Category Archives: Decolonialism

Examining decolonial theory, the way in which disenfranchised minorities interact, and ways in which they could work together to achieve equality as a whole.

Parsing Hate: The motivation behind the “Transsexual Registration Act”

On December 10th, Monica at TransGriot pointed to a Facebook Group advocating for the creation of a “Transsexual Registration Act.”  The creator of that page and the idea he presents are fringe enough that we typically don’t dignify them with attention, but sometimes it’s important to point to these things and discuss them.  Far too often, we try to talk about the kinds of attitudes that we face and why we need to defend against them, but because those attitudes are rarely spoken out loud, the general public is allowed to rest easy in the conviction that these attitudes don’t really exist or aren’t really representative, and that addressing them is unnecessary.  When we parse the perspective of the person who made this page and the connected video, there is a direct correlation with those that drive a type of violence that trans people can face, and that result in some of the tragedies we remember during the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  There is actually significant value in documenting and parsing that hate, determining where it comes from, and reflecting on how prevalent it might be in society.

Some of the quotes will be difficult for some, so the discussion will follow after the fold — save it for when you’re prepared to delve into some incredibly disheartening attitudes.  Consider this your trigger warning. Continue reading Parsing Hate: The motivation behind the “Transsexual Registration Act”

In Defense of Affirming Christians

This post is long overdue.  It really is.

I’ve made this distinction in my blog before and also in comment threads, but it keeps coming up and requires a post of its own.

When I decry some of the radical and unhinged rhetoric that comes from some people who use the Bible as their justification — or to talk about some of the ways that growing up with a radical Christian ideology had hurt me and my family — I try to be clear that that these harms shouldn’t be attributed to all Christians.  I need to talk about these things — how faith is being used to justify discriminatory actions today, and how deeply those attitudes have cut me.  I don’t need that all turned into a message that all Christians are evil.  I do have my own concerns about belief systems and what they can sometimes drive people to, but at the end of the day I choose to respect those who live respectfully.  This also applies to affirming people of other faiths.

The one thing I am “anti” is oppression.  This is regardless of whether the basis is race or sex or sexual orientation or age or belief or gender identity or gender expression or any other characteristic.  And regardless of whether it is some Christians doing it, people inspired by some other ideology or us doing it to each other.  So when people talk about classifying the Bible as hate literature (to be fair, that post was nuanced and not wholly serious) or jumping all over an affirming person of faith who is trying to express how she sometimes feels under attack from both sides, you can count me out.  I don’t subscribe to any particular faith, nor do I condemn anyone else for theirs.

If we are to be truly anti-oppression, then we need to be vigilant that we don’t visit it on anyone else. Continue reading In Defense of Affirming Christians

The Occupy Calgary story you’re not seeing elsewhere.

Sign at the October 15th rally at Bankers Hall, Calgary

“Nothing to see here. Nothing to see here.”

Until the last couple days, that had been the mood in Calgary, as the Occupy Wall Street (#ows) movement seemed far from many peoples’ minds.  Sure, by now, everyone’s seen the graphs coming out about American inequality that show 1% of that population controlling an exponentially widening wealth gap that — no matter how one graphs it — makes a pretty clear case that a miniature black hole has sucked the lion’s share of money right out of the U.S. economy altogether.  All this, while the so-called “job creators” continue to lay off rising numbers and are rewarded with record bonuses for record profits.  It’s clearly not sustainable.  But that’s there, right?  The Federal Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, reassures us that Canada is far better off, having a “very progressive tax system.”

“Nothing to see here. Nothing to see here.”  So why are people tenting in downtown Calgary and refusing to leave? Continue reading The Occupy Calgary story you’re not seeing elsewhere.

