the pieces of my story sooner.

The sooner these young people can experience this freedom, acceptance and belonging, the sooner they can blossom into the beautiful roses they are meant to be.

Ten Oaks’ bowl-a-thon fundraiser is also coming up on March 21. The group is hoping to raise $40,000 to help send kids to camp. This year's bowl-a-thon will help subsidize camper registration fees (80 per cent of participants access the sliding scale) and send 10 extra participants to camp.

Please support my bowling team, the Team Players here, so we can help send children and youth like Rose to camp. I’ll write you a personalized haiku or poem based on how much you donate!

On another awesome note, I know I know I know you want to hear this news. Tegan and Sara have also donated several prizes to our bowl-a-thon, including an autographed poster, varsity jacket and a rare vinyl box set collection. You can check out the awesome awesome swag here!

My latest Huffington Post piece: why GSAs in Catholic schools matter

TCDSB Inclusion and belonging: words that don't often come to mind for LGBTQ people in the church.

But this space was different.

I recently spoke at the Toronto Catholic District School Board's Inclusion and Belonging Retreat, which you can read about in my latest Huffington Post piece. It was a beautiful space where high school students could come as they are, encourage one another, share their struggles and know they weren't alone.

This retreat opened up inclusive spaces for Toronto students involved in gay-straight alliances (GSAs), a place where LGBTQ and straight students come together as allies. It's pretty incredible this student-led space existed, let alone for the second time this year with more than 170 students.

When I went to a Catholic high school more than a decade ago, I could have never imagined having a GSA at my school. Homophobia was alive and well, and those who were out or suspected of being gay were often marginalized, mistreated and shamed.

I wish I had the courage to speak up and be visible.

But I wasn't ready and it took many more years to accept and come to terms with being gay and Christian. These students, however, are living in a different time where they can exist, be visible and share their stories. The students give me courage to keep fighting and believing LGBTQ people could feel safe and belong in Christian communities.

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Right now, there is much debate in Alberta on Bill 10, which would allow school boards to rejects students' requests to create a GSA. There are no GSAs in Catholic schools in Alberta, which I hope will change as we have seen in the Toronto board.

It won't be an easy road ahead, but to see students know they belonged -- even if it was just one day -- is worth the fight.

10 lessons I've learned from writing my thesis

I love reflecting and dreaming. It's shocking, right? I get into deeper reflection mode in December as I soak up the past year and think about my dreams for the future. It has been another year of wonderful opportunities, tough challenges, amazing people and living out my passions. While reflecting on this past year, I realized I don't take enough time to soak up my accomplishments. I probably spend more time appreciating the little things in life, but I think it's also important to value reaching certain goals.

One of those moments was FINALLY finishing my thesis. 

Last month, I walked across the NAC stage, shook Michaelle Jean’s hand and got my master’s degree. It’s pretty surreal writing this post, considering the fact I didn’t think I would actually finish. If you ask my friends, the thesis updates were rarely positive!

(Robert Tenn-Yuk)

But it’s done and I’m writing this post. Woo!

The past three years have been quite the journey. There were many tears and low points, but I’m glad I pushed through. Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned from writing my thesis.

