Activist turned author, Gemma Hickey shares their cathartic walk for cause and clarity in their riveting and profound new memoir Almost Feral
Longtime readers of The Newfoundland Herald are well acquainted with Gemma Hickey. The tireless activist and advocate for LGBTQ rights has been making headlines and enacting positive change in the social sphere for decades.
The wave of change
As a pioneering force in the transgender community, Hickey has been at the head of waves of change, helping to implement policy and working towards greater good across North America, Asia and even the Vatican.
Hickey can now add published author to their list of titles. Almost Feral, Hickey’s first foray into the literary world, chronicles their 908-kilometre trek across Newfoundland to raise awareness and funds in support of survivors of religious institutional abuse in the summer of 2015.
It was a painstaking journey both emotionally and physically for Hickey, one that led to the realization that they are transgender, and one that served as an allegory for a lifelong hike uphill on the road less travelled.
“I grew up reading and writing and I always wanted to be a writer, but I got sidetracked with all of these other things I’ve been involved in,” Hickey shared in a sitdown with The Herald.
‘Literature saved me’
“Literature saved me in many ways, took me places when I couldn’t leave some difficult times. In books, anything was possible. And my imagination took me out of a lot of unfortunate circumstances. I believe that is what made me, coupled with reading, a writer.”
For Hickey, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, the conception and writing of Almost Feral has proved to be a cathartic process, one that has helped them with their own personal healing.
“The walk was really important in my journey in terms of coming to terms with a lot of aspects about my past,” Hickey shared.
“They kind of all merged into this one line as I was walking, in a way. Throughout the book there’s this movement, not just from one place to another, but there’s a journey inward. I wanted to symbolize that transition, not just a physical one, but an emotional one as well. Whenever you’re writing things resurface. For me I don’t think I realized the amount of emotional excavating that I would have to do for this book. A lot of things surfaced all at once,” Hickey admits.
A new kind of catharsis
“It was cathartic, again, but at the same time I think important for the writing to be true. I was writing a memoir. There’s something in there for everyone and I don’t hold anything back. I never wanted to be one of those people that gets up in front of other people and isn’t genuine. I do believe that a lot of my success comes from the fact that my main goal is to connect with people. For me, I wanted to bring people into my life in a different way.”
Hickey admits that the writing bug has them bitten well and proper, with Almost Feral concluding in such a way that future books were not only possible, but logical.
And it’s an easy sell. Hickey is one of the preeminent trailblazers for transgender rights on not only a provincial or national scale, but globally. “There’s a number of stories within the story, so I wanted to reflect on that in my writing. But I also wanted to show people that life isn’t a straight line,” Hickey explains. “I’ve ended the book in a way to open it up for my next book. It’s not about one thing, it’s about many things. But I weave it all in together nicely. I’m proud of it.”
Gemma gives back
Hickey is donating half of the proceeds of Almost Feral to the Pathways Foundation, an organization they founded as a living monument to those who have suffered abuse at the hands of clergy and lay officials in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I wanted to share my experiences with other people, but I also wanted to keep building on the survivor narratives that are out there and add my voice to the choir of voices that have been advocating on behalf of clergy survivors around the world.”
And while revisiting those emotions and feelings associated with the walk, many of them painful, was no easy task, Hickey hopes Almost Feral will serve as yet another branch of their work in a field they have dedicated a better part of their life to, a story that is as much universally themed as it is a singular story of struggle and survival.
“When your story is in your own words it’s that much more intimate and people feel that much more connected to you. I feel like in many ways it’s our story because it goes back to revisit one of the darkest chapters in this province’s history.
“But the story isn’t really about a transgender person coming to terms with their identity as much as it is coming to terms with settler colonialism, as much as is coming to terms with growing up Roman Catholic and never feeling like you’re fitting in anywhere,” Hickey adds.
“For me it’s about no matter how different we may think we are, we’re the same. We’re not that different. We all experience joy and we all experience pain. We all feel those emotions in the same sort of ways. You know, life is a journey for us all and it’s a struggle in many ways for us all. That’s the universal narrative throughout the book that I think I wanted to convey to everyone, that we don’t need our differences to divide us. In fact, we don’t need anything to divide us at all because there’s so many different places that our lives intersect.”
Almost Feral is available at breakwaterbook.com and wherever local books are sold!