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is…

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is to remind a public that protests and activism aren’t merely something that “fringe activists” do, and

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is to politically re-energize a public that has largely grown too apathetic to vote, and

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is to remind society that it has a responsibility to witness, voice and act on issues in our nation, and

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is to teach people to ally, to build consensus, to act, and

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is to make people feel empowered about participating, and make them feel able to have a say in the socio-economic issues that are important to them, and

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is to give people hope and make them realize that together, they can influence true change, and

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is to create new ways to connect, communicate and peacefully engage, and

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is to set the nation on alert that the escalating disparity between a miniscule elite and the overwhelming majority has not gone unnoticed by an overwhelmingly significant portion of the population, and

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is to create a realization of oneness with people who have sometimes very different views and perspectives, but nevertheless face similar challenges, and

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is to remind the 1% of the population that increasingly controls and hoards the nation’s wealth that the remaining 99% have power, and

To offer more than faint hope…

Then it has been an incredibly worthwhile effort indeed.

But we’re not stopping there.

The Occupy movement has either already accomplished many or most those things, or is poised to do so. Now, it has acquired the power to shape the change that it has called for.

And you can experience and participate in that. You can add your voice to the conversation about what we are now asking.

But you can’t do it sitting at home.

You.

You are the 99%.

You are going through university or college and holding out hope that afterward you will be able to find work that will help you repay your student loans, or

You invested your life in a trade and have framed or drywalled or installed utilities or carpeted or painted or decorated peoples’ houses in an effort to ensure a comfortable home for you and your family, or

You have worked the front-line of retail or fast food for minimum wages because the shrinking value of money makes it hard to exist on a pension or medical subsidy or one income for your family, or

You have been sidelined by an injury or tragedy or depression that changed your life into a hand-to-mouth struggle, or

You have worked technical support or customer service while enduring peoples’ dissatisfaction over a product you have little power to improve, or

You have built a fairly comfortable life for you and your family, but keep watching it shrink as everyone else seems to have a better use than you for your money.

And you have done it all out of the belief that if you work hard you can succeed, or

You have succumbed to despair because this promise failed you.

You contributed.

You built the roads and infrastructure that business uses to transport corporate goods, and

Your skilled trades built the structures, the offices and factories and equipment, and

You funded and trained and staffed the emergency services that served as a safeguard for the status quo and made our society one that is safe in which to do business, and

You needed the utilities and groceries and clothing and homes and a little extra for luxury and diversion that made it profitable for corporations to develop them, and

You built and staffed the schools that trained skilled workers, and

You funded and filled the ranks of the military that protected national interests at home and overseas, and

You elected and funded the governments that enacted ordinances and programs that very often favoured companies, protected them from theft and fraud and enforced the status quo, and

You bought the products that continued to decline in quality and increase in cost so that corporations could continue to show record profits over the previous record profits, and

You trusted your money to the banks that loaned it to corporations for assets and capital, and

You carried the tax burden in the name of job creators who withdrew from the economy whenever it suited them, or who chose to create jobs in cheaper countries, or who chose to be economically punitive by tossing you aside whenever they wanted to prove a point about how unhappy they were.

And it is not unreasonable for you to expect some return on the life and wealth you have invested for the public good.

You didn’t get that return on your investment.

You were rewarded with economic terror to justify taking away collective bargaining rights.

You were rewarded with escalating prices on food and gas and utilities and products while companies cited rising costs and reaped record profits.

You were rewarded with an increased tax burden in the name of job creation that never happened.

You were rewarded with fears about your pension or your medical benefits which have been eroded and slashed to a point of unsustainability.

You were rewarded with deflection, with rhetoric that made you blame a racial group or immigrants or “promiscuous” women or gays and lesbians or poor, homeless and dependent people or unions and teachers or other religions or “degenerate” youth or transsexual and transgender people for the growing unfairness.

You were rewarded with a campaign to claw back employment benefits that exist because employers had to compete in order to attract quality workers.

You were rewarded with divisions designed to keep the working classes from mobilizingd for some economic parity.

Today, the responsibility falls upon us to regain some of that economic parity.

So.

If all the Occupy movement accomplishes is to return to your hands the power that rightfully belongs to you…

Then…

It is worth everything.