  1. What if you lose your passion? Sorry to break it to you, but this will happen. You won’t always feel passionate and will probably want to quit many times. This was a huge struggle for me, especially as someone who advocates for people to follow their passions. Sometimes, you need to suck it up and do it.
  2. Tough love goes a long way. Have blunt people in your life who will tell it like it is. When I told one of my closest friends I wasn’t passionate about my thesis and wanted to quit, she gave me some tough love. She told me I had come this far, couldn’t give up and had to finish what I started – even if I wasn't passionate about my work. This conversation was a turning point in which I committed to finishing what I started.
  3. Trust your gut. My thesis changed drastically from my original vision. I didn’t trust myself on how I wanted to do it, which made writing a challenge (i.e. critical discourse analysis isn't the most exciting methodology). If trusting your gut means putting more work on the front end, do it.
  4. Find the cheerleaders. You’re going to stare at your computer for many, many days. You won’t write anything. You’ll waste a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. You'll probably cry. When you’re in those spots, surround yourself with people who will encourage, support and ask you how you’re doing. When you don’t believe it, others can keep the faith.
  5. Reward yourself. Set mini goals instead of focusing on the end product. The finish line will overwhelm you. I often rewarded myself with going to the gym or hanging out with friends. It's okay to take a break. And it's okay to cry.
  6. Have work friends. My supervisor set up group meetings every week, which were really helpful to keep me on task and stay motivated. It was nice to be around people who were going through the same process, and could encourage and give feedback.
  7. Add a new discourse. It’s exciting to think I’ve added a new discourse to academia and documented Capital Slam’s history. Many people talked about the lack of female poets in the scene, and I got to deeply investigate the community and put that story in the public sphere. There's also limited research on slam poetry (especially in Canada), so it's neat to add a new discourse.
  8. A piece of paper matters. I had numerous arguments with friends about this piece of paper. I constantly questioned if it really mattered. They said yes. I know that doing a master’s degree in women’s studies has opened up several doors for me. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want my lack of a piece of paper to prevent me from certain opportunities.
  9. Where’s your focus? My thesis was never my focus, so that’s why it took me an extra year to complete. If I had acknowledged that sooner and was okay with taking a bit longer, then I wouldn't have been so hard on myself. Since I didn't focus on my thesis, I could pursue some other great opportunities.
  10. A good thesis is a finished thesis. This was great advice from my friend. My thesis wasn't perfect and there were many ways I could've taken it, but I finished it. Someone else can take up where I left off and hopefully it'll help someone who's doing research on slam poetry.

The fam.

And remember, don't be so hard on yourself. Writing a thesis (or any essay or project) can be really challenging. When you need some encouragement, watch this scene from The Waterboy. I'm living proof that you can do it!

When you have chance, please check out my thesis on Capital Slam’s poetry scene: Where My Girls At? A Critical Discourse Analysis of Gender, Race, Sexuality, Voice and Activism in Ottawa's Capital Slam Poetry Scene.

Here's a quick abstract:

Ottawa’s Capital Slam poetry scene has transformed over the past decade, marking a shift in the identities, discourses and performance styles of local poets. This thesis investigates these changes and trends within the time periods of 2008-2010 and 2012-2014.

This thesis demonstrates the shift from male poets of colour in 2008-2010 to female voices in 2012-2014 at Capital Slam, through an examination of Ottawa’s history and a multimodal critical discourse analysis of online performances. In particular, the creation of local alternative poetry shows over the past five years has increased the representation of female poets and transformed the racial dynamics of the scene.

During the period 2008-2010 and 2012-2014, poets used key historical elements of slam poetry such as storytelling and speaking through personal experiences to effectively demonstrate how marginalized individuals can speak counter-narratives to dominant culture. The use of storytelling allowed these poets to engage, connect and dialogue with the audience, as well as demonstrate their different identities, discourses and performance styles.

What are some lessons you've learned from writing a thesis, paper or finishing a project?

I don't hate the sinner, I hate the sin (poem)

Have you ever heard a Christian person mention, “I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin” Can I tell you how annoying that comment is? And I grew up Christian.

(Michael Vidler)

I recently had the opportunity to film one of my poems, I Don’t Hate the Sinner, I Hate the Sin, in a Vancouver church. I’ve wanted to film one of my pieces about being gay and Christian in a church for several years, and I finally had the opportunity during my Vancouver Biennale artist residency over the summer.

It was an interesting experience to film in a place that has become foreign and scary to me. I had many thoughts and feelings of belonging (or lack thereof) while I was there.

It brought me back to the place in which I had written this poem. It brought me back to harmful comments that many Christians say to people who are LGBTQ without thinking twice.

It was a place of hurt, pain and shame.

One of the most common phrases is, “I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin.” Christians often say they don’t hate LGBTQ people, but their “lifestyle." It's a shame that same-sex love is somehow reduced to a lifestyle and not simply love.

