Savannah Burton writes the script on positive representation.
By Sarah Fox
Photography by Jesse Lozier
Savannah Burton urges Canadians to be true to themselves. The transgender actress—best known for her appearances in television shows including Beauty and the Beast & Killjoys—herself, lives by the those words.
Savannah is from Corner Brook, located on the west coast of Newfoundland. Growing up, she didn’t know anyone who identified as trans.
She left her small town for Toronto in her early 20s, hopeful that the diverse metropolis might ease her transition. In her mid-thirties, after over a decade of attempts, Savannah made her full transition.
When it was time to re-enter her community, Savannah feared that limited exposure to trans people might spur hostility and discrimination, but her experience proved otherwise. “I was really scared, but people were great,” she shares. For her, this support revealed a great Canadian value: inclusion.
The evidence, indicates Savannah, is in the government’s recent passing of Bill C16 last month, which adds protection of gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code.
If you ask Savannah who is leading such strides towards understanding and acceptance, she’ll be quick to answer: “Younger generations.” As she suggests, the diverse and inclusive culture youth are cultivating among themselves means transgender people are “not as foreign;” there is an awareness that helps combat stigma.
In her own life, Savannah contributes to such awareness by pushing for better representation on screen. “I believe a lot of society gets its education through what they see on film and television,” Savannah postulates. “If you see a trans person on a TV show on a weekly basis and it’s not centered on their transition or sensationalized, you can get a lot more understanding of what they’re going through—you can see that trans people are really like everybody else.”
Though she acknowledges that altering the portrayal of trans people in film and television is a “long-term undertaking,” Savannah herself exemplifies the opportunities available.
Among those is a position on the Canadian Women’s National Dodgeball Team. Savannah is proudly the first trans Canadian person to compete in team sports internationally. The accomplishment is a natural fit. “I try to be out there doing my thing, whether it’s sports or acting.”
By overcoming barriers and seizing every chance, Savannah hopes to encourage others to chase their dreams. “You owe it to yourself to live an authentic life,” she declares. Read on to learn about what Savannah dreams for her ideal Canada.
Why is “we” stronger than “me?”
I’ve always thought that working together is such a powerful means to a process. You can get so much more accomplished as a team—you learn from the people you’re working with. “We” is so much more powerful.
What is the kindest action you’ve been on the receiving end of, and what about the gesture touched you personally?
When I was in my 20s, I was in a really tough spot and on a pretty bad road. Somebody helped me out and taught me a lot of life skills that I really needed to learn. He taught me a lot about life and improved my life situation incredibly. I got back into school (I went to Ryerson for a Marketing Management certificate), I learned some really good cooking skills and I started really exercising for the first time in my life. I don’t think I would be where I am now without that help.
Fill in the blank: Moving forward into the next 150 years, our country needs [blank] in order to build a more caring and compassionate Canada.
A lot more empathy and a lot less judgment.
Describe the core values of your ideal Canada.
Thoughtful, open to change, understanding and empathetic.
Those are some qualities that are really important—a willingness [for people] to educate themselves on topics they don’t necessarily know about and being less judgmental towards people they don’t understand [or] haven’t had a lot of experience with.
What’s one action you want people to take in order to build a better country?
I think [about] the education factor. The more we know, the less judgmental we are and the more empathetic we can be. We’re in this to learn about each other.