(Crossposted to rabble.ca. Mercedes will be participating in Occupy Calgary.  For an event near you, visit Occupy Together)

Decolonizing Trans As Allies

(Part of a three-part series:
Part 1: The Death of the Transgender Umbrella
Part 2: Why The Umbrella Failed
Part 3: Decolonizing Trans as Allies)

I’ve mentioned alliance when dissecting the problems with umbrella thinking in transsexual and gender diverse activism, in “The Death of the ‘Transgender’ Umbrella” and “Why The Umbrella Failed.”  It’s easy to pull something apart — the more challenging question now becomes: how do we do activism if not as a single umbrella community?  Why do transsexual and gender diverse peoples ally, and how do we ally?  Or should we ally at all?

For the moment, I’m speaking specifically about the rifts between transsexual and gender diverse groups, although many of the same principles apply to LGBT activism as well.  Personally, I’m in favour of building communities and building alliances — but ones that are not fraught with the structural framing issues or conformity requirements that umbrella activism is susceptible to.  I don’t expect everyone to be on board with that, and that’s fine — but there are excellent reasons to seriously consider it.

Continue reading Decolonizing Trans As Allies

Why the Umbrella Failed

(Part of a three-part series:
Part 1: The Death of the Transgender Umbrella
Part 2: Why The Umbrella Failed
Part 3: Decolonizing Trans as Allies)

While writing “The Death of the ‘Transgender’ Umbrella,” it became necessary to clarify something in my own mind.  The language is changing, yes, but the aspect of the word “transgender” that had especially changed was also the thing that seemed to make it most valuable: its use as an umbrella concept.

While it’s true that the specific words we use are ultimately irrelevant to how human rights protections are encoded in law, the way we’re framing our issues currently does in fact set us up for serious conflict between binary-identified and non-binary trans people when addressing issues of legal documentation and accommodation, and also spawns confusion and misunderstanding when the general public is faced with multiple narratives and tries to figure out how to parse them into a single entity.  We need to recognize — and sooner rather than later — how couching transsexual and gender diverse issues under a single umbrella creates an expectation of a single narrative with a single solution to all associated challenges. Continue reading Why the Umbrella Failed

In The Bedrooms of the Nation I: A Brief Canadian History and Political Forces

Social consciousness was in a state of flux.  Oral contraceptives had been available in the U.S. for several years but were banned in Canada.  Sodomy had been decriminalized in the U.K. in 1967.  Medical professionals and activists called for the legalization of abortion in circumstances where the pregnancy caused immediate danger to the mother.  And George Klippert was convicted of “gross indecency” for having consensual gay sex — and because he was determined to be “incurably homosexual,” he was sentenced to indefinite “preventive” detention (essentially a life sentence, which the Supreme Court of Canada later upheld).

On Dec. 21, 1967, Justice Minister and future Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau responded by introducing Omnibus Bill C-150, which amended the Criminal Code of Canada.  It decriminalized homosexuality, made abortion possible, legalized contraception, tweaked gambling and gun laws, and more.  It passed on May 14, 1969, coming into force on the eve of the Stonewall riots in New York City.  When introducing the bill, he famously told CBC,

there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.

42 years later, it keeps trying.

Continue reading In The Bedrooms of the Nation I: A Brief Canadian History and Political Forces

Transbigotry?

When I was about three or four years old – enough to be talking but not enough to be in kindergarten – my mother carried me through the lineup to the tellers at the bank. I had never seen a person of colour, and so I’d been awed to see a tall fellow with that “purple”-deep colour of skin. I turned to my mother and said, “oh, mom, I’d never let myself get that dirty.”

My embarassed mother kindly explained that some people are simply born with darker skin, and that ended my experience of personally-felt racial bigotry. A few years later, I learned from a close friend I’d made from Trinidad that skin colours sometimes come with cultural differences. It never occurred to me that any one skin colour or culture was any better than any other.

But I did also learn quickly that others didn’t necessarily share that same blissful innocence. As much as it clearly puzzled me when people expressed their contempt for my friend, it was certainly apparent to me that their contempt was very real. Even in Canada, where hatred was nowhere near as entrenched as it was further south, racism thrived.

