The Big G

February 4, 2009


When I was very young, my mother took me to music lessons–specifically eurythmics–at the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto downtown. Often, she took me home by taxi. On our way I often saw a big building with a big “G” on its side.

I asked her what that was. She told me it was the Granite Club. A place with gyms, swimming pool, all sorts of things that fascinated me. But, she told me, I could never join. Why? I asked. Because you’re father is a Jew.

It was, I believe, my first experience with prejudice and marginalization. I’m not sure how I felt about that since there were other “communities” I could belong to. Not least of which was the group of people I spent several years with going to eurythmics lessons.

The old Conservatory building was at College and University and when we got there early enough on one special Saturday morning in December, I got to watch the Santa Claus parade from a special place with special friends.

I don’t know if it has changed, at all, in the forty years since my mother told me I was barred.

In recent days, I was reminded of this childhood experience and how much things have changed when reading of Capital Xtra’s–Ottawa’s gay and lesbian only newspaper–annual community hero awards.

In Ottawa, where I live, there is really no trans community–unlike, say, Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver–and no community publication. I have written about Capital Xtra before–and the two times I have been denounced, by name, for daring to stand up for those most marginal in, well, not our community, since there isn’t one community but for those more marginal in society than gay and lesbian people as a class–trans and bi people.

I was even denounced for suggesting that since trans people don’t have explicit human rights and hate crime protections our status is different from gay and lesbian people who do. There is no difference, no hierarchy of oppression, I was admonished–we are all the same.

This after the entire community was convulsed with the human rights of gay and lesbian people for a generation–not incorrectly–until they were formally recognized in the late 90’s and with gay marriage in the 00’s until 2005/2006.

While working for Canadians for Equal Marriage in 2005, I was admonished by its national coordinator, Alex Munter, not to mention trans and bi people. We were, apparently, to benefit under the table, almost as if we were too embarrassing, too shameful to be mentioned.

Now, as Munter declared, as I have cited,

there are no second-class Canadians, lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are full members of the community, without caveat or exceptions

Now, the consensus of the Egale Canada email list is that an LGBT rights organizations, as Egale now bills itself, cannot be concerned with the issues of one subset of LGBT. Yet, to this day, the only issues it is concerned with are those of gay/lesbian people–all those who “are covered by the Canadian Human Rights Act.” This, of course, remains the question for transpeople who remain uncovered.

The arguments have changed since I was purged from my committees and expelled as a member, but the outcomes remain precisely the same.

Plus ca change. . . . .

I know several people who are nominated for awards, including lifetime achievement Capital Xtra awards, and I believe they do deserve recognition for their contribution, not just to gay and lesbian people, but also to the remainder of GLBT people.

My own history with the CapX awards goes back to 2005 when I was nominated–but lost to a lesbian (I was the only transperson nominated)–to 2006 when the president of an agency I volunteered for promised I would be nominated, but the staffperson who was charged with actually nominating me never quite realized there was a deadline–the other people he was charged with nominating were nominated by others.

In 2006, I was the subject of a Carleton Journalism School video documentary which captured my despair at not being included. There has been much exclusion from their community.

But there are at least two tactics people I know have used to be included. They might not even think of them as tactics, but from my perspective there certainly seem so.

One, I will call the MW tactic.

For a transperson, all they have to do is identify only as a gay/lesbian person, work primarily for gay/lesbian issues. I can think of several people who benefit from this, who have achieved positions and recognitions I have not been accepted for because I am unable to abandon my advocacy–as a transperson.

This conforms to the adage at Egale Canada that it is “inconvenient, divisive and ultimately unnecessary” to advocate for transpeople because they will eventually come out as gay or lesbian–and those issues that are exclusive to transpeople, like human rights, health access, etc, will no longer be necessary.

Now, not all those who have benefited from the MW tactic have completely abandoned trans issues and they are arguably in a stronger position because their identity as transpeople is obscured–but I, myself, cannot do this.

