Well, people, U of T has a place called the Centre for Women and Trans People, all the way on the Spadina side of life; specifically at 563 Spadina Avenue, in the North Borden Building. Kind of by New College. It’s open Monday to Thursday, from 11 am to 6 pm. The centre is a drop-in space, aimed at being, progressive, inclusive, anti-oppressive, and “fun, feminist, and friendly”. It is. In addition to being an open and kind of liberating place to chill, they also have a plethora of information resources, such as the ‘Dr. Chun Resource Library’ (providing access to ‘factual, critical and alternative materials’ and supporting marginalized voices), and peer support groups. These, and community cooking on Thursdays, a group session for Aboriginal women and women of colour on Wednesdays, programs and services such as child care space, information on health, general and sexual, various workshops, and many other things my post will not do justice to. The centre is also a hub of political activism; for example, it is notably queer positive, (not just queer friendly), and November 20th was the Trans Day of Remembrance at U of T. A public remembrance service for trans people victimized and murdered was held at Sidney Smith at noon.
The centre was established in 1986, when a group of women pitched tents in front of Simcoe Hall and demanded it.
I’ve traversed there only twice, once for the Thursday ‘Stitch ‘n’ Bitch’ session, an open, social gathering of knitters, sewers (TMNT?) and crafty-er-ers; secondly for a screening of this otherworldly, sexually ambiguous film called ‘Orlando’. Both times were decent. Or dece, as it were.
When I read about the place on their website, I really wanted to check it out. It seemed proportionate to many of the things my brain is now latching onto, i.e., noting the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch, the call for zine submissions, the various discussion sessions for women to talk openly about whatever which I feel I sorely need, so, yes, I really wanted to find the time to go. And I did!
THE THURSDAY: It was dark outside, and the centre was awfully quiet when I went in. Initial reaction: maintain the quiet. I attempted to enter as silently as possible and must have looked very nervous in doing so, as I usually do and as Mom continually points out. In opposition to the usual awkward glares one gets when entering a small social setting, the two volunteers were perfectly friendly, made me feel welcome and also alluded that I did not have to sneak around as if I was disturbing them. This geniality, of course, made me squirrel around more.
My own social clumsiness aside, they invited me to join them at the table, was offered crackers and tea (omfg tea – my only weakness), and we engaged in light conversation. To a U of T student teetering between ironically hopeless apathy and slight sanguinity for school, her social life, and let’s face it life in general, conversation with new (and old) acquaintances is always welcome as a sign that human beings with souls still exist.
Sadly, the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch session did not occur formally as scheduled on that particular Thursday. Boo. I had brought my sweater-with-a-patch-half-on-it to finish. But, one of the volunteers was kind enough to pull out some of the, we’ll say, ‘public-usage’ knitting needles and sit with me for a bit, and we continued to chat about school and life. An interesting thing I learned in chatting was of certain courses that double as Women’s Studies courses and their designated course code. For example, some English courses can go towards a Women’s Studies degree. This is fate. I could not figure out my second minor until now.
And yes, I did learn the volunteers’ names; I just wish to not mention them for possible privacy reasons. That and you should go to the centre yourself.
My second time going was for the screening of ‘Orlando’, a film adaptation of a Virginia Woolf novel. Upon seeing the words ‘gender-bending’ in its description, I had to go. This time there were more people, understandably, but it was still super quiet! I recognized the two volunteers I had met before, one of them addressing me with “Hello, mouse,” due to my mousey way of entering. It was relatively quiet, but chatting ensued and the atmosphere became more comfortable. As it usually does. Not to mention there were cookies! Popcorn! Carrots! Humus and healthy alternatives! After the film, there was a short discussion period; some of the film’s themes, whether it could be considered feminist and if it spoke to trans issues, but mostly… whether the film made any sense at all.
U of T needs more comfortable, personal settings. Example: Robarts? No. The Women’s Centre is the first comfy hang-out place I’ve found on campus, and the fact that is declares itself an unprejudiced space only makes it better. I was still self-conscious for some reason, but knowing at the back of your head that no one is going to, or is supposed to, judge you helps internally at least. Especially when some part of you (e.g., 10%) believes that some people can.
This is without mentioning the political standpoint this centre holds. With a child-friendly space and the community cupboard… This place is probably a great source of aid for many of the students we don’t normally think about, and I say probably because I myself, living with my mom and sister in relative stability, cannot fathom it. The only reconciling would be to volunteer there myself.
One would expect a big, huge campus like ours to have more human-friendly areas to meet with other students of similar mindsets, or hey even different mindsets, and not be already constructed into a strict, impervious social circle! Somewhere you can communicate with actual human beings! AUGH!
Perhaps I am just scared of people and need to be assured of their amicability first. But that’s just me. This centre is obviously an amazing source of… you know what, just go there.