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.

Time to Lobby MP’s for Transsexual and Transgender People

November 30, 2008

In Canada, we are in a pivotal moment in our political history.

There is an opportunity to unseat the Conservative Party whose Economic Update is completely unsatisfactory. Not learning from the history of R. B. Bennett in Canada–and Calvin Coolidge in the United States–that this is NOT the time to cut spending, raise taxes and sell off public assets in the vain hope of maintaining a balanced or possibly surplus budget.

While the Prime Minister Harper has been spouting what has become the international orthodoxy while away from Canada–that it is time to stimulate the Canadian economy to the tune of 2% of GDP, about $35 billion–at home he has permitted his finance minister–Jim Flaherty–to be the R. B. Bennett of today.

For the first time since Brian Mulroney’s government, the department of Finance’s figures have been challenged by a broad array of independent economists and others. It is a great danger to democracy when the government attempts to “cook the books” in support of an extreme ideology.

The opposition parties have shown strength in opposing this.

The Prime Minister, as the Toronto Star, among others, have said, has blinked.

The opposition parties, particular the New Democratic and Liberal Parties are in discussions to defeat the government and form a coalition for the good of all Canadians.

This gives us a rare opportunity to lobby for the human rights and hate crime protections for transsexual and transgender people.

Below is the basic email I have sent to the Liberal and New Democratic MP’s I have recently been in contact with for the Trans Day of Remembrance. I encourage all who support human rights and hate crime protection to send a similar email to their local MP and to any other MP’s they have been in contact with. Personal changes will carry great weight.

[MP’s name],

I’m writing this short note to encourage you and your party to continue to be strong, oppose the Conservatives’ totally unsatisfactory Economic Update and work to form a new government with the [New Democratic Party/Liberal Party]—this is in the best interests of all Canadians.

When you form the government, I know you won’t forget who B.C. author Christopher Shelley has called “among the most subjugated and marginalized of social groups”—transsexual and transgender people.

As the government, you will be able to proceed with Bill Siksay’s bill to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as a matter of government policy which I encourage you to do at the earliest possible moment.

The lives transgender and transsexual people endure should never have been allowed to happen—this must not be allowed to continue.

If there is anything I can do to help in this project, please do not hesitate to ask.

Jessica Freedman

Ottawa Pride Invisibilizes Trans People

June 26, 2008

and what you can do about it.

Trans people are the most marginalized of LGBT people. In a previous commentary I discussed objective measures of this, here:

A number of organizations whose mandate specifically includes trans people—often with significant policy promises also—actively contribute to our marginalization.

I have described Egale Canada in Perspective of the Oppressor which can be found here:

Another such organization is Ottawa Pride—which now styles itself Capital Pride—whose website can be can be found here:

To read Ottawa Pride’s Constitution and bylaws and to speak with its promoters is to receive the impression it is an organization inclusive of trans people and works to bring all LGBT people to the mainstream of society.

On the Ottawa Pride website today:

A Human Rights Vigil is planned at Ottawa’s Human Rights Monument with key government speakers, international leaders of the GLBT Community and media personalities. We will renew the public fight against discrimination world-wide where GLBT citizens still face the death penalty in eight countries.

Many here, in the GLBT community have died by different and sometimes violent means. This will be the day to celebrate life and to remember those that have passed before us. In keeping with the 2008 theme ‘Live Your Pride’, we present a Queer Community Town hall event with Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, in partnership with Egale Canada as well as local, federal and provincial politicians in an evening of film, discussion and camaraderie at Ottawa’s City Hall from 7:00-9:00 p.m. followed by the 2nd Annual Human Rights Vigil at 9:00 p.m.

This is a natural development from Pride’s focus in recent years.

One rarely hears about the deaths of trans people, particularly transsexual people and I have never heard the deaths of trans people in Canada mentioned in the three Ottawa Prides I have participated in.

No hate crimes are recorded against trans people so it is difficult to keep track. There is also a certain squeamishness since many trans women are sex workers, so class is an element, too.

However, a quick search of the Remember Our Dead website shows this:

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Cause of Death: Strangled
Date of Death: August 26, 2003
Source: Toronto Police Department, August 26, 2003
Notes: Cassandra Do, or “Sandra” as her friends knew her, was working as a sex-worker under the pseudonym “Tula” in Toronto, saving up for genital surgery and nursing school. She had many friends. She was found in her 11th-floor apartment. An autopsy concluded that she was strangled to death.

