Archive for the ‘ Gender Diversity ’ Category

Canada’s Trans* Rights Bill Now Endorses Bans in Washroom and Gendered Spaces

Canada’s trans* human rights bill C-279 was amended by a Senate committee, in a way that makes it legal to ban trans* people from washrooms and gendered spaces appropriate to their gender identity.

Sen. Donald Plett, Conservative member of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, added a legal exemption for “any service, facility, accommodation or premises that is restricted to one sex only, such as a correctional facility, crisis counseling facility, shelter for victims of abuse, washroom facility, shower facility or clothing changing room.”  The amendment passed with six of the committee members supporting it, four opposed, and one abstention.

There were two other unanimous amendments made.  One added the category of “sex” to the protections in the Criminal Code (which has long been a bizarre and serious omission from hate crimes legislation).  The other removed the definition of “gender identity” which had been added in the House of Commons as a condition of passing the bill, back in 2013.  Because the bill has been amended, it would need to return to the House for a final vote before being enacted.  It is thought unlikely that the bill would be brought forward before an election call — and now, if it did, the bill’s original proponents would oppose it — meaning that C-279 is almost certainly dead.

“The very act that is designed to prohibit discrimination is being amended to allow discrimination,” the bill’s Senate sponsor, Grant Mitchell, pointed out.  “It holds people who are law-abiding, full-fledged and equal members of our society accountable for the potential — the very, very long-shot potential — that someone would misuse this to justify a criminal act.” (The transcript has not been posted yet, but the videocast is still available)

Sen. Plett has long claimed that the bill would be exploited by pedophiles and rapists to attack women and children in washrooms, a claim that has been repeatedly debunked by law enforcement officials and other experts:

Minneapolis Police Department: Fears About Sexual Assault “Not Even Remotely” A Problem. Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder told Media Matters in an interview that sexual assaults stemming from Minnesota’s 1993 transgender non-discrimination law have been “not even remotely” a problem. Based on his experience, the notion of men posing as transgender women to enter women’s restrooms to commit sex crimes “sounds a little silly,” Elder said. According to Elder, a police department inquiry found “nothing” in the way of such crimes in the city… [Phone interview, 3/11/14]”

Additionally, criminal activity in a washroom or gendered space would continue to remain criminal regardless of the gender of the perpetrator.  On the other hand, trans* women face very real dangers when institutionally housed with men or made to use segregated facilities according to their birth sex.

Nevertheless, bathroom-related fearmongering has been the cause of several petitions and campaigns to kill trans* human rights legislation in North America.  It has also started to spawn draconian bathroom-policing bills (some of which ignore the actual genital status of the person, even though genitals are allegedly the rationale for the law):

“Building managers who “repeatedly allow” trans people to use the bathroom that accords with their gender identity would, however, face up to two years in jail and a maximum $10,000 fine under the proposed law.

“… If passed, the law could tighten how Texas defines gender, not only singling out transgender people, but those who have chromosomes that don’t fit the strict definition laid out in the bill, like intersex individuals. The bill reads:

” For the purpose of this section, the gender of an individual is the gender established at the individual’s birth or the gender established by the individual’s chromosomes. A male is an individual with at least one X chromosome and at least one Y chromosome, and a female is an individual with at least one X chromosome and no Y chromosomes. If the individual’s gender established at the individual’s birth is not the same as the individual’s gender established by the individual’s chromosomes, the individual’s gender established by the individual’s chromosomes controls under this section…”

Plett’s reasoning essentializes trans* women as being “biological males” (“… and I will use ‘men’ because I believe they are biological men — ‘transgender,’ but biologically, they are men”), and asserts that they are inherently a threat to cis* (non-trans*) women.  When it was pointed out that his amendment would require trans* men to use womens’ facilities, Plett appeared indifferent, and he later referred to a young trans* man as “she.”  Plett added that he believed his amendment would allow “separate but equal treatment.”

Bill C-279 would affect only areas under federal jurisdiction, such as federal facilities, the Armed Forces, federal agencies, and First Nations reserves.  But it had been seen as a potentially important symbol of human rights protection to have specific federal inclusion.  Canadian human rights commissions consider trans* people written into legislation, but without explicit inclusion, there remains a possibility of an overturn in court precedent (where application is not as certain).  Meanwhile, companies that take direction from federal legislation continue to not see a need to develop policies for trans* employees.

