Author Archive

Counting The Cost

(Crossposted to Transadvocate.com) 

If my previous post seemed a little scattered and emotional, there’s a reason for it.  The first trans community function I ever attended was a TDoR function, as was the first event I ever MCed outside a support group.   I’ve been sensitive to transphobic violence at every step, and my own transition began with violence.  But seeing the settings for it shift to schools was not something I was prepared for.

At or around November 20th of every year, the transgender community commemorates a day of remembrance (TDoR) for transgender folk who have died as a result of transphobic or homophobic violence.  Since that memorial, fifteen more homicides involving transgender victims have occurred:

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“Sometimes, We Just Have to Pay Full Price.”

(Crossposted to Transadvocate.com) 

My partner is a nut about sales.  If it isn’t on sale, it doesn’t get purchased.  So sometimes, when we run out of a breakfast staple and such, I have to remind her of that basic fact of life:  “sometimes, we just have to pay full price.”

And then, the phrase comes back to haunt me.  This usually happens around the evenings, these days.  She’s been talking about returning to work in a capacity which would take her out to job sites with contractors and crew, some of whom could know from her previous 20 years of work in that trade that she is trans.  And I’ve been having troubling dreams about both that and my own job, where I’ve been back for several months with no trouble beyond the occasional rude exchange, and now all of a sudden I’m dreaming repetitively about getting shot in the head.  The latter is not something I’m actually afraid of during the light of day, so I’m wondering what is bringing this all on.  Am I sensing something nasty coming, or am I just reading the trans-related news way too much?  And that’s when that dirty little voice says to me, “sometimes, we just have to pay full price.”

And that’s when I start thinking about how far we’ve come… or haven’t as the case may be.  The first GRS surgeries were performed in the 1940s, and with the rise of Nazi Germany and its pogroms, the invention of “stealth” soon followed.  We’ve been in hiding ever since.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m on record as defending a woman’s and man’s right to go stealth if they feel it’s best for them.  We earn that.  But the wholesale movement toward stealth — the lack of barely anybody to stay behind and educate the masses — has meant that we’ve only made small strides during that time.  The first known piece of trans-inclusive legislation didn’t happen until 1993, and most of those strides have been since then.  And without adult transfolk there to lay that groundwork, a crisis has developed.  Because now it is children on the front lines.

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Human Rights Tribunal Hears Access-to-Services Case in Ontario

I’d like to draw attention to a recent case in Canada brought to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), which as far as I can see, has so far only made waves with right-wing folk — such as the Ezra Levant crowd and Margaret Wente’s article in the Globe and Mail.  The case involves two complaints of denial of services against a plastic surgeon, Dr. Robert Stubbs, who specializes in tidying up and shaping genitalia.  Both complainants were refused services because they are transsexual.

The first complainant, Michelle Boyce, had GRS (Genital Reassignment Surgery) in 2001, performed in Wisconsin.  The result was flawed: one labial fold was larger than the other, and another intrusive flap of skin made sex painful.  In a consultation with Dr. Stubbs, she received a good price quote and then later in the examination room — when he found out that she is a post-operative transsexual — he abruptly ended the consultation and invited her to leave.

 The other complainant, Jenn Finnan, was refused treatment to augment her breasts.

 Dr. Stubbs’ case states that structure of genitals and chests of post-operative transsexuals differ from those of natal females, and therefore being transsexual was medically relevant.  While there is some virtue to this with regard to genital surgery, it is far less relevant with regards to the difference between a natal female chest and a developing female chest.  And even so, in both cases, there was no explanation given at the time, no discussion with clients of their alternatives, there was just an abrupt end-of-meeting refusal to treat transsexuals that would probably not have happened if the refusal stemmed from some other biological or physical condition — an indication that a personal bias was very likely at work.

