Last spring, filmmaker and activist Joshua M. Ferguson made headlines around Canada when they received Ontario’s first non-binary birth certificate, the climax of a lengthy struggle with the Ontario government. In their new memoir, Me, Myself, They, Ferguson writes candidly and clearly about the traumas, victories and life experiences. It’s a book that’s alternately raw and inspiring, horrifying and eye opening.
Raised in Napanee, Ferguson writes about their rough childhood: teasing, bullying and visits to a doctor for gender conversion therapy, who recommended Ferguson’s parents raise them to fit into a specific mould. School was harder: bullying, abusive teachers and a system that didn’t know what to do with them, so it shuffled Ferguson around. They write about changing schools many times, and eventually finding a theatre program where they found themselves.
However, there are stories about the intense traumas Ferguson’s experienced. They re-create the scene of a vicious hate crime where they were nearly murdered by a group of men. Or there’s a hard-to-read story about being sexually assaulted by adults who plied them with liquor. Ferguson’s telling of these stories shows the hard lessons they had to learn as they grew up: they’re hard to read, but they also explain how these events helped shape them into the person they are today:
“It took another decade after my attack to come to terms with myself, and to reclaim who I am, but I am here now in these words, and with you in these pages, transformed by my trauma into a loving and empathetic human being.” (pg 79).
Of course, there is a lot more to their story than this. Ferguson goes into their deep love of film, and their growth and experience as a filmmaker. They recap past works, telling what went into the making of films like Whispers of Life, and the difficulty of getting independent films financed and made. In a particularly moving section, Ferguson write about Florian, their long-term partner in work and life. And they explain how getting their PhD helped them find the words to express their identity and come to peace with themselves.
Indeed, one thing Me, Myself, They does well is the clear and simple way Ferguson writes about gender and identity. It’s a subject prone to academic jargon and dense language, but they write about issues in a direct, concise manner. For example: “There are no rules about a non-binary identity. But it isn’t about choosing frivolously from one day to the next. My experience with gender matches my feeling and the way my self exists on and inside my body.” This is a statement anyone can understand, and it’s a key part of what makes this book good.
At times however, the book feels like a snapshot of a specific time and place: Canada of the mid part of this decade. In the months since Ferguson got their corrected birth certificate, a new party has formed the Ontario government and Premier Doug Ford has met with people like Jordan Peterson, who made their name by arguing against transgender rights. A looming Federal election in the fall brings the strong possibility of a ruling Conservative government, and with it, the chance of a rolling-back of these rights.
Although the sense of optimism and victory speaks to a time when it felt possible to be open about one’s self; Ferguson’s words about being a warrior – an Amazon, as they write – may prove to be more inspiring than anything else in the book. As they fought against teachers, bullies, and ultimately the government to be recognized as the person they are, Ferguson hasn’t just set an example, but became a major figure of the Canadian LGBTQ movement.
All in all, Me, Myself, They, is an interesting and inspiring read, and one that keeps things simple and easy to understand. People well versed in these issues may find they’re already familiar with many of the ideas and terms within, but people new to them will appreciate Ferguson’s clarity, not to mention the helpful glossary in the back. Recommended, especially for those with trans or non-binary loved ones.