The Northwest Territories was the first Canadian jurisdiction to pass trans-inclusive legislation, in 2002.  Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan all have provincial protections.  In British Columbia, a similar bill, M-211, has been blocked by B.C. Liberals, who refuse to allow it to face a vote or discussion.

Former Member of Parliament Bill Siksay first introduced a trans* human rights bill in 2005, and continued to reintroduce it in every Parliamentary session, until it eventually passed in the House of Commons. However, it was awaiting ratification in the Senate when a federal election was called, which killed the bill.  In 2011, Siksay left federal politics, and Randall Garrison reintroduced it as C-279.  In 2012, many trans* people stopped campaigning for the bill when the characteristic of gender expression was deleted from the bill, and a definition of gender identity was added.

(A version of this article also appears at Rabble.ca and The Bilerico Project)

Google Trends on “Transgender”

Posted for discussion and interest value.

Out of curiosity, I plunked the word “transgender” into Google Trends.  It’s not my terminology of choice, but it’s what most people use and what the general public is most likely to search for.  Here’s what I got:

transgoogletrends01

The numbers aren’t an exact value of something, but a comparative value versus the highest peak on record, which is apparently right now.  Or as Google Trends puts it:

Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart. If at most 10% of searches for the given region and time frame were for “pizza,” we’d consider this 100. This doesn’t convey absolute search volume. Learn more

I don’t know if there were other stories that occurred during the same months of those peaks and contributing to the results — it’s possible, I’ve only noted what Google flagged as the top search item.

A few more charts:

transgoogletrends02

and

transgoogletrends03

Presented without commentary, in case anyone is curious.

On the Detention of Trans People

(This article has been updated with information newly disclosed in a report by Global News — Mercedes, 24April14)

“… in a way that is not inconsistent with one’s gender identity.”

Remember that phrase.  It’s going to simplify something that might otherwise seem like a complicated issue.

So this British comedian walks into Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

Some of you have heard this one before…

The treatment of trans people (particularly trans women) in detention facilities, in the correctional system and in border security has come under re-examination recently, following the story of 25-year old Avery Edison.  The British comedian had overstayed her student visa during a previous visit to Canada, and so upon her return, she was detained by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).  That would all be unremarkable, if not for the fact that she is trans… which means that CBSA did not feel they had a space to accommodate her, and instead sent her to spend the night in a mens’ prison.

This led to a backlash against CBSA (and to a degree also Correctional Services Canada, which has a similar policy to CBSA and which provided the prison facility).  By evening, it was being reported that Avery was being moved to the Vanier Centre for Women.  She has since returned to the U.K. (and has talked about the experience on a few occasions).

But although Edison’s situation has been resolved, her experience leaves unanswered questions about how trans people are handled in correctional and detention systems.  And since her situation, two other incidents have brought the issue back to media attention.

A Human Rights Law Point of Note

Human rights law with regard to trans people is still in a state of flux.  In the discussion about Avery’s situation, people pointed to Toby’s Act, a trans human rights law that had been passed in the Province of Ontario, and claimed that the detention was a violation of that law.  But even though Edison’s detention happened in Toronto, Toby’s Act does not apply.  The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) — like Correctional Services Canada (CSC) and the RCMP — is a federal agency, and therefore subject to federal legislation.

On the other hand, Randall Garrison’s federal trans human rights bill, C-279 — which passed in Parliament and is awaiting approval by the Senate — would apply… but it hasn’t received Royal Assent as of yet.  A similar but more comprehensive bill (Bill Siksay’s C-389) passed in the previous Parliament, but died before receiving Senate approval, when an election was called.  C-279 would apply to federal institutions, while most peoples’ employment, housing and access-to-service situations remain provincial in jurisdiction.  And to be fair, even if Bill C-279 had been given Royal Assent, it would still likely take CBSA, CSC and other federal agencies some time to bring their policies in line to be consistent with it.

However, they have had since at least 2011 to realize that there would eventually need to be a policy change, and have not done anything (including other previous issues at the border alone, in 2013).  A trans human rights law will inevitably pass, whether in this session or in the next Parliament.  The time to plan for and begin that change is now.