And a review of the website reveals the Xtra West story of the 2003 murder of Shelby “Tracey” Tom in Vancouver:

It can also be found on the Remembering Our Dead website.

In 2005, following Canadians for Equal Marriage and Egale Canada, Ottawa Pride announced that all LGBT people in Canada have recognized human rights and it is time to celebrate. The announcement was made in a spectacular Pride Guide designed by Glenn Crawford. This, of course, was and is quite incorrect. When I emailed my concern to the officers of the Pride Committee they emailed me a private apology some months later and explained they didn’t know.

I appreciate the acknowledgment but the hurt this statement causes trans people in Ottawa to this day requires a statement equal in profile to the declaration in 2005; I have been looking every year for one.

In 2006 the focus of Pride was youth. The GLBT Townhall that year was about youth. However, only gay youth were invited. I learned trans youth had been specifically excluded even though Trans Youth Ottawa was quite active that year and the usual concern, that there are no trans people who can or will participate, was not the reason.

In 2007 the focus of Pride, as again this year, was on the situation in other countries. The films and commentary concerned the violence against gay and lesbian people. These were particularly appalling and there is no question the situation of gay and lesbian people in other countries is very bad.

However, I remember no footage or commentary regarding the lives of trans people, violence against them or their deaths; it is certainly harder to find because trans people are, as in Canada, more marginalized than gay and lesbian people. Though I am sure it is there to be found.

The lack of evidence is not evidence of no abuse, in other countries any more than in Canada; it is merely evidence of greater marginalization.

There was an event at the Human Rights Monument for trans people but I don’t remember it being advertised in the Pride Guide that year or with any of the profile of the abuse of gay and lesbian people elsewhere—it certainly had the air of being a last minute event.

The Pride Guide that year, published by Capital Xtra, made no mention of the greater marginalization of trans people. A letter over the names of Pride Officers declared the focus of Pride was on people in other countries.

I asked Marion Steele, a long time Pride official, about the letter and she told me Capital Xtra did it; I asked Gareth Kirkby, editor/publisher of Capital Xtra who told me the letter was treated as advertising and there was no input from Capital Xtra. I shared my concerns with the Pride committee in its review of 2007.

Marion Steele was one of the Pride Officers I emailed in 2005.

I understand how difficult it is to change direction, especially with many more years of history than the ones I’ve detailed above pushing. But matters of right should not be ignored simply because it is inconvenient to change or that the numbers of those concerned seem small.

Pride has amends to make to trans people for invisibilizing us over the years.

A first step would be to make a simple and direct acknowledgment of Pride’s history and the pain it causes trans people in a high profile statement.

A second step would be to fully recognize our ongoing marginalization as a high profile focus of Pride today as the marginalization of gay and lesbian people in Canada has been the high profile focus of Pride yesterday and gay and lesbian people in other countries is the high profile focus of Pride today.

Some point out it is inconvenient to change the message of sexual orientation because there are so few trans people that when they eventual come out as gay or lesbian it will be unnecessary. This leaves out the medical concerns of transsexual people and all the concerns of those who do not come out as gay or lesbian—gender identity and gender expression have no connection with sexual orientation.

Unless the message is changed, trans people will never be recognized in our totality.

This was one of the arguments against same-sex marriage—it is inconvenient to the many, many more straight people for such a small number of gay and lesbian people to dictate to them what form marriage will take.

Of the many eloquent challenges to this argument I will only cite Sue Barnes, Liberal MP for London Centre, who rose in the Third Reading Debate on the Civil Marriage Bill—the same-sex marriage law in Canada—in the Parliament of Canada to address this point.

In matters of human rights, she said, numbers are unimportant.

It is in Hansard for those who wish to check up on me.

Numbers did not matter when gay and lesbian people in Canada were the debate; numbers should not matter when trans people in Canada are the debate.

I’ve been encouraged to approach Pride again this year with my concerns—particularly considering the Chair this year is a self-identified transgender woman. While I’m quite prepared to help Pride come to terms with its years of invisibilizing trans people—and how this has materially contributed to ongoing difficulties in addressing the objective measures of our marginalization—my personal representations in 2005, 2006 and 2007 proved ineffective at best.

