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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Ten Signs of Transphobia in Our Culture by Christopher Shelley

December 22, 2008

This list comes from a review/interview of Christopher Shelley and his book, Transpeople; Repudiation, Trauma, Healing. Shelley is a Vancouver, British Columbia Adlerian psychologist. His interviews include a friend of mine. I think this is one of the most important books on transpeople.

1. Denial that the problem exists in the first place.

2. Inability to distinguish between categories such as queer, lesbian, and trans.

3. Lack of meaningful discussion in educational and workplace settings.

4. Anxiety over not being able to tell if a person is male or female.

5. Crude jokes directed at trans people or with trans-related content.

6. Refusal to accept trans people as one’s own teacher, doctor, politician, dentist, etc.

7. Thinking that being trans is OK but also dismissing the idea of ever dating a transperson.

8. Reducing trans to being merely and solely a psychiatric category.

9. Trivialization and media spectacles centred on trans-ness as an object of ‘fascination.’

10. Refusing the fundamental claims of transpeople as being genuinely mis-sexed.

Source:

http://thetyee.ca/Books/2008/09/23/TransPeople/?utm_source=mondayheadlines&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=290908


The Only Highway

July 28, 2008

In Memoriam

Shelby “Tracy” Tom

Cassandra Do

Both Murdered in 2003

On July 16, 2008, Capital Xtra and the xtra.ca website, published an editorial by Gareth Kirkby, editor/publisher of Capital Xtra and producer of the xtra.ca website. It can be found here, one of its many titles is “Highway to Nowhere”:

It is something of a denunciation of this writer―not the first to appear in Capital Xtra or on the xtra.ca website.

As a discussion of transgender and transsexual people it is curious: there is no mention of the void in fundamental human rights recognition―as if it has passed out of the discussion.

This skillful omission allows Kirkby to declare “The numbers of gays and lesbians far outweigh those of trans [sic]” and to dismiss our lives and struggles as having no significant importance either for gay and lesbian people―at least those Kirkby speaks for―and for the general public because our numbers are, apparently, small.

As with bisexual people, this is a matter of some contention as there are so few estimates even approaching some sort of accuracy regarding the numbers of transsexual and transgender people in Canada―not to mention the challenge in categorizing us.

Kirkby’s argument is quite the same one used by those opposed to gay marriage in the early 00’s and also by those in the 90’s opposed to the formal recognition of the human rights of gay and lesbian people.

The argument used by supporters of gay marriage, in the Commons and out, and of the recognition of the fundamental human rights of gay and lesbian people, to counter is that where fundamental human rights are concerned numbers are not important.

Why would it be any different for transsexual and transgender people?

Leaders of a once more marginalized minority using arguments used to marginalize them to marginalize others was something that quite surprised me when I first heard it from a vice president of Egale Canada on its main email list in 2005. But no longer.

I believe the use of such arguments is an objective measure of our ongoing marginalization. Especially if used as unselfconsciously as Kirkby does―and apparently accepted just as unselfconsciously by some.

In his editorial, Kirkby declares that

the trans struggle is one of gender expression.

This is often the way many authorities, following in the footsteps of Judith Butler, diminish the struggle for the recognition of our identities, especially of transsexual people, asserting that all gender, identity as well as expression, is simply a performance and of no deep substance.

For those who have never questioned their sex this doesn’t mean much―and is not easily understood―and cannot be used to marginalize them.

We do not expect all heterosexual people to understand the lives and struggles of gay and lesbian people and we describe this as heterosexual privilege―the conviction their lives are normative. When they assume their approach to sexuality is the only appropriate one and act on it, we call these actions heterosexism.

In much the same way, we do not expect all cissexual people―those who are not transsexual―to understand the lives and struggles of those who question their sex and we describe this as cissexual privilege―the conviction their lives are normative.

When they assume their approach to sexual identity is the only appropriate one and act on it, we call these actions cissexism.

There is a parallel argument regarding transgender people. We do not expect all cisgender people―those who are not transgender―to understand the lives of those who question their gender and we describe this as cisgender privilege―the conviction their lives are normative.

