What should be the basis for hope?

April 10, 2009


I agree hope is one of the most important things in our lives, particularly for those who are marginalized in society and around whom is rarely anything more than silence.

Except now.

First, the Alberta Government decided to add sexual orientation to its human rights law a decade after the Supreme Court of Canada declared sexual orientation a right analogous to those in Chapter 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms–in ruling on a challenge from Alberta–that effectively added sexual orientation to the Alberta law, making this addition symbolic, but important. But not adding gender identity and gender expression.

Second, it decided to defund sex reassignment surgery, funding it had maintained during the decade Ontario had not funded this surgery. Ontario refunded SRS last June.

In the coverage generated over this decision to defund, there has been much mention the Ontario Human Rights Commission ordered the Ontario Government to refund surgery as a basis for hope. In fact, the Ontario Government agreed that if the Commission in Hogan, et al. ordered it to, it would.

But the Commission didn’t.

This is the only Ontario Human Rights Commission decision I am aware of concerning funding of SRS in Ontario: Michelle Hogan, Martine Stonehouse, A.B. and Andy McDonald v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario as represented by the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care (Tribunal Decision) in 2006 which is reported on the OHRC website here.

In summary, four transsexual people filed a human rights complaint on the basis that delisting funding for SRS–which the Mike Harris government did just about a decade ago–violated the human rights of transsexual people.

Three of the complainants were in the queue for surgery when funding was delisted, but not at the point which the Harris government recognized as far enough along, the fourth transsexual person was not in the queue. The tribunal ruled the Government of Ontario must pay for the three who were in the queue–it simply finessed the point at which they were recognized to be “in the system.” The ruling was that Ontario either pay for surgery for these three or, for those who had paid for surgery by other means, reimburse them.

The fourth transsexual person, not being in the system at all, was ruled not th have had his–I believe he was a female to male transsexual person–rights violated.

This was an extremely disappointing outcome.

One of the four tribunal members, in a minority and dissenting opinion, ruled that “the government’s decision to remove public funding for sex reassignment surgery was discriminatory, arbitrary, reckless and an abuse of power. She would have ordered the government to fund sex reassignment surgery for all four complainants, since all four met the criteria for funding that had existed prior to October 1, 1998.”

It is my understanding discussions between the former Ontario Minister of Health, George Smitherman, the Trans Health Lobby Group AND others lead to the ministerial decision to relist SRS in Ontario.

It is unclear whether a Human Rights Agency would order a government to establish a spending program, however small–so-called positive rights–as opposed to rectifying individual situations, when they are currently based on negative rights including employment, accommodations and services; that is, not spending programs but causing people, entities, etc, NOT to do things, like discriminate. .

This is also illustrated in the B.C. Tribunal decision to order the B.C. Government to pay for a female to male procedure; “it was ordered to pay for the phalloplasty of Louis Waters because his sexual reassignment from woman to man was underway when B.C. de-funded the procedure.”

Personally, I am not convinced the current regime of implicit protection of gender identity under the statutory categories of sex and especially for surgery, sex AND disability, is enough to leverage governments to list, or in the cases here, relist surgery without other pressure.

Even explicit and formal creation of the category of gender identity (and I would personally hope for the creation of the category of gender expression, also) may not do what is needed. However, the raising of the public profile of transsexual people, our embodied lives, struggles and needs, not only for surgery, but also for counselling, hormones and hair removal as publicly funded services, as part of a campaign for explicit human rights, might.

Such a campaign in Alberta has recently been reported on Xtra.ca, here, and elsewhere, with Mercedes Allen being prominently mentioned.

I would find more hope in an overt political campaign, even including human rights complaints, as long as the limits of human rights agencies are explicitly understood.

UPDATE: I have been struck by the language used in the campaign to relist SRS in Alberta. The Egale Canada press release uses the language “transsexual and transgender people,” which is a change since Mickey Wilson took over trans policy–the term has been “transgender” only. The apparent leader of the movement, Mercedes Allen, is also using the term “transsexual” whereas previously the term has been “transgender” only–as in “transgender surgery.”

