The Student Associations’s new women and trans* person representative shares her story of personal strength
Feeling comfortable in your own skin can be a struggle for many, but for Biko Beauttah, knowing who she is and finding true self-acceptance has helped her through the country-wide rejection she faced before coming to Canada.
Beauttah explains how in Kenya, her birthplace, many are unable to accept others based on their preferred gender orientation: “The law states that it’s illegal to be gay and that those who identified openly could be imprisoned for up to 14 years.”
Now in Toronto, Beauttah is the Student Association’s newly-elected women and trans* person representative, talking openly about being a transwoman she says, “I think the word transgender is an umbrella term used to identify people who maybe feel that for whatever reason they were born in the wrong body, and how they see themselves is not the gender they were assigned at birth.”
She doesn’t limit her conception of trans people to those who choose to pursue medical changes or hormone therapy because, “some people never pursue anything and continue living in their assigned body.”
Unable to reveal her true identity, Beauttah travelled to the United States to pursue studies in medicine. But she says that there were still many challenges that prevented her from being true to herself.
Being unable to express herself in Kenya and while studying in the medical field, Beauttah decided to seek refuge in Canada in 2006, explaining that she “didn’t want to live in a place that would limit my freedom of expression, limit who I am, and from living my life,” something she says she is entitled to just as much as anyone else.
Claiming asylum when she arrived at Pearson airport, she was released into the country with only a paper that said refugee and had all her documentation taken from her.
“They took all my documentation at the airport and they released me into the country with just a paper that said refugee, so it was hard to get a landlord to rent for you (with only that paper),” said Beauttah. “I feel like refugees are discriminated against, or new immigrants in places of employment and some people might stereotype people from certain parts of the world as being undesirable.”
Her arrival was followed by six months in a refugee shelter, and it was in the days she spent there that she says she found the most joy.
“Like all immigrants, we don’t make it here because we are weak people, it’s because we’re strong,” said Beauttah who remembers looking around the room at all the people in the shelter and realizing that many of them had escaped war-torn areas and unimaginable lifestyles to those born and raised in Canada.
“The thing that I took away from that place was I literally felt like it was heaven on earth,” she said. “There were people from Afghanistan, Iran, the Congo, various parts of Africa, even South America and the Middle East, and I remember the first day I went to eat (thinking negative things beforehand) and then looking around, surrounded by people who came from such hardships, conflict zones and horrible situations.”
Describing the shelter as being the first place these people had felt safe in a long time, 10 years or more, Beauttah says they were in a place “where they didn’t have to worry about being killed by rebels, about being attacked by animals in the middle of the night, or being raped by soldiers. They had a roof over their head, food to eat, and clean drinking water.”
Everyone’s feelings of happiness, joy and gratitude were infectious, she says. “The word today is like a jungle, but I was in this bubble where everyone was just so happy. I had never experienced that in my whole life.”
Now she has not only found the comfort she deserves in a country that welcomes freedom of expression, she has also found a passion for jewellery as a jewellery arts student at George Brown College.
The positivity she received from jewellery arts students and professors, who she describes as embracing, encouraging and accepting, she says the “positive energy doesn’t need to be limited to the jewellery department,” that other areas of the campus need the same positive energy.
“All I can do is be myself,” says Beauttah, who is not ashamed of who she is. “I am a transwoman and I am open about who I am.”