When they assume their approach to gender identity is the only appropriate one and act on it, we call these actions cisgenderism.

To be sure, there are many overlaps between transsexual and transgender people―but to pose the terms in this manner achieves a clarity often missing.

Kirkby also declares

The progress to date for gay rights has been accomplished largely through the involvement of middle-class (and now largely middle-aged) gay men and women who have organized the groups, led the occasional demonstrations and funded the legal challenges

This statement does a disservice to all the transsexual and transgender people and cissexual/cisgender people―who are neither gay nor lesbian―who have contributed money or expertise or volunteered to help gay and lesbian people move from the margins to the mainstream―in the present as well as in the Compton Cafeteria and Stonewall Riots.

I myself worked for Canadians for Equal Marriage (CEM).

The MP’s who voted for the Civil Marriage Bill, and all the allies of same-sex marriage, once on a database in the possession of CEM, were not all gay and lesbian but were those who believe in dignity and equality not to mention justice for all―and who believed the way to this overarching goal at that historical moment was the recognition of the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian people.

This is even as the leaders of CEM and Egale Canada stated the matter at the time.

The demonstrations in support of equal marriage in Ottawa were very diverse events. Not only were gay and lesbian people there, there were many transsexual and transgender people (not reported in Capital Xtra) as well the overwhelming majority were non-trans and non-gay people.

It is commonplace almost everywhere that the struggle for equality cannot be accomplished by those whose rights are in question alone.

In the same issue of Capital Xtra, and also on the xtra.ca website, there is a column by Marcus McCann, recently appointed Managing Editor, captioned “Maintaining our freedoms is about more than hanging on with our fingernails.” In it, McCann declares:

The gay days have come crashing down around us. . . . Of course, gay rights in Canada are here to stay.

After a review of the rise and fall of gay culture throughout history, which is basically what the column is, he states

But not Canada, surely. Not in the age of the Charter.

In the two columns, this is the closest either writer comes to mentioning human rights or equality. Then McCann goes on to call for allying with other groups, but not a single one is concerned, in his recitation, with either the formal or substantive role or recognition of human rights.Presumably this is why his struggle cannot ally with trans people.

That gay and lesbian leaders and organizations, not only Capital Xtra, have left the struggle for human rights is worth a commentary of its own―which I will be posting soon. In the short term I can offer a comment from a well-placed leader of the campaign for equal marriage, Laurie Arron.

Arron was the last National Coordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage (CEM) and Director of Advocacy for Egale Canada. Arron’s association with CEM, a creation of Egale Canada, had gone back to the public announcement of its creation on September 12, 2003.

When I began working with Egale Canada in early 2004, Arron was already well-established as Director of Advocacy―his major role was, however, not with Egale Canada but with CEM.

After Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s motion to re-open the debate was defeated on December 7, 2006, a press statement was released by CEM over the name of Laurie Arron reading, in part

As we move beyond law reform, we face the challenge of changing hearts and minds, and of making everywhere across Canada safe and welcoming for LGBT youth, LGBT seniors, LGBT families and their children.

From my own conversations with Arron throughout my time with Egale Canada and CEM, I know he was very well aware of the extensive “law reform” required to bring transsexual and transgender people from the margins to the mainstream―as indeed gay and lesbian people have moved, culminating with the recognition of their relationships in the Civil Marriage Law and Parliament’s rejection of re-opening the debate, celebrated by his statement.

I am unable to fathom why such prominent leaders of the gay and lesbian community―as measured by their roles, positions and influence―would abandon the struggle for human rights.

At one time the argument, as we used at CEM, was that the recognition of the human rights of gay and lesbian people―equal marriage was part of this human rights struggle―was part of the struggle for equality and dignity for all.

Abandoning the struggle for human rights in Canada might well be a significant reason the gay political movement has fallen on hard times since the passage of the Civil Marriage Law. The imagination of Canadians is inspired by the struggle for human rights. All Canadians, not just LGBT Canadians.

There remains one place where this inspiration might come from in the future.

For the one marginal and identifiable minority which is arguably, if not actually, the only one whose human rights have not been recognized not to have its struggle even mentioned in passing, in Capital Xtra, and seemingly declared already achieved by Arron, is curious.

