What I have learned. . .

July 7, 2010

. . . from the two spirit people I know, and what I have learned from what intersex people have written, and my own reluctance to speak for those of different lived experience, is that it is inappropriate to include those whose lives are different in one’s own identity.

It is so hard for people to realize that gender is something people grow into, rather like a total body suit, that differs from age to age, from geographic location to geographic location.

And then there is the sex of a person.

Most discourse on transgender email lists suggests sex is something solely determined by the genitalia observed at birth by the doctor who exclaims, “Its a boy!” of “Its a girl!”

What we know from intersex people is that this is not always possible–not the baby’s gender but the baby’s sex.

And the ambiguity is not always at the level of visible, morphological anatomy/sex. So why would we make the assumption that birth-assigned sex is always correct?

While a baby may grow up to be uncomfortable with the body suit society shoves the baby into, there are those whose body itself is uncomfortable, from the moment of birth, but the baby has not the words. And, from the moment it does have the words, it is not permitted to use them.

Anymore than the person the baby grows into is permitted to use those words on transgender email lists–without suffering the very exclusion that lead them to the list in the first place; without the stigma of being called the reason for the failure of the equality movement, on email lists–and elsewhere.

It is easy to get away with the oppression of transsexual people after they have been defined out of existence in the last 20-30 years.

It is far harder to oppress two spirit and intersex people, in the interests of their equality, of course, because there are other parts of their lives, as well as the very characteristics of their lives which some take as the path to oppress them, which immunize them from the “equality” oppression, unlike transsexual people.

There are organizations that advocate for intersex people, run by intersex people–such as the Organization Intersexual International–and those that advocate for two spirit people, the latter based in the more traditional ways out of which the modern notion of two spirit grew.

The melancholy for transsexual people is that there are only organizations that advocate for transgender, or, less likely, organizations that advocate for LGBT people, which often means just gay and lesbian people.

Who will advocate for transsexual people?

Challenging the transgender loyalty oath

July 2, 2010

Published as a response to:

An Observation: People tend to judge, based upon the Outward Appearance.

On the contrary, people judge on the basis of acceptance, or rejection, of  the transgender loyalty oath.

In all the very respectful debate–most of the time–and more than any such in the past as I have observed it on this list, one thing stands out in the most graphic of ways, and with particular clarity in this post.

All those, such as myself, who call for the recognition of transsexual and transgender people, who call for an historical understanding of our oppression, who call, explicitly and REPEATEDLY, for equal treatment of ALL transsexual and transgender people–are accused of demeaning and diminishing transgender people.

The only people I see who refuse to simply declare a commitment to equality for all, are those who give fealty to the transgender ideology–as if that enforced identity is all that is needed to ensure equality for all.

This notion of policed identity is the model of the gay rights movement that has not/is not proving very helpful for transsexual and transgender people in the United States; for all the noise that the, so-called, repeal of DADT is what transsexual and transgender people need, very arguable, it is not arguable that it has filled the quota of LGBT legislation before the mid-terms. When the Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress disappear after the mid-terms there is little likelihood anything trans inclusive will be passed.

In Canada, gay and lesbian people have long achieved their formal agenda and are less than enthusiastic to come back for transgender and transsexual people.

I argue there is a lesson here for “all who care to note.”

I’m not sure how an enforced identity is working out in Arizona; I have just read that the “papers, please” law is supported across the United States–I hope I read wrong; though given American history, this certainly seems likely.

Nor am I sure about how the notion of “melting pot” worked out for what we in Canada call First Nations/Aboriginal People, also.

Do you really believe basing a struggle for equality, even equity, on a lie is a productive way to proceed?

“But I really don’t fancy the notion of some elitist gatekeepers pompously blasting out a piece of the legislative or social Bridge to Equality that I need to get to where I aim to go in Life.”

Just who are the “elitist gatekeepers pompously blasting out” around here?

Just who are those laying out accusations about “not “worthy” of equal treatment”?

In my legislative work I accept the expediency of gender identity and gender expression; in practical fact this has already been well-established in Canadian human rights practice at the federal, provincial and territorial level.

We work now to raise the awareness of transsexual and transgender people, their different lives and needs–particularly health needs–by passing legislation.

The Depathologization movement is sexist

July 2, 2010

In Canada, I was quite shocked to learn transsexual men can have hysterectomies after a certain amount of time on testosterone: this leads to premature menopause which is an indicator for hysterectomy–without the need of going through the DSM or the Standards of Care, AT ALL.

The pathologization of transsexual men in Canada, at least for hysterectomy surgery has never been; ‘top’ surgery, depending on the doctor, can be similarly finessed.

I had to obtain a diagnosis for GID and follow the Standards of Care. I would argue there is a fundamental sexism involved here–one I have never heard discussed.

Julia Serano has argued the entire sexist reaction of society to transsexual men–less–and transsexual women–more–is not because of the women and men we were, respectively; it is because of the men and women we are now, respectively.

