A Transformative Citation

April 17, 2012
“Hearken unto me, fellow creatures. I who have dwelt in a form unmatched with my desire, I whose flesh has become an assemblage of incongruous anatomical parts, I who achieve the similitude of a natural body only through an unnatural process, I offer you this warning: the Nature you bedevil me with is a lie. Do not trust it to protect you from what I represent, for it is a fabrication that cloaks the groundlessness of the privilege you seek to maintain for yourself at my expense. You are as constructed as me; the same anarchic Womb has birthed us both. I call upon you to investigate your nature as I have been compelled to confront mine. I challenge you to risk abjection and flourish as well as have I. Heed my words, and you may well discover the seams and sutures in yourself.”

— Susan Stryker

No More Apologies, Ottawa

April 17, 2012

Tried to post this to http://themendingyear.blogspot.ca/2012/04/april-14-2012.html

I was also there.

There were several symbolic moments, but then, as one of the oppressed–we hardly use that word for trans women–I would have been the one to notice.

It was the moment when the organizers said,”Trans women Go Over There!” which perfectly described the political situation I, and others like me, are placed in. And it was so naturalized, no one, except for myself, notice.

It certainly seemed a whole lot longer than five minutes for the door to the main/public space to open. But then, on this side of the privilege/oppression divide, these things seem only as long as our lives.

Again, the political tin ear of the whole event showed through.

I was wondering when one of the few feminists there, there must have been one or two, would actually say, “the personal is the political.” But, again, that is not what someone on the other side of the privilege/oppression divide would say–the privilege side–applying to themselves in this reverse context.

They got to the point of accepting that some personal introspection might well be desirable, in good liberal fashion, but I actually waited for someone, other than myself, to actually say what clearly is a dirty word: politics.

Almost as dirty as the word: convenience.

For all the hard work and good will/good faith that went into organizing the conference, I was interested in the 4:1 cis to trans ration in the conference (even without the ‘usual suspects’) and the almost reverse ratio at the dance later.

Emotions being the personal thing they are, they are not accessible to public scrutiny.

But then, the keynote speaker, from Toronto, said that emotions are shaped by prejudices. But even the person from Toronto couldn’t bring herself to go to the next step: prejudices are shaped by politics.

To paraphrase what someone once said of theory: you can be for politics, you can be against politics, but you can’t be without politics.

Without a political analysis of privilege/oppression which even feminism can’t apply to itself, and the subjects defined by feminism cannot apply to themselves, either. And those of us who are the subjects of their oppression cannot stand up and defiantly declare our challenge, as feminists once did, such conferences will achieve exactly what this one did: the recreation of the political context.

Surveying the Political Economic Environment

July 13, 2010

The issue at the heart of this post is very close to me these days.

In Canada, our largest food retailer, Loblaws, has just had a majority strike vote. “More serious” discussions are supposed to come of this, though I am hesitant and uncertain where to buy food if or when most supermarkets are closed due to strike.

In recent years, I’ve watched Loblaws create two-tier wages, and, in its superstore–created in response to Walmart’s incursion into food retailing–have no union at all. Loblaws is now not majority organized.

A woman I know, who was in the top tier, took a buy-out, took training, and now has a new career as a library technician.

Over the years, I’ve watched as its major competitor, Steinbergs, disappeared, an early victim of Conrad Black. In my local mall, Billings Bridge Plaza, there used to be both a Steinbergs and a Loblaws. The Loblaws now there really isn’t a Loblaws anymore, it is an “independent supermarket,” though it is supplied by Loblaws and remains filled with President’s Choice products.

When it changed “shingle,” they changed the layout; after 25 years of knowing where things were, several years later I’m still not quite sure where everything is.

Today in the mall, there is a Cole’s Bookstore, the original Canadian chain, and the foundation for what is now the Chapters-Coles-Indigo mega-chain including the Chapters superstores; I work at the Ottawa flagship Chapters. My mother was, for a short time, secretary to Cole, the founder of the Cole’s chain, at the end of World War II.