The other tactic, I’ll call the SB tactic, involves declaring oneself queer, possibly involved in a queer relationship–so being trans is also no longer “necessary.” I have actually toyed with doing this.

This tactic, like the MW tactic, leaves anything for transpeople to be dismissed as simply something for one subset of LGBT.

Again, not all those who adopt this tactic have completely abandoned transpeople, but from my perspective it leaves trans issues open to dismissal.

I never really belonged to any group growing up, we moved almost every year I was in high school–and of course, being trans all my life, in a generation long before now, I didn’t even have the words until rather recently, though I always had the need, desire and necessity. I was, as all male-bodied transpeople of my generation were/are deathly–and not unreasonably–afraid of being found out.

In recent years, there have been so many places I thought I might belong to, that my very real gifts might be useful if not welcomed: where I worked, where I might played, where I volunteered.

In recent years, I have had a large hope list; most, but not all entries have ended on my hopeless list.

Before me there is another large structure which also has a big “G” on it.

This time the “G” means “GAY.”

As usual in my life, there is no room here either; I will, as I have so often done before, have to build my own.

UPDATE: I have received a comment from SB regarding my comments above. I’m not sure about posting it because, as with a number of comments to my posts, it seems more of a personal email not for publication–this could change.

My reference to both the MW and SB tactics has come out of recent re-reading of Viviane Namaste for a short paper I’m preparing for a social work course at Carleton University here in Ottawa.

(Not something yet of great importance, I do hope to be full time in the School of Social Work in the fall; social work seems to be a discipline and body of knowledge–and a profession, though that is itself problematic in some quarters–where I can use just about all of what I have long referred to as my eccentric and eclectic backround that does not readily find a home anywhere else, BIG G or no.)

Namaste has been a trenchant critic of Egale Canada, particularly in the essay Against Transgender Rights in her 2005 book, Sex Change, Social Change: Reflections on identity, institutions and Imperialism (Women’s Press: Toronto)

She names former Executive Director John Fisher and some of the very projects I have lauded elsewhere from a very critical perspective. Not least of which the Egale Canada project on which I have worked, which it has long since abandoned, to add gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

My own contribution to this project was the addition to gender expression.

Not incorrectly, she obseves on the “distinctness” of Quebec and the effect of this (those possibly not these) additions to the act on Quebec–preferring rather the concept of “civil status” which has applicability in the civil code jurisdiction that is Quebec–unlike the rest of Canada which is a common law jurisdiction.

Recently, I have come to the conclusion the addition of social condition to the Canadian Human Rights Act–as defined in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms–as recommended by the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel–is necessary.

The majority Liberal Government of 2000 took no action on this–nor on the recommendation to add gender identity to the Act, either.

To return to Namaste, her point, as I simply can no longer disagree, is that the everyday/everynight (as Christopher Shelley puts it) life of transsexual people is not enhanced by an approach through the issues of sexual orientation–Namaste also refers to the prism of feminism in this manner which is something I’m not yet confident of.

My concern with the MW approach, as I think I made clear above, is that it reduces the status of transsexual people–which MW is, though many years post-op–to a secondary concern. This even as a recent consensus on the main Egale Canada email list–no subset of GLBT can be addressed; only those issues common to all can be advocated.

This simply conforms to the ideology, dominant since at least 2002, that issues of sexual orientation are common issues. The inevitable result is that issues of gender identity/expression, such as formal human rights recognition and amending of the Criminal Code are no longer on the Egale Canada agenda.

Curiously, Egale Canada’s Executive Director still spoke at the past conference of the Canadian Profession Association on Transgender Health as I have written about here.

When transsexual people completely assimilate as gay/lesbian people, their personal advocacy changes. This must be accepted from an individual standpoint, but from the perspective of transsexual people it is problematic.

And it is not something I myself can do–though this is not without conflict.

I would argue this is qualitatively different from Namaste’s, and many transsexual people’s, concern to become part of the larger heterosexual, cissexual society.

The MW tactic allows for the activist to take positions in current or formerly gay/lesbian organizations as the “transsexual” spokesperson or simply as a gay/lesbian person. (Presumably a sufficient reason why I have never been accepted for such a position–or award.)

