Perspective of the Oppressor, Revisited

(UPDATE)

My purpose in writing commentaries for this blog is to explore and discover why certain things happened and, more importantly, why certain other things did not happen in the course of my work in organizations with self-declared and democratically arrived at commitments to all sexual and gender minorities.

This grew out of posting, first, to Egale Canada’s national trans list and to the national, now main, list. After a system-wide crash at Egale Canada some years ago, the trans list was never relaunched, unlike the more general list which, previously, had been primarily for issues of sexual orientation.

Since I have been writing for this blog my purpose for posting to the main Egale list has changed–particularly as my comments have become less welcome over the years. It has become an opportunity of some research interest–not that it is any kind of accurate quantitative sampling of the opinion of gay and lesbian people (and some who might self-describe as transgender) but a way to do qualitative soundings regarding the attitudes of those who claim to be knowledgeable about trans issues and who care.

It has been alleged there I criticize Egale Canada–and the list–in terms of, on the one hand, they don’t care and on the other, I have accused ‘them’ of being transphobic.

To take the second allegation first, I challenge anyone to do a word search on either my posts, or this blog, for the frequency of the appearance of the words “transphobic, transphobia.” Other than this comment, I quite doubt they appear.

On the contrary, I agree with Christopher Shelley’s contention that transphobia is more appropriately applied to the kind of violence that Allen Andrade committed on Angie Zapata this past summer in Colorado when he hit her on the head with a fire extinguisher twice, and when she got up, hit her a third time and killed her. When caught in her car a week later, he declared that he killed “it.”

That is transphobia.

As Susan Stryker, in Transgender History (recently short-listed for this year’s Lambda Award), states:

Because people have great difficulty recognizing the humanity of another person if they cannot recognize that person’s gender, the gender-changing person can evoke in others a primordial fear of monstrosity, or loss of humanness. That gut level fear can manifest itself as hatred, outrage, panic, or disgust, which may translate into physical or emotional violence directed against the person who is perceived as not-quite-human. (Transgender History, p. 6)

While useful, I believe Stryker enters on the same kind of “homogenizing” project, from the opposite direction,  that the gay rights movement embarked upon from shortly after Stonewall–and that Egale Canada embarked upon most clearly since John Fisher stepped down as Executive Director in 2002. Simply put, in the politically necessary strategy for large political entities, the only strategy known in any practical sense is that of the policed single-identity movement, often inaccurately called “coalition.”

One of the most useful comments on the Egale list was that “LGBT organizations cannot serve the interests of any ‘subset’ of LGBT.” In other words, regardless of express and explicit commitments made, in the form of mandates, constitutions and policies–all established through organization wide discussion and decision making–only LGBT unity interests can be served.

In practice, this has lead Egale Canada, since the departure of John Fisher, only to support issues of sexual orientation.

The tactical support for this ideological imperative is now well-established, though it continues to be invisible to those who believe in this ideology of “unity.”

These are now the most common tactics to exclude and erase transsexual people and often transgender people:

1) Create subsidiary entities to escape the constraints of express and explicit commitments while using all the organizational resources for this subsidiary, to the detriment of issues other than sexual orientation. The creation of Canadians for Equal Marriage by Egale Canada is the prime example. This is a conflict of interest, never declared or resolved–and obscured.

2) When inconvenient to go through the effort of creating a subsidiary to escape express and explicit commitments, simply establish a project outside of the organization as Gens Hellqvist, executive director of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, and, as Xtra.ca has called them, five other “Canadian queers” did when they launched a personal human rights complaint against Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada on behalf of gay, lesbian and bisexual people, defined to include two spirit people (“Aboriginal GLB people”) and “gender non-conforming” people, defined to be part of “all things homosexual.” Thus, transgender people are defined as GLB–leaving only transsexual people on our own. All the while using their organization’s resources. This is another conflict of interest, never declared or resolved–also obscured.

3) The easiest tactic is the current one of Egale Canada. Ignoring the clearly separate needs of trangender and especially transsexual youth from gay youth Egale simply enforces a gay identity on trans youth, thereby marginalizing them further. This is the tactic used in its recently announced panel discussion in response to its National Climate Survey on Homophobia in Canadian Schools, which can be found here. And in long time publicity for this survey. This is the most blatant, because most casual, conflict of interest, undeclared and unresolved.

First National Climate Survey on Homophobia in Canadian Schools

This is the formal title of Egale Canada’s school climate survey, which can be found here; I encourage readers to take a look and see how often transphobia and trans youth are actually referred to in the survey itself.

After reviewing the survey, the next document to review is the PDF backrounder on the survey which can be found here; it is called Egale Canada First National Survey on Homophobia in Canadian Schools; Phase One Results. Again, I encourage readers to investigate for themselves how often transphobia and trans youth are referred to–it is consistent with the survey itself.

