Totally Outright YEG Alumni Thomas, Luke, Lowell, and Rafiki tell us why YOU should check out what’s happening!
What motivated you to participate in Totally Outright?
Thomas: What motivated me the most was the opportunity to connect and learn from other queer and trans masculine people in the community. The localized aspect of Totally Outright and its focus on tangible social change in Edmonton was what drew my attention the most.
Luke: I was looking for ways to get involved in the Edmonton LGBTQ+ scene that weren’t focused on drinking and partying. Finding more like-minded people was a definite plus, and I was drawn in by the huge range of workshops and learning opportunities.
Lowell: I strongly desired to be of more help to the Edmonton Queer community and Totally Outright gave me a chance to network in a space that wasn’t saturated with stimuli. Participating gave me more materials to draw from in our continued work around education and equity.
Rafiki: I love the queer community, and this was an opportunity to spend time around queer masc people like myself of a similar age bracket. It’s important to both build community and support community. Totally Outright gave us the opportunity to discuss ways in which we had been doing that and could continue to do that.
Totally Outright had a mix of different components last year; everything from health education workshops, to group projects, to meditation and voguing. Did you have a favourite part of the program?
Thomas: My favourite part of the program was some of the alternative sessions we had, such as the voguing dance tutorial and the session on spirituality. Even though all of the sessions were great, these two showed that there are many layers to activism and social change. We can talk about community organizing and the importance of networking but the importance of self-care, expression through art, resilience and spirituality is huge as well. These two sessions showed different aspects of activism and queer leadership that sometimes go undermined.
Luke: For me, the best part about Totally Outright was the variety of experiences and components that were represented. The workshops touched on everything from LGBTQ+ history, to healthcare concerns, spirituality, the use of sex toys, and ways to get involved in the community. Getting to explore all of the different sides of our collective experience with such a diverse group of individuals was just awesome.
Lowell: My favourite part of the weekend had to be when we spent time talking about the local LGBTQ+ community’s history and having an intentional space to be able to explore and be educated on topics like sexualised racism, serophobia, and PrEP.
Rafiki: I really enjoyed the cohort model over the two weekends. I liked the opportunities we had to discuss our experiences and stories, hear other peoples’ experiences, and to learn about our community within this group of people. Learning this information within a safe and supportive community was empowering and encouraged me to continue working within the community to build connections and make real changes.
Part of the program is focused on health education. What was unique about learning about things like sexual health and body image in a way that was tailored for GBQT guys?
Thomas: Learning specifics about the way sexual health and body image impacts GBTQ guys was fundamental to the Totally Outright experience. Usually these issues are brought up in a very general way but engaging with them more critically and in a more tailored way allows us to respond in ways that will be more accessible and successful. Any effort to address issues related to sexual health and body image needs to take into account the ways in which specific populations interact with these issues, so focusing on these in a tailored approach is definitely the desired framework.
Luke: It’s empowering to have health information that is targeted specifically towards the needs of the GBQT people in Edmonton. It helps to validate our own experiences and destigmatize talking about these issues. Doing so in that environment helped create an atmosphere of support where we were comfortable talking about issues like body image.
Lowell: It’s incredibly eye-opening to see the many things that Queer men experience and how intersectional said experiences are. It was interesting to see how sexual health was discussed in a very healthy and open environment.
Rafiki: I think that existing in a community that historically has been marginalized and continues to face marginalization and systemic barriers can make accessing sexual health as queer masc people a challenge. Having access to this material in an inclusive space is important for our well-being, growth and healing.
Also, in terms of body image, queer masc people are often given a particular image of what our bodies should look like and our community at large buys into these ideas because of capitalism. So, finding ways to discuss these images and deconstruct identity with relation to this, we can come to terms with our own identities, and move towards radical self-acceptance (radical because we can accept and embrace ourselves & our bodies even if we don’t match the images we are shown).
Another aspect of the program is its focus on building leadership capacity. Did the program change your thoughts around what it means to be a leader in the community or amongst your peers?
Thomas: More than foster a sense of community and networking, Totally Outright was important because it encourages you to speak to people with different ideas about what activism needs and about what social justice means. It was a necessary discomfort I had to go through and it reassured me that our differences and varied approaches to activism are not a weakness but a strength.
Luke: The program and the people that spoke in it were very inspiring, and showed that you don’t really need a specific background. All you need is passion and a willingness to try to become a leader and make the change that you want. Totally Outright was great for coming up with new and innovative ideas (even if some were a little ambitious), and helped you find other people who were willing to work with you to make those dreams a reality.
Lowell: The program itself showed me that I am capable of more than I give myself credit for. It helped build my competence and confidence in taking ownership for my education and advocacy. It helped me understand that I do have the emotional capacity to be able to work with something that I’m deeply passionate about.
When we asked participants what they were most looking forward to about the program, a common answer was that people wanted to meet other guys from the community somewhere that wasn’t a gay bar. Did you feel that the program provided an opportunity for you to build meaningful relationships with other guys from the community? Do you still have friends that you met at Totally Outright?
Thomas: Absolutely, I think these connections are very important. Having a space to discuss what our community needs, where we are lacking, and who we are not including is a very valuable way to engage in community and build lasting relationships. I still have many friends and connections I made because of Totally Outright.
Lowell: Totally Outright made me feel more comfortable to be able to interact with other people, knowing that they came to learn and make a difference. It also helped me to find more Queer spaces outside of the bar scene.
Rafiki: Yeah, it was cool meeting queer masc folks in a healing space rather than a space that can be a trigger and destructive for people. In this kind of space, WE got to determine what that looked like. Oftentimes, gay bars can exclude many people, including people who may struggle with trauma (intergenerational & otherwise) re: alcohol and other substances. It is radical for queer masc individuals to build community in a space that we create where all bodies and experiences are welcome.
A key component of Totally Outright is connecting guys with opportunities to get involved in community. Have you gotten more involved in community after attending Totally Outright?
Thomas: After Totally Outright was done I found myself with a vast knowledge about queer organizations in Edmonton. I am now part of the Social and Physical Health Team with the Edmonton Men’s Health Collective. Even outside of the volunteer scope, Totally Outright helped me be connected to different organizations on a support basis.
Luke: Personally, I haven’t gotten too involved with any organizations after Totally Outright, but I know that there are lots of options for volunteering and giving back that are available.
Lowell: At the end of Totally Outright, I was able to become more involved with EMHC by volunteering from time to time. Also, we were able to carry our project (Rainbow Road YEG) past TO to create an intentional space for Queer-identfied geeks and fellow enthusiasts!
For someone sitting out there who’s sitting on the fence about participating in Totally Outright this year, what would you say to convince them to go?
Thomas: You won’t regret it! So many positive things happened in my life because of Totally Outright. At first I thought it may not be for me and convinced myself it was not worth it but I decided I had nothing to lose and went. It was very fulfilling and I still reflect on the positive aspects it had on my life one year later!
Luke: There is definitely something for everyone at Totally Outright. The workshops are really cool, the moderators are all awesome, and the people you meet all want to support you, reaffirm what you’re feeling, and work with you to create something lasting.
Lowell: Totally Outright is something totally worth your while! It’ll help you discover more things about yourself and others! Also, it’ll help you find ways to be more connected and involved with the Queer community.
Rafiki: You could build connections with your community, make friends, discuss identity, and learn more about our history and experiences!
To Register for Totally Outright while there’s still space, click here: