Penticton local produces a docu-series telling his story of transitioning and the importance of humanity, not identity

Human first before identity

Casey Richardson

“I think it's really important to show the humanity part of it, that this is about being human first, and not about an identity.”

The producer and lead subject of a six-part documentary is hosting a discussion panel on gender and identity as part of the series' final episode in Penticton on Wednesday.

The TransMan docu-series is being produced by the filmmaking side of Tempest Theatre & Film Society, following the story of Kyler Sahlmark and the obstacles and joys of his transition from female to male.

The discussion panel at Tempest is to be filmed as part of the final episode.

Sahlmark said the journey all started when he was writing a song with his fiancee called Transman as a response to what was going on during COVID.

“We were encouraged to apply for a grant, which then I won, actually really surprisingly through Telus Storyhive,” he said, adding that he immediately thought of hiring the Tempest team to help showcase his story.

“My goal with this project is to add my voice to the growing chorus of stories from the transgender community who simply are asking to be respected as humans and individuals.”

The TransMan docu-series features Kate Twa as director, Ronan Reinart as cinematographer and editor, and Jennifer Vincent as producer.

“It was kind of a no-brainer to say ‘Yes.’ It's a real honour to be part of the team, helping to share this really impressive and very brave story,” Vincent added.

“He is very honest and open in this series. One of the most important things that we think about with his storytelling is the fact that it's a story that's probably playing out in many households and many hearts and minds. It's not told that often, [but] we're hearing more as the voices are amplifying and coming together, and Kyler is one of those leaders in those voices.”

Audiences will be introduced to Sahlmark and the challenges he's faced since having transitioned roughly five years ago.

“I really wanted to get to show people what it is to be struggling through family issues and when people don't transition with you. When someone transitions, everybody in the whole circle of their life gets to choose whether they're going to be along for the ride or not and it's hard when they choose not,” he said.

“And typically, it's not your direct family that says no, they say yes. That's kind of the painful thing to also show. There's a lot going on and families everywhere are being affected by this.”

Sahlmark said a big part of his story is the fact that he transitioned later in life, coming out at the age of 48.

“I refused all of my life to acknowledge it. I just fought it by myself, which is not the healthiest thing to do. It wasn't until I got breast cancer, actually, that changed the whole thing.”

He said he reached a point where he could no longer lie to himself.

“I was so mad at not believing in myself,” Sahlmark added. “My angle is still about self-love because until I really loved myself, I could not step through that. That was the last piece and I talked about that all my life.

“But I also was planning on my death, because I couldn't stand what I was doing, or being and I feel really bad for saying that because I was born a beautiful being.

"I love women. I'm just not one.”

While more voices of love and support come out, there are those of hate and backlash that Sahlmark said he feels come from a place of not understanding.

“They want to always look at just former symbols that were given to us as definition instead of realizing there's so much more. And then it's not that they're wrong, it's just there's so much more.”

Vincent said it is an important time to have these discussions as more 'anti-trans' policies are showing up across Canada and the US.

“There's a lot of negativity towards communities of people that I think a lot of people just don't understand. I don't think they've taken the time to meet somebody who is other than themselves and who doesn't look or feel or sound like they might be. Fear is a really strong stop energy,” she added.

“From a point of fear, you can look at things and ‘other’ them. And once you've ‘othered’ something, now you've built a bridge between you. That's what we're seeing in the world. We're seeing it locally, in some cases, but in a much larger context, in other places in the world.”

Vincent and Sahlmark hopes people will realize that they have more in common with the 2SLGBT+ community than they know, especially with a simple desire to belong.

“I battle often with my emotions, of not feeling like I belong,” Sahlmark said. “I also know that there are so many wonderful little miracles that have been showing up every day for me, of people supporting and so many positive words, and so much happening. I can't help but think that me getting to step into that and feeling the joy that I get from it, it's crazy. I know it's my true path because it feels so good.”

Vincent said through filming this project, she’s learned that everyone is on a continuum of growth.

“Fixed views, fixed understandings, things that we don't continue to be curious about, we lose. We lose when we don't continue to ask questions, we lose when we don't appreciate our curiosity about things we don't know more about and this process has been really one that has reminded me that.”

The hope is that the docu-series will provide conversation points for families and friends or individuals who are considering who they are in the world and who they might feel like they need to be.

“Every person who is brave enough to step forward and tell their truth has something to offer to somebody else who is questioning who they are,” Vincent said. “Our hope is that the series is inspiring, that it is joyful, that it is heartwarming, and that it also highlights some of the journey that is still lies ahead. There's still a lot of work to do and there's still a lot of pain and healing, and we need to talk about it. “

“I hope that they leave curious and slightly more open, that there is a bigger story going on and there's bigger truth than we've all been told. It's worth looking a little deeper, and that we know it inside,” Sahlmark added.

The discussion panel on Wednesday is also meant to create a “brave space.”

“So the ones that would benefit the most are the ones that are slightly curious, the ones that are not sure at all what's going on and where its the safer place for them to ask questions. Folks that have any LGBTQ2S+ in their family, or circle of experience, preachers, pastors, anybody from the religious side that would be willing to just listen,” Sahlmark said.

The event includes a special preview of the unreleased Episode 3: Safe Spaces.

“Episode three is all about safe spaces and places and we meet some of Kyler's spaces where he really felt comfortable to step out and grow in this identity and presence and self that he's evolving into,” Vincent said.

She added that the decision to film the discussion panel as a part of the last episode of the series comes down to wrapping up the whole series and putting some questions into the viewer's minds that they can take off to their world.

“The five preceding episodes have been a lot about Kyle's journey, and the people who have intersected and supported him along the way, whether that's spiritual or medical or social, or any of those other aspects. Episode six brings it together and situates it into the community,” she said.

"We will be looking into the question of what is identity and whether gender is actually attached directly to that or is gender a separate construct? "

Sahlmark will be facilitating the discussion panel, which features the following lineup of activists and artists from the South Okanagan Similkameen region:

  • Melisa Edgerly (They/Them): Peer Support Supervisor at Foundry Penticton and advocate for 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion, Edgerly is committed to fostering change as a queer, non-binary leader.
  • Tristan Joseph Boisvert (They/Them): An internationally recognized poet and performance artist, Boisvert directs the Penticton Arts Council, advocating for diversity and reconciliation.
  • Madeline Terbasket (They/Them): A two-spirit storyteller and president of SOS Pride, Terbasket champions inclusivity through artistic expression.
  • Cain Critchlow (All Pronouns): A poet and dancer promoting trans joy, Critchlow strives to elevate the voices of marginalized communities.
  • Kelly Terbasket (She/Her): Co-founder of IndigenEYEZ, Terbasket specializes in systemic change through relationship-building and fostering Indigenous traditions. Kelly is also mother to a non-binary child, Madeline, who is joining the panel for this discussion.
  • Will Jarratt (They/Them): An educator and former figure skater, Jarratt adds a thoughtful perspective to this important conversation.

The series received seed funding from a Telus Storyhive program called ‘Voices’ and the evening’s event is also a fundraising opportunity to help cover production costs and to promote the series in order to reach a wider audience. The full series will be available on Telus OptikTV in the fall of 2024.

Guests can enjoy drinks in the lounge, courtesy of sponsors Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, Cannery Brewing and Slackwater Brewing.

Doors will open at 7 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. start. Choose-your-price tickets ($20, $35, $50) are available at www.tempest.ca/on-stage. Guests must sign an appearance release form, though this doesn't guarantee a spot in the final edit.

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