The SB tactic is more troubling–at least for me personally.

It includes–as I see it–on gender expression, particularly–an argument (which I have completely adopted) that it covers not only transsexual and transgender people, but also gay/lesbian/cissexual people and heterosexual/cissexual people.

It is a necessary advocacy, not only from an ethical standpoint, but also from one of practical politics–to create the largest coalition posssible.

This is why I listened with some concern to Bill Siksay, just before the ill-conceived Economic Update, on the possibility of dropping gender expression from his project to amend the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

I cavil at the calls to diminish the status of issues of gender identity, whether from the perspective that it is secondary to issues of sexual orientation or even issues of gender expression.

When this conflates with concerns of personal advocacy–and inevitably personal status–I seethe.

Maybe this is only practical politics–not something I have been good at.

But for the larger goal of bringing transsexual people from the margins to the mainstream–admittedly terminology I learned while working at Canadians for Equal Marriage–which includes access to medical and social services as well as the public education that will bring attention to the lives and struggles of transsexual people, including addictions and incarceration, as well as sex work there must be no retreating from issues of gender identity.

The path through BIG G does not lead even to the possibility of coalitions with equality seeking groups, regardless of the rhetoric of the past seven years at Egale Canada. Egale Canada remains an organization for middle-class, middle-age, Caucasian gay/lesbian/cisgender people.

I simply do not yet see the new structure, though some building blocks are not new. There is a room in the evolving blueprint where I hope to make a home.

I also work for many other rooms for those who can truly share issues of gender identity.

UPDATE II: It seems that wordpress posted SB’s comment without my actually approving it–or so I thought. Recent upgrades have been more than a bit of a pain.

My blog picture was lost.

And, despite numerous tries, including a confirming email, I have been quite unable to change the email to which admin things are sent.

So I guess, my hope for a professional looking and functioning blog will elude me for the time being.

UPDATE III: I have posted both of Shannon’s comments.

I believe adding gender identity and gender expression to Chapter 15 is among the most important things that can be done for transsexual and transgender people.

I also believe adding social condition as defined in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms at least to the Canadian Human Rights Act–as recommended by the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel–is equally important.  If not to Chapter 15 also.

The expectation is that, helping all marginalized persons, will also help, as Namaste and others have pointed out, the vast majority of transsexual people who will not benefit from a human rights strategy as currently conceived.

I remain convinced that a two-pronged approach is necessary; that is, including BOTH a human rights perspective–with social condition–and a services approach.

Namaste has pointed out the latter is not particularly glamorous. From my own experience I know it can be quite unpleasant.

UPDATE IV: Shannon has posted further comments.

It is interesting that we have always converged on core arguments.

I welcome the opportunity to consult on this or any initiative for transsexual and transgender people.

UPDATE V: This is becoming something of a marathon!

I’m beginning to think Shelley and Namaste are indispensable to an understanding of the challenges we face in the world–as persons, as bodies.

Erasure is the relatively long accepted ‘governing’ notion of our lives, particularly with respect to institutions–and organizations such as Egale Canada.

But, for me, there was a piece missing from the argument.

The missing piece, I believe, is provided by Shelley’s notion of “repudiation.” There is a foundation that must be in place before we get to both erasure and transphobic violence.

It fulfils, as well, the missing piece in the Egale diktat of “inconvenient, divisive and ultimately unnecessary” and the current consensus on its main email list that no “subset” of LGBT can be addressed–only issues of common interest. These, by definition, are issues of sexual orientation.

This is the way I now conceptualize the challenges to our bodily existence.

There is, however, a quite apposite cite from the Stryker book–which I use to ground all of this:

Because most 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 humanity.

–Stryker, Transgender History, p. 6

Once, this was applicable to gay/lesbian people, too.

Stryker’s history, like her film, “Screaming Queens,” is important in addressing those who allege we are parasites on their movement. It is not that much “lighter-weight.”