But this poem reminds me that change can happen.

Since writing this piece, I’ve grown in loving myself and accepting my story. Others have also grown in listening and understanding my experiences. We may have different perspectives, but I know how much they love me and our hearts are softening.

It would mean a lot if you checked out this personal poem when you have a chance. Thank you to Michael Vidler for producing this video, and Canadian Memorial United Church for allowing us to film in their sanctuary.

Let’s keep chatting, breaking down walls, hearing each other's stories and living in the grey.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmxT4hhGc6M

My memory calls and it's asking for you (song)

My memory calls And it's asking for you Wondering if you're around today.

Sometimes, we hold on to memories. Other times, we have to let them go.

Jamming with Sam and Chris. (Scott Douglas)

Check out my song, My Memory Calls, when you have a chance. A big thanks to Samantha Chan for accompanying me and to Scott Douglas for filming us at Olympic Village in Vancouver.

My memory calls But there's no reply Maybe I'll call you another time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZjFxIaHAK4

To be or not to be a minority - that is the question (poem)

To be or not to be a minority – that is the question A question I have been revisiting and trying to comprehend From the outskirts, being a minority doesn’t seem like the ideal position Being different, perhaps a dissident, maybe exotic And I’m all too familiar with these words and trends Having used them, even in my favour. But as I have come to understand and accept my story This minority status has become a fallacy A malicious status imposed on me The dominant norms and ideologies that have bruised and broken and beaten me Boxing me in to this tiny crevice of being a minority.

Have you ever felt different, or that you didn't quite fit or belong?

Most of us have felt that way at one point or another in our lives. It's not an easy place to be, especially when we desire love, connection, acceptance and belonging.

Puzzle

I've felt different for most of my life and my puzzle pieces never seemed to line up. There was always a part of me that didn't quite fit the community I wanted to belong to. It has been really challenging negotiating the various pieces of my identity and figuring out how I belonged (or didn't).

In some groups, I held back certain aspects of my identity and part of me was missing. In other spaces, I hid different pieces and didn't feel whole. There was silence, insecurity and often shame.

Gay AND Christian? Chinese AND Jamaican? Say what?!?

Many of us never feel like we're enough.

Never forget these powerful words. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Can I tell you how awesome you are? It's true! Many of us navigate these in-between spaces and yet, we often marginalize others who are different. We really need to listen and hear each other's stories, and not be afraid to bring our whole selves.

I'm still figuring out what it looks like to bring all the pieces of Jenna to the table. It's tough and will be a lifelong journey, but I know it'll be worth it. When you have a chance, check out my poem, Minority, and I hope you can connect.

Have you ever felt like you didn't belong? How have you negotiated the various pieces of your identity?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFejUFU8sDo

Creating spaces and showing up: my last Words to Live By show

I can't believe it has been two years since I accidentally started Words to Live By! It was meant to be a five-part series over the summer, but there was a demand to continue a monthly show. Several people said this kind of series was missing from Ottawa's spoken word scene and there hadn't been a show like this since the Oneness Poetry Showcase.

A beautiful and intimate atmosphere. (Rebecca Jones)

I really wanted to create a space to encourage first-time performers, up-and-coming poets and women. We've had many people courageously share their poetry for the first time, while others have had their first featured performance.

Artemysia Fragiskatos first poetry feature. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Benoit Christie performing during the open mic. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

It has been beautiful to see people step out of their comfort zone, and recognize the power of their voices and stories.

“Open mic with the bestest people in the world. Thank you for providing space for all those wonderful poets and incredible human beings. Learning to own my voice and be my kind of beautiful :) Jenna, thank you for introducing me so lovingly into the stage…the warm feeling is still spreading from my chest to my smile. Thank you for being your awesome self and organizing the best show in town. I look forward to it every time.”

It has been such a pleasure showing up and creating a place for individuals to own their voices and be their kind of beautiful. Often, we just need the opportunity, encouragement and space to realize how awesome we are.

