We could learn from Iceland

Do you know someone who works hard, always puts others first and never takes a break? We probably all know people like that but how often do we get an opportunity to actually reward them for their special qualities? TV program Operation Vacation makes this a reality as it receives nominations from families and friends on possible and deserving candidates for the show. The lucky chosen ones are offered a dream vacation that they otherwise would not be able to indulge in.

Jack Fox from Canada is one of the lucky participants of Operation Vacation which recently brought him to Iceland. Jack turns 30 on August 30th of this year and currently works in the entertainment industry. He is also a trans-man. Jack studied community support work and has through the years worked and volunteered with people with disabilities and at risk individuals. Jack kindly agreed to give us an interview on his tourist experience of Iceland.

Icelanders have a reason to be proud

When asked about the reasons why he was selected to be on the TV Show, Jack modestly confesses that the idea of the program is to give back to good people and alas, he was chosen. At an early age he started working to support his mother and sister and at the age of 18 he moved to England to volunteer in a college for people with disabilities. He currently voluntarily produces an LGBTQ magazine show that airs on two networks in Canada.

Jack and Shayne with adsf and adsf, hosts of Operation Vacation.
Jack and Shayne with Claire Newell and Karl Scmid, the hosts of Operation Vacation.

Prior to that Shayne Forster, a long time friend, travel companion on the trip to Iceland and main nominator for Operation Vacation, created alongside with Jack, the first trans-man calendar project showcasing FTM individuals at various stages of life and transition. The project travelled around the world and they did trips to various places educating and bringing awareness to trans-issues.

Although he had never told anyone about his desire to go to Iceland and experience its beauty firsthand, miraculously, his friends and family chose the location or as he puts it himself: “Well, technically the Universe selected Iceland and everyone agreed.”

So off he went with Shayne and a TV crew consisting of a camera operator and director/producer. “Shayne and I were also provided with a handy-cam to document our experience,” he adds.

It was Jack’s first time in Iceland. “But…,” he says “… hopefully not the last, it really spoke to me. In my experience the people are very proud of their country and so they should be, from the well thought out architecture, to the climate, to the water, to the land, it truly is a stunning place.”

Standing on tectonic plates

Jack did have some predefined ideas of the country’s low crime rate, small population and active volcanoes. But what did he actually do when he got here?

Shayne, Jack and Jonny adsf
Shayne, Jack and cameraman Johnny trying out a quad bike.

“On the first day Shayne and I used a good old fashion paper map and checked out the landmarks around Reykjavík, then viewed the capital city from the tower in Hallgrímskirkja and ended off the day with burgers and beer in a pub.” During the following days tour guide Guðni Kristinsson from Pink Iceland took them snowmobiling with Arcanum Glacier Tour, ATVing with Adventures Iceland, to view Seljalandsfoss, as well as two other waterfalls. “We dipped our feet in a hot spring at the geothermal park. From there we experienced the Golden Circle bus tour where we saw the Geyser and a huge waterfall, Gullfoss, with our final stop to stand on tectonic plates.”

Asked whether there were any surprises Jack swiftly replies that after a walking tour around Reykjavík with Hannes Pálsson from Pink Iceland, he discovered a card in his apartment, inviting him to spend a relaxing afternoon in the Blue Lagoon. “We did a lot of adventuring around so to spend a day relaxing at the Lagoon was a great surprise. I got to enjoy a mud mask as well as a steam facial. My skin has never been so smooth. Then we soaked for hours in the warm water, while having a beverage from the outdoor bar.”

A diverse queer scene

At night out at Kiki Queer Bar.
At night out at Kiki Queer Bar.

During his visit to Iceland Jack also took in note some interesting differences between the Icelandic versus Canadian gay/transgender scene. “I found the queer (or in Icelandic “hinsegin”) scene to be incredibly diverse and supportive of each other. In Canada, more specifically in the lower mainland of BC there is quite a divide between the LGBTQ communities, with many individuals keeping to their particular letter.”

He mentions for example Davie St, which is predominately gay men and then Commercial Drive with a large population of lesbians, with the occasional cross over. The trans community is also quite divided between female to male and male to female.

“Meanwhile, Iceland has one bar and one building where everyone comes together, respecting each other’s sexual preference, gender, etc. On top of this, Iceland has had an LGBTQ individual represent their Country (former PM Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir) and has officially adopted a bill protecting transgender individuals. Canada has yet to pass such a bill, in fact one was attempted but however thrown out and currently a second one is still waiting to be passed. To sum it up, I would like to ask Canada to learn a thing or two from Iceland.”

Canada has a long way to go

When asked about transitioning Jack tells us he started actively thinking about it in 2003. However it wasn’t until 2006 that he officially went on testosterone. He had to live for two years as a man before being considered for surgery and continues: “…when I hit the two-year mark the government changed the timeline to one year, so everyone hitting one year at the same time as my two years were put on the same waiting list for surgery, approximately 10 to 15 years, alas I paid for my chest reconstruction with credit cards.”

Jack works in the entertainment industry and recently met actress Laverne Cox, famous for her role on Orange is the New Black.

The unjust treatment does not stop at that as Jack explains: “As well in order to change the gender marker on my birth certificate I had to under go a total hysterectomy as well as chest surgery. There is a movement to change this requirement as it’s quite inhumane to suggest that sterilization must occur in order to identify as the appropriate gender.”

To further support his claims of the prejudice still existing in Canada, Jack gives us a chilling example: “After having chest surgery, I had an unfortunate incident where Shayne had to call 911. When the paramedics arrived and discovered I was transgender they began to treat me very poorly, making inappropriate decisions. I knew this was not OK so I collected their badge numbers from the hospital and filed a human rights complaint. As a result BC ambulance had to create a policy protecting trans individuals from discrimination; a best practice procedures section in their curriculum to be used when training new paramedics. As well as changing their intake forms to reflect the experience of all individuals.”

Each moment was a highpoint

Each moment was a high point. One was getting to stand on tectonic plates.
Each moment was a high point. One was getting to stand on tectonic plates.

Going back to the subject of his vacation Jack generously compliments Iceland and feels that his experience with Icelanders was nothing short of fantastic. “Everyone was incredibly friendly and easy to get along with. When I found out I was coming to Iceland I was nervous because I do not speak Icelandic. As well, I could not stop thinking about how the people of the country feel about tourists – we can be such pains. But nope, everyone was welcoming and excited to teach me about their beloved country.”

But what does Jack feel was the highpoint of his seven-day vacation in Iceland?
“There were many high points and by the end my neck hurt from my looking up at all the beauty. But truly the highpoint was being given the opportunity to travel to a country with such integrity and love. From the gorgeous landscape to the friendly Icelandic faces, each moment spent in Iceland was a highpoint.”

The TV crew was equally pleased and the consensus across the board was – Iceland is an absolutely spectacular place that all parties would return to.

When asked if he would one day consider to return, he immediately answers: “I would come back to Iceland in a heart beat.”

Operation Vacation is currently airing in the US on LogoTV, with episodes available online to US residents. The air date for OUTtv and Travel and Escape has yet to be determined.

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