Markus Harwood-Jones, 22, proudly wears his heart on his sleeve. He emanates confidence donning a sweater with words from anti-apartheid social activist Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The quote is fitting for the Ryerson University sociology major who is creating a documentary about transgender experiences in Canada and the United States, with grant funding from Ryerson.
The documentary, called Mosaic, is partial funded through the $6,400 in endowments Harwood-Jones received from Ryerson’s Student Project Grants (SPG) and the Project-Funds Allocation Committee For Students (P-FACS). For the film, he couch-surfed to various places like Montreal and San Francisco to share a telling narrative on how transgender individuals experience gender in a predominantly transphobic society – a curiosity that stemmed from his personal discovery as a trans male.
Harwood-Jones was born into a middle-class family in Winnipeg but moved to Toronto at 18 after coming out as transgender. He became actively involved in the Toronto trans community and volunteered his time as a group facilitator at the Sherbourne Health Centre and The 519 Church Street Community Centre. To get by, he used his artistic talents and sold paintings on the street. He took what he could from welfare and set up an apartment, but the conditions were poor. “That’s the life of poverty, especially in the big city,” he says.
With the stigma he’s experienced being a transgender male, he plans for Mosaic to be a tale about survival, community and understanding oneself. The documentary delivers candid insight into the transgender community answering a set of three questions, “ What is gender to you? Do you believe there is a community and are you apart of it? What has been your experiences with cissexism and transphobia and how do you survive that?”
Using film to frame this narrative, Harwood-Jones travels and stays with the subjects he’s studying because by “living in solidarity, you can understand the individuals complexly from that perspective.”
To find these individuals in various places, he connected with his Tumblr and YouTube followers that have supported his personal blogs over the years. Through his travels, he felt “inspired by this idea of throwing your life into the world and trusting that it would work out,” he says.
Almost finished with the post-production of the film, Harwood-Jones says Mosaic wouldn’t have been possible without the grant funding he received. “The grants allow me to take it to the next level by raising the quality of video and audio I’m working with,” says Harwood-Jones. “I hope this film will be grounds for doing another that’s internationally focused.”
If post-production goes smoothly he plans to showcase Mosaic as early as May. Ryerson equity groups Rye Pride and The Centre for Women and Trans People have already offered to show the film. There’s also interest from the University of Toronto’s LGBTout student group. By the end, Harwood-Jones hopes Mosaic “can be used in classrooms and for anti-oppression training for student unions and other on-campus positions,” he says.
After he graduates he aspires to pursue a masters degree program and continue to work on art projects. He even sees himself returning to the Sherbourne Health Centre and the 519. For now, he doesn’t want his plans have him lose sight of the present.
“For Mosaic, the biggest dream I have is for it to be successful, it was super risky but it was worth it, said Harwood-Jones.