Many great memories at Words to Live By. (Artemysia Fragiskatos)

If you're around tomorrow on Tuesday, August 26, it'd be awesome to see you for my last Words to Live By show at Pressed Cafe. I'm also excited to let you know that Artemysia Fragiskatos and Brad Morden will be continuing the show.

Doors and open mic sign-up are at 7pm. Come by, share some poetry and celebrate our two-year anniversary with us!

Pride is marching in your first Pride Parade

Several years ago, I had the chance to walk in my first Pride Parade in Ottawa with a friend. However, fear controlled me and I wasn't ready to be involved. I was too afraid and ashamed of being gay. Today, I'll be walking in my first Pride Parade in Ottawa with the Ten Oaks Project. It has been a long journey of acceptance, which you can read in my Ottawa Citizen op-ed and CBC interview from last year. I'm excited to walk with my friends, and celebrate our beautiful and diverse tapestry.

"Don't deprive people of who you really are."

Those are some wise words from that friend who wanted to walk with me in the parade. I keep that quote in my wallet to remind me to be proud of who I am.

Each one of us has so much to offer the world around us, so shine brightly. Happy Pride!

The Team Players at the Ten Oaks bowl-a-thon. (Kathleen Clark)

"Do you have hope for the church?"

(Michael Vidler) (Michael Vidler)

When I arrived in Vancouver a month ago, I wasn't sure where my Vancouver Biennale project would take me. I've led numerous workshops, had a few performances and met some incredible people who have inspired, encouraged and challenged me. My mind and heart have been filled with thoughtful dialogue, as well as powerful stories and perspectives.

In my workshops and meetings, people have raised questions and comments that have caused me to reflect on my project and what it looks like to build bridges between LGBTQ, Christian and feminist communities:

  • “Is this pain worth it?”
  • “I think it comes out as hate, but a lot of the time it’s actually fear… People are just trying to protect themselves.”
  • "I want to step into community that understand me."
  • “I feel really disoriented because I feel like I have to hide parts of myself from different people.”
  • “The healing part is figuring out in all the displacement, how we can find place and hold one another.”
  • “We need to put ourselves in other people's shoes... The shoes may feel uncomfortable."
  • "Do you have hope for the church?"

(roaming-the-planet)

(Jarrah Hodge)

When that person asked me if I had hope for the church and these communities, I told him I couldn't do this work if I didn't have hope. I have to believe that change is possible for these seemingly dissimilar communities. I've seen movement and transformation in these spaces, even if it's slow and takes a long time.

Identity is complex and difficult, but I also believe that understanding and reconciliation can occur between LGBTQ, Christian and feminist communities. There's a hunger for these conversations, and a strong desire to find community and belonging.

This project is also timely in Vancouver.

The Vancouver School Board recently passed a new policy that allows transgender students to be addressed by the name and pronoun that best represents their gender identity. The changes also discourage sex-segregated activities and allow transgender students to use whatever washroom they feel most comfortable.

Chinese and Christian parents have been represented as a homogenous group by the media, tying race and faith to homophobia and transphobia. For example, the Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente recently wrote about the policy and said, "Many of the Chinese parents, like Ms. Chang, are Christians..." She didn't check her facts because Cheryl Chang is actually white.

I recently chatted with Fiona Chen, a Chinese-Christian mother who defended the new policy and has been outspoken about supporting her transgender child. I admire her courage to tell her story, as well as the stereotypes she is breaking down and bridges she is building. You can hear more of her story in this CBC interview.

Fiona's story and desire to fight for her son has encouraged me to keep fighting. 

This work is tough, but I know it's worth it. It's worth the risk, pain and messiness. Change occurs when we fight and are unwilling to accept the status quo – especially when that marginalizes individuals and tells them they are worthless.

I'm looking forward to my final event where I'll bring together voices from my workshops and various conversations. There will be some spoken word poetry, storytelling and video this Saturday, June 28 at Our Town Cafe at 7pm. There’s a hunger here for these discussions and I hope my time here starts more conversations in Vancouver.