As I read one of the depathologization manifestos there was a call for surgery to be covered by national health insurance plans. Without some medical diagnosis, coverage, such as the San Francisco municipal plan would lose its medical base and would probably not cover any more.

I recognize the extreme libertarian culture in America is often profoundly against single-payer, such as we have in Canada, that provides coverage for SRS, without which many, many transsexual women–the men in many cases already covered under OTHER categories–will, as they are now, be excluded.

There must be a way to square this circle–depathologize but retain medical coverage to the extent that it will be paid for. Unless libertarian ideology replaces transgender ideology governing the lives of transsexual women without regard to their lives and needs–what’s new!

I appreciate the de-psychopathologize intermediate position, of requiring national insurance coverage, but, as I’ve pointed out in Canada, we are just talking about transsexual women, transsexual men have long escaped the psychopathologization the women have always been subject to.

And in libertarian countries, such as the United States the entire idea of single-payer, or ANY health care system run by the government, smacks of “repellent socialism.”

I also appreciate this is a very class-structured thing, which is precisely why I advocate for single-payer.

For the reason of sexism/gender the men simply go through the system without any stigma; the women must.

Until the Depathologization Movement actually, formally, explicitly recognizes this sexism at the heart of the treatment of transsexuality–including its–it will be little more than an interesting side issue.

Challenging Judith Butler

July 2, 2010

I’m never entirely sure what to make of the pedestalling of Judith Butler, even when she actually says something that makes sense.

The entire foundation of her work is the dismissal of transsexual people and our claims of being mis-SEXed at birth illuminated by her incomprehension at the rage that drove David Reimer to take his own life rather than continue, even when he tried, tried so hard, to struggle with the gender that was forced upon him in support of another’s gender ideology.

How incomprehensible gender ideology is to those who espouse it!

I am left with the sense of a world turned upside down. Where those who must recognize themselves, not able to accept their birth-assigned status, are treated unequally: Gay, lesbian, and less, bisexual people are recognized and possibly transgender people; certainly transsexual people are less so. With the expectation we must all accept the melting pot, yet those who cannot are accused of identity politics; we are accused of standing in the way of equality by those who commit the greatest identity political coup of all time:

the melting pot is in their image

Why isn’t the dominant identity, instead of sexual orientation, transgender/gender variance?

Why, since same-sex sex is gender transgressive after all, are not all gay men and lesbians proud trangenders?

I always think the celebration of someone who has no conception of the lived experience of those who must change sex, who becomes the arbiter of the lives of those who must, oppressive.

And declares the core of our lives, the urge to change sex, is nothing, and that it is really the discomfort with gender–and so recruits us for her gender ideology–oppressive.

But then, this is the common goal of those who demand common identity.


It is neither identity nor identity politics that is the focus of my critique of Butler.

It is her total incomprehension at the rage of David Reimer, the rage not only at what was done to him, but the rage that lead him to take his own life–and that of his brother to take his own life.

How can a cissexual person make a principled attempt to speak to the lived experience of transsexual people? Without acknowledging the foundational question of our lives? Without impressing us into her ideology?

The elision of the lived experience of those who must change sex with those who explore gender–something Butler knows well–is no less than violence; it is no more than oppression.

This becomes a basis of the discourse that declares our experience is non-existence, that what we are really experiencing is gender dysphoria.

This is why I challenge the theory, abstract and ungrounded, of Butler and all the oppression that issues from it.

Challenging Oppression in Toronto & Ottawa

July 2, 2010

I was at a solidarity demo in from of the Ottawa Police HQ two nights ago in support of the Toronto 900.

While most of the speakers, who had been in Toronto on the weekend, spoke of the immediate violence they had endured, one courageous young man spoke of the larger issues involved, including the austerity that has now been “sanctioned” by the “leaders” of the G20–a policy that, among others, was championed by my Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

The issues of power and oppression have been raised; for myself, I am less and less able to see what power is.

Oh I know the incidents described, and all the others that were endured, and many witnessed, both by those on the ground and those watching through media. represent raw power, but, being a student of these things for so many years, I need something more I can engage/understand.

What the leaders did in comfortable secrecy, immune from what they have described as necessary austerity–that will impoverish retirees, women, GLBT/T people, students, workers, in fact everyone who has a stake in the modern, once upon a time welfare state, at least it was in Canada–is not something new, just a new, and even more skeletal mask.

As a concept, oppression is difficult to understand, because it manifests in so many guises, and is not limited to those we might like to hate–myself included–such as the police, especially those in their Blade Runner, cyperpunk futuristic armour, and the politicians.

The overt violence we saw over the weekend–which appalled and shamed me–is a rather rare, though dramatic episode in oppression.

It mostly happens in the ways all of us who are reading this comment are very familiar with: Mullaly refers to them as the aversions that make up our bureaucratic society, both the personal aversions, and the more anonymous ones that are the essence of our society: refusal to hire, refusal to train, refusal to promote, refusal to serve, the many bureaucratic barriers to equal access and treatment, the regulations, the attitudes that don’t end with a fire extinguisher on our head, but may well have the same result, if not quite as dