by Meredith Dault
16th November 2010
For Shannon Coyle, winning the Norman Barwin Scholarship for Reproductive Health was more than just a little extra money in her pocket -- it was an affirmation. "I was very happy," she says about hearing that she'd won the $2,500 prize, "and honestly, it made me feel a lot more motivated about my research."
Coyle, who is currently working towards a Master's degree in Gender Studies, is studying how transgendered individuals in both rural and urban settings are regarded and treated when accessing Ontario's health care system. According to Coyle, there are only two major urban centres with services specifically geared towards the needs of trans people - and they're in Toronto and Vancouver. Because of a general lack of awareness of trans issues within the health care profession, Coyle says that people who identify as trans can often face discrimination within the health care system.
Coyle's route to studying trans issues was circuitous. Though she already had an undergrad degree in Life Sciences from Queen's (class of 2001) under her belt, Coyle found herself working in the high tech sector upon graduation. When she was laid off from that job, she took some time to figure out what she wanted to do next, taking courses in health and personal training, and eventually landing a job with a chiropractor who was starting a life-coaching company. For the next three years, Coyle says she "wore every hat" -- including working one on one with clients who wanted help find balance in their lives. "Teaching people to reflect on their own lives and their levels of happiness made me self reflexive," she says with a smile. "I realized I wanted to do a second degree."
She then enrolled in some part-time night courses in human sexuality and psychology in Ottawa while she continued to work. It was there that she heard a guest lecturer whose area of expertise was in helping people transition. "I was completely compelled by her ambition and passion," recalls Coyle. "I started to do my own research on how trans people are protected (in the community), and I became a strong ally."
Then in 2007, she made the leap, embarking on a second undergraduate degree at Queen's -- this time, a Bachelor's degree in psychology and women's studies, with a specialized certificate in Gender and Sexuality. "I was considering (a career in) social work," Coyle explains, "because I wanted to do work in a specialized area that doesn't have a lot of counselling (for) gender variant individuals."
But when her department announced plans to offer a Master's degree, Coyle was quick to enroll, becoming part of the first cohort of the new program in the fall of 2009. "It was a no brainer," she laughs. As she prepares to deploy an online survey as part of her current research, Coyle is keeping busy. As well as her thesis work, Coyle is a part-time researcher with the Sexual Health Research Lab at Queen's, sits on the board of directors with the Reelout Film and Video Festival, and is involved with the Positive Space program at Queen's (Coyle initiated the very first OPIRG positive space award, which is given to a student committed to raising awareness around gender and sexuality). She also has been recently invited to co-author a chapter called "Sex Education in Canada" for a textbook on human sexuality.
Still radiant from her scholarship win, Coyle admits she didn't even know if she would meet the criteria when she first applied. Because it's awarded by Canadians for Choice, a non-profit organization, she worried that her focus on trans health might not fit the award's mandate, which Coyle figured was mainly focused on reproductive health issues. "But apparently it is," she says, smiling.
With her third Queen's degree almost under her belt, Coyle admits her sights are set on a PhD - which she is also intent on pursuing at Queen's. "I am lucky to have had so many opportunities academically at Queen's, that it just seems like a natural next step to continue my research at the university that has continuously supported me and my research interests."