Check out some photos from my workshops at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House and Heartwood Community Cafe. Heartwood is a beautiful space that focuses on community building and social justice, so check it out if you have a chance!

Everyone loves an Asian girl, right? (poem)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9vYtk9Xzuw&feature=youtu.be Everyone Loves An Asian Girl was the first poem I wrote four and a half years ago. I was inspired after a poetry show and the words quickly flooded out of my pen.

Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. Those countless hours of writing, reflecting and performing have brought me to Vancouver as a Vancouver Biennale artist-in-residence.

Since that first poem, my work has continued to deal with who I am and the complexities of identity. Writing has helped me to negotiate, work through and come to terms with the various pieces of my story. It has also caused me to reflect and ask even more questions.

Since being in Vancouver, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and my roots.

It's uncomfortable to work through these difficult and complex parts of who we are, but it's necessary for change and growth. We often don't give ourselves the space to deal with these issues and questions.

Vancouver Poetry Slam

Last Monday, I did a mini feature at the Vancouver Poetry Slam. I performed two of my poems, Everyone Loves An Asian Girl and Minority. I hadn’t performed that piece since I wrote Everyone Loves A Jamasian Girl, a poem exploring my Chinese-Jamaican roots.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2h_aPX99Qo

So when did liking Asian girls become a trend When my friend asked me, “Jenna, why do guys like Asian girls?” I let out a smirk and didn’t know what to say It’s because we’re cute and petite and “exotic?” Wait a minute! Why did I justify? Offended because she reduced me to that I was more than just an Asian girl Who got all the stares at my – Everyone loves an Asian girl t-shirt.

This poem was inspired by my t-shirt, Everyone loves an Asian girl, which I bought in high school. I thought it was cute and true, especially with so many people having “yellow fever.”

Everyone loves an Asian girl. (Kaite Burkholder)

What's this “yellow fever?" It's a term used to describe people of non-Asian descent who have a strong interest, attraction and preference for Asian people and culture. I’ve been on the receiving end of this “fever,” particularly from men.

I used to think this obsession was funny, flattering or made me special in some strange way. However, I've come to resent this exoticization of my appearance and the assumptions associated with being an Asian woman.

It’s tiring to be objectified for how you look and having people constantly ask, “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” Many people aren't usually satisfied when I tell them I'm from Canada.

Check out my poem when you have a chance and thank you to the Vancouver Poetry Slam for filming it.

Let the Vancouver Biennale adventures begin!

It has been just over a week since I arrived in Vancouver, and I’ve already met some incredible people who are doing amazing work. I’m excited to be part of the Vancouver Biennale and for the opportunity to connect with other artists and community partners. I've already learned a lot from those around me and it has been great spending time with other Biennale artists, including Andreas Strauss and my coordinator, Ken Lum.

(Andreas Strauss)

Exploring a studio space. (Andreas Strauss)

I love new adventures and exploring new places. It has been refreshing creatively to be here, and I've enjoyed taking the time to dream big and appreciate my surroundings. It's easy to move through life quickly, and forget to slow down and soak up the little moments.

A beautiful discovery on a hike with my friend. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Meet my friend, Molly. (Amanda Watson)

I'm drawn to passionate people who want to make a difference in their communities, and there's definitely exciting work happening in Vancouver. I've connected with some movers and shakers here, and I'm thrilled to be part of fostering this dialogue.

This week, I'll be starting my workshops and I have a few performances and interviews. Feel free to tune in and/or check out the workshops if you're in Vancouver.

I'm excited to see what happens as people explore the complexities of identity, spirituality and sexuality. I hope participants will see the power of their voices and will mutually learn from one another through their stories.