Why would the leaders of the struggle that placed them in the forefront of change that expanded the realm of freedom for all abandon this struggle?

These gay men, and those they speak for, have excluded themselves from the struggle for fundamental human rights.

It is sad.


Perspective of the Oppressor

June 8, 2008

The conference of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health (CPATH) at the end of June, 2008, is an opportunity to raise the profile of transgender people—CPATH’s umbrella term includes transgender and transsexual people—the efforts of true allies and providers of essential services and to point to the many ways Canadian society has yet to measure up to what is needed.

Helen Kennedy, the current Executive Director of Egale Canada, has been invited to give a keystone speech on “Transgender Issues Across Canada.”

Although some—most notably Vivianne Namaste—have criticized the quite stellar career of a previous Executive Director, John Fisher (1994 until 2002), it certainly gives a glimpse of how “Canada’s gay and lesbian lobby”–as the Xtra media prefers to call it—could reach out to and work with those The Ottawa Citizen has recently described:

Transgendered people are even more marginalized than drug addicts.

http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/editorials/story.html?id=f68e086c-6a0e-48b2-b67b-d20d70ab04a7

The British Columbia legislature adopted human rights for transgender people in 1998, though it was never proclaimed by the then NDP government, and North West Territories, since 2002, actually recognizes, formally, our human rights. These achievements are widely credited to Mr. Fisher’s leadership and perseverance at Egale Canada.

Under his leadership a significant body of policy regarding the plight of transgender people was created. When I discovered it, Fisher’s successor, a previous board member, confessed he did not know it existed. It may still be available online to show what Egale Canada has committed itself to.

The most recent elaboration of advocacy policy, added to Egale’s ‘policy book’ by the board of directors in 2005, I have never found online.

I have a personal connection to this recent policy—I am a woman of transsexual experience and was a facilitator of its adoption; its lack of availability is my first disappointment. For any organization of Egale’s longevity, more than 20 years and counting, the challenge remains how to keep faith with those whom established policy is meant to better; one recent director told me its not something she supports, so its unimportant.

In 2002, when John Fisher stepped down and Gilles Marchildon took over, the decision was made to put virtually all the resources of Egale Canada into “equal marriage for same-sex couples.” This lead to the creation of Canadians for Equal Marriage and a complicated series of interlocking relationships of personnel, finances, banking, marketing/PR and fundraising between the two organizations.

A substantial and anonymous financial donation from the United States—to be dedicated to same-sex marriage—facilitated this arrangement. Another substantial donation was received in 2006 from Toronto for the same express purpose when the Harper government reconsidered same-sex marriage.

If the situation in the United States, both now and prior to the 2004 presidential election, is any indication—and there is much that is interlocking between the situation south of the border and ours—there may well have been significantly more support for anti-discrimination measures explicitly inclusive of transgender people than for same-sex marriage in Canada, too.

But this option was no longer on the agenda of Egale Canada after the decision taken by a small group of gay and lesbian people in 2002. What the public would support was never explored.

I have detailed elsewhere how, from 2004 to 2007, it was simply “inconvenient, divisive and ultimately unnecessary” for Egale Canada to honestly work with transgender and transsexual people to craft either a single message and advocacy agenda for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression or two co-equal messages and agendas.

Here:

https://jessicalive.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/inconvenient-divisive-and-ultimately-unnecessary/

Here:

https://jessicalive.wordpress.com/2008/05/13/marginal-among-the-marginal/

And here:

https://jessicalive.wordpress.com/2008/06/05/the-backlash-has-begun-ariel/

Under the leadership of its current Executive Director, Helen Kennedy, Egale Canada has continued its now overt policy of marginalizing transgender people; the perennial rumours of a major “trans” campaign remain just that, rumours.

A quick review of its website shows, first, silence on the idiocy of Pierre Poilievre and his public musings on the federal government not funding Ontario in its commitment to relist transsex surgery. I have written about this here:

https://jessicalive.wordpress.com/2008/05/20/who-is-pierre-poilievre/

And here:

https://jessicalive.wordpress.com/2008/05/26/more-on-pierre-poilievre/

Immediately clear is Egale’s current obsession with Jamaican “murder music” contradicting its Mandate to advance

equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified people, and their families, across Canada.

http://www.egale.ca/

Not only for gay and lesbian people in Canada, but also trans-identified people “across Canada.”