Though, from our perspective, Shannon, I believe, there is something of a category error in this quote.

I would me much happier if there were some reference to sex-changing–though we didn’t really change sex. It was only an appearance–though for far too many this appearance is what evokes what Stryker refers to.

And is on the range of responses Shelley refers to.

I would classify being hit on the head by a fire extinguisher, as Allen Andrade killed Angie Zapate this summer in Colorado, as transphobic violence.

To return to “repudiation,” it seems to me much like something I remember from political science and international affairs: sometimes governments, even like our own, though more vividly when one group/class/party violently overthrows another, they refuse to accept the debts, politics, commitments of the previous one.

The most common usage is “It repudiates the debt of the previous regime.”

The refusal to accept our claims to being either mis-sexed, mis-gendered, or both, is the foundation.

The arguments at Egale Canada have changed–at least as represented by those, including those who comments I have long respected, on the Egale email list.

But the repudiation remains the same.

I have been accused of alleging transphobia. but this is a word I have never used. Why would I need something that strong to address something subtle and pervasive?

Something that cissexual/cisgender privilege so conveniently obscures.

It is always inconvenient and divisive to aknowledge privilege–and from the perspective of those who hold it, ultimately unnecessary.

UPDATE VI: There is absolutely nothing wrong with a marathon. On the contrary, most things worthwhile in life, both intrinsically and extrinsically, have qualities of a marathon.

I have found this one quite interesting and stimulating.

Regarding the tragic life of David Reimer, there is an interesting, and surprisingly understandable, essay by Judith Butler on it–Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality in Undoing Gender.

For some reason over the holidays I decided to read, and comprehend as much as I could, of Butler.

As usual, she approaches her point(s) from different perspectives, almost as if she is making multiple metaphors of the same phenomenon–I guess this is one reason why it is called literary theory.

Her governing metaphor in this essay is the Kafka rather long short story “In A Penal Colony.”

Her large concern is with the way the Law of the Father/the Symbolic/whatever is inscribed upon us. Akin to the execution machine in the Kafka piece which inscribes the law the Accused broke all over his body as it kills him with needles.

Truly a lesson learned.

We can clearly understand how John Money’s theories were inscribed upon Reimer’s body, but Butler also makes the case that Milton Diamond’s were also–that, in diamond’s view, the Y gene is sufficient to make Reimer male.

What further blew my mind was to realize Reimer’s youth as a “girl” was the inspiration for an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. There was, of course, no murder in his historical youth, but this is the necessary key to any Law & Order episode. (And I’m a long time aficionado.)

Money’s theories required Reimer and his (I use the male throughout because I take him, regardless of what was done to him and his apparent gender expression and identity, to be male throughout) brother to act out scenes of stereotypical gender/sex roles. As Butler recounts.

I didn’t know this.

The rage Butler describes seems more than reasonable in the situation–as in the dramatization. Butler uses this to make part of her point. She goes further to use the next phase of Reimer’s life, under the influence of Diamond, as further example of the inscription of gender.

This diverges from the path most transsexual people take from this tragedy.

Butler’s central point is that–as best as I read her–gender is part of the way the/our subject comes into existence and there is no “I”–I’m sure I’m getting some of this incorrectly–without gender.

There is no existence, ontologically or linguistically, before or after gender. Gender, however, is always performed and, as such, is susceptible to change in its repetitions–particularly in a comedic way.

Her view moderated in Undoing Gender from Gender Trouble.

But there is a disturbing postscript to this essay in which Butler declares:

It is difficult to know what, in the end, made his life unlivable or why this life was one he felt was time to end.

–Butler, Undoing Gender, Doing Justice to Someone, p. 74

It is difficult to know what to say about this observation.

I would have thought, given the excruciating detail of Reimer’s life that Butler elucidates, it would be as obvious to her as it is to me, at least.

In the end, the urge to theorize everything, to make of it play is clearly overwhelming.

This may be the most fundamental difference between transgender and transsexual.