The final document to review is the press release Egale Canada posted to its website which can be found here; it is entitled Gay Teens Surveyed Feel Unsafe in Schools. So far, the documents are consistent. However, in the first sentence things begin to go awry.

St. Johns: Results just released from the first phase of Egale Canada’s National Survey on Homophobia and Transphobia in Canadian Schools reveal that over two-thirds of those students who identify as lesbian, gay, bi, trans and Two-Spirit, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) feel unsafe at school.

Now, it is possible I have missed the other survey on Egale Canada’s website where transphobia and trans youth are specifically included, not simply added at the publicity stage to buff this product and to, ostensibly, conform to Egale’s express and explicit commitments to trans-identified people as indicated in its Mandate. (As I try to access Egale’s front page, with its Mandate including gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-identified people on March 26, I find it to be inaccessible. Even checking Google’s cached version, dated March 22, it is also not available. Maybe a change is coming?)

In this press release, Helen Kennedy, Executive Director, declares

We may have human rights for LGBTQ people in Canada, but you wouldn’t know it from these results.

I simply cannot accept that the Executive Director of Egale Canada is unaware of the explicit absence of formal humans rights recognition in Canada for transgender and transsexual people–unless she wishes to herself recognize a second class of unexplicit human rights, which the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel, as cited below, rejects.

It is here in the publicity for the survey that the pretzel-twisting begins: the survey has nothing to do with trans youth as trans youth–though there are probably some who will argue that trans youth are really gay youth and/or are victimized by homophobia, also. But this doesn’t recognize trans youth as the people they are. The survey publicity creates a false unity of trans and gay youth in its erasure of trans youth.

It is hard to escape the conclusion this survey, certainly the use to which it is put, is intellectually dishonest and deceptive.

I want to point out a contrast to the work Egale Canada is so proud of, the recent study by the Gay Lesbian Straight Educators Network (GLSEN) in the United States, Harsh Realities. This is the summary

Transgender youth face extremely high levels of victimization in school, even more than their non-transgender lesbian, gay and bisexual peers. But they are more likely to speak out about LGBT issues in the classroom.

If there were the sort of identity between trans and gay youth it seems necessary to Egale Canada to maintain, it is unlikely GLSEN would have come to the conclusions it has given the similarities between our countries. Given these broad similarities it is hard to escape the strong indication of significant differences between the everyday lives of gay and trans youth in Canada, too. At the very least, GLSEN’s study points to the urgent need for this sort of work to be done in Canada–and to move away from the inherent ideological bias and policed single identity in Egale Canada’s work.

It would really have been interesting, and certainly helpful, to see what a similar approach in Canada would have uncovered–if anyone had actually been interested in the lives of trans youth in Canada.

Pretzel-twisting, as is becoming common in Canadian gay and lesbian circles, is merely an attempt to make polically correct what is incorrect and simply wrong.

Why is it wrong?

Recognition is an important element in moving from the margins to the mainstream–as we argued at Canadians for Equal Marriage–and an important step in healing the trauma of both homophobia and transphobia.

This is what the Supreme Court of Canada said in its ruling in Vriend v. Alberta, in 1998, which recognized sexual orientation as an analogous right to those enumerated in Chapter 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Deliberate exclusion of sexual orientation resulting in serious discriminatory effects, including denial of access to remedial procedures and psychological harm from implicit message that homosexuals are not worthy of protection. (p. 25)

Maybe some will argue recognition is only appropriate for gay and lesbian people, not for transgender and certainly not for transsexual people?

A similar point was made by the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel in 2000 (as a direct result of the lobbying of John Fisher, then Executive Director of EGALE, as it was then known).

Although the Panel recognized that the Act currently protects these individuals from discrimination on the ground of sex or the combined grounds of sex and disability, it felt that the law fails to acknowledge the particular situation of transgendered persons and thereby renders them invisible. In view of the substantial harm that can be suffered by these persons, the Panel recommended that the Act expressly provide them with legal protection.

Can Egale Canada do any less?

This was the express policy of EGALE, even before it had adopted the Mandate now inaccessible, and before the trans advocacy policy it formally adopted in April, 2005. What has changed?

This has been the crux of the work of this blog.

Now to address the first allegation concerning my ongoing critique of Egale Canada.

It is always nice when people care about those more marginalized than themselves, but unless it actually results in commitment to action it is of little value–especially when it is used as an excuse for doing nothing, certainly nothing equal to what their own issues receive in a, supposedly, equally serving organization.

Frankly, I don’t care whether the gay and lesbian people who run Egale Canada or who support its ideology care about trans issues or not. I call on them, as on any who have made binding organizational commitments, to honour them.

The question always raised by this ideological repeal of express and explicit commitments without public discussion or decision making–unlike their establishment–and of the demand for endless discussion and decision making to actually fulfil long established mandates, constitutions and policies–as Capital Xtra’s former editor/publisher Gareth Kirkby has demanded–is one of fundamental democracy and commitment to human rights.