Up until about 2000, there was another small, local chain store, Prospero, the Book Company in Billings Bridge. The owner of the Chapters chain already owned Prospero when she bought Chapters and Cole’s, so, after she became the owner of virtually all Canadian bookselling, the Canadian Competition Bureau required her not to have stores within certain geographical limits; so Prospero’s had to leave Billings Bridge.

I watched the growth of Chapters.

I saw it not only take over virtually all bookselling in Canada, I saw it take over the largest book distributor in Canada with the result, rather like Walmart, it controls what it doesn’t own, i.e., Canadian book publishing. Its effect on Canadian publishing was also a matter in the Competition Bureau’s ruling after the current owner bought Chapters.

I never really expected to be working in the belly of the beast. But, in bilingual Ottawa, it is one of the few retailers that doesn’t require completely fluent bilingualism of its employees.

What is my point for all of this?

I’m not convinced of the effect of personal, individual choice to stop, or even slow, the inexorable march of the political economy and its oppression; I’m not sure what choice is, President’s Choice, or any choice now that it is the core of capitalism, and, as far as I can see, the core of our oppression.

When I was an undergraduate in the early 70′s–the first time–a young woman whom I was very attracted to left school for a commune; I have long lost track of her. In those days, the commune out of which Perth County Conspiracy was formed also flourished–you can get its record, a beautiful collection of songs, on YouTube;it is unclear whether this commune still exists, either.

I have long not been able to accept the idea that one can escape the monetized, late capitalist society, get off the grid.

I don’t own a car, never have; I never really bought the argument such a possession/commodity would bestow freedom.

I don’t buy water in plastic bottles. Its not because of the dependence on oil, and its detrimental effect on the environment, nor even the thought of selling water to Americans and others as part of some export-led recovery (we’re always trying for an export-led recovery!); its simply the idea of selling something that’s part of the Commons, even to Canadians. The whole idea just seems wrong to me, always has; guess I’ll never be a capitalist.

I remember watching Ground Zero of 9/11 how, in an earlier age, barrels or trucks of water would have appeared, but then there appeared “boxes” of water bottles; I’m sure someone received a tax credit for providing a “commercial good,” a commodity.

My current computer was a gift from a friend who built it–though with mass produced parts; I don’t think there are computers built with handmade chips, etc.

What is my point in writing this?

I think the model of individual action works less when there is no competition, when elites have crafted a world in which there is no competition, the world of late capitalism in which we live–and cannot escape.

This oppression is hard to conceptualize, particularly for those raised on the ideology of competition–that no longer exists or includes them, if it ever really did.

I have no details, but I struggle with what must be the new model, one whose very conception is militated against by the very fabric of what/how we are permitted to think–the oppression of late capitalist political economy.

It will have to be a collective model.

The Only Challenge to Oppression

July 13, 2010

[Another blog from TGV_Advocacy.]

There is not a different process for gendering of intersex persons from transsex persons. Even if one rejects O’Keefe’s point about the intersex nature of transsex persons, there is not so much space/resources in people that there can be subject-specific processes for intersex persons, transsex persons, gay and lesbian persons, cissexual persons, cissexual, cisgender persons. Besides, Occam’s Razor would militate against such.

The point about intersex persons is their existence is an overt challenge not only to the gendering process, but to the way we all are sexed–which is the more fundamental status: gender privilege is erected upon sex status and privilege.

The point about transsex persons is their existence is a covert challenge, not only to the gendering process, but to the way we are sexed–the consequences to the gendering process are on display all the time in the controversies around [trans]gender ideology.

In social work we are taught about praxis, which is itself derived from the work of Paulo Freire; it is really a simple concept:


Abstraction is itself not evil, it is just reflection; it becomes evil when it is divorced from action.

When it becomes estranged from action and experience.

The question in the lives of gay and lesbian people has made the fundamental contribution to understanding, even creating, the notion called heterosexual privilege.

The question in the lives of feminists has made the fundamental contribution to understanding, even creating, the notion called sexism, based upon gendering.

