Who Names Me?

February 15, 2009


I have just read Autumn’s first post on terminology. Much of what she writes, certainly her references to various Stylebooks, I quite agree with.

The references to appropriate attribution of pronouns is one of some interest. In recent months, I’ve been taking an introduction to social work and social welfare at Carleton University in Ottawa in preparation for a change in my life. In this course, I’ve found a welcoming and supportive environment but with one peculiar glitch.

I’ve been invited to be interviewed–not the first time at Carleton–by another mature student in the class for the Carleton Radio Station, CKCU–when the broadcast date is finalized, I will post. Yet, once when we spoke he declared some confusion as to how he should refer to me.

Now, I present in as feminine a manner as I can–I work at it. There is no ambiguity. My friend, though, felt my voice, being not as high in pitch as, say, a teenage girl–pretty much the majority of our class–meant I wished to be addressed as male.

There is some history to this.

In the first months in the course–a large first year lecture–I contributed many comments; I continue to do so. The purpose of taking this course is to have an academic reference for my application to the Carleton School of Social Work; I’m quite happy to say the lecturer was delighted to provide a very nice reference for me.

However, in the fall, one student emailed her with concern there was some–possibly widespread–comments, jokes, silence by other students at my expense. My voice, even as I noticed in that hall, in those seats, might have been lower than I might have preferred. Nevertheless this, as the instructor agreed, is harassment in the definition of Carleton’s Education Equity Statement–including its additions to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s categories, which don’t formally include gender identity. Carleton has formally included gender identity–and also political affiliation.

I, as all participants in that class, have an absolute right to a supportive and affirming learning environment.

The instructor made a statement to the class regarding respect in the class, adding to her previous statement about respect for visitors. I never noticed what the concerned student emailed about–though I appreciate her concern–and since the instructor’s comment I have received nothing but respect, even–though this was present before–an admiration for my commentary.

My experience at Carleton has been almost overwhelming and I look forward with great anticipation to attending full time in the fall. Yes, I’m quite out there–as I am most places.

No, I haven’t forgotten Autumn’s post.

I have written a number of documents in connection with my course and application which I will post soon. These writing exercises have helped clarify my thoughts; I look forward to the next several years to continue this process.

I’ve been thinking about Namaste’s term erasure and Shelley’s term repudiation.

When I transitioned and came into the “community(ies)” in Ottawa, and to some degree across Canada and North America, the first idea thrust upon me was Namaste’s. In Egale Canada and Canadians for Equal Marriage, in Pink Triangle Services, organizations I’ve been part of, I found her term a good description of my everyday life.

Egale’s notion of inconvenient, divisive and ultimately unnecessary is illuminated by erasure.

More recently, however, I needed to find a foundation for both of these–and I just happened to stumble across Shelley’s book and his notion of repudiation.This illuminates for me the ground of Namaste’s term and Egale Canada’s explicit practice.

Now, what does this have to do with the use of transgender as the umbrella term for both transgender and transsexual people?

In the recent TDOR, our events in Ottawa were, as they have been for five years–as in Toronto–termed “Trans Day of Remembrance.” In a Canadian trans email list, a continentally prominent–almost as prominent as a trans person can be, more so than I, for example–posted the Canadian list of events, changing our term, though keeping the Toronto term intact.

I raised concern regarding this.

Subsequently, our event was removed from the list Ethan St. Pierre keeps–but not the Toronto events, all three of them. After an exchange of email with Ethan, he explained he had been informed listing the Ottawa event would disrespect it, even though our usage has always been transgender and transsexual people, or transsexual and transgender people–and this has been the case for five years and listing had never before disrespected our event, nor been cause to erase it.

Subsequently, this continentally prominent trans person admitted to being Ethan’s informer. Frankly, I believe this imposition of another’s views upon our community, both in the Canadian list and Ethan’s list, to be grossly inappropriate, colonizing, marginalizing and repudiating.

I’m happy to accept other’s self-identification.

I’m happy to have Gender Mosaic here in Ottawa–one of Canada’s oldest transgender support organizations–describe itself as transgender. Trying to be part of Gender Mosaic has always been problematic for transsexual people. We created Gender Quest group at Pink Triangle Services to address the void in Ottawa for services to transitioning persons–in particular transsexual persons–who have no home in a transgender organization.

I believe this notion of home/community to be very important.

In reading for my course, I have rediscovered Alfred Adler and how he speaks quite directly to this void I’ve always felt in my own life and alluded to in my last post.

, community feeling/social feeling, is one of a class of notions Adler describes as “regulatory ideals,” notions so powerful for us they act upon us as if they were real–they act as telos, goals of our lives.

I’m getting back to Autumn’s post–really–and recent controversy on the TGV list.

