Director Peter Walsh’s new documentary “Just Be Gemma” follows local trans-activist Gemma Hickey through a year and a half of their transition. The film will premiere on CBC Television on September 23rd at 9:00pm. After its premiere, it will be available on www.CBC.ca/docs.
St. John’s-based activist Gemma Hickey is known for playing a significant role in the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada. They are also the founder of Pathways, an agency that offers support to survivors of religious institutional abuse.
Hickey is currently engaged in a highly publicized legal battle, for fighting for Canadians’ right to identify as non-binary on government-issued documents, including passports. On November 22nd, Hickey will be bringing the issue to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Supreme Court.
“I’ve never been comfortable being gendered as a female, but I don’t want to change my name, I love my name. I’ve had top surgery but I don’t want bottom surgery. So non-binary is how I identify, it just feels right, I’m just Gemma,” Hickey said.
Hickey felt the need to document their transition to monitor how they were changing, and to create an artefact that might be useful to other trans folks. They had already collaborated with Walsh on other projects, and when the idea of a documentary came up in conversation, it felt like the right way to share Hickey’s story.
“Under Peter’s direction, I was making video dairies and he was documenting trips to doctor’s office and following me around with the camera,” Hickey explained. “Peter and his crew have been following me for about a year and a half, from my first shot of testosterone to present day. It’s been an intense year and a half.”
As a director, Walsh was interested in exploring Hickey’s experience of transitioning on a very intimate level, as opposed to focusing on how Canadian laws and policies impact trans people in general. Although he acknowledged those narratives are intertwined and impact each other.
“I knew early in the process this film was going to be about a personal journey and not a vast exploration of the issue across North America. I knew Gemma’s personal relationships would be important and I knew physical changes would be important,” Walsh said. “It was also a process of checking in with Gemma and talking about what they felt should be included.”
The film follows Hickey through their top surgery, as well as a break up and the death of their grandmother. Through all of these events Hickey was committed to documenting what they were going through as openly and honestly as possible.
“I’m hoping that my vulnerability, which I believe is my greatest strength, will help other people and especially children who are struggling and feel like they don’t have a place to fit in. I’m trying to carve out that space for them and for me,” Hickey said.