What’s in a Name?

March 2, 2009

(UPDATE — UPDATE II)

“Six Canadian queers,” as Xtra.ca describes them, including the executive director of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, Gens Hellquist, have filed a Federal Human Rights Complaint against Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and, somewhat secondarily, two spirit people and people who are “gender non-conforming.”

Two spirit people are mentioned in the body of the Complaint, not at the beginning and only as “Aboriginal GLB people.” (p. 6)

The first, explicit claimants of this Complaint of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition–whose mandate nominally includes trans people, but not here–who are gay, lesbian and bisexual are claimants this country has grown accustomed to from the long standing non-inclusive advocacy of Egale Canada. But it is the inclusion of “gender non-conformity” as part of “all things associated” with gays and lesbians and “homosexuality in general” (p. 1) tucked away in the definition of homophobia that is truly significant and possibly novel.

It has allowed the logjam in my own thinking regarding what transgenderism is to break.

Thank you!

This was not my first reaction, however.

I thought this was just the usual imperialism of sexual orientation colonizing trans territory–i.e. transgender identities–while leaving the remaining minority, transsexual people, alone to fend for ourselves. The whole thrust of my advocacy has been to include both transgender and transsexual people, to advocate for both gender expression and gender identity, more or less respectively. Those who have read, listened and truly heard me over the years know this.

My first reaction was anger.

It has always been clear what advocating for transsexual people means; similar clarity with respect to transgender people has previously escaped me. It was an article of faith–as well as practical politics–if not something I could rationally articulate.

A little history.

Discussion at the Trans Issues Committee of Egale Canada in 2004-2005 was marked by a strident refusal by one member to countenance use of the term “gender variant” because, in this member’s belief, “variant” equalled “deviance.” Any space for discussion of gender expression was closed down as a consequence of this stridency. Now, with an undeniably positive turn, and expected wide currency, “gender non-conformity” opens up the discussion again.

Moreover, by their claim to “gender non-conformity” the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition has explicitly, though somewhat secondarily–trans people are always secondary to gay and lesbian people–tied it to sexual orientation: tied sexuality and transgenderism together.

In some ways, this reverses the entire history of the ‘gay rights movement’ which has been one of excluding those perceived to detract from the ability of middle-class, middle-age, white gay and lesbian people from assimilating into society–a policed single-identity movement.

The liberationist wing, somewhat represented by Pink Triangle Press, the Xtra papers and website, has not recently been in ascendance, particularly in the wake of the successes of the assimilationist wing.

This claim has the rather routine effect of leaving transsexual people out in the cold.

There is absolutely no mention of transsexual people in the Complaint as published–and, of course, no mention of transsexual people in Xtra.ca’s rather short piece.

Much routine creativity and energy is being expended on the Egale Canada email list to justify this routine silence. In fact, the spin there is is that this exclusion–not decided by any transsexual people–is really good for trans people–there is yet no comprehension of the inclusion of transgender people.

This is a routine observation on that list.

The Complaint also, interestingly enough, claims two spirit people, declaring quite definitively: “Two-Spirit refers to Aboriginal GLB people.” (p. 6) This counters what I have learned from two spirit teachers who declare their teachings do not concern themselves either with what is between the legs or what is done with it or with whom.

This claim reduces spiritual teachings I have great respect for to mere physicality.

It is true Virginia Prince coined the term “transgender” in the mid-sixties explicitly to counter Harry Benjamin’s articulation, though not invention, of “transsexual.” I would argue–and I believe I’m not alone in doing so–that it wasn’t until the first publication of Butler’s Gender Trouble in 1990 that “transgender theory” really took off. For those who understand her, and those who claim they do, Butler provides a strong foundation for both “transgender theory” and “queer theory.”

The notion of performative gender is very useful in arguing there is no necessary or biological basis for gender or sexuality–if not also sex–and provides freedom for those who need it–or need to argue it.

But not all of us seek to leave biology behind.

I believe there was, at that time, a short flirtation with the notion that homosexuals, particularly lesbians, were some sort of third sex. I don’t believe it continues today. On the contrary, in vigorous debate on the Egale Canada email list over the years at least one gay man declared that in sex with men he was never less a man, but hypermasculine. No lesbian was ever so emphatic but it always seemed clear a woman having sex with a woman is no less a woman, either. Neither are some sort of third sex.

Third sex is now a not uncommon repudiation of transsexual men and women.

In my travels across the ‘net I have encountered transsexual women 20 to 30 years post transition/post operation who bring a perspective to current debates often dismissed.