From its actions, and a statement by Kennedy, one might believe that we

have human rights for LGBTQ people in Canada

http://www.egale.ca/index.asp?lang=E&menu=1&item=1393

This statement is a prime example of how ‘inconvenient’ it is to craft a message that includes not only gay and lesbian people but also transgender and transsexual people.

Two trends follow directly from these positions of Egale Canada.

The first is worse than silence because, echoed by other LGB(T) organizations, it gives the impression transgender people do have formal human rights across Canada—not just North West Territories—steals hope from those who need it most and dissuades those who might otherwise be allies.

The second trend of LGB(T) organizations, following directly from the previous one and also lead by Egale Canada, is to abandon explicit commitments to transgender people and direct attention to gay and lesbian people in other countries. Ottawa Pride, in 2007, focused its publications and all but one “themed” event offshore. . . .

This is not to say the lives of gay and lesbian people in other countries are easy, they aren’t. Neither are the lives of transgender and transsexual people—whose struggles are arguably more difficult since they are not mentioned.

When Egale Canada abandoned Ottawa in 2007 it abandoned its national advocacy for the human rights of transgender and transsexual people—a commitment that was reconfirmed in the 2005 policy; another disappointment.

This is presented as a necessary cost-saving measure, yet, myself and others begged the Executive Director in 2004 and 2005 to make preparations for the inevitable drop in fundraising after the passage and proclamation of the Civil Marriage Act—widely described as the ‘gay marriage’ bill. These preparations could have been as simple as including trans people—the umbrella term at Egale at the time—in public messaging around ‘equal marriage’ to raise the profile of what is still the silent future, at Egale Canada, at least: the struggles of transgender people.

When the Civil Marriage Act was proclaimed in July, 2005, a precipitous slide in fundraising began that may not have ended. Donor fatigue is evident among those who might have contributed to a major “trans” campaign for those who remain the most marginal of LGBT people–if a foundation had been prepared when their attention was focussed.

Those who begged have now left; some simply discouraged and disappointed; some purged from committee memberships; some expelled from organization membership.

Egale Canada remains in the past.

Now even MP’s are ahead of Egale: Bill Siksay, NDP MP, has in the past year introduced legislation to amend the Criminal Code sections on Incitement to Hatred and Incitement to Genocide and Sentencing to include transgender and transsexual people. The NDP at its national policy convention in 2007 adopted significant policy on transgender and transsexual people that remains absent from Egale Canada’s ‘policy book.’

These sections of the Criminal Code were amended to include gay and lesbian people in 2003.

Incrementalist promises declare gay and lesbian people will come back to help us get where they are now after we helped them—but if they’ve gone offshore. . . . .

Where is the moral authority to pontificate on the struggles of anyone elsewhere when long-standing and re-affirmed commitments to the struggles of those more marginal here at home have been lies?

Helen Kennedy has been invited to speak at the CPATH conference on “Transgender Issues Across Canada” as a keynote speaker. It is unlikely she will comment on the aggressive way her organization has worked against the interests of transgender people since 2002 while, at the same time, pretending otherwise, or her own ongoing active support of the marginalization of transgender people.

Those who took Egale Canada at its “word” and worked to find common cause with the gay and lesbian people who continue to run it in their own exclusive interests will not be silenced. Kennedy’s invitation to this conference is profoundly inappropriate to the goals of CPATH and grossly offensive to all transgender people.

On behalf of those who have been relegated to the margins, I ask CPATH to revoke Kennedy’s invitation, leave Egale Canada where it is and program someone more appropriate—is there not a transgender person with adequate credentials?–who can speak to “Transgender Issues Across Canada” from a perspective other than that of oppressor.