I’ve also experienced it from the receiving side, twofold, one from the perspective of being Métis, in a culture where Natives are largely despised. In this situation, shame is taught implicitly, where it is intimated that a person should take refuge in their French last name, or resort to referring to their nationality as “mongrel” rather than identifying themselves as Métis. While I have since learned to be proud of my culture and now mourn not having been able to learn more of the traditions associated with it, it was still a painful experience hiding and pretending that nothing was amiss.

My other experience of bigotry came from being transgender. Even though it took me several decades to finally transition, the feelings were always there, and every crass joke that people made about men in dresses or every condemnation of “those perverts” served to drive me further into hiding, further into shame and further into the nightly suffocated struggle that almost culminated in suicide many times.

So if we learn so intimately how painful it is from the side of the victim, why is bigotry so easily foisted around in our own community?

Every so often, someone turns up the tune, “I’m Not a Fucking Drag Queen,” popularized by the movie, Better Than Chocolate. When I’d first heard it, the song was cute for about the first minute that it took before I started wondering exactly what was wrong about being a drag queen and why we should despise being associated with them. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with defining oneself and pointing out when assumptions made about transsexuals based on the behaviours of others are fallacious, but I fail to see why it needs to be done at someone else’s expense. And yet, there is an enormous rift between many of the transgender communities where this self-defining takes on darker overtones: transsexuals trying to differentiate themselves from crossdressers and drag performers, crossdressers who feel that people who would undergo surgery to change their bodies are extremists and delusional, drag performers who embrace being gay and who feel that their compatriots should just wise up and do the same… there’s an ongoing factionalism that in many communities continues to drive wedges between us.

It does not stop there. At the grassroots level, our communities often ostracize people because they choose to be non-operative (because it isn’t consistent with the “one true way” medical model), or because they have spent some time in the sex trade, or because they play in the leather community (even when they display a healthy differentiation between fantasy and reality, and are clearly transgender in the latter). FTMs and MTFs sometimes feel that they have too many different needs to belong in the same support groups, and intersex people often balk at any association at all with anything transgender, some of whom have never experienced dysphoria and might have been lucky enough to be assigned the right gender at birth. It’s not unusual to see homophobia rear its ugly head when debates flare up between those who work with the local GLB folks (I mean the ones who seriously try to be supportive, not proven nemeses like the Human Rights Commission a.k.a. HRC) and those who call anyone who does so a “traitor.…” And then there’s the support meetings I’ve sat through where people complain about or tell unflattering jokes about “Pakis.” Or the “drunken Indians” comments said with no care that someone in the room is Métis.

If one had any doubts:

“… Susan has said all along that she’s not like other transgender people. She feels uncomfortable even looking at some, ‘like I’m seeing a bunch of men in dresses.’” – The St. Petersburg Times, about Susan
Stanton.

I’ll dispense with my take on Susan Stanton quickly. Although I object to her comments, I do see her as a creator of her own misery. Where she complains that “the transgender groups boo me,” and that her transition is a somewhat solitary one, this is a path that she carves for herself. When she had decided to become an activist, she failed to educate herself in the diversity of the community and the many needs it has, and in so doing she dropped the ball. By surrounding herself with people who are telling her that “Most Americans aren’t ready for us yet,” she’s succumbed to their rhetoric, rather than giving serious thought to the matter. A neophyte to transadvocacy, she has no idea how thoroughly and deeply the history of betrayal from her friends, the HRC, runs. But she will find out, when the next betrayal comes along and leaves her hanging in the wind. And when that happens, I see no need for hard feelings enduring from her novice mistakes, provided she becomes willing to see and admit where she was wrong. From my perspective, the personal maligning ends there.

As much as her comment angers me, though, I think it’s important that the subject has been brought up, because this is not just about Susan Stanton. This attitude persists far beyond this one incident.

“… like I’m seeing a bunch of men in dresses.”