I exchanged comments with one woman who was part of the National Transsexual Counselling Unit out of San Francisco in the late 60’s, early 70’s which was funded in part by Reed Erickson–a transsexual man who was part of early initiatives not only for gay activism, but also for transsexual activism and what is now called New Age.

There is an important essay by Aaron Devor and Nicholas Matte, ONE Inc. and Reed Erickson: The Uneasy Collaboration of Gay and Trans Activism, 1964 – 2003 in Stryker and Whittle’s The Transgender Studies Reader.

Transsexual women such as my correspondent–as well as those who have posted to comments–add further depth, if such is needed, to Namaste’s arguments, particularly in Against Transgender Rights in Sex Change, Social Change. Certainly a polemic title, but a necessary read for those who wish to rationally argue these issues.

The Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition’s human rights Complaint declares the identities–as it claims them–and health needs of sexual orientation and gender non-conformity have been ill-served by Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

I would simply make the parallel argument that the identities and health needs of gender identity have not only been ill-served by Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, which would, I believe, include transsexual people in the same mandates referred to in the Complaint, but our needs and identities have been ill-served by another organization that has explicitly included us in its mandate but not its advocacy or decision-making.

However, I accept the notion gender non-conformity is an emination, if you will, of sexual orientation, layered on, I would argue, to the sex foundation of identity–layered on to either the cissex or transsex base.

It has always been a commonplace that transsexual people are homosexual (gay, lesbian), bisexual, heterosexual, even asexual in about the same proportions as cissexual people.

Is it any kind of stretch and surely it would be a rational claim that transsexual people are transgender in roughly the same proportions as cissexual people?

This would seem to reverse current arguments of many transgender-identified people that being transsexual is layered on top of being transgender.

I have argued this in Appearances can be deceiving.

I accepted Butler’s argument in her essay on David Reimer that sexual orientation and transgenderism are socially constructed but argued, against Butler, that Reimer’s tragic life demonstrates the persistence of gender identity, including gender identities counter to what is assigned at birth and that, unlike orientation and transgenderism, is not the result of, and is unchanged by, whatever behaviour modification nature or science forces upon us.

I am grateful to the authors of this Complaint for opening another path to this clarity.

A true coalition cannot be formed without a number of conditions being satisfied, among them the laying out with clarity the needs, struggles and embodied lives of the constituents of such a coalition–the precise opposite of policed single-identity movements such as those lead by, historically, Egale Canada and now the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition.

Yet my gratitude knows no bounds for this “coalition” for it has laid out the grounds for their part of the coalition–not in quotes–which includes not only gay, lesbian and bisexual people but also two spirit and transgender people.

The challenge now comes to those whose primary identification is transgender–those whom I would have thought transsexual–who do not also primarily identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual in the terms of this Complaint to clarify their position, to name themselves as transsexual people have long done, as gay and lesbian people have long done, as two spirit people are doing.

Also as these “six Canadian queers” have now done not only for themselves but also for bisexual people, for transgender people and for two spirit people–whether they will or no.

The choice for those whose primary identification is transgender who do not also primarily identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual in the terms of this Complaint is either to allow themselves to be claimed by this Complaint and sexual orientation or to name themselves with clarity in preparation to join the coalition.

I encourage them to approach this challenge with the same joy I have.

References

Butler, J. (2006). Gender trouble. New York: Routledge.

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

Stryker, S. and Whittle, S. (eds.) (2006). The transgender studies reader. New York: Routledge.

UPDATE: Yes, in reply to comments, Prince coined the term “transgenderist.” I have been reading a number of Journal articles and other publications from as recently as the mid/late 90’s and this is the term. In Access Denied, Namaste’s contribution to CLGRO’s System Failure, this is the usage.

I think by the time the Ontario Human Rights Commission Discussion Paper Toward a Commission Policy on Gender Identity, 1999, this had begun/had already disappeared.

It has such a weird sound.

UPDATE II: (March 8, 2009) In the first paragraph of this commentary, I refer to Gens Hellquist, Executive Director of the Canadian Human Rights Coalition who is one of the “six Canadian queers” who have filed this Human Rights Complaint.

In the third paragraph, I refer to the Complaint as the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition’s Human Rights Complaint.

I was wrong.

This is just a Complaint by “six Canadian queers”, one of whom just happens to be the Executive Director of the Coalition. I am curious to know what the relationship of the other five is to the Coalition–or what resources, what knowledge or experience gained through the use of Coalition resources was used in researching, preparing and filing this Complaint.

