MARGOT DURLING’S CHOSEN FAMILY CELEBRATES GENDER BEYOND THE BINARY
New animation representing the diversity of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities aims to make youth feel valued, supported, and safe.
“By supporting this work, the NAC is saying ‘we don’t just believe in this message for this time of the year [Pride], we believe in this message year round.’ And I think that is so aspirational because the impact that these types of installations can have is profound. It can be life changing,” said Margot Durling.
This summer, an animation of Chosen Family, a permanent installation in Halifax/Kjipuktuk by non-binary, transgender and queer artist Mr. Margot Durling will be adapted to illuminate the Kipnes Lantern. The vibrant work is a colourful celebration of gender identities, sexualities, and relationships.
Durling is a visual artist and Creative Director at Fathom Studio in Dartmouth who were recently shortlisted to design a National Monument for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in Ottawa.
For the original installation (at the Halifax Common), Durling playfully altered the traditional female and male symbols to create a colourful alphabet—a universal language that speaks to our interconnectedness.
“The whole idea behind the installation is to invite people to think beyond the binary. While the term non-binary is relatively new, gender non-conforming people have actually existed for a long time,” explained Durling, who uses they/them pronouns.
Positive representations can play an important role in creating an environment of acceptance, inclusion and belonging—especially for those who have historically been excluded, marginalized, or misrepresented.
“Families look a bit different nowadays,” explains Durling. “Being accepted and loved unconditionally is a beautiful thing and something we can all relate to. That’s what [Chosen Family] is really about,” they added.
“I think one of the most fascinating things about this story is the shift from a built environment to a digital screen. The permanent installation in Halifax captures a moment in time, whereas this installation is temporary, ephemeral, and has allowed me to expand on the concept even more,” explains Durling.
“Through the magic of animation, we were able to show the impact of acceptance and belonging. A fluid rotation of bodies dance, gather in protest and hold each other up, representing how we all adapt, change, and grow together. This graphic language has an infinite ability to express human relationships.”
SUPPORTING VISIBILITY AND ACCEPTANCE
Durling believes having all genders represented can help normalize unconventional identities and pave the way for those who are striving to come into their authentic selves.
“Seeing yourself reflected in the built environment is a deep source of validation and belonging, and I hope this art does that for people that are walking by,” Durling said.
Durling explains that unfortunately, being accepted and included is not always the norm for many people who live outside the traditional male and female identities. They described the tragic impact discrimination and nonacceptance can have on trans individuals who are more at risk of suicide, mental illness and targeted violence.
“Believe it or not, even now, coming out is still a challenge for some people. So part of this is reminding people that it’s okay to just be yourself. And for our allies, a reminder to continue to stand with us,” they said.
Durling has faced their fair share of discrimination. Despite how challenging it has been to share their personal journey in public, the need for more visibility in public art and spaces continues to be vital.
“As we see a shift towards including non-binary identities in public discourse, this art is a reminder—to include us in your intake forms, your washroom signage, your gender markers.”
WHAT IS A CHOSEN FAMILY?
“Many people in our community use this term [chosen family], to describe the unique queer kinships with people who not only accept you fully, but honour and celebrate that in ways that are magical.”
Durling explains that within queer communities, many are still excluded or rejected by their families of origin. Instead, people often turn to chosen families who provide safe space and radical acceptance.
Their own experience carries the trauma of rejection. “There’s a deep irreversible wound that happens when you are not accepted by your own family,” they said. It was the bonds created by deep and enduring friendships that empowered them to feel accepted for who they are, and the affirmation to be themselves.
CELEBRATING 2SLGBTQIA+ COMMUNITY
Since Chosen Family was installed on the Halifax Commons, Durling describes the powerful impact it has had on members of the community—providing a sense of healing, visibility and community placemaking for many.
“The response has been heartwarming, particularly from families who, for the first time in the world, or in the built environment, are seeing a likeness of them. A work that is sharing the message that, ‘Not only is it okay to be you, but it’s beautiful. A lot of parents have written to me to saying ‘you know, this ended up being a great catalyst for a conversation in our family, that we may not have been able to speak about otherwise,” they said.
“By supporting this work, the NAC is saying ‘we don’t just believe in this message for this time of the year [Pride], but we believe in it at all times of the year.’ And I think that is so aspirational because the impact that these types of installations can have is profound. It can be life changing,” said Margot Durling.
Chosen Family is featured on the Kipnes Lantern on National Non-Binary People’s Day (July 14) and during Ottawa’s Pride celebrations in August.
For people who want to learn more about the subject, here are some resources;
Questioning : https://positivespacenetwork.ca/resources/
Need to talk and/or support: https://interligne.co/en/tools-and-information/
Resources for parents of non-binary and trans youth : https://gendercreativekids.com/resources
Learn More about Pride in Canada:
In Canada, local Pride events span over the course of several months In Canada, from June to September. 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and allies come together at different times throughout the summer to spotlight the resilience, talent, and contributions of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities in many Canadian cities.
Historically, pride gatherings emerged from the first large-scale protests for 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, which took place in Canada with demonstrations in Ottawa and Vancouver in 1971 — 50 years ago. By 1973, Pride events were held in several Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Toronto’s Pride weekend in June is now among the largest Pride events in North America.