Housing of Trans Inmates and Detainees

Correctional and detention facilities currently house trans people (and people who were born with intersex medical conditions) according to the configuration of their genitalia — if you have a penis, you’re housed with males, and if you have a vagina, you’re housed with females.   This policy is also accompanied by a lot of gender essentialism, invalidation, misgendering and antagonism, both from hostile staff and from other detainees or inmates.  And although some will minimize this as inconsequential or as mere expressions of free speech, the lived experience of it is in fact one of deliberate and sustained hostility and dehumanization.

This housing policy can create a cyclical problem in which trans people are housed contrary to their gender identities because of their genitalia, but are also then denied access to medical care like genital reassignment surgery (GRS), which would (by extension) be a crucial step toward obtaining more appropriate housing.  In the U.S., a 14-year-long series of lawsuits pertaining to access to medical services continues, following the appeal of the most recent verdict in Michelle Kosilek’s favour.

In Canada, a human rights complaint had resolved the issue in trans peoples’ favour in 2001, but a 2010 directive from the Harper government instructed CSC to stop funding GRS surgeries, anyway.  The post-2001 policy is still on CSC’s website, but the actual practice under the Harper government has been to ignore the policy and deny GRS, which the government insists is not essential (contrary to the medical consensus).  The Conservative government does so via a distortion of the “real life test” (RLE, better known as “real life experience”) recommended by the WPATH Standards of Care (SoC).  The SoC requires living as ones identified gender for one year in the community, and the government considers that RLE suspended when a person is incarcerated (contrary to WPATH’s intent).  This “suspension” of the RLE also opens up the possibility of ignoring an inmate’s attempt to transition, or denying things like hormone therapy, although it’s not certain if this is occurring.  Prisoners’ Legal Services, based in B.C., is fighting to change CSC’s interpretation of the RLE.

Of course, there are two larger issues outside of this vicious circle.  The first is that “trans” covers a diversity of people.  Trans can signify a biological transition from one’s birth sex to their identified sex (which treads into medical territory, and refers to the people most commonly thought of), or a need to live between genders or independent of gender somehow (mostly through various modes of gender expression, but also sometimes involving some medical transition) — or some combination of those two characteristics.  [NB: the reason I use “trans” terminology, in fact, is to demonstrate that I’m referring to a diversity of people who are not easily defined under a single label]  For trans people who need surgery, there is often an anxiety and dysphoria that can make it a substantial and urgent need — but not all trans people experience that dysphoria or require surgery.

That leads to the second larger issue — that a person shouldn’t have to undergo major surgery/ies in order to be entitled to the same human rights and dignity as their peers.

And everyday practice does not always align with policy, for that matter. In American prisons, there have been cases where housing was sometimes not even determined by genitalia or identification documents — even though those are the policies — but by a subjective visual assessment of a person’s gender.  And sometimes, they have been completely wrong.  It has certainly led to trans women being housed with men even if they have had genital reassignment surgery.  Canadian prisons may have a better track record in this regard (although Avery Edison had a female gender marker on her ID), but it really depends on the employees empowered to make judgment calls.  We’ll return to that point.

Identity Documents

Part of what discourages institutions like CBSA and CSC from addressing trans accommodations is the fact that identity documents further confuse the issue.

Most provinces have policies requiring surgery and a doctor’s examination of genitals before gender markers can be updated — something that brings up human rights issues, especially when one considers that a genital reassignment surgery requirement is also a form of sterilization, essentially barring trans people from future procreation.  If that sounds like stretching to you, it’s worth remembering that at one time, some countries consciously codified this into their laws.

This surgery requirement creates hardships, however.  As not everyone medically transitions and/or proceeds to surgery, this results in incongruent identification.  For those who do transition medically, the process is at minimum a year (recommended by the current medical standards of care set by WPATH), but more often takes several, especially when there are barriers in accessing medical care, financial issues and other challenges.  During this time, incongruent identification opens people up to disenfranchisement, discrimination and even violence.

For this reason, some provinces have been revising their policies.  This is an important step to allowing trans people to participate in society, but in the interim, it also creates a situation in which identity documents are inconsistent from province to province.

In terms of border security, they’re even less consistent from country to country.  Some provinces (and some U.S. states) do not allow trans people to change the gender marker on their identification ever (regardless of surgical status).  A few nations are now starting to include the option of third gender markers (such as “X” for “not specified”).