This isn’t an altogether unusual complaint, in my experience. I’ve seen the aversion that people have to transwomen who’ve been harder-ravaged by testosterone, with heavy brows, deep voices, large statures, strong jawbones, recessive hairlines, wide shoulders…. “How can you be comfortable being seen in a store with her?” I’ve been asked. “I’d be terrified, and have to make myself as scarce as possible….”

Sorry folks, but not all of these things can be corrected with cosmetic surgery. And those things that can are often so costly that they become inaccessible to much of the community. We don’t all face the same challenges. For some of us, transition will be a lifelong process, and stealth is not a realistic objective. Should rights and protections then be only available to those who are “passable,” based on some unknown subjective scale? While conscientious and active advocates know better, I think our community would be surprised at some of the grassroots answers to that question. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on how often the “men in dresses” attitude is used as justification for shunning crossdressers, some of whom are transsexual at heart but held back by life circumstances (children, spouses, careers) and others of whom are dual-identified and need to alternately express both genders with the same intensity that we need to live one.

Please also understand that I don’t claim this bigotry to be endemic of the entire community, which can be an invaluable source of support and friendship. But it does exist in pockets, and where it does exist, it drives people away from the support they need, and likewise drives away those who would be happy (or at least willing) to provide it.

“’But I don’t blame the human rights groups from separating the transgender people from the protected groups. Most Americans aren’t ready for us yet,’ Susan says. Transgender people need to be able to prove they’re still viable workers — especially in the mainstream.”

Until there is protection in place to occasionally discourage employers from firing workers just for being trans, it will continue to be a complicated and sometimes monumental task to carve a successful career, and will continue to happen only so long as a person can remain “passably” stealth and not draw attention… or cause the right-wing fearmongers out there to panic and pick up their torches. And as long as successful transgender people are not free to draw attention, no one will take notice of their accomplishments and associate them with transgender individuals, and this “proving” that is being touted will never take place. Is the world ready for a transgender city manager? In the rest of society, the answer to that would depend solely on personal job qualifications – apparently, we’re to be patronized into believing that we’re not ready for that, yet. And the wonderful thing about the Barney Frank trumpet-that-there-isn’t-enough-support-of-transgender-rights approach is that the louder and more frequent they get on the subject, the more they will convince the legislators who might have once voted for transgender rights.

There is a reason that society associates transgender people with “shemale” porn, bank robberies, unemployment and marginal lifestyles. If you’re not lucky enough to be deemed suitably “passable,” it can be difficult to secure the lowest of jobs – whatever the qualifications. With the difficulties sometimes just in landing a minimum wage job at McDonald’s, coupled with the costs of hormones and surgeries needed just to arrive at a point of peace with oneself, frankly, the sex trade is unfortunately one of the most viable solutions. This will not change until a signal – one with some legal clout – is sent out into the professional world that it is no longer acceptable to exclude transgender people from more viable career paths.

And the transgender community will not be helping itself in pushing forward for these kinds of needs as long as it is still wrapped up in exclusion, distaste and division, and creating environments in which advocacy continues to eat its own. Often, I’ve heard people trumpet that Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson and others who threw the first stones that touched off the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement were transgender, in protest of the gay community’s past history of excluding us from the bargaining table. And far too often, I’ve heard (sometimes in the same breath!) derision of drag artists, sex trade workers and anyone else deemed to create a “negative impression” of the transgender community. But at the time of Stonewall, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson et al were drag queens and prostitutes. Sometimes, I think that the only thing that has changed since Stonewall is that gradually some of our community have managed to escape the ranks of the disenfranchised, and are trying to distance themselves from them. Once again, there is a repeat of the cycle of jettisoning the less fortunate – financially, physically or both – and some of us seem to have no qualms about doing to them what was done previously to us (and for exactly the same reasoning).

From time to time, it’s good to remember what inclusion really means, and embrace the consequences. As far as the move toward exclusion, I’ll have no part of it. I’d never let myself get that dirty.