NSCAD student puts old name and identity to rest

Beck Osborne commemorates letting go of their old name in a NSCAD-sponsored art installation.

by Mat Wilush

Beck Osborne prepares for The End
Beck Gilmer-Osborne prepares for The End. (Mat Wilush/Peninsula News)

Beck Gilmer-Osborne teeters above, hanging black balloons and black streamers in the small gallery. Tables have been set up in a corner next to a sound system. Large black block letters spelling out, “THE END,” dangle from the ceiling, held up by glinting silver string. Later, Oreos and coffee will be served for guests.

One would never assume that Beck was preparing for a funeral.

“This funeral is for the death of a name,” says Beck, a fine arts student at NSCAD. “Not just as a sad event, but as a celebration.”

Beck identifies as gender queer and eschews all gendered pronouns, preferring “they” to any other. Beck arranged a funeral performance at Plan B on Thursday to raise funds (through donations) for a legal name change, and to celebrate the end of an identity.

Titled “The End,” Beck plays the role of a funeral director who, once the party guests arrive in the decorated gallery, offers a eulogy to the old identity and name, Rebecca Anne Gilmer-Osborne.

“It’s based off of traditional eulogies, but making reference to her as a name,” Beck says. “I’m going to read poetry from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran, which was the first book she bought when she moved to Halifax.”

Following the eulogy, friends get a chance to share a memory of Rebecca. A dance party follows.

“I knew that I wanted to have a party,” Beck explains, “something for all of the community support that I’ve received. I couldn’t have done it financially or emotionally without everybody. I couldn’t be where I am now.”

Beck and Genevieve Flavelle prepare the Plan B gallery for a funeral
Beck and Genevieve Flavelle refurbish the Plan B gallery with black decor. (Mat Wilush/Peninsula News)

Beck is already weeks into the name-change process and expects to be done in six months to a year.

Mourning through the evening

Beck presented “The End” as an instalment in NSCAD’s Mourning Week – a week of art installations throughout the city that invoke themes of loss and rebirth. “The End” is, fittingly, the last performance of the event.

“Beck really solidified Mourning Week,” says Laura Baker-Roberts, Mourning Week’s chief organizer. “They came up to me with the idea, and that really got things rolling. I think that it’s a beautiful gesture for Beck to perform for us.

“One thing that we’ve been talking about all week is the transcendence that can occur when we let go of something. Letting go is a celebratory act, even though it comes from a dark place.”

While Beck has been going by that name for many years now, they still feel that this process is an act of “putting something to rest.”

“This is a process of self-making while still preserving where I come from, and my family ties,” Beck says.

The Mourning after

Although “The End” was originally intended to raise money for Beck’s own name change, Beck was able to raise the necessary $500 through gofundme.com, a crowdsourcing website. Beck has since decided to use all funds raised from their funeral event towards a fund for other trans and queer students that would be otherwise unable to change their names.

While talks with South House, a local LGBTQ resource centre, are still in the works, Beck hopes that, in time, this could become a sustainably affordable fund.

“Identity doesn’t always translate through a name,” Beck says. “While $500 doesn’t seem like that much, for a student, it could be impossible to manage alone.”

However, for Beck, the mourning period is nearly over.

“I have a feeling that I’ll be really happy tomorrow,” Beck laughs.

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CORRECTION: March 24, 2014 | An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Beck Gilmer-Osborne as Beck Osborne.