 There is some discussion about the right of a doctor who performs elective surgeries to refuse treatment.  It takes on far more serious overtones, however, when other options are not available.  And when my own experience has shown me that refusal to treat is far more common among cosmetic surgeons than willingness (I know of only one doctor in the entire province of Alberta, for example, who will perform breast augmentation, and two others who only on rare occasions have relented in the past), and that those willing doctors tend to charge far more for those services, this does become an access-to-care issue. 

While the lack of treatment is not life-threatening in these cases, there certainly are such precedents in North America, most notably Robert Eads in Georgia (who was profiled in the documentary Southern Comfort), and was refused treatment for ovarian and cervical cancer by over two dozen doctors before finally finding a clinic once the cancer was too far gone to save him.  So the potential implications extend far beyond these cases.

But this story isnt written yet:  I challenge those in the Canadian GLB and T communities to watch this one, and, when / if they can, get involved.

Archive: Conversion Therapy In The Womb?

The article that this references goes back in time, and this article is no longer timely to it, I suppose. But some of the thoughts and ramifications might still be valid, and a little chilling.
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It looks particularily creepy, the AP headline subtitle:  “Seminary president Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr. says gayness is probably biological and that in-utero ‘ex-gay’ treatment would be justified.”

It demonstrates how quickly genies can sometimes get out of the bottle.  Reading Mohler’s original blog ( http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=891 ) does in fact verify his later refutations:  he doesn’t actually state that homosexuality is genetic in origin (what he says is that he believes that science will eventually make that case, and that he pre-emptively doubts the veracity); he also doesn’t advocate tinkering with genetics, but speculates that it could happen.  He does, however, reassert the traditional Church position that sexual orientation is a choice and all that one has to do is simply not choose it.  We’ll get back to that.

But the genie is out of the bottle.  Mohler has been painted as the new granddaddy of eugenics, and the wars of words are on. 

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Walking Through the Valley of Shadows

(As I’d mentioned, it’s time to move on from the previous discussion.  I admit, I probably wouldn’t have reacted as badly if the debate hadn’t touched on something that was freshly raw for me personally, but as it is still a raw nerve, we’ll leave the HBS thing be.  I thought I’d go with something far less controversial.  Politics is being overdone right now, what with all the stuff on the primaries, so I thought I’d take on Religion.)

Modern churches do an excellent job of creating an equation between the questioning of fallible teachers, preachers, copyists and translators, and the questioning of God Himself.  You can do one without necessarily doing another.  But “all scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16) is usually used to rebuff any inquiries about the many interpretations of those scriptures. Continue reading

Tall Poppy Syndrome (Or, The Earthworm Manifesto)

In a show of taffy endurance,
Little heads poke from the soil and waver in unison under the breeze.
Poppy faces, crimson and flecked, spread out uniform,
Proudly awaiting the gardener.

Far below, they gather conspiratorially. Up, on a podium on a stage on a glen, the little chorus finishes with a brief minuet and Professor Glory slides to the spotlight. Above him, there’s a banner… “EARTHWORMS OF THE WORLD UNITE” is what the canvas sez, yes, here’s an exemplary specimen taking the stand, to deliver this, his greatest manifesto.

(And mama says, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”)

This is the show:
The bereaved and bereft file through,
Troubled by life and its mysteries and loss,
Only to find themselves in the poppy garden.
Tended oh-so-precisely,
Each little scarlet showgirl
Sways with the group as though all
Were some semi-aqueous mass.
And somehow, perfection and precision
Implies its peace and wonder
Upon sorrowed eyes.
Somehow, in the midst of this tragedy,
Is bliss and tranquility.
The heart wonders.

Inside the great outside’s mini microcosm, the earthworms gather for the discourse. And the speaker says, “There is a grave danger all about us, and its name is Concrete. For too many years, our kind have flirted with the concrete in the rains,” (and at this, the crowds’ collective shoulders sink, suddenly realizing that this is another wholesome-lifestyle lecture), “climbing aboard that menacing mass in order to soak in its wet glories. And too many of our boys have gone, and too many have never come back.” Some of the earthworms slink away. Some listen, hoping the discussion will take a turn. Most listen, and recall the moments they’ve spent, writhing in a puddle of water, ecstatic in its cool touch, euphorically unaware for the first while that the skies have cleared and the rain has let up. And they sniff in disdain. ‘So what?’ they scoff. ‘It’s in our nature. It’s what we were meant to do. Why question it?’