The Cost of Right: A Bargain

June 7, 2008

There is a letter to the editor of the Niagara Falls Review in Niagara Falls, Ontario, published June 6, 2008, captioned “Money for sex changes, but not for diabetics.” It can be found at:

http://www.niagarafallsreview.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=1061878

The letter writer, a Type 1 diabetic, wasn’t diagnosed until age 25. Not being diagnosed until after age 18 means the writer was not eligible for a publicly funded insulin pump, which are available only for those diagnosed before age 18.

Early diagnosis “would prevent kidney deterioration and vision problems while promoting a longer life. This would result in fewer trips to the doctor or emergency room.”

I agree.

Early diagnosis of all chronic illness will save enormous amounts of money over the long term and “is not only better for the person with the disease but also less of a burden on the health system.”

I agree.

For transgendered people and especially transsexual people—the specific sub-group of transgendered people who seek surgery—surgery, after hormone therapy and gender transition, alleviates chronic problems including clinical depression, addictions, other self-destructive behaviours up to and including suicide and also the violence, resulting from prejudice and fear, that so often follows transgendered people.

All of these cost far more to society than a very, very small public investment in surgery—as I will detail later.

There is also the cost to society of the lost productivity of all those whose time, just like the writer’s, is taken up with managing, as best they can, their disability.

The letter writer then concludes, quite reasonably, “why wouldn’t they put the money toward an insulin pump program for people over 18?”

I only disagree with the article “the”—referring to the $200,000 a year Ontario Minister of Health, George Smitherman, has said will go to fund “sex-change” surgery.

At the end of the letter the writer proposes a list of what is worthy for public funding: “other lifesaving medical devices that would improve quality of life for anyone with diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis or other life-altering disease” or “the use of these funds could be to increase staff in the emergency room, rather than having one overworked doctor.”

“Sex-change surgery,” in the writer’s mind, is “not vital to the quality of a person’s health.” In the understandable challenge of his own life, the writer has dismissed the evils that beset the lives of transgendered people and that are certainly detrimental to the quality of their health—and cost society as a whole.

“Lifesaving medical devices” and “increase[ing] staff in the emergency room” are important and should be on the agenda of any health care ministry—and should have been on the agenda for the decade transex surgery has been unavailable in Ontario.

But for $200,000 a year none of the things this writer has legitimately asked for could ever be funded. This fact is not trivial, though the amount of money we’re speaking of, in the overall Ontario health care budget, is.

There is another point in the letter that strikes me.

The writer uses as justification for ‘lifesaving medical devices” that they “would improve quality of life” for people with “diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis or other life-altering disease.” But, for people with gender identity disorder, surgery is “not vital to the quality of a person’s health.”

Why the different test? Why must surgery for gender identity disorder be “vital to the quality of a person’s health” and not “improve quality of life”? For that matter, why isn’t it?

Why are transsexual people subject to a special test, a different test?

When we advocate for human rights we advocate for something not “special,” but simply to be treated with dignity and respect as all should—but transgendered people aren’t because of ignorance and the prejudice and fear that follow—especially when it comes to the allocation of public resources.

The writer accepts implicitly the judgment of medical and other “expert” persons when it comes to who has a “life-altering disease” but quite clearly will refuse to accept the judgment of the same personnel when it comes to gender identity disorder—the diagnosis for those who need transsex surgery.

Smitherman’s press secretary, Laurel Ostfield, was quoted in a Canadian Press story in the Toronto Globe and Mail on May 20, 2008:

“This sexual reassignment surgery is regarded amongst the mental health community as a necessary treatment for a very small number of individuals,” she said.

“It is listed in other provinces, such as Alberta. So, if Mr. Poilievre wants to play politics with people’s health, it’s really rather unfortunate.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080520.wsexchange20/BNStory/National/home

She is referring to the MP for Nepean-Carleton, Pierre Poilievre, who seems to have been the first to comment negatively on Smitherman’s proposal.

My heart goes out to the writer, but I disagree with the premise of the letter’s argument, that if these public funds are denied to transsex surgery they will be enough to support the needs identified.

Now, while we’re talking money, there are two other classes of people who also deserve public compensation and are not yet part of the discussion: those who have been approved for surgery in the decade it has been unavailable in Ontario but have not had the resources to cover it themselves; and those, in this same decade, who have, say, taken out a mortgage, settled a human rights complaint, had a well-paying enough job to save and/or medical insurance to cover it and funded it themselves.