I am not Pride’s most favourite person and, quite frankly, I am not prepared to challenge gay orthodoxy on my own.

That is where you, dear reader, come in.

I appeal to all who agree Ottawa Pride has amends to make to trans people, and not just in Ottawa, for the effects of marginalization spread out like ripples on a pond across Canada and the world. Even as Ottawa Pride and Egale Canada have abandoned trans people in Canada to concentrate on gay and lesbian people elsewhere.

It is important to act if you are trans, or transgender if you prefer, or transsexual if you prefer—we’re all in the same boat here.

It is also important to act if you are not.

Because trans people, as far as anyone now knows, are such a small number we must reach out to allies in the larger non-trans—now often called cissexual or cisgender—world.

This includes not only people who are straight but also people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual because the commitment to dignity and equality for all should know no boundaries of sexual orientation.

To act you can address yourself to the following:

Ottawa Pride:


PO Box 2428, Station D,
Ottawa, ON K1P 5W6


For those members of the GLBTQ Ottawa Centre email list, you can send your concern to:

You could even send your concerns to Egale Canada

its email list:

By Phone: (613) 230-1043

(888) 204-7777

By Fax: (416) 642-6435

By Email:

or the Egale Canada Facebook group if you are a member.

A note on “invisibilize:” An important concept for trans people is our absence despite our clear presence and even acknowledgment in the world. It is part of privilege and its flip side marginalization/oppression, that is, for those more mainstream the qualities that make them mainstream are invisible to them as are those whose lives call into question these qualities.

For sexual orientation, the privilege is called heterosexist or heterosexism and whose marginalization/oppression is called homophobia.

For transsexual people, the privilege is cissexual privilege and the marginalization is transphobia. Julia Serano explores this in her book, Whipping Girl. This has been a very important book for me.

The first time I came across the concept was in Viviane Namaste’s book Invisible Lives and also in her more recent book Sex Change, Social Change. Invisible Lives is, among other things, an exploration of the work of Mirha-Soleil Ross in both of Canada’s “two solitudes” in Montreal and Toronto. Ross started Meal-Trans, a weekly meal for low-income trans people that was the beginning for Trans Services at The 519 Centre in Toronto.

More recently, I came across the term “invisibilize.” I came across it as used by Linda Green on the Rainbow Health Network email list.

Both terms describe what happens to trans people in both literature and real life. Green’s musings on the effects of privilege on marginal people, rending them invisible even while present—and of no importance even while present—resonate strongly in my own life and work.

Unlike “erase/erasure” which seems to suggest trans people cease to exist—I was tempted, for a moment, to use “disappear”–”invisibilize” as well as forcing attention on a coinage, points out we are still present. And I believe that is the salient point.

Green’s essay, with Mandy Bonisteel, Implications of the Shrinking Space For Feminist Anti-Violence Advocacy, has been of great help in my own life and work.


Mandy Bonisteel & Linda Green: Implications of the Shrinking Space For Feminist Anti-Violence Advocacy

Available online:

Namaste, Viviane: Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgendered People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Namaste, Viviane: Sex Change, Social Change: Reflections on Identity, Institutions, and Imperialism. Toronto: Women’s Press, 2005

Serano, Julia: Whipping Girl A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity Emeryville, California: Seal Press, 2007

Services for Trans People in Ottawa

May 24, 2008

A Public Commitment

We, the undersigned organizations in, of and/or serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans (transgender and transsexual), two spirit and queer community in Ottawa, recognize the historically under-served status of transgender and transsexual people in Ottawa.

(For ease of use, this document will use the term “trans” throughout.)

We publicly commit ourselves to actively and expeditiously addressing this historical oversight by formally establishing explicitly trans inclusive policies for our organizations that will contain:

1. Statements outlining our organizations’ philosophy of anti-discrimination, definitions, eligibility for services and participation, and confidentiality;

2. Commitment to the creation of trans-positive environments;

3. An identification of educational needs, service opportunities and outreach strategies that will lead our organizations to be trans-inclusive internally and, with each other, work towards creating a city and society that explicitly recognizes, accepts and serves trans people as full and equal participants.

We further commit ourselves publicly to fulfilling these policies with all deliberate haste.