Paranoia is the new religion.
Everything is an offense,
Or part of a conspiracy.
Passing in traffic becomes an attempt to get ahead.
In this way, the individual becomes a threat,
The not-a-team-player of our synthetic reality,
Where the desirable ideal
Is heterosexual monogamy with parenthood;
The day-by-day labor-and-save,
The measuring-tape of human value.
The power of the question
Becomes a menace,
Betraying the carefully-constructed facades,
Where romance is a pool of the moment,
The blissful victim oblivious to the porous stone’s deadly thirst;
Where the shortest distance between two points
Is not a Jack Van Impe sermon;
Where children flip on the television,
Bask in its Lite Brite glow,
And no longer have to do anything difficult,
Like think.

And the Professor continues, “my colleagues and I, we have devised a plan of demolition. We plan to obliterate this concrete — fissure it into millions of harmless fragments, as it were — and spare us this heavy toll on our society.” Well, they don’t like THAT, no, they start realizing, ‘this is no crackpot, this is someone who could really jeopardize our way of life.’ In a fit of sudden and heavy disgust, they shudder violently with wrath, and gather together their knives and pitchforks, and drag this poor creature down from the podium, pulling him like the sackful of hammers they believe him to be, over to an oaken sliver, pinning him there. This sliver is then pushed up, erected into the heat of the sun, pushing him up into the dry hostile elements which could kill, then left there with its captive to die. Bloody prophets.

In a show of taffy endurance,
Little heads poke from the soil and waver in unison under the breeze.
Poppy faces, crimson and flecked, spread out uniform,
Proudly awaiting the gardener.
And one little poppy, brazen and excited,
Pokes up further than the rest.
It’s the ambition of youth, the quest for achievement.
And the caretaker finally arrives, to trim and to tend,
Little poppy beams.
“Look at me; look at me!”
Single soul above the crowd.
At this, the gardener approaches,
And lops her pretty head off.
Thus, the serenity of the garden is maintained.

Status of Transgender Life in Canada

(Update 2013: I wouldn’t even consider doing a post like this now.  But at the time this was written, few trans Canadians — at least outside Toronto and a couple other major centres — wanted to respond to surveys or be politically engaged in any way.  In 2008, I tried to compile this to the best of my ability, voicing concerns that were raised in support groups and on message board — anything I was aware of at the time.  It’s inadequate, under-representative and is in dire need of updating with survey-based information.  I leave it in place because it does provide an introduction to some mostly transsexual-specific needs for people who are just starting to learn about trans issues.  A note on context: this was written before “parental rights” came to mean the right of a parent to ensure their child wouldn’t be exposed to LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying education or things contradicting their faith — the context below refers to the right of trans people to parent, and to not be depriced of custody of kids simply because they’re trans.)

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In response to some comments from curious folk regarding my article, “Transbigotry?” I thought I’d chronicle a bit about the current situation in Canada.

Hate Crimes Protection and Human Rights

Hate crimes protection exists somewhat unofficially in places, but combined with crimes against GLB folk, resulting in a situation in which there are often no statistics that can be sifted through specific to us.  “Sexual orientation” was added to the Criminal Code in 2004, but at that time, the NDP motion (tabled by Svend Robinson) left transgender folks behind.

“Gender Identity” and “Gender Expression,” however, are not included in any Human Rights Charter in Canada, except in the Northwest Territories (NWT – and this inclusion was more fluke than anything, and has not been tested to my knowledge).  In practice, however, human rights of transpeople vary based on different court rulings, in which inclusion is sometimes made based on alternate bases of “gender / sex” or “disability” (from the classification in the DSM-IV).