This usage has been mine all along, though I have been criticized for even using the word “transsexual;” I have found it incoherent to use the phrase “transgender surgery.”

Hope is not based on an imposed and inaccurate unity.

For me, distinction and difference, respected, is the basis of hope.

Perspective of the Oppressor, Updated

April 10, 2009

Egale Canada has held its panel on Homophobia and Transphobia in Canadian Schools and posted more documents to its website. Another press release here. And the executive summary of the survey here.

After all the back and forth, including recent criticisms of my negative statements on Egale Canada and other organizations–criticisms that resolutely refuse to engage the facts and arguments marshaled in this blog–the study’s principle investigator and member of Egale’s Education Committee, Dr. Catherine Taylor, makes this statement in the press release

We need to take the next logical step and develop policies to tackle transphobia as well, because youth are suffering in their absence.

I’m not sure what could be a clearer expression of Egale Canada’s failure to do what it claimed–in Egale Canada’s usually ambiguous manner–and an indictment of all its spin, which I have documented, that this study was really also about trans youth and transphobia.

In the executive summary there is more than a little confusion, such as here, under Impacts where it is stated

Over a quarter of the LGBTQ students and almost half of the transgender students had skipped school because they felt unsafe, compared to less than a tenth of non-LGBTQ.

I had thought LGBTQ already included T.

This is simply one of many conceptual confusions in this summary.

This is reminiscent of Helen Kennedy’s statement in a previous press release for the survey, Egale Canada’s Executive Director

We may have human rights for LGBTQ people in Canada, but you’d never know it based on these results.

In the current controversy in Alberta, not only regarding the delisting of sex reassignment surgery, but also its human rights law, not only has sexual orientation not been formally added to Alberta’s law–a formality given the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling a decade ago–but gender identity and gender expression are absent also. And just before the release of the budget defunding surgery, the Alberta government proposed to add sexual orientation to its law–but not gender identity or gender expression.

What is the value of a study which demonstrates such a fundamental methodological flaw that, on the one hand, separates what it calls transgender youth from gay youth, but on the other, repeatedly conflates them?

Are they the same or are they different?

Difference is the most basic building block of knowledge. Here there is clearly demonstrated conceptual confusion of identity and experience. This is the result of the ideology of required single identity.

Overall, I argue this admission by its principle investigator, with the now very open posting of the executive summary, The First National Climate Survey on Homophobia in Canadian Schools, makes it impossible to deny that Egale Canada, its Education Committee–historically unable to conceive trans people have identities and experience different from gay people, and unsympathetic to those who raise this concern–remain unable to address the concerns of transgender and transsexual people, especially youth. Even though it maintains the fiction that it does.

In its recommendations the study falls back on Gay-Straight Alliance clubs as the approach to address the concerns raised.

In a time when there is a movement for Rainbow Alliances, whose name does not explicitly exclude nor reinforce the gay-only ideology, such as this one and this one, one can only wonder why Egale Canada and its supporters maintain a blind preference for the dominance of sexual orientation and exclusion of gender identity/expression, as the Gay-Straight Alliance name so clearly does–and an inability to establish a co-equal coalition, not a policed single identity movement, based upon explicit and expressed recognition of the status, needs, embodied lives and struggles of all LGBTQ people–a co-equal message between sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

This is a fundamental and, from all the evidence, invisible challenge, because even the name, Rainbow Alliance, is something that cannot be spoken or conceived.

Until this challenge is explicitly met, Dr. Taylor’s hope will remain a convenient, if sad, bait and switch.

Until the view, routinely demonstrated, that transgender and transsexual youth are nothing more than a subset of gay youth is explicitly challenged.

Why does it remain necessary for trans youth to be excluded from the name of organizations that purport to struggle with and for them? Why are trans youth required to be considered gay certainly to join in explicitly gay organizations? If these are not gay organizations, why is it impossible to conceive of an inclusive organization name? If it is not necessary for trans youth to be explicitly recognized in the organization name, why is it necessary for gay youth to be so recognized? Why the different treatment?