The question in the lives of intersex persons has made the fundamental contribution to understanding the overt nature of sex, what it is, how it is conceptualized and reified.

The question in the lives of transgender(ed) persons has made, along with gay and lesbian people and feminists, the fundamental contribution to understanding, even creating, the notion of gendering. This question illuminates cisgender privilege.

The question in the lives of transsex persons has made, along with intersex persons, the fundamental contribution to understanding the nature of sex–rather like bisexual persons, transsex persons appear to be one thing when they are another (before and early in the process of transition). What is illuminated by this question is cissexual privilege.

What is common to all these apparently disparate processes is that questioning of what is apparently fixed, determined by “science” and the way people are, moves what is apparent understanding beyond what the “normal” “majority” experience and understand.

When we are embedded within something, like heterosexuality, misogyny,  cisgenderism, cissexuality, we cannot see or understand it. We must move outside–be forced outside; this allows us to raise the question, to abstract.

To understand we must abstract, rather like unravelling a rope to see what threads make it up, but then, as part of our praxis–which is, of course, a dialectic–we must ravel the threads back together.

The evil comes when understanding is stopped at any of these stations: people, as part of the human condition, find it quite natural not to understand life questions that are not their own.

This is why we are a perceived threat to the “moral majority” crowd, and even to others who are part of what some have called TBLG. The “moral majority” is, of course, neither “moral” nor a “majority” because we, all of us, throw the light of truth not only on our own lives, but everyone’s life and each other’s.

I can only say that advocacy evolves out of analysis and theory, which must themselves be grounded in lived experience and return to lived experience:

action=>reflection=>action=>reflection . . . . .

This is the dialectic of praxis; praxis is the only challenge to oppression.

Asking the Question of Oppression

July 13, 2010

[This is another blog derived from a post to TGV_Advocacy email list.]

It seems rather arrogant to dismiss the struggle(s) of all those who subscribe to this list–at the very least it is a very broad stroke–that all the “most radical trans advocacy” is happening in Spanish, elsewhere.

It is interesting you hold up for admiration Venezuela and Ecuador, both countries that have elected progressive, if not radical presidents in direct opposition to the wishes of their media, their elites and against the wishes of the United States, its leadership and its elites. Nicaragua, of course, felt the heel of the US when it elected the Sandinistas. One might also include Cuba, which has made quite startling advances in recent months for transsexual people–and is also Spanish speaking.

There is one, dramatic, political economic difference between these countries and the US; they elected presidents who kept their word regarding radical change.

Most Americans, including many on this list, are quite satisfied with the American political economy, and can see no connection between their own oppression, the oppression of others, and the political economy they are content with.

Much of this can be laid at the feet of a generations long explicit policy of changing the frames people think with, as George Lakoff, Robert Parry, among others, have repeatedly pointed to.

However, all politics is local.

The kind of revolution that occurred in Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Cuba, the necessary pre-requisite to the kind of “most radical trans advocacy” you advocate is not yet possible in America.

The inability to grasp the overarching political economy of oppression demonstrated by the Upper Branch Coal Mine Disaster, the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the financial disaster–the Great Recession–the opposition to stimulus of the American economy is both a demonstration and cause of the failure of American politics.

To grasp what is common to all these inevitable disasters.

David Dayen has pointed out how even the presentation of objective fact, such as in each of the cases above, actually lead the misinformed to believe lies more strongly; this is increasingly a defining characteristic of America.

It also shows the failure of the really quite run of the mill centre-right kind of Democrat Obama really is–he refuses to rally Americans as Ecuador’s Correa, Venezuela’s Chavez, Bolivia’s Morales have done, against their own elites, and, of course, there is Cuba; he simply refused to keep his promises, as Democrats always do (don’t); this lays the groundwork for a far more reactionary, energized Republican resurgence.

What happens to transsexual and transgender people is part of a larger picture of oppression painted by political economy, the very thing that is rendered so invisible by media, elites and leadership.

Most Americans, given the generations long reframing project of the Right, simply will not accept the idea that these countries, and their presidents, might be the model for positive change in their own country.

