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?

Technorati Troubles, Part 2

May 20, 2008

It is now almost 24 hours–and counting–since I first started signing up for technorati.com. That took almost 2 hours–and 8 emails to rejoin and/or reset my password because the system didn’t recognize either my ID and/or my password.

I have been in contact with the Support Staff through a blog–of course–who just recommended I do the OpenID method again. I tried this today another 10 or 20 times–on top of the 10, 20, 30 times last night.

I actually got an error message, twice, regarding the OpenID Method–but then that disappeared.

It was mentioned if I had tried the other methods to do something I quite honestly do not understand. But why should I try something else when the OpenID method works, but the Complete Claim button does not connect to the end of the process.

I do actually get to claim my blog–this blog, of course–but then when I try to Customize the blog details and I click the Finish Button I go back to the claim method.

And I try the OpenID Method once again. . . .and again. . . . .and again. . . .and again. . . .and again.

A few years ago, I tried to join technorati.com after reading about it in Antonia Zerbezias’ column in the Toronto Star. After umpteen times trying, I just gave up.

I am on the verge of giving up again.

This is a bloody waste of time.