What foundation for future action, advocated in her statement, is conceivably made by recommending organizations that have excluding names, and apparently, excluding missions?

Why is it inconceivable for an LGBTQ organization to mount a struggle
exclusively for transgender and transsexual people? It seems quite
routine for such organizations to mount struggles exclusively
for gay and lesbian people–under a variety of names. Why is this?

The solution to transphobia does not reside in some indefinite future time, it must be started now, in the present, in the acceptance by organizations of their established, explicit policy promises. In other words, LGBTQ must mean LGBTQ, not simply and casually a politically expedient way to say gay and be backed up by action that explicitly reflects this. Not what we routinely see.

The inability even to conceive of inclusivity in the struggle for safer spaces in our schools, and equality and dignity in society at large, is part of an inability to conceive, understand and embody anti-oppression principles and practice, once a guiding light of Egale Canada, and the clear symptom of a major, systemic disorder.

And, sadly, not only in Egale Canada.

Productions such as this survey, its publicity and panel, even if less significant than the struggle for same-sex marriage, effects the same marginalization and subjugation, repudiation and erasure.

How can anyone who believes in equality and dignity for all LGBT people concur with a strategy that explicitly accepts second class status and the declaration that trans youth will have to wait for “the next logical step”?


Wait until when?

Commentary on Gender Identity

April 4, 2009

[This was an invited commentary for the 25th anniversary of Pink Triangle Serices, now simply PTS.]

Gender Identity is not yet a term with the universal recognition and understanding of sexual orientation.

Universally confused with sexual orientation, especially the belief among some that it is equally protected, this often intentional confusion merely marginalizes and subjugates those who are already forced from the mainstream by the majority’s response to their nature.

Our lives are governed by the interaction of our nature with the environments around us usually described with the misleading term nurture—for the response usually given to those whose lives cannot be described as stereotypical cannot be termed nurturing.

Even though it is now generally accepted that by a very early age one’s sexual orientation is determined—and cannot be changed—one’s early certain knowledge of oneself as male or female, both or neither, is currently controversial among some gay and lesbian people, some feminists, some religious people, some politicians, some physicians, some gym owners, some journalists, indeed those who refuse to accept claims of being mis-sexed—those who repudiate—are not limited to any political, social, philosophical or religious category.

Those who accept this claim are not limited to any category, either.

Regardless of any specific biological origins of core sex identity (what I believe Julia Serano would understand as subconscious sex)—no more important than that of sexual orientation—the self-identification flowing from this must be recognized and protected both in human rights and hate crimes legislation.

Core sex identity is not obvious when the doctor stands over us at birth and declares “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” This assigned sex becomes the path we stray from only at our peril.

When one’s internal certainly does not conform to external assignment dissonance in gender identity is the first danger. When one begins to live this certainly, no longer able to endure dissonance and affirms one’s inner knowledge, violence and death often lurk nearby. At the very least, one should expect to lose everything: family, friends, job, career, recognition and achievements. This happens, however, less and less as this aspect of human nature becomes more and more widely known and understood.

Sometimes the word “transsexual” is used to describe those whose certainly drives their path to the opposite sex, including hormonal replacement, surgery and the achievement of their affirmed sex. Sometimes surgery or hormones are not possible due to medical, financial or philosophical reasons—though this should not detract from the intention and achievement of an affirmed life.

Precisely as those who do not need to conform their external sex to their inner certainty—cissexual people—transsexual people can present their gender in either stereotypical or non-conforming ways. Many transsexual people do not choose to be gender non-conforming—though many, particularly early in transitioning from assigned to affirmed sex, appear non-conforming.

Precisely as cissexual people, transsexual people may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or asexual because sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same and have no connection, other than that all people have them both.

The decision to live one’s inner certainty is not lightly taken.

For some it may lead to life in public; for others it may simply lead to family and private satisfaction. For some the cry is “blast the gender binary;” some may simply confirm it. Any advocacy around gender identity must be open enough to include both, otherwise this advocacy becomes the same marginalizing and subjugating convention that has destroyed the lives of far too many.