Namaste, I believe, picks up on this when throughout Sex Change, Social Change she recommends against reading Leslie Feinberg, Kate Bornstein, Ricki Wilkins and Judith Butler and urges we read Margaret Deidre O’Hartigan instead.

In sum, this is the difference between a human rights approach–as Namaste roundly criticizes John Fisher for–and a services approach–as she lauds Mirha-Soleil Ross for.

Namaste is quite correct to be concerned about the differences between civil code and common law–as we are. And from an anti-oppression perspective there is much to learn from this dialogue. But we are fortunate enough, or cursed enough, to live in a country with both.

We should learn from both. Not either/or but both/and.

My instructor in social work at Carleton, Rachael Crowder, has reinterested me in dialectic. It has been so many years since I have even heard the term, much less seen, through her, how applicable it is to the universes of discourses that have always fascinated me.

To follow the dialectical path in this narrative: John Fisher and the classical human rights strategy as conceived by the gay/lesbian rights movement, is the thesis; Viviane Namaste, offering a critique of this from an anti-oppression/civil code perspective, proposing a services and anti-marginalization coalition, is the antithesis.

I expect you can see where this is going.

In a common law/civil code split jurisdiction and for those convinced there must be, as an integral part of our liberation a raising of profile, a blended approach is necessary.

I have found inspiration for a revitalization of a rights approach in Martha Jackman and Bruce Porter “Socio-economic rights under the Canadian Charter” in Canadian Issues, Fall, 2007.

As one who is suceptible to literary/academic/theoretical fascination, like Butler, I’m not yet sure of the way forward in what we might call the Blatt-Freedman synthesis.

stenographers for power

September 17, 2008

don’t challenge the subjects of their stories, they just tell
you what the government is saying. In other words, they’ve become
stenographers for power and not journalists.

I have just come across the Capital Xtra post-Pride edition–with a picture of a Pride reveler on the cover. I didn’t pick it up when it came out because I find Capital Xtra not to be particularly credible–I do read columns online on occasion, particularly when I am denounced. As has happened over one, two and possibly three recent columns by the former editor/publisher, Gareth Kirkby. As he and another columnist denounced me some 18 months ago.

There might be some question about the actual number of pieces in the current series of denunciations. One, if you accept only the column where I am denounced by name; two, if you accept “not one lone Ottawa individual” as being me; three if you accept this as sequlae.


I found this edition in the staff room of the Chapters big box bookstore where I work in Ottawa. Flipping through it, the fourth page actually, I found Letters to the Editor.

In a section captioned The Trans Movement I found a letter from me and one from Shannon Blatt. It was Blatt’s notice of return of her Capital Xtra Community Hero Award for 2007.

I don’t believe I have ever written a letter to the editor–certainly not this one. It was a comment posted to the second of Kirkby’s series of three–“not one lone Ottawa individual.” It was lifted and published without my permission and without my knowledge.

Can they do this?

I know of no law or rule to prevent it. And there is a notice in the Guidelines to Readers that it may be published in an Xtra paper. So I suppose that makes it alright.

However, I certainly wonder about the intellectual honesty of doing this without notice.

This is not the first time Capital Xtra has lifted a comment.

The quote which so incensed Kirkby, published in the first of this series of three columns–on “hierarchies of oppression,” linked above–was lifted from my blog, The most marginalized of LGBT people, and reads

I have always thought of marginalization/oppression to be, not a stagnant body of water, but a series of cascades from the most mainstream to the most marginal. We are all holders of privilege and invisibilize those more marginal than ourselves, unless we are diligent and open.

About a year ago a ‘reporter,’ no doubt meeting a deadline, lifted a quote from an email I had posted to Egale Canada’s main email list. I hadn’t gotten back to her because of a reluctance to participate in Capital Xtra due to the earlier denunciation–more on that later.

Again, I don’t think there is any legal prohibition against doing this–there is, of course, no fine print on Egale Canada’s terms of use saying posts will appear in an Xtra newspaper.

Shannon Blatt in her posts to Kirkby’s columns on challenged his intellectual honesty and it was because these columns were published, as she noted in her letter to the editor, that she returned her award.