After all, if it is right to cover surgery for those who will be approved starting, well we don’t know exactly when, but let’s say January 1, 2009, why is it not right to cover those who have already gone through the same assessment criteria, the “standards of care,” set out by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), regardless of whether they have undergone the surgery or not?

The professional people who make the diagnosis in Canada are members of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health (CPATH), a national section of WPATH, and very active.

Here are some ‘back of the envelop’ calculations.

I have used the cost of male to female surgery performed in the world class clinic of Dr. Pierre Brassard in Montreal—probably in the top three in the world today—because NONE of these procedures are available in any form in the Ontario public system. Various of the procedures that constitute female to male surgery are performed in the public sector—mastectomy and hysterectomy—and are available to trans men. The final procedure is very experimental, very expensive, does not always work and is not available in the public sector.

Smitherman’s own calculations are based on 8 to 10 persons a year at about $200,000 a year—or about $20,000 for each transsexual person starting whenever it will start. The fee in Montreal, including 8 to 10 days recuperation at the clinic, is $18,000 for the male to female basic procedure—breast augmentation, voice surgery are extra. There seems to be no provision for homecare in the most vulnerable week after arriving home.

Estimates are that about 200 people have been assessed according to the “standards of care” but have not yet had surgery. This is about 20 a year for the decade for all of Ontario; they are concentrated in the larger cities, especially Toronto.

Even more of a guesstimate, there are about half as many again who have been approved and funded surgery themselves—100 in total or about 10 a year.

For the first group the one-time cost is $3,600,000. On an annual basis for the decade this is only $360,000—a bit more than the $200,000 Minister Smitherman is proposing, but not much.

For those who have been approved and funded surgery themselves, the one-time cost is $1,800,000; over the decade it is $180,000 a year.

All together, if the province had funded these procedures ongoing, the annual cost would have been $580,000, but now a one-time expenditure of $5,400,000—remember, this is in a total annual health care budget of more than $40 billion. For the immense direct savings and untold amounts that would not otherwise be generated, this investment would have paid for itself MANY times over—and still can.

These estimates are extremely generous and is the absolute outside expenditure; what will actually be spent will be less.

This is the cost of right and its a bargain.

The Ottawa Citizen published an editorial characterizing Poilievre as a bully who picked on a population he believed so marginalized it couldn’t fight back.

Transgendered people are even more marginalized than drug addicts. . . . .Pardon us if we don’t admire his courage for taking on the all-powerful transgendered lobby.

The Courage of Poilievre, The Ottawa Citizen, May 21, 2008

http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/editorials/story.html?id=f68e086c-6a0e-48b2-b67b-d20d70ab04a7

The arguments in the letter to the editor are commonly used by those who criticize public provision of transsex surgery.

This writer sees something that seems to be being taken from him and it is an understandable concern.

But limitations on the availability of funds cannot be the reason for denying surgery “that would improve quality of life” of transgendered people.

There is another reason.

Its not a pretty one.

Full disclosure: I had surgery in the Montreal clinic of Dr. Pierre Brassard in February of this year.


The backlash has begun, Ariel

June 5, 2008

and the struggle, too. Where have you been?

Ariel Troster, the Personal Political columnist of Xtra.ca, and Capital Xtra, has written a column on our local MP, and bully, Pierre Poilievre.

Her column can be found at “Taking Conservative Comments Personally; Waiting for Poilievre’s Trans Baiting to Backfire”:

    http://www.xtra.ca/public/viewstory.aspx?AFF_TYPE=1&STORY_ID=4869&PUB_TEMPLATE_ID=7

I have already written on this matter, which can be found at “Who is Pierre Poilievre and why is he saying these things about transsexual people? And does it really matter?”:

https://jessicalive.wordpress.com/2008/05/20/who-is-pierre-poilievre/

I posted it more than three weeks ago and it has become, and continues to be, the most viewed of my blogs.

The editorial in The Ottawa Citizen she refers to, though not to a far more interesting sentence—more on this in a moment—is important.