And even when policies of accommodation exist, sometimes the steps to get there are amazingly inscrutable — witness this handy flow chart spanning three pages, outlining the steps a trans person needs to go through to obtain a gender-congruent passport, in Canada.

Consequently, identification documents can’t — at this point in time, at least — provide any definitive guidance on how trans people should be housed in correctional or detention situations.

(Trigger warning: there is some general discussion about rape and the fear of potential rape situations below)

“… in a way that is not inconsistent with one’s gender identity.”

Entities like CBSA and CSC are often afraid to look at changing their policies on trans people because it seems too daunting a task — and the complexities of identification certainly reinforce this impression.  Often, the idea of housing a woman who has a penis with other women also brings up the spectre of rape in womens’ institutions, and so correctional systems can be loath to considering change.

It is unreasonable to assume that women who have penises are automatically potential sex predators.  On the other hand, it is also unreasonable to require that all women with penises be accommodated in general female populations.  What’s missing is context, and a reasonable assessment of the risk that any individual (because predators exist in any characteristic population, even among cis women) poses to others.  A woman with a history of violence is justifiably going to be viewed differently from one who overstayed her visa.  An individual’s history must absolutely be taken into account.  Accommodation as one’s identified gender is an ideal situation, but violence, predation and other factors in detained individuals’ histories certainly has to be considered.

And yet, the solution is far easier than one might expect.  Housing trans people “in a way that is not inconsistent with their gender identity” allows for situation-relative options, while still providing dignity for trans people and safety for all concerned.  Accommodations for a trans woman might be a female facility, a trans- or LGBT-focused facility, short-term isolation or semi-isolation, or some other alternative.  No one solution fits all — for example, a trans-focused wing might still deny people access to programs that are available to other inmates and which they would otherwise qualify for — so a final decision is inevitably context-dependent.  Individual histories and risk assessments can be taken into account.  Individuals can be moved according to the varying levels of risk they both pose and are potentially subject to from other inmates (the latter seems to often be forgotten when discussing housing of trans people).  And yet a trans woman’s identity as a woman can still be respected.

One’s gender identity can be determined through a combination of factors, starting with a person’s own self-identification, and verified through supporting information, such as the individual’s gender expression, their identification (if updated), the name that they are currently using (i.e. if found on a piece of mail or correspondence on their cell phone), a letter from their doctor, or other supporting information.  There should be some flexibility, because hard-specifying particular forms of verification can be problematic: for example, not everyone can afford to update their legal identity information; also, requiring a letter from a doctor can create an institutional barrier to being accorded one’s human rights.

An individual’s own wishes should also be taken into account.   For example, some trans men are uncomfortable with the idea of being housed with males in detention and correctional systems.  And some trans people do not identify as either gender.

Although there may not be a hard-and-fast rule for every situation, housing trans people “in a way that is not inconsistent with their gender identity” provides a respectable base from which to start, within the context of nearly any given situation.

It’s More Than Housing

It’s absolutely crucial that staff receive training on professional communication with and treatment of transgender and gender nonconforming inmates.  They also need to be aware of intersex conditions enough to respect individuals who may not identify as trans, but still not neatly fit into binary housing defined by physical sex.

Police forces have begun to revise their policies surrounding strip searches of trans people, so that they’re searched by a person of their identified gender, or else they can opt for a “split search,” with one male and one female officer.  This is because strip searches of trans women by male officers has historically resulted in abuse, and resulted in a 2006 ruling asserting trans peoples’ right to dignity.

Correctional and border security institutions need to adopt similar policies, and to also ban gratuitous searches or physical examinations of transgender inmates and those with intersex conditions solely for determining their genital status.  If the need for a genital examination arises outside of a necessary strip search scenario, it should be conducted by medical professionals, with the understanding that the option to be examined by a medical professional of ones identified gender should still apply.

Rape and Torture Were Not the Penalty

People who are incarcerated in the correctional system are usually not given a lot of sympathy, and people detained by border and immigration services have been increasingly seen with the same kind of negativity (or at best, ambivalence).  It’s important to remember that regardless of what a person has done, they’re still entitled to due process and the same rights and dignity of others in the correctional system.  We certainly don’t sentence people to prison rape, for example.  As soon as a person is targeted for specifically additional treatment because of who they are, that quickly becomes cruel and unusual punishment.  And it’s important for social movements to care about all of those within their constituencies — even those who make mistakes.