There is also history between the new Managing Editor, Marcus McCann, and me.

About 2 years ago, in what was probably one of his very first news pieces for Capital Xtra, McCann was present when the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) LGBT Liaison Committee held a Trans Services educational for senior officers, and others, at Centerpointe Theatre.

Along with Jade Pichet (Capital Xtra Youth Community Hero Award Winner for 2007) I was invited to speak.

We did. At length.

Senior Officer Kai Liuk gave a presentation on the Forester Human Rights Tribunal decision on searches of trans people. A training video on traffic stops of trans women–produced by the Ottawa Police Service–was shown.

Joanne Law, long time transgender activist–and long active on the Committee–recounted pounding on the table to get ‘transgender’ added to the Committee’s Mandate. David Culpepper, civilian employee of the OPS attached to the Committee, presented a cake celebrating 25 years of the Committee’s work and bantered with Law on their experiences together on the Committee.

None of this appeared in McCann’s piece, except banging on the table. It became a tangent point to an opinion piece on community policing and, if memory serves, gay people.

Somewhat later, speaking to then editor/publisher Kirkby about this work of imagination, I was told his reporters are not stenographers. Although somewhat cryptic, I now believe he was referring to the notion of reporters becoming “stenographers for power” as we have clearly seen in the United States and first pointed out by Norman Soloman in his 1990 book, Unreliable Sources. This notion was discussed around the cite I have placed at the top of this comment.

What power do trans people have? Why didn’t McCann challenge us instead of erasing us?

Trans people are so marginalized a ‘reporter’–and Managing Editor to be–feels free to erase a whole event and imagine something else–as if the event had never happened.

Further history: About 18 months ago, McCann did a profile of me when I was, for a short time, acting chair of the GLBTTQ Community Centre. In it I spoke of the need to focus on the marginal among LGBT people–bisexual and trans people. This became the basis for two denunciations in the same issue of Capital Xtra, one, an editorial from then editor/publisher Gareth Kirkby and another from another gay man who was writing columns at the time.

I must say how upset I was by this; I resigned as chair at the next meeting.

I must also say I no longer feel this way about Capital Xtra denunciations!

This was part of a successful campaign by Kirkby, started previously, to undermine the Community Centre.

It began during a screaming match over the name of the Centre–Kirkby’s preference was either Gay and Lesbian Community Centre or Queer Community Centre. His concern was that the Centre maintain a queer identity which he defined as growing out of the bars, gyms, spas, clubs, etc, of the gay community. It remains unclear how those of us who didn’t come up through the bars, gyms, spas, clubs, etc, of the gay community can share in this ‘queer identity.’ I think this covers many GLBTTQ people.

I have commented elsewhere on Capital Xtra’s erasing of trans people.

I believe these several cites without notice–even though one is noticed by the Guidelines to Readers–along with Shannon Blatt’s concerns call into continuing question the intellectual honesty of Capital Xtra, even as Kirkby has stepped down/possibly up into the higher reaches of Pink Triangle Press–the owner of the Xtra papers–in June and installing Marcus McCann as Managing Editor.

I have previously commented upon Pink Triangle Press’s exclusion not only of trans people but also bisexual people from its rather lyric Mandate, Daring Together–the title of Kirkby’s column. In this way, I suppose, there is a certain intellectual consistency to Capital Xtra and the way it works.

But, given this consistency, why would its editors and reporters not notify me when they lift my internet posts and publish them; there is no legal recourse I am aware of–and if their notice was the evening before that issue appeared, what could I do?

To my mind a question of power arises from this now apparently facile habit–which is probably not even noticed by Capital Xtra’s staff.

This invisibility also makes it a matter of privilege.

Some hold out hope for McCann to be something other than a Kirkby clone, yet I am uncertain how far he has diverged/will diverge from his mentor when omission of notice continues.

A small thing, perhaps; tip of the iceberg, perhaps.

All I can do is write this commentary–speak truth to these stenographers for power.