I am thinking that this was the way for these “six Canadian queers” to get around the mandate of the Coalition which includes “a gender identity that doesn’t conform to the identity assigned at birth.”

This is what some say is the reason Egale Canada created Canadians for Equal Marriage, to avoid its constitutional commitment to intersectionality (see section 2.1; which also requires Egale Canada to be located in Ottawa, not Toronto) and its mandate to include “trans-identified people.”

This now seems to be a venerable tactic of gay, lesbian and bisexual people to get around any notion of or commitment to a GLBT community.

Once, Capital Xtra called for discussions whenever gay and lesbian people and their organizations take part in any part of trans issues. The addition of “trans-identified people”, in the case of Egale Canada, and “gender identity,” in the case of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, to their respective mandates, would have constituted such a discussion.

How many times must we have these discussions?

What is the point even to attempting to have these discussions if they can be side-stepped with such nonchalence–and no one but me to call them on it?

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Appearances can be deceiving

February 17, 2009

This started out as a response to comments by Monika, Zelda and particularly Elizabeth’s concern–on the PAR-L list–about the “confusion and contradiction” regarding the “reductive, and of course, essential” aspect of sexual orientation. It started out there, but ended up somewhere else.

The first thing I want to point out is what Stephen Whittle, the current president of the World Professional Association on Transgender Health (WPATH) has said:

I don’t care whether I was ‘born this way’ or ‘became this way’. The question of the ‘gay gene’ or the ‘tranny brain’ is a potentially frightening route to another eugenics programme to destroy the brilliance of difference in the world, and the sooner we reject these projects the better.

I would gloss Whittle’s comment by saying in our culture/society if there is a cause there is a cure; I don’t want to be cured, either

In the history of the evolution of this terminology, where we have, since about the end of the 19th century, been using terms that became gay and lesbian, and from about early 20th century, we have been using terms that have become transvestite, transgender and transsexual, before that time there were people of/about whom we might be tempted to use these terms in the strict demarcations they now have between sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression but it would be incorrect to do so. We cannot retrospectively use modern terms; we cannot project our identities back in time.

From my contact with young people, I suspect they may be going back to something like this.

An historical example–before the elaboration of modern terminology–two women are in a relationship, but because they are women there are probably no records of the most important part of their relationship, what they thought of themselves, each other and their relationship itself.

We could, of course, define their relationship by their anatomy, without regard to their self-identification, whatever that might be–it would be easier and support certain political claims of arguments of identity politics.

But for the moment, at least, I would like to leave this question open.

As well as the question whether there is any connection between GLB and T–which arises in the course of the historical evolution of terminology and certain political claims of arguments of identity politics which both reflect and shape historical reality.

This is by way of a response to Elizabeth’s assertion that sexuality is socially constructed. I might well accept the position that sexuality and transgender identities are socially constructed but I strongly contest that transsexual identities are socially constructed.

(It is from here my post to PAR-L continues.)

In any discussion of social construction it is difficult not to mention Judith Butler, especially in relation to both gay and lesbian identities, and transgender identities. I’m not the first but I reserve for myself an emphatic refutation of equating transgender identities with transsexual identities.

This is, I believe, an unfortunate and widespread category error that simply repudiates and erases the everyday/night lives, struggles and needs of transsexual people, particularly transsexual women.

In reading Gender Trouble, now almost 20 years old, one receives the strongest impression Butler was arguing gay and lesbian people, particularly lesbians, are a kind of third sex. This is curious to me in that this attribution, in more recent years, seems exclusive to transsexual people–and in some way connected to our repudiation.

Much more recently, on the Egale Canada email list, in vigorous debate around this matter, one salient point was illuminated: the gay and lesbian people on that list do not accept they are a third sex. One gay man described himself not less a man in sex with men, but, on the contrary, hypermasculine. No lesbian was equally emphatic but the clear message is they are, as Egale Canada and Canadians for Equal Marriage have argued, just the same as heterosexual people, except for what they do in bed and who they do it with.

Now, Egale Canada is open to much criticism from the perspectives of race and class, among others–as I, among others, have quite vigorously done–but it does represent a position that cannot be ignored.

Pichler has asserted that transsexual advocates argue it is about gender. He has simply made the usual category error of subsuming “sex-changing” transsexual people into “gender-changing” transgender people.

I assert I have not changed my sex, merely affirmed it, even though my appearance, over time, seems to support the contention I have merely changed  my gender.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Which brings me back to Butler.