In the case of trans people in detention situations or worse, that cruel and unusual punishment starts with constant hostility and antagonism pertaining to their gender identities.  Pronouns and names become weapons, and that is simply the start.  Trans women housed in male facilities also become very obvious targets for potential rape.  This is significant, and it can be argued that by consciously and deliberately housing trans women with men, the Canadian government may in fact be institutionally sanctioning that rape.

Institutions usually try to reduce this risk of rape by keeping trans people in administrative segregation — a nicer way of saying “solitary confinement.”  This removes social interaction almost entirely, it is psychologically devastating, and the United Nations asserts that over 15 consecutive days of solitary confinement classifies as torture.  For trans women, solitary confinement is sometimes the full length of their incarceration.

Avery Edison’s story and those that have followed reveal not only a problem with housing by CBSA and CSC, but also a severe education issue among staff in both the border and correctional systems. Both can be remedied… it’s just a question of whether institutions want to do so.

The Difficulties in Remembering Rosa

RosaRibutIn the early morning hours of November 24th, the body of a possibly trans person was found in Edmonton, Alberta.

I say “possibly trans” because it’s unclear how this person identified, and to my knowledge, no one in the trans community has met them or would be able to shed light on who they were.  And unfortunately, for this reason, I need to open with the following preamble:

The victim has been identified by the Edmonton Police Service as Jon Syah Ribut.  However, she also used the names Rose, Rosa and Dido. In the Edmonton Journal, Paula Simons noted that  “… it’s not clear whether Ribut saw himself as transgender — or as a gay man who sometimes liked to cross-dress — or as something else altogether….” Although Simons (a journalist who is is trans-aware and trans-positive) uses male names and pronouns, it’s clear that she’s conflicted about it and knows that more information is needed.  I will be using a female name and pronouns instead, but want to stress that both Simons and I are making a guess, and either of us could just as easily be wrong.

Rosa Ribut died of blunt force trauma, and 20-year-old Marcel Cristian Niculae has been charged in her death.  There is no further information being given yet as to what happened or what the motive might have been.

Ribut, 35, was an Indonesian citizen who came to Canada in 2012 under the Temporary Foreign Worker program.  She had been working at a 7-Eleven in that capacity (presenting as male), but had also taken up working evenings as a female-presenting escort.

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program allows employers to bring in foreign workers and employ them for below minimum wage, with fewer regulations governing employer obligations to staff.  Temporary foreign workers are not eligible for public health care coverage or other social programs, and lose their residency if they quit their jobs, the net result of which is a more vulnerable and dependent workforce.  While there is no indication that the TFW program was used to bring her to Canada for sex work, a temporary worker employed at a 7-Eleven convenience store wouldn’t have had it very easy making ends meet on that income alone.

Ribut was from Indonesia, where “warias” (often characterized as males born with female souls — it’s not known if Ribut identified in this way) had once been traditionally respected.  However, trans people in Indonesia have been increasingly ostracized and have also faced challenges to their legal status over the years.  More recently, trans women have been targeted by vice raids that conflate trans people with sex workers, regardless of whether they are or not. In some parts of the country, the Muslim group Islam Defenders Front (FPI) have waged a cultural campaign against trans people, intimidating advocates and forcing the closure of trans and LGBT functions, while the National Police have been reluctant to intervene.

While it’s possible that Rosa Ribut was targeted for violence because of her gender, certainly the marginalization that sex workers experience made her vulnerable to the attack, and her escorting work is thought to be a contributing factor to the events of her murder.  December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, and the murder of Rosa Ribut is a tragic reminder of the brutality that sex workers sometimes face.  Trans people have a similar memorial in November of every year, but it should also be recognized how people of intersecting minority characteristics (trans status, sex work, race and / or the poverty-classed) can experience a disproportionately high amount of hatred, violence and risk.

Little about Rosa is known, other than details culled from her Facebook page (now offline).  According to the Edmonton Journal:

“His friends called him Rosa or Rose or Dido. For them, he posted pictures of himself enjoying the Edmonton winter — frolicking in the snow at the legislature grounds, shopping on trendy 104th Street. People tend to curate their Facebook pages to put the happiest gloss on our lives. But certainly, nothing in Ribut’s Facebook timeline suggests he was in Edmonton under duress. He joked online that he was a snow princess, who’d come here to find his snow prince…”

More details will likely follow in the coming months.