The F Word interview Date: Monday, June 9 Time: 12pm Vancouver Co-op Radio (online) or CFRO 100.5FM (Vancouver)

Vancouver Poetry Slam performance Date: Monday, June 9 Time: 8pm Place: Café Deux Soleils (2096 Commercial Dr)

Spoken word workshop Date: Wednesday, June 11 Time: 7pm Place: Heartwood Community Café (317 E Broadway) Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1504765246404418

Spoken word workshop Date: Sunday, June 15 Time: 1pm Place: Heartwood Community Cafe (317 E Broadway) Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1504765246404418

I'll be writing some blog posts for the Vancouver Biennale, so look out for more of my Vancouver adventures! I'll also share how a random hug with a stranger three months ago got me here. Spoiler alert: that stranger happened to be the founder of the Vancouver Biennale, Barrie Mowatt.

I'm off to Vancouver: building bridges as a Vancouver Biennale artist-in-residence

I have some very exciting news to share with you. I’ll be taking part in the Vancouver Biennale's artist-in-residence program in June! The Vancouver Biennale is a non-profit organization that celebrates art in public space. Over the next two years, the group is inviting 92 artists from around the world to come to Vancouver to create public art and dialogue. Some of the incredible artists include, Ai Weiwei and Jonathan Borofsky.

The theme of this Biennale is Open Borders/Vancouver Crossroads, and the residency program is inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, I Have A Dream speech.

I have many dreams for change, freedom and equality.

I’m planning to lead numerous creative and hands-on spoken word poetry workshops, which will culminate in a public event and dialogue at the end of the month. In particular, I’m focusing on bringing together voices from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ), Christian and feminist communities.

There is often a lack of dialogue and understanding between these groups, and I’m interested in helping foster conversations and peacebuilding through spoken word. There are many bridges and connections to be built.

My purpose is to create spaces in which people can openly and freely share their stories through poetry. I also hope the workshops and event help participants see ways they can use their voices as a tool for social change in their own lives and communities. We understand the world around us through stories, which helps us to grow, learn and be challenged.

Let's bring these issues out of the shadows. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

I also want people to sit in the complexities, messiness and ask questions.

This dialogue is not about finding the answers, but living the questions and mutually learning from one another. Change takes time, but I believe it begins when we listen to one another and come to recognize our similarities and common humanity. I really hope participants will be open to having these important conversations.

Change is happening and it’s exciting to be part of the movement and dialogue. 

Last month, I spoke to high school students at the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s first gay-straight alliance (GSA) conference. When I was a student at a Catholic high school, I could’ve never imagined having a GSA or attending one of these conferences. It was amazing to see these students step out in courageous ways, and create safe and open spaces for LGBTQ people.

I'm excited to see what's happening in Vancouver and to hear people's stories. If you are in Vancouver and would like to be part of this dialogue, please be in touch at jenna.tennyuk@gmail.com. I hope we can build some connections and bridges together.

“ I have a dream that one day… we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

My Huffington Post piece: a gay Christian goes back to church

Easter is the most important time for Christians in which they believe Jesus died on the cross for their sins and resurrected three days later. This season reminds me of the last time I regularly went to church. I wept uncontrollably for most of the Easter service several years ago as I was still struggling to accept my sexuality. I didn't believe I belonged there as a gay Christian and left the church.

I recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post on the challenges and complexities I've experienced going back to church. You can read my post, From Familiar to Foreign: A Gay Christian Goes Back to Church.

Spoiler alert: it’s really, really hard! Despite many challenges and feeling overwhelmed, I've met some really kind people and this community is an important place I long for.

My "church challenges" have been lonely and rocky. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Last year, I started a challenge to go back to church. On one of my church challenges, I caught myself looking around as I entered the building and part of me was afraid of being seen by anyone I knew. I had similar thoughts and fears when I started going to gay bars. I laughed at the irony of the situation and how much life had changed.

How could a place that used to feel like home become so foreign to me?

I’ve become a stranger who sat at the back of the church and planned an escape route in case it was too difficult to be there. I know you don’t need a church building to find God, and I’ve experienced his presence in powerful ways outside of the church and Christian communities. However, I’ve missed having that community and actively seeking God with other people.

Nature is one of the places I experience God. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Spoken word has felt like church to me. (Artemysia Fragiskatos)

The church is so broken, but it has also been a place of love, safety and refuge for many people, including myself. Many of my friends who are gay and Christian long for this place of community again, but many don’t feel welcomed there.