I feel no home in anything described as transgender. I find it quite difficult to speak of the needs which are at the core of my advocacy–medical, social and legal–in such a context where for transgender people these needs are of lesser concern.

I believe there is a profound category error at work here that simply compounds the erasure and repudiation of transsexual people. I believe this category error marginalizes the central concerns of transsexual people–even as Namaste has also argued. This is very close to the core of my criticism of Egale Canada’s past and present marginalization of transsexual people.

So, my usage has always been transgender and transsexual people or transsexual and transgender people. This is the usage of Bill Siksay, the Member of Parliament, who has been leading the parliamentary struggle to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code of Canada to include gender identity and gender expression.

In the organizing for the 2008 TDOR in Ottawa all the other organizers were from Gender Mosaic. They wanted to revert to the more common usage, “Transgender Day of Remembrance.” I argued against it. I suggested using “Transgender-Transsexual Day of Remembrance;” the others were, at one point, willing to use “Trans-Transgender Day of Remembrance.” All I can say, this erasure and repudiation of transsexual people is/was completely unacceptable.

But the question raises itself, why is it always appropriate to so casually erase and repudiate transsexual people?

Why is this category error so normalized?

Do we shame and embarrass not only gay and lesbian people but also transgender people?

Why is the ideology, even among those who, by almost any definition are transsexual people, to impose their views on those who do not accept them–often allying themselves with those who have no interest in our struggles and everyday/night lives?

I have no concern whatsoever in people identifying themselves in any way they wish–I respect this. I simply ask to be granted the same privilege.

Failing that, I ask for the adoption of an open usage that doesn’t erase and repudiate me.


King. R. A. & Shelley, C. A. (2008). Community feeling and social interest: Adlerian parallels, synergy and differences with the field of community psychology [PDF Format]. J. Community Appl. Soc. Psychol., 18: 96–107.

Namaste, V. (2000). Invisible lives: The erasure of transsexual and transgendered people. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Namaste, V. (2005). Sex change, social change: Reflections on identity, institutions, and imperialism. Toronto: Women’s Press.

Shelley, C. A. (2008). Transpeople: Repudiation, trauma, healing. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press.

UPDATE: Ethan St. Pierre is quite correct in comments. And in a piece on “naming,” no less. My apologies. I have corrected his name in the text.

UPDATE II: It is difficult to know where to start on comments.

Those who accuse me of being a separatist for wanting an open usage seem to be glued to words rather than actions–even actions through words. I have long advocated for transgender and transsexual people, gender identity and gender expression. I have argued, publicly, against those who would throw gender expression overboard explicitly in terms of not duplicating the removal of T from GLB.

One post seems to dismiss the need for a specific group for transitioning persons. Do transitioning persons not deserve the same support as those who do not?

I guess my commentaries discussing the need for the largest coalition possible were not read. In a coalition, among transgender and transsexual people, with gay, lesbian and bisexual people, just to start, all parts must be clearly identified, their needs and goals explicit, so that–unlike the identity politics of Egale Canada, for example–one identity will not marginalize all others.

There seems to be the same distaste for the word transsexual in comments as during discussions for TDOR 2008.

There seems to be a great fear just to say the word transsexual will do some irreparable harm to someone’s identity–the very identity politics Egale Canada practises. We are diverse and yet the intense desire is to homogenize us into one term, one identity, one life–this is the definition of identity politics.

Name calling does not advance the struggle for the provision of and access to health and social services, legal status or human rights.

It is precisely these actions that alienate, that foreclose the possibility of coalition as opposed to identity politics.

Naming is one of the most important things we do in the world, this is why open usage is so important.

There is no single name–and to insist upon one is to marginalize all those who do not fit. I would have thought all those who have been erased and repudiated by the ideology of inconvenient, divisive and ultimately unnecessary would understand this.

UPDATE III: In the legislation proposed by Bill Siksay there is no trace of identities, embodied in the words transgender and transsexual (Bill uses the same terminology as I do, transgender and transsexual people); legislative language uses categoriesgender identity and gender expression.

There will always be a dynamic tension between identities and categories.

All of us, as marginalized people, require naming, hence the “alphabet soup” so dispised, particularly by some gay people–who just happen to always have their identity named.

For the rest of us it is just too inconvenient and divisive for our identities to be mentioned. So we must.

I believe the inevitable multiplication of identities must always be respected–this is the foundation for any coalition which must also be based on anti-oppression principles.

At the same time, there must be a way of making sense of it all–this is the role of categories and their place in legislative language.

Agencies that begin to make the small steps from the time when they all were gay, abandon the multiplication of identities that grew almost out of control for categories.

Pink Triangle Services in Ottawa no longer itemizes the identities in its Mandate–gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, two spirit and queer–but includes categories–issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

These categories include us all.

This step is a long time coming and only a first step in the direction of clarifying the thinking we must do to move forward.