Janice Raymond, and Healing Old Wounds

This post is a personal reflection on Janice Raymond’s visit to Vancouver during a memorial for the victims of the massacre of women at L’École Polytechnique, which took place in Montreal 24 years ago.  For an overview of the controversy, why Janice Raymond’s presence (as well as some other aspects of that day’s program) drew anger from trans and sex work communities, and the different facets to that situation, please refer to my article at Rabble.  What follows is my personal reflection, recorded separately.

This blog post was originally going to be something very different, a personal recollection of how Janice Raymond’s writings had personally impacted me, how to heal from that, and the larger question of how to heal the old wounds that exist between trans and womens’ movements (a question that has been heavy on my mind over the past while).  After the publication of my article about her appearance at a memorial in Vancouver, the response to that article showed me that the former is something I don’t have the luxury of time to dwell on just yet, and the latter question is clearly more urgent.

A few of the responses accused me of having an agenda when I wrote the piece, Memorial draws controversy over invitation of speaker Janice Raymond, probably because I (as acknowledged in my bio at the end) have a trans history, myself.  In all honesty, my aim in writing it was to dig into a rather complex situation, be as objective as possible, and present several different points of view in a way that was true to the speakers and independent of myself.  Along the way, it meant examining a number of things, including the histories of Janice Raymond and the event sponsor that invited her, Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR); the use of the tragic memorial to promote a sex work abolition agenda that some felt was unrelated to the tragedy being commemorated; the trans and sex work communities’ response, and the complexities of responding while also not intruding on the larger context of a memorial.  If there was any take-away that I wanted readers to have, it would be to ask questions that might lead to the aforementioned healing.  A good journalist leaves the end response up to the reader, though, and the response I heard was unexpected.

What I didn’t expect was the visceral reaction that readers would have both to quotations of Raymond’s writing, and to the event sponsor’s policy on trans women.  To me, those things had been long-known issues.  Raymond’s book was first published in 1979, and the way it and her paper “Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery“ were used to cut health care funding and close gender clinics are a matter of public record (although while looking for a link, I discovered that those events of the 1980s are better remembered by trans bloggers than by anyone else.  There are few, if any, people who are considered more controversial to the trans community than Janice Raymond.

Regarding the exemption of trans women from VRR’s primary services, I’d heard about this sporadically for years, and Vancouverites were still periodically tweeting upset about it before it was announced that VRR would be inviting Raymond to speak there.  So to me, this also seemed a long-known and ongoing concern: that while VRR will ensure that anyone facing an urgent emergency will be helped by referring them elsewhere, VRR will not provide the core of their services (shelter, counseling) to trans women. This exclusion can be traced all the way back to the 12-year Nixon v RR legal dispute, in which the Vancouver Rape Relief collective won the right to choose who could be a member and participant in the collective, even if that selection was made out of the belief that trans women aren’t women.

What I gleaned from interviewing VRR’s Hilla Kerner was the encouraging information that the views of the collective vary quite a bit on trans issues.  When I asked her about the exclusion, she sounded possibly regretful, perhaps uncomfortably embarrassed, and trying to rationalize the exclusion in a way that sounds reasonable if you don’t think about it too much:

“I’ll say it the other way.  There will not be a situation that someone is not safe in calling us, in which we would not help them to get safe.  It has nothing to do with who we are or what we do. It’s a basic human compassion.  To all people.  On the other hand, our core service is based on peer counseling and consciousness-raising and we’re only going to work with people, in this case, with women-born-women, who share the same experience.  And I think that transgender people who this model is appealing to them and want to have what we have, I think that the rationale from that will be that if you want to operate a consciousness raising / peer counseling -based service, probably a service that is designed by a transgender and operated by transgender and support and offer the peer counseling to other transgender who have a similar journey in life… because it’s a concept of consciousness-raising in a peer counseling context.”

But to Rabble readers, apparently, the exclusion of trans women from VRR services was a mostly new and shocking piece of information.

And that’s the first problem with wanting to heal a division of this sort, when that old division is still being allowed to persist in the form of policy.  Healing starts with talking about an issue, but if that issue is entrenched in current policy, doing so sometimes threatens to reopen old wounds.  Yet talk we must… and ask questions.