The editorial can be found here, published May 21, 2008:

http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/editorials/story.html?id=f68e086c-6a0e-48b2-b67b-d20d70ab04a7

I posted it to my blog with an interesting email from our own MP, Paul Dewar, both of which can be found here:

https://jessicalive.wordpress.com/2008/05/26/more-on-pierre-poilievre/

There has already been a ‘backlash’ which has rebounded to the benefit of transgender and transsexual people, not only in Capital Xtra and on Xtra.ca, but also in media most read, some of which I cite in my blogs.

But like the Citizen editorial, Troster fusses more on the ignorant ravings of a conservative MP rather than the plight of transgender and transsexual people—referred to in the editorial as transgendered people.

As a swipe, not undeserved, at Poilievre, The Citizen declares:

Transgendered people are even more marginalized than drug addicts.

It is sadly not surprising Capital Xtra, Xtra.ca and its columnists ‘overlook’ the fact that transgender and transsexual people are more marginal than gay and lesbian people, that is, further from the mainstream, more desperate in our lives and struggles and in far greater need of the attention and overt support of those who declare ally status than the gay and lesbian media has historically given.

The secondary status of transgendered people in both the Citizen editorial and this column, which swipes in great glee at Poilievre rather than advancing our cause, is explicit evidence of our greater marginalization.

A number of years ago the editor and publisher of Capital Xtra, and producer of the Xtra.ca website, Gareth Kirkby, declared, in a very emotional and very open meeting what became the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Trans Two Spirit and Queer Community Centre of Ottawa, Inc., that he would NEVER print anything other than ‘Gay and Lesbian’, or ‘Queer’, when referring to the Community Centre.

In connection with the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Trans Two Spirit and Queer Community Centre of Ottawa, Inc. I pointed out the greater marginalization of transgendered people than gay and lesbian people–and for this statement I endured several months of denunciation in Kirkby’s paper, Capital Xtra. I believe it was something along the lines of ‘I was dividing the community.’ The fact is, the community is already divided–and refusing to acknowledge it, further marginalizing those already more marginalized, does nothing, certainly nothing to unify it. Quite frankly, I do not believe there can be the sort of “unity” that is envisioned in such statements.

In recent coverage of the Around the Rainbow Project here in Ottawa–the Project is well aware of the necessity to address the marginalization of those not gay and lesbian by actually saying the words–Capital Xtra edited out the Project Coordinator’s stating these words that he clearly considers redundant—anything beyond gay and lesbian. This piece does not appear to be on Xtra.ca.

Around the Rainbow Project can be found here:

http://www.around-therainbow.com/

The last time Troster herself commented on transgendered people—for me the preferred term is trans people—as far as I can find, was March 15, 2007, in a piece called “You’ll Find Me at Camp Trans in Michigan; I’m Pitching My Tent on Inclusive Ground,” which can be found at:

http://www.xtra.ca/public/viewstory.aspx?AFF_TYPE=2&STORY_ID=2742&PUB_TEMPLATE_ID=7

I expressed my concern at the time that the struggle, as pleasant as it seems at Camp Trans outside the Michigan Women’s Music Festival—long a symbol, and practitioner, of overt transphobia—the real struggle, as with all struggles, is at home.

It is more difficult for some to heed the inner voice urging one to speak truth to power.

In her current piece Troster declares:

This is not a fight that I have been at the forefront of, given that I am an ally and not a member of the trans community. But the recent backlash has hit me hard, as I’ve seen the issue of whether or not my girlfriend deserves equal access to medical treatment used as a pawn in a Conservative MP’s attempt to rattle up reactionary votes.

To maintain one’s credentials as an ally one must use the position and profile one has been given to help those who are more marginalized than oneself. I have not reviewed her entire oeuvre, but I suspect there are a few more pieces on drug addicts than trans people.

A moment of full disclosure:

Troster was the member of the board of Egale Canada for the National Capital Region, appointed to fill the vacancy created when the previous member resigned. I also applied for that vacancy. At the time, the Executive Director gave me the ‘dessert metaphor’ for why I was not chosen. “When people have a choice between cake and ice cream, sometimes people choose cake instead of ice cream, not because they don’t like ice cream, but because they feel like cake.”