More satisfying reasons for this ideological repeal are erasure and repudiation.

Erasure
is a term I first heard when I became involved with Egale Canada in 2004, originated by Vivian Namaste, who writes:

the theories concerned with the production of transsexuality have got it wrong: transsexuals are not, in point of fact, produced by the medical and psychiatric institution. Rather, they are continually erased from the institutional world–shut out from its programs, excluded from its terms of reference. . . .I enquire about the relevance of writing theory that cannot make sense of the everyday world, and that actually contributes to the very invisibility of transsexuality that a critical theory needs to expose. (Sex Change, Social Change, p. 3)

This has become generalized to describe the very phenomena I chronicle in this blog.

For myself, however, the simple act of erasure has never constituted adequate reason for this happening. Nor does the frequent lament, there are not the resources to focus on the issues of gender identity and gender expression. There always seem to be resources for issues of sexual orientation–including the attempt to make trans people gay people–even if mobilizing these resources requires the pretzel-twisting I describe above.

It has been pointed out that ideology is a good explanation for these direct actions, though most of those who do these things are reasonably well-intentioned people; but they seem never to be able to see anything beyond issues of sexual orientation. The current example is the ‘homogenizing’ project–just policed single-identity–Egale Canada is adding a new chapter to, which I detail below.

The only explanation that works for me–and gives me some peace, actually–is Christopher Shelley’s notion of repudiation:

Subscription and faithfulness to a conscious or default political ideology does not necessarily point to the primacy of fear as the affective motivation for rejection and hostility. Hence, repudiation, a process of disavowal and negation that often includes fear yet also contains other schematic dynamics. . . . .repudiation connotes a multifaceted dynamic, often unconscious, a reactive process of ambivalence to an object that can evoke simple defensive negation through to extreme responses. (Transpeople: Repudiation, Trauma, Healing, p. 33)


Repudiation
underlies a continuum from the erasure of transgender and transsexual people as practiced by Egale Canada and the “six Canadian queers” associated with the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition–to the murderous transphobia of Allen Andrade.

In recent days, on the Egale Canada email list, Egale Canada has announced a panel discussion on:

High levels of Homophobic and Transphobic Bullying in Canadian Schools. The Reality of Homophobic and Transphobic Violence in Canadian Schools; A panel of educators, policymakers, researchers and students responding to Egale Canada’s First National Climate Survey on Homophobia and Transphobia in Canadian Schools. To be held April 1, 2009, at the OISE Library in Toronto.

The list of sponsors is

The Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies of the University of Toronto in conjunction with Egale Canada, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Canada, The Centre for Leadership and Diversity, OISE, The Centre for Urban Schooling, OISE, Central Toronto Youth Services, Griffin Centre, Rainbow Health Ontario, and The Triangle Program.

Maybe they are privy to another survey I cannot find on the Egale Canada website that respects trans youth as the GLSEN survey does?

Maybe this bait and switch is not noticed or is of no concern?

Maybe the issue of erasure and repudiation is of less importance to all those involved in this project than it is to the Supreme Court of Canada and the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel?

Maybe they simply cannot see trans people–repudiation–and that we are treated differently by the law and by the public, as well as by them?

Maybe they simply cannot see this is an act of marginalization and subjugation so shamelessly to submerge the identities of trans youth in the identities of gay youth?

Shouldn’t these organizations be in the business of protecting trans youth, seeking evidence as those in other countries do that is not twisted out of all resemblence to the truth by ideological concerns to maintain the dominance of their identity?

The only way I can understand any of this is as the perspective of the oppressor.

UPDATE: A comment on the Egale list agrees with my request actually to look at the survey, but not to look at the Backrounder, and to see how trans youth are included.

This is precisely my point. Trans youth are so included, there is no way to distinguish them. Hence the contrast I posit with the GLSEN study Harsh Realities.

This blindness to the very real and very separate identities of trans youth–and trans adults–seems to be something quite invisible to this supporter of Egale’s ideology, which requires the erasure and repudiation of all those who are captured by the category of gender identity; gender expression now seems to contested territory, as indicated by the NOT Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition human rights complaint.

It is the unity perspective which is so damaging.

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One Response to Perspective of the Oppressor, Revisited

  1. Danna Waldman says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughts. I live in Victoria, which despite being the capital of BC has next to no trans resources, and nothing in the way of state-funding or support. At this time, there are no provisions for protection of trans rights in the provincial charters.
    I am in the process of creating a trans peer support group, but it is going slowly. I also belong to the Victoria Trans Alliance which is an independent organisation of transfolk and allies. In particular, your discussions of erasure and repudiation are relevant to the queer and trans communities here although there is some crossover and cooperation between us. I also appreciate your analyses of activities within Egale.
    Yrs,
    Danna Waldman
    Victoria

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