Part of what led me to believe that the exclusionary policy would not be shocking was that VRR’s website still documents some of its members’, supporters’ and like-minded activists’ past views toward trans people, such as Sheila Jeffreys’ assertions that “from a feminist perspective… transsexualism should be seen as a violation of human rights,” and compared the availability of genital reassignment surgery to lobotomy, which trans people should be saved from, for their own sake: “The mutilation of healthy bodies and the subjection of such bodies to dangerous and life-threatening continuing treatment violates such people’s rights to live with dignity in the body into which they were born.”  There is one essay on the website which talks about building bridges (while retaining the systemic exclusion, of course), but relies on one trans woman’s assertion that: “Well, let’s be clear on one thing from the start. As to M to F transsexuals, we can never be real women,” and “demanding equal treatment is not acceptable or productive…”

Most of those documents date from around 2000 to 2002, after the B.C. Supreme Court’s ruling in Nixon v. RR, but before the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case (thus making the last ruling stand).  With websites, things often get posted and forgotten, only to need questioning years later.

Times have changed, and so has our collective understanding of trans people and trans issues.  It’s time to question these old attitudes, but that requires unearthing them again.  That’s not an easy thing to do, apparently, without having the reaction turn to anger, instead of resolution and healing… which take much more mutual effort.  But I believe that the focus needs to be kept on the latter as much as possible.

Perhaps before we can heal the rifts between collective movements, we need to try to heal the way we talk about them.  And each other.  As one interested party, I’m still trying to find what that way is.

The question comes at a time when something being called “trans-exclusionary radical feminism” (TERF), a fringe offshoot of feminism largely inspired by Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys, is attempting to make a comeback.  While adherents have reopened some of those old wounds elsewhere, the philosophy doesn’t really resonate with mainstream feminism, which understands that division and demonization have rarely been good ways to build movements; that oppression has always been a poor way to fight oppression.

More important to remember, of course, is that there are many areas where the forms of oppression we face overlap.  Misogyny is a significant portion of what makes up transphobia, for example, because it is the perceptively non-masculine aspect of trans people that the cis (non-trans) public most reacts to in hatred.  Although much of the TERF critique of trans politics centers upon the possibility that trans people may reinforce an oppressive gender binary, the truth is that trans people are demonized in the rest of society exactly because they call that binary into question, are uncertainly in-or-out of that binary, blur its edges and raise challenging questions about sex, gender and human existence.  These kinds of overlap are completely missed when a policy of exclusion assumes that poverty, inequity, vulnerability and rape are somehow irrevocably different experiences simply because one had been born or socialized as male.

But we need to strive for that healing, especially if social movements want to transcend their own self-imposed boundaries and bring about true lasting change.  Healing and building critical mass go hand in hand.  As long as activism requires thinking in terms of colonies (even if umbrella-like), rather than in terms of alliances and intersections — ownership, rather than solidarity — it will be forever fractured and expending its valuable energy on policing its boundaries and propagating oppression — not on dismantling it.

And when I say all of this, I’ve not forgotten the other aspect of VRR’s controversy, surrounding sex work.  If anything, the discussion about feminism, transfeminism and the old wounds from that conflict serves as a cautionary tale, to question one’s activism, lest it do damage to sex workers, and this entire situation be revisited again in another form, in another ten years.

Healing should be preferable by far, over anger and exclusion.

For a case in point, this entire discussion began within the context of a memorial for the victims of the massacre at L’École Polytechnique in Montreal 24 years ago.  It has to be one of the most vivid examples of sheer hatred on historic record, and was undertaken by a man who does not deserve to be named, and who specifically targeted women, claiming he was fighting feminism.  That action is a deep scar in the psyche of Canadian women (and women worldwide).

The most disturbing thing that could come out of the controversy of the past weekend is if the tragedy of the École Polytechnique massacre becomes forgotten, turned into an opportunity for three communities that should be natural allies — the womens’ movement, the sex workers’ rights movement, and the trans rights movement — to instead do violence to each other.

