WEDNESDAY WITH — JESSIE NELSON
Photos by Katrin Braga
Where is home and where did you grow up?
Home is Vancouver and has been for the last 8 years. I am currently living in Gibsons for the summer, exploring the Coast and all its magic. I grew up in Erin Ontario on a farm. We had a big backyard surrounded by nature. I spent most of my summer days catching frogs in the pond and winters building jumps in the snow to toboggan down.
How did you relate to the idea of masculinity & femininity when you were younger? Has the meaning of words changed, or do they still mean the same thing to you?
I have only recently begun to redefine my relationship with these concepts. Masculinity to me, for the greater majority of my life, meant power, dominance, prestige, success and everything else toxic attached to that word. I equated masculinity to the pinnacle of self-worth, and I strived to achieve all of those things. Oppositely, I worked to disassociate myself from anything that might out me as feminine. So much so that I am not sure I can be clear in what I believed femininity was, other than weakness. What I am learning, and equally unlearning, as I accept and explore myself, my gender, and all the qualities that make me ‘ME’ is that those listed masculine traits I had learned and attempted to reproduce, as well as everything I ran from that I saw as feminine, are not measures of achievement or failure. They are simply part of the human quality. We all possess and are home to these qualities, regardless of gender identity or assignment. My work currently is in unlearning all of the toxic aspects of what we have made masculinity to mean, and at the same time getting curious about my femininity and how I am building a relationship with it and expressing it outwardly. These concepts have transformed drastically for me since I came out as gender fluid. Coming out has offered me the freedom to release the parts of masculinity that were stifling me, and equally start to accept and explore all of the beautiful and empowering aspects of my femininity that I had been avoiding.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
You are enough. Who you are is not broken, or flawed, or damaged. You are uniquely you and that is brave. Be ready to be the example people learn from and practice distinguishing who you are from who others tell you you should be. Be self-defined and bold in your expression and don’t wait for others to tell you who you are. You are brave beyond measure, courage unbound, and above all I love you for all that you are.
You are now the founder & creator of KITH+common, can you tell us about your company & how it came to be?
KITH+common is an inclusion consultancy that I started in 2018 shortly after I came out as trans. My work in this industry started very organically with invitations to speak at community events and on panels—sharing my story and insights. It became apparent very quickly that this conversation needed a more permanent platform. We now work with businesses, NPO’s, educational institutions and individuals to offer a wide range of services, resources and tools to help our clients create more inclusive cultures. Our ultimate goal in this work is to create space for all people to #comeasyouare and to see our collective KITH grow. KITH is the family you choose, and this house is #builtofkith.
Was there a defining moment that inspired you to start KITH+common?
June 20th, 2017 I called a suicide hotline. That was the day I chose not to quit. That was the day I decided that I was worth fighting for. After that day I began to see a counsellor, I began to come out to people closest to me—people who were safe and who I could trust. The more I talked about it, the more I practiced having those conversations, the greater my threshold for having them became. That’s the funny thing about courage—it does not deplete as it is used. Instead, courage grows as we use it, and as we seek it out within ourselves.
Courage is one of life’s rare gifts that we get to keep when we choose to give it away. Courage stays with us as we offer it to others and grows in size and value as we do so. Through the practice of courage, I discovered my purpose and my platform—KITH.
What do you love most about what you do?
Educating my community and connecting with new people. I love to impart knowledge to those who are new to these conversations and concepts, and I am equally grateful to those who challenge me, educate me, and hold me to the highest standard. I learn something new every day in this work, and I love that just when I think that I have mastered a concept or theory, I am challenged to look at it from a different lens. I hope to always be a student in this work.
What would you like to see yourself doing in 5 years?
I am into goal setting big time, and have some exciting visions for what I want KITH to get up to in the world, and in five years, the long and short is that I see myself doing this work, however that manifests. I want to be reaching more communities, creating more space for people to come as they are and continuing to push this industry forward.
What changes can people make in their daily lives to make sure they are inclusive of everyone?
- Add your pronouns to your email signature and any other online platforms you use. (He/Him/His, She/Her/Hers, They/Them/Theirs or any other pronoun that feels most comfortable. Life Hack: these can change moment to moment, day to day, year to year. You get to define who you are)
- Add a land acknowledgement to your emails and start every workplace/business meeting with a land acknowledgement. This is a small step towards recognizing both our ancestral and current involvement in the uprooting, and deculturizing of those people who’s land we stole and currently reside on. This act, like stating your pronouns, may not change anything systemically in and of itself, but it is a small act of rebellion towards our current cultural indifference to inclusion.
- Be an accomplice. Implicate yourself in this work by taking action. Volunteer, read, research, step in and up with your voice when someone is in need. Entangle yourself so deeply in the need to create space for all people to come as they are that you consequently create space for yourself to be you.
What advice would you give to designers to help them break out of outdated traditions?
Like attracts like. We seek out validation of self by finding and surrounding ourselves with others who are similar to us, or who we believe are similar. This has manifested in the world of design. We create for others what we would create for ourselves. This practice is not a bad thing, and in fact is very profitable, but it is limiting. My advice to designers would be to explore cultures, communities and expressions that they do not relate to. Work with consultants and experts in other fields to broaden your understanding of the human experience. Work to expand and challenge the current mold we have created of the human ideal. Be brave. Be willing to fail. Work towards a focus on the most marginalized of your audience, because when we focus on those who are most often forgotten, everyone is included. A great example of this is going out to a restaurant. If you have invited 8 friends out to eat, but 2 of them are not sure they will make it in time, you get a table for 8 people, not 6. That way if they show up, they have seats, and if they don’t no one is impacted. Design for the least represented and you will design for everyone.
Do you have any daily rituals?
Coffee and Kin. Coffee and Kin. Coffee and Kin. Without fail.
How do you like to spend your free time?
Eating with friends, moving my body and meeting new people. Something new that scares the shit out of me. Saying yes to everything and anything I can. Living for experience over security.
How would your best friend describe you?
I asked my best friend, my sister, to answer this question for me, which was bold, because she has a lot of shit on me ;)
“Jessie is a goal-setting rule bender that champions the underdog. Motivated in the face of adversity, they work tenaciously to challenge the confines of the status-quo. Jessie puts loyalty for loved ones above all else, and is unhindered by haters. They love to laugh, but making others laugh is their ultimate happiness. With a heart to entertain, Jessie will always help those looking for a light in a dark place. With the mind of an advocate, Jessie will always fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. And with a spirit that was built to blaze trails, Jessie will always be found on a full soul’s adventure from the rest of the pack.” – Alli Nelson