Employment

Protection in employment is governed by court rulings (which is also the same process by which Canadians acquired the right to same-sex marriage).  In Alberta, there was a victory based on a read-in protection under “sex,” and this ruling has influenced some cases in other Provinces.  I may be wrong, but I believe that Saskatchewan and Ontario have protective rulings, and likely other provinces as well.  In B.C. however, in the case of Kimberly Nixon vs. Rape Relief, the provincial Supreme Court ruled that Rape Relief had the ability to discriminate with regard to Nixon volunteering, and noted among other things that transgender people are not specifically protected in the Human Rights Charter.  This note may have been meant to draw attention to this fact and call for it to be addressed in a subsequent appeal, but when the case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, the court refused to hear it.  Consequently, that the B.C. court ruling stands.

Marriage

Same-sex marriage is recognized federally, so marriage versus new or old identity is never an issue.  We have seen, however, how this victory has removed any vagueness that existed before, and most of us upon reflecting on this would tell Americans that the same-sex marriage battle is an important cause to support – especially when one starts looking at the mixed and troubling rulings made in various courts in different U.S. states.

 Parental Rights

These are also often determined on a case-by-case basis in court.  There was one definite victory in Alberta, but also some losses in Canada, some even in the same province, subsequent to the victory.  Much of the trouble arises from the DSM-IV definition of Gender Identity Disorder as a mental disorder.  Vengeful spouses can still use this as a potent weapon before a judge, unless one has good representation which will educate judge and / or jury how GID will not detrimentally affect children.

The Drive for Clear Legislation

On December 11th, 2007, NDP Member of Parliament Bill Siksay (Burnaby-Douglas) tabled a Private Member’s Bill (C-494) that would add “Gender Identity” and “Gender Expression” to characteristics protected under the hate propaganda portion of the Criminal Code of Canada.  An earlier Private Member’s Bill, C-326, proposes to add “Gender Identity” and “Gender Expression” as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.  A previous version of C-326 was tabled in 2005 and died at the end of that parliament sitting.

Siksay’s Bill addresses the lack of explicit protection for transsexual and transgender people under the current hate provisions of the Criminal Code. It will also allow judges to take into account whether crimes committed were motivated by hatred of transgender or transsexual people when they are determining the sentence of an offender.

Many are doubtful of these Bills’ chances of passing under the spectre of a Conservative government, and activity with regard to these bills has been very slow.  But it is a positive step, possibly inspired by the ENDA debate south of the border.

There is also some discussion that the newer NDP bill is a sort of face-saving measure, preceeding (only by a couple of days) the ejection of transgender activist Micheline Montrueil (who has won several legal precedents for transgender people in the Province of Quebec and in Canada) as a candidate for that party.  The NDP describe her as being “not a team player,” while she has heard that other candidates and party members have voiced objections to being associated with her.  This situation may call for some scrutiny in coming months.

Canada’s HRC?

In Canada, the primary LGBT organization is egaleCanada.  Like the HRC in the U.S., there appears to be some GLB members’ resistence to trans issues, and its track record has involved a lot of transgender committee formations, disempowerments of those committees, and then the leaving of committee members twisting in the wind, taking the blame for the committee’s inaction and failure.  To be fair, rampant division between transgender factions have clearly also been a factor.  Unlike the HRC, however, some of this appears driven by members simply not understanding T-folk or knowing how to act on their behalf, and the bridges can and should be repaired. 

It is my hope that egaleCanada and its transgender troubles can be rectified.  But in the meantime, there is a dearth of any other national transgender representation, either trans-specific or LGBT.  Some initiatives have been tried, such as TransAction Canada, Canadian Transsexuals’ Fight for Rights and other attempts that have seen nominal participation, support and / or funding.  Transgender communities need to work toward greater consensus and unity in order to develop their own community and play better with the GLBT ones.

So while there are more protections in Canada than many states, the transgender communities in many ways lag behind those in the south, with the exception of a few tireless projects in select organized cities.  This is where we need to strive harder.