In her essay on the tragic life of David Reimer–Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality, originally published about 10 years after Gender Trouble–Butler uses Reimer to illustrate her central contention: we are inscribed by the Law of the Father/ the Semiotic/the Symbolic; that we have no existence, ontologically or linguistically, before or after this inscription. This is how the subject, or the “I,” comes into existence.

Running through the essay is a reference to Kafka’s “In A Penal Colony.” In it a remarkable execution machine inscribes on the body of The Accused the law he has been convicted of breaking as it kills him.

Throughout what of her work I have read Butler continually returns to her central contention, illuminating it from many quarters of philosophy, psychology and literature in a manner that justifies the description of her work as literary theory–a point she somewhere describes with some bemusement.

Reimer, as a newborn, in what is often described as an accident during circumcision, left his parents frantic. They came to the attention, or brought themselves to the attention, of John Money–one of the “fathers” of transsexual theory–who recommended Reimer be raised as a girl since our gender, if not sex, according to Money, is socially constructed.

To begin all that was needed was an involuntary sex reassignment surgery. Not uncommon for intersex babies–but Reimer was not intersex anymore than he was transsexual.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Growing up Reimer was subject to a further aspect of Money’s social construction theory, behaviour modification: Reimer and his brother were required to play out stereotypical intimate sex/gender role behaviour in front of Money and associates, surprisingly similar to an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. It is my understanding these theories have evolved into the current work of Kenneth Zucker of the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto (the former Clarke Institute of Psychiatry).

All his life, Reimer contended something was wrong, long before his parents revealed what had been done to him. At the point they did they sought out the help of Milton Diamond–a long time critic of Money–who advised Reimer to revert. As best he could.

Butler alludes to these parts of Reimer’s life as inscriptions of first Money’s theory of social construction and then Diamond’s theory of the sufficiency of the Y chromosome to determine maleness–and presumably masculinity.

Butler describes the horror of Reimer’s life and his rage, but in a postscript written after Reimer’s suicide and the death, possibly suicide, of his brother, curiously seems not to understand his rage and suicide.

How could Butler, or any cissexual person, understand our rage at being mis-sexed? Or the repudiation of our claims to being mis-sexed?

Reimer was, of course, no more a transsexual person than he was intersex, but his tragic life illuminates that gender identity is emphatically not socially constructed, that it remains constant through no matter what behaviour modification life throws at us.

Appearances can be deceiving.

I have not forgotten Whittle or Elizabeth’s comments.

In the United States more than Canada, gay and lesbian people, not to mention transgender and transsexual people, must ground their identities, much like African-Americans, in biology to withstand the attacks of the Religious Right, even as the Pope over the holidays promulgated a notion of an “ecology of man” positing “natural roles for men and women” that, like the rainforests, must be protected.

One can see in this “ecology” common cause not only for gay and lesbian, transgender and transsexual people, but women also, many of whom are lesbian, transgender and transsexual.

There has always been common cause for gay, lesbian and transgender people on the one hand and transsexual people on the other. Transsexual people have always been part of what, retrospectively, is called the gay rights movement: Reed Erickson and Beth Elliot before Stonewall, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera at Stonewall, Sandy Stone after Stonewall. Not to mention all of us who are gay, lesbian and transgender in about the same proportions as cissexual people.

Until repudiated and erased from the history we helped create/continue to create.

From a feminist perspective this history and present is more pressing still. As women we are subject to the same objectification and hypersexualization as all women are. I argue, with Julia Serano, that our position is more threatening, having given up male privilege.

This is why transsexual women seem so often to be a “spectacle” society can’t get enough of, unlike the relative anonymity of transsexual men; it is the sex we are now that determines, not the sex we were.

This is quite the reverse of the attitude in gay, lesbian and transgender community(ies).

After all, who would want to be a woman?

References

Butler, J. (2004). Doing justice to someone: Sex reassignment and Allegories of transsexuality. In Butler, J. Undoing gender, pp. 57 – 74. New York: Routledge.

Butler, J. (2006) Gender trouble. New York: Routledge.

Serano, J. (2007) Whipping girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press.

Whittle, S. (2006). Where did we go wrong? Feminism and trans theory–two teams on the same side. In Stryker, S. and Whittle, S. (eds.) The transgender studies reader, pp. 194-202. New York: Routledge.


Who Names Me?

February 15, 2009

(UPDATE — UPDATE II — UPDATE III– UPDATE IV — UPDATE V)

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.

Gemeinshaftsgeful
, 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.

References

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?