Mikayla Odut is no stranger to Flin Flon’s music scene, but her Christmas show later this week is all new - in more ways than some might think.
The basics of the show are such - the show is called Carols from Home' and will feature roughly an hour and a half of tunes, mostly through flute and singing, livestreamed and recorded in Flin Flon on Odut’s Flin Flon Flutist Facebook page Dec. 23.
“I wanted to shake it up, change the feeling of it, make it a little more casual because I understand there’s a difference with a livestream - nobody wants anything super formal, because let’s face it, everybody’s going to be watching in their pajamas anyway,” she said.
The livestream is Odut’s first performance as a woman for a Flin Flon-heavy audience. The show itself is a fundraiser, with proceeds going toward Odut’s ongoing gender transition. Between formally changing her name, gender and fingerprints (which haven’t changed, but are required to be updated under Manitoba’s current rules) in Manitoba provincial records, Odut needs to raise about $450 to cover her costs.
“It’s just the paperwork I need to legally change my sex, on paper,” she said.
No two gender transition stories are the same - some people transition slowly over the course of years, while others make the change as quickly as possible. Some include surgical procedures, some include hormone treatment, some include entirely new identities. Odut was assigned male at birth and presented as male until after she graduated from Hapnot Collegiate in 2018.
Odut’s transition began in earnest last year, after moving to Ottawa to attend university, but she said her first experience with gender dysphoria was as a child, as young as six years old.
“I started thinking of myself differently and every time I thought of myself as a woman, I was so happy,” she said.
The transition started small - Odut lists getting her ears pierced as a first step, for instance - but has included bigger steps along the way. Odut is now undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) treatment, covered through her health insurance - changing her government paperwork is the next of those steps.
“There’s a lot of steps and a lot of struggle - it takes an emotional toll pretty well every day,” she said.
“One thing that’s been tough, especially lately, is people telling me I’m dressing too extravagantly. I haven’t been able to all these years - now I’m dressing up for fun all the time. Self-expression is absolutely a part of this.”
Earlier this year, Odut told family members and close friends of her transition for the first time, mostly through a series of handwritten letters she sent in March.
“I was at work when my phone started going crazy - five missed calls from mom, seven texts from mom, three texts from dad - my dad doesn’t text,” she said.
“I looked at my manager and I said, ‘Ah s***, I think the letters arrived today.”
Her public coming out took place on April 1 - Transgender Day of Visibility - through a series of social media posts for everyone not already in the loop.
Since then, Odut performed in her first opera earlier this year and has been part of choir performances out east. Odut said that while not everyone in her life pre-transition was supportive, she still has a firm base of support and her friends have stayed.
“I feel it’s been fairly good. I haven’t really lost anyone that’s been important to me. I’ve lost some more casual friends, but that doesn’t bother me too much. My best friends have become even closer,” she said.
Loved ones may have awkward moments or use the wrong name or set of pronouns - Odut said while those incidents do hurt, she knows they’re often said by people who are trying to get it right.
“People may not all understand, but they want to try and support,” she said.
Odut said that for her, the best way to support trans people (especially those who have recently transitioned) is to be open, kind and willing to listen.
“The best way to show support has been for people to keep one ear open, if I have to correct other people, or even just asking after a conversation if everything they said was okay. When they show hope for improvement, I can’t get mad at them - it shows that they care,” she said.
“It’s really hard for us to transition and go through such a big life change ourselves. Anyone who expresses any kind of concern or will to find out, that’s going to come with open arms.”
Before, Odut would perform small Christmas shows in living rooms and small venues, preparing a number of standards - including baroque carols - for intimate groups. Odut hopes to move those shows from a strait-laced, by-the-book style feel to a more free-flowing, casual performance - though some of the classics will still appear.
“It’s going to be a bit of a mixed bag, because it’s going to be some of my familiar favourites on the flute, a couple of which I've done before, which are super cool,” she said.
“There's this electronic music version accompaniment of We Three Kings and Carol of the Bells, which I absolutely love and I’m bringing back. I’m going to do a little version of Santa Baby too - I’m probably the only person who would program that in the same show as O Holy Night.”
It’s important to Odut to continue to perform, not only to express herself but to show any other gender-questioning person that there’s a positive way ahead.
“I think that, in one sense of mind, like, even friends I know or colleagues that I have in Ottawa, connections that I've made like at band camp or other things, I think it's really important that they see someone that is gender-diverse, thriving and having their own programs out there,” she said.