We need to do something different and not be afraid of the tensions and complexities. Let’s be okay to sit in the mess and questions with one another. Let’s remember what Jesus’ message was actually about.

Take this season to reflect on your journey, but also think about those individuals who are on the margins, desiring a place to call home.

Words to Live By feat. Free Will

When I first started performing poetry four years ago, I was so nervous I couldn’t eat before performing or wear my glasses. I can still remember my fears when I performed the first poem I wrote, “Everyone Loves An Asian Girl,” at the Oneness Poetry Showcase. It was my second performance in public and first time sharing in Ottawa. I was welcomed with open arms to the poetry community and this show was an important space for many first-time performers. I hope Words to Live By has picked up where Oneness left off in creating an open, safe and intimate environment for artists to speak their voices.

We’re very excited to feature FreeWill, the poet who created the show, this Wednesday, March 19 at Pressed Cafe. Please come and show your support for someone who has made a huge impact in Ottawa’s spoken word community. Be sure to check out some photos from last month’s packed show!

Be a team player and help send LGBTQ children and youth to camp

Dear little Jenna, It has been a while since I last wrote to you. I think the last time was that letter on coming out and supporting LGBTQ youth through the Ten Oaks Project. You should read it again when you need some encouragement and a reminder of your awesomeness.

So guess what? Ten Oaks is having another bowl-a-thon fundraiser at the end of March and you’re putting together a team again. You had so much fun last year and it's such a great time of team spirit, dressing up, cheering and supporting an amazing cause.

You got pretty creative with your team, the Crayolas, last year.

This year, you and your friends came up with the name, Team Players!

Just to refresh your memory, the Ten Oaks Project is a volunteer-driven organization that supports children and youth from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) identities, families and communities. They run two camps, Camp Ten Oaks and Project Acorn.

That’s right, there are actually camps for people like you and you’re not the only gay person out there. Hooray! There will also be other campers who have two dads or two moms, which is pretty awesome. People won’t have to hide or feel shame there, including this participant:

“While camp may only last a week, the sense of belonging that I get from Ten Oaks is something that I feel year-round.”

You won’t go to the camp as a participant, but you’ll get to be part of this special experience. You’ll volunteer and do spoken word workshops at Project Acorn, and see how important this space if for many marginalized youth. One participant in your workshop will even recognize the power of their voice:

“I love and miss writing. I should make more time for it. My voice may help someone else.”

Yes, you can still wear dresses. (Caro Ibrahim)

Ten Oaks is celebrating its 10th anniversary and hoping to raise $45,000 this year. Last year, the bowl-a-thon raised $40,000 and helped send 114 children and youth to camp. Isn’t that amazing?

This organization will be pretty dear to your heart because you know how difficult it is to accept your sexuality. You’ll want to do all that you can, so other young people won’t feel marginalized because they have same-sex parents or they're struggling with their sexuality.

No one should be made to feel guilt, shame or self-hatred based on who they love.

You hope other people will connect with this group because they probably have a brother, friend, daughter or co-worker who is LGBTQ. Most people these days know someone who is LGBTQ. It won't be something they can ignore or pretend doesn’t exist – even in those Christian communities you grew up in.

There has been a lot of progress, but there's still a lot of work to be done. 

Don't worry about helping everyone and changing the world right now. You're not ready quite yet. Just work on loving yourself and seeing how awesome you are. You have so much to offer those around you by simply being you.

Your older, wiser and still awesome self, Jenna

**

Please consider supporting the Ten Oaks Project and help send children and youth from LGBTQ communities to camp. The camps are heavily subsidized through generous support from people like you. Eighty per cent of campers access the sliding scale, so we want to continue creating an accessible place for young people.

You can support my team, the Team Players, by clicking here and donating. Every dollar counts and we really appreciate all your support! Check out this awesome video of some cute children bowling, which was made by Jeff Fennell, a talented filmmaker and Ten Oaks volunteer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VIyghysZiA