In this blog, I am what Autumn Sandeen has recently described as being a bad tranny.
I will criticize the way some lesbian and gay people, particularly those in positions of power in Egale Canada (and Canadians for Equal Marriage), have responded to the demands of transgender and transsexual people for equal voice and equal resources to fight for those goals long accepted by this very organization.
Egale Canada advances equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified people, and their families, across Canada. (http://www.egale.ca/)
This is the mandate of Egale Canada as taken from its website.
If Egale Canada, its staff and board had ever been truly committed to its avowed goal, as declared in their mandate, this blog might well have been an act self-destructive to the goals I espoused while a volunteer there–and probably would have never been written.
They never were.
And because of this Egale Canada is now irrelevant not only to transgender and transsexual people but also to gay, lesbian and bisexual people because it never heeded the future.
Sadly, it never had to be this way.
The title of this blog was the phrase the former Executive Director of Egale Canada gave when asked why Egale Canada and Canadians For Equal Marriage would not refer to transgender and transsexual people (trans people for short) with equal profile nor afforded comparable resources as gay and lesbian people.
Later he denied using this phrase–though I suspect his earlier candor gave way to something else. But even if this was a case of cryptonesia on my part (remembering something that never happened), it is still the most apt description of the attitude of Egale Canada–and many gay and lesbian people to this day–even when it has proven self-destructive to Egale Canada.
I was not the only one who predicted this. None of us were heard.
His rationale, and I remain grateful for it, is quite simple.
For an organization based upon the struggles of gay and lesbian people and sexual orientation, which is the defining characteristic of gay and lesbian people, the development of another message based not on orientation would clearly be inconvenient–even if it is the right thing to do.
How can they change direction after all this time? How can we ask them to give up a winning formula–even/especially when it has won what it set out to win?
There is also an assumption that media will never be able to understand those other than gay and lesbian people who are marginal and are struggling for the same recognition. That this assumption has never been tested seems not to have impinged upon this attitude.
Such a different message would clearly be divisive because the unity of the/their movement is based upon their self-defined oneness as those who love people of the same sex–the definition of themselves through whom they are attracted to.
Certainly, there is an internal/spiritual component to this, but the decision was made long ago that the most convenient way to achieve oneness was to concentrate on the notion of relationships and upon those who are the least offensive to straight people–regardless of need.
So, this became a movement that has historically thrown overboard all those who do not conform with this notion of oneness–and inoffensiveness–that has expelled not only transgender and transsexual people in its quest for acceptance as just another, slight, variant of straight.
Such a different message is clearly divisive.
Why has it proven impossible even to conceive of a movement inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression? Why has the power of imagination of these long time warriors now failed? What is the possible future for an organization whose leaders no longer have the ability to see the future?
There were many internal criticisms of the images long associated with equal marriage–which in its origins, as once posted to the equal marriage website, was clearly limited to gay and lesbian people–which never included people of colour nor those not of middle-class or middle age.
All of us excluded from the equal marriage campaign are clearly far more marginal than white, middle-class, middle age gay and lesbian people.
This is an attitude only possible for those who have achieved more than a little comfort and more than a little affluence.
Ultimately, it is quite unnecessary to include transgender and transsexual people because, ultimately we will come out as gay or lesbian and once we so identify all these gay and lesbian only policies will apply to us and we will naturally accept their professional leadership.
Over the years gay and lesbian people have developed professional skills and personalities that once upon a time they did not have and might have been criticized by straight people for not having them yet wanting to do what ‘only professionals can do’–and gay and lesbian people responded that they were homophobic.
This is precisely where transgender and transsexual people now are–though we dare not respond that they are transphobic.
There is a certain arrogance to this position because it conveniently erases the concerns transgender and transsexual people have before they ever get to the point of being able to come out as gay or lesbian. How the hell can we have a sexual orientation when we don’t have a sex/gender from which to have orientation?
(I remain unconvinced that, even post-op, my understanding of sex/gender and orientation will ever be the same as any cissexual person.)
And where do our health needs come in that are not those of gay and lesbian people?
And where do our human rights come in? Despite routine misinformation transgender and transsexual people do not have formal, explicit human rights anywhere in Canada–except North West Territories.
And what about those transgender and transsexual people who are not gay or lesbian? Where do they fit in? Do they fit in with sexual orientation?
And for that matter where do gender-variant gay and lesbian people fit in? Is their gender expression covered by sexual orientation?
All of this places transgender and transsexual people much further to the margins than gay and lesbian people.
At the moment the Civil Marriage Act–the law that recognizes the marriage of any two people, regardless of sex/gender, though this was never used as a basis for public messaging–was passed into law in mid-2005, Egale Canada noticed a precipitous drop in fundraising–because, obviously, many people had achieved their goal and were no longer interested in what some felt was exorbitant demands for money from both Canadians for Equal Marriage and Egale Canada. They tag teamed the same fundraising lists every month.
And they were simply not interested in the needs of those more marginal than themselves.
I, among others, pointed this out to the then ED but he was, at the time, unconcerned.
Egale Canada entered a funding crisis it has never escaped. This was the beginning of the downsizing of staff and office space, of its profile and of its relevance to anyone.
During my involvement, I was not the only person who advocated for Egale Canada to take up the cause of transgender and transsexual people. This would have been a good thing not only because it is right and that Egale Canada had long committed itself to this–though the then ED admitted he had been unaware of this long policy history until I pointed it out–but because it is the future.
It would have positioned Egale Canada to benefit from the inevitable rise in the profile of transgender and transsexual people as the awareness that it is our human rights that are the last frontier among marginal people–and it is/was the best way for Egale Canada to continue its institutional existence.
Sadly, this never happened.
I have read on the xtra.ca website that Egale Canada is gearing up for a big campaign on trans issues this fall. However, true to its politburo style, no one seems to have heard anything about this–or been invited to help.
Yet there is at this moment not even a press release on the recent declaration of the Ontario Minister of Health that transsexual surgery will be relisted under Ontario medicare. True to long standing form, not even this is possible. Anyway, such a release would itself be inconvenient, divisive and ultimately, of course, unnecessary.
What can be said of the commitment of an organization which would rather remain true to its past glories than advocate for the ‘equality and justice’ of those most marginal in society–and in its mandate–or even take the necessary steps to maintain its institutional existence?
The best that can be said of those gay and lesbian people facing the past is that they were long-time warriors for their cause with a warrior’s focus on their own struggles.
I would have been proud to continue my work with Egale Canada–my application for the board of directors was sat on for 3 years–to continue its best traditions.
I no longer regret I won’t have that opportunity.