My argument is quite simple: this revolution of thinking, let alone action, will not happen in America or on this list, or in Canada, until the larger question of oppression is asked; it cannot be answered until it is asked.

What is LGBT?

July 7, 2010

There are those who refuse to recognize the existence of the struggle that is neither with gender–that which society imposes–nor with  sexual orientation–they little understand the struggle with the sex of our own bodies.

This continued refusal to recognize transsexual people takes some, obviously absent, understanding. An understanding also absent when one sees that same-sex sex, unsurprisingly to me at least, is gender non-normative, that is, transgender; this is quite different from those whose quest is for body congruity.

So, analytically, LGBT has become gay/lesbian people, and those people who, like gay/lesbian people, are gender non-normative, challenging what society imposes.

The dominant discourse is to exclude transsexual people because our lives are incomprehensible: our challenge is not to societally imposed gender norms, but to the physical dissonance of morphological sex; our challenge is to our own bodies.

LGBT=sexual orientation and consequential challenge to gender norms

transsexual=physical dissonance with anatomical/morphological sex, a challenge to our body’s sex

This might seem to be a challenge to society’s imposed gender norms, but only for an analysis that lacks both depth and sincerity. It is so obviously inconvenient even to say the word–transsexual–let alone demonstrate understanding of it; it is something quite different from sexual orientation and gender non-conformity.

UPDATE: I have recently come across this report purporting to be about GLBT health in Washington D.C. which does not include “transgender, transsexual and gender diverse” people.

Undue Hardship

July 7, 2010

When I began my transition, I was given a “carry letter.” I was never asked for it, but I was assured it might be necessary, especially if I travelled.

If there is a legal situation, as there was in Canada, as there might yet be in the United States, where medical treatment trumps identity, why is it unreasonable?

In Canada, under human rights law, there is a duty to accommodate to the limit of undue hardship.

For whom is the hardship undue? This is a balance between each employer and each employee, between each individual and the public.

The balance is different when one is on Real Life Experience than when one is not; this was specifically addressed, and with respect to washrooms, in the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal decision in 1999, Sheridan v. Sanctuary Investments.

It is undue hardship for an employer to fire an employee who crossdresses on their own time, but is it undue hardship for the employee not to crossdress on the job?

It is undue hardship on the person who is required to take medical treatment for the medical condition of transsexuality not to use the washroom that conforms with the sex she is working towards; is it undue hardship for someone who presents cross gender part time to use the washrooms that conform to their birth-assigned sex, not their part time gender presentation?

The line between medical requirement and full time presentation regardless of medical status seems to have dissolved in Canada which would address the concerns of those who, for whatever reasons choose NOT, or are not able, to physically transition.

Employers and club/gym owners still have the duty to accommodate pre-op transsexual people, yes, those who can prove they are on Real Life Experience, to the point of undue hardship, which means providing alternative, family, or whatever, changing/shower facilities–but there are limits.

Some will argue this net isn’t wide enough, and those who are not full time must also be included.

I understand that the onus of showing undue hardship lies on the part of those who endure it. In a legal environment where the duty to accommodate is the expectation, this showing is not the barrier those who seek absolute edicts fear.

I am increasingly curious and concerned about the lack of concern for those not part of our populations: those neither transsexual nor transgender–though the latter population can be construed to be an enormously large number of people, including gay and lesbian people and those neither homosexual nor transsexual.

One of the things I see all the time in discussions by Americans on these issues is the absolute position they take–their belief is the only permissible one.

Agreement among our populations is difficult to achieve, is so hard even to think, possibly growing out of struggle with the rabid views of those who will never agree with us, but what about the broad mid ground? I actually believe there is still something left of the mid ground, between our populations and those who will never agree with us, despite the ongoing polarization of America and its ongoing infection of Canada.

With extreme polarization no agreement is possible; the only possible solution is elimination, edict will not suffice.

Duty to accommodate to the limit of undue hardship is a very workable way to bring all people of good will, on all sides–they do exist–into the discussion, the education, and the solution I had assumed people who subscribe to equality also subscribed to.