Troster went on to be Treasurer of Egale Canada and a member of the executive during the last manifestation of Canadians for Equal Marriage, a creature of Egale Canada, and certainly had the position to influence the trans-excluding policies of those organizations at a time when there was an internal struggle to include trans people–and bisexual people–on the steering committee of Canadians for Equal Marriage.

If my memory serves, she did not resign until after the struggle was decided the only way it could be decided in Egale Canada.

I have written about the failures of Egale Canada here:

https://jessicalive.wordpress.com/2008/05/13/marginal-among-the-marginal/

and here:

https://jessicalive.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/inconvenient-divisive-and-ultimately-unnecessary/

I cannot remember, nor can those with longer associations with Egale Canada remember, any trans person being that joyful cake instead of ordinary ice cream.


More on Pierre Poilievre

May 26, 2008

Since publishing “Who is Pierre Poilievre. . . .” there have been two interesting things. An Editorial in The Ottawa Citizen and an email from Paul Dewar, my MP, the NDP MP for Ottawa Centre.

https://jessicalive.wordpress.com/2008/05/20/who-is-pierre-poilievre/

The courage of Poilievre

The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A mark of maturity is the ability to control the worst angels of one’s nature. Pierre Poilievre has for years struggled to restrain his worst impulses, and sadly the battle is not going well.

Mr. Poilievre is the Conservative MP for Nepean-Carleton, but he surfaced the other day to denounce a provincial decision to reinstate funding for the small number of Ontarians who suffer legitimate gender identity disorders and whose health requires them to have a sex-change operation.

Maybe eight Ontarians a year would meet the criteria, and the cost involved is a pittance in the context of the provincial health budget. But the savvy Mr. Poilievre can spot an opportunity as well as any populist. The “McGuinty sex-change program” doesn’t deserve funding, he says. He’s promising his constituents that he’ll personally lobby federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to make sure Mr. Flaherty is aware of this outrage.

Usually politicians looking to score easy points will rail against needle exchange programs, but transgendered people are even more marginalized than drug addicts, so they make an even safer target to beat up on. This is on the same level of cheap politics as whipping up anger because an academic somewhere received a grant to write a thesis on, say, snail reproduction.

This isn’t to say that people can’t ask whether same-sex operations are medically necessary. This is a fair question. But Mr. Poilievre’s smarmy quip about the “McGuinty sex-change program,” suggesting that the government is promoting sex reassignment, shows he is simply being opportunistic.

Pardon us if we don’t admire his courage for taking on the all-powerful transgendered lobby.

http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/editorials/story.html?id=f68e086c-6a0e-48b2-b67b-d20d70ab04a7

Email from Paul Dewar, MP

Dear Jessica,

I apologize for not getting back to you sooner but, I am out of the country travelling with the Parliamentary Defense Committee and, communications have been sporadic.

I was appalled at Pierre Poilievre’s remarks and his position on government funding for gender reassignment surgeries. His position, unfortunately, further demonstrate the ignorance of this government about transgender issues. Gender identity is not a choice. It is not a lifestyle. It is a recognized medical condition for which the treatment is gender reassignment surgery. For a person suffering from gender identity disorder medical procedures can significantly reduce the feelings of discomfort caused by one’s birth sex and social rearing in that sex. Withholding such surgery can lead to severe psychological problems and, in extreme cases, suicide. It is unfortunate, that Mr. Poilievre is capable of demonstrating such a lack of understanding about the seriousness of this condition. A condition that was recognized by our military over a decade ago when then, Lt.-Gen. Romeo Daillaire, approved funding for gender reassignment surgery by the Department of National Defence.

Under the Canada Health Act, it is the role of our government to guarantee access to medical care. It is the role of this government to see that all provinces get in line with this long-delayed decision by the Provincial Ontario Government to fund gender reassignment surgery.


Sincerely,

Paul

Paul Dewar, MP | Député Ottawa Centre
NDP Foreign Affairs Critic
Porte-parole du NPD pour les affaires étrangères
519 Confederation Building
Tel: 613.996.5322 http://www.pauldewar.ca
CEP 232