It is, clearly, the hardest step.

UPDATE IV: Shannon poses an interesting question in comments.

A first thought: Transsexual people, certainly transsexual women, are not particularly transgressive, unlike, well Genderqueer, especially Genderfucker and transsexual men.

Even transsexual men in their gender/sex support stereotypical gender/sex roles. Namaste refers to this, as she refers to the stereotypical roles transsexual women support. She makes the strong argument that transsexual people are only heard if they present their lives through the prism of gay/lesbian concerns.

Namaste marshals these as part of her argument that transsexual people, as opposed to transgender people–which include gay/lesbian people–diverge from the goals of gay/lesbian people.

Namaste’s roster of trans opinion leaders who are heard are Leslie Fineberg, Kate Bornstein, Riki Ann Wilkins and the theorist, Judith Butler. But, she argues, where are the transsexual people who support traditional roles.

We can add Julia Serano to this line of argument. Serano has explicitly asserted there is not only a disconnect but a complete reversal between our “connumity(ies)” and the larger society.

In our “community(ies)” those on the F2M spectrum are lauded as transgressive, a high value, particularly in communities, like those valued by Capital Xtra, of sexual freedon–what some have called liberationist.

In society at large, Serano has pointed out those on the M2F spectrum are a cause celebre, objectified and hypersexualized.

In our “community(ies)” femininity, even femaleness, is not valued. It is even worse than that–these values are erased and repudiated–especially if presented by male-bodied persons. The entire M2F spectrum, transgender and transsexual.

Serano’s point is trans women are spectacle in society at large. More even that cissexual/cisgender women because we have given up male privilege.

Society at large does not find it at all out of the ordinary everyone wants to be male/masculine. This is what a masulinist/mysognous/sexist society is all about.

Namaste, less directly, seems to make the same point.

The last step in this argument hinges on the historical predominance of M2F in discussions about trans/transsexuality/transgenderism. This is itself a function of what might be called the Serano reversal.

I often ask at this point: Who would want to be a woman?

UPDATE V: Appearances can be deceiving.

The only topic of conversation in comments, now that Shannon has retired, is gender, gender, gender.

When we are born, what the doctor presiding declares is not a gender, but sex. His (historically a “he”) made this judgement not on the colour of the blanket or the baby’s hairstyle or makeup, but on the baby’s physiology–on primary sexual characteristics.

One may wish to say this is only gender, but that requires a rather sophisticated theoretical structure, built upon the work of Judith Butler.

These do indeed become the foundation for gender signs as the baby grows into a man or a women–gender–though the foundation may remain, apparently, male or female–sex.

If it were all about gender, there might be little need for hormone replacement, certainly no need for surgery. Or the kind of concerns mentioned in Ethan’s last post–maybe for a man and male person these concerns are superficial, certainly a gender characteristic. I cannot describe them in a way satisfactory to one who does not value them.

We could just work for a society in which there is no gender binary. This is precisely what Namaste discusses and points out the very incomprehension transgender have for these concerns of transsexual people.

At base there is a category error which subsumes “sex-changing” transsexual people into “gender-changing” transgender people. On the surfance it appears that all transsexual people are doing is what transgender people are doing, changing their gender.

This may well be the basis for the repudiation and erasure of transsexual people so evident in this and other discussions. Historically, we can look to Judith Butler for, on the one hand, opening up space for “gender-changing” transgender people on the one hand, but closing down space for “sex-changing” transsexual people on the other.

The very tragic life of David Reimer, which I will discuss in my next commentary, illustrates issues at the core of this vigorous debate–and butler’s perspective: the persistence of gender identity–a term which I do not like for obvious reasons, but keep for some of the same pragmatic reasons champions of transgender do: it is not accurate, but everyone understands it.

Has this attitude historically not been the foundation for much misery?

For those who will not accept what Serano calls subconscious sex then nothing Shannon or I have said, clearly, makes any sense.

More than that it threatens their identity politics, world-view and lives, not to mention linguistic habits that are as challenging to change as male/masculine speech habits.

I am loath to resort to biological arguments, especially with those who I would seek to form the coalitions Shannon and I have been at great pains to describe, but, we know the incidence of physical intersex is about 1:2000 births.

Why then is it so hard to accept there is, as Lynn Conway points out, an incidence of  “strong TG feelings” 1:200, “intense TS feelings” 1:500, “TG transitioners (w/o SRS)” 1:1000, and “TS transitioners (w SRS)” 1:2500?

In the arguments presented in comments–except for Shannon’s–I find lurking a justification for excluding those who seek medical intervention, particularly surgery. If we accept the lives and struggles of those who do not need to do what Shannon and I, among many, many others have done, why is there so much resistance to accepting our lives and struggles? As they are?

Is there some shame and embarrassment that marginalizes us from those who should be the first to join in coalition?

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.