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

Guest Post: El Feministo’s Open Letter re: Janice Raymond at Vancouver’s Ecole Polytechnique Massacre Memorial

On November 30th, a “Montreal Massacre Memorial 2013” event is being held in Vancouver to remember the victims of the massacre at l’Ecole Polytechnique, and to seek ways to end violence against women.  It’d be the kind of thing I’d be happy to promote, if it weren’t poisoned with this: sponsor Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR) has invited Janice Raymond to provide a lecture entitled “Prostitution: Not a Job, not a Choice” — hijacking the very real and urgent problem of violence against women, to try to win support for the abolition of sex work.  Raymond also has a long history of transphobia which is well-detailed below (along with VRR’s own transphobic history), and resulted in a long and bitter rift between trans and feminist movements. — M

El Feministo posted the following letter at Babble, the message board at Rabble.ca:

—————————————–

18 November 2013

To Vancouver Public Library management and board, Vancouver Rape Relief management, collective, and board, and to members, donors, and volunteers with both organizations:

I am writing regarding Vancouver Rape Relief’s (VRR’s) intent to host Janice Raymond at their “Montreal Massacre Memorial 2013” event hosted by Vancouver Public Library (VPL) on Nov. 30, 2013. Ms. Raymond is to deliver a talk titled “Prostitution: Not a Job, not a Choice”. Further to Raymond’s controversial stance on prostitution, you are likely aware of Raymond’s notorious stance toward transgendered people, too. I am requesting that space be made available to both transgender communities and sex work communities to respond to Ms. Raymond when she speaks at VPL.

Ms. Raymond is infamous for suggesting that “medicalized transsexualism represents only one more aspect of patriarchal hegemony” and arguing that transgendered people should be morally mandated “out of existence”. She also wrote Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery, for the US Government, which led to the elimination of US federal and state aid for indigent and imprisoned transsexual persons – legislation which some speculate facilitated the deaths of already-marginalized trans persons. Raymond’s opinions on prostitution are similarly controversial, and widely criticized: her testimony in Bedford v. Canada was judged not to be credible. Her promotion of the belief that “legalization or decriminalization of prostitution … promotes trafficking” has been widely debunked and policies based on this mistaken assumption (like the USA’s PEPFAR legislation, until it was struck down by the US Supreme Courthave been shown to have harmful effects.

Meanwhile, VRR’s negativity toward transgender people is well-documented in coverage of VRR’s dispute with Kim Nixon in the 1990s. However, you may not know that VRR continues to perpetuate this conflict, with VRR insinuating “real woman” discourse into UBC’s recent Take Back the Night event. VRR collective member (and de facto leader) Lee Lakeman’s recent defamation of Ms. Nixon in the form of public accusation of felony theft continues VRR’s aggression toward transgender people – a politics of exclusion reified into a praxis of hate (to this day, VRR argues that transgender is not an identity, but rather, say VRR, “it is really an insidious form of paralyzing liberalism which translates into ultraconservatism in action”). Moreover, VRR’s ideological bond with Raymond’s politics is reflected in VRR’s role as the home of the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC)authors of a 2013 statement which prioritizes the elimination of sex work over all other women’s issues.

Whereas VPL intends to host an event sponsored by VRR, featuring Raymond, I refer you to VPL’s policy, which “is responsible for working with its communities to create services that diverse communities identify as respectful, inclusive, and accessible” with specific regard to “sexual orientation, gender identity,” etc. In light of this policy, I am asking both VPL and VRR to ensure that Janice Raymond’s presence at VPL includes the voices of the communities that she and VRR excludes. I am appealing to the Library’s Diversity and Inclusion Statement (referenced above) as well as to theLibrary’s meeting room policy, which in turn refers to the BC Human Rights Code. I believe the latter’s clause on “discriminatory publication” applies to any statements made during this event.

To be clear, this is not an attempt to censor or censure VRR or Raymond. To the contrary, I invite VRR to step inclusively into the realm of civil society rather than continuing to privilege the purity of your particular voice at the expense of the people you exclude. Inviting a dialogue between Raymond and the people she speaks against so stridently would be a step toward dissipating the pain and harm that Raymond’s views have caused to so many people.

Finally, I would like to emphasize that this request is motivated by values promoting civic discourse in a vibrant public sphere. I respect VRR’s right and privilege to mount this event, but showcasing a speaker who many people believe to be guilty of hate speech is inconsistent with these values, both generally and as reflected in VPL’s policies.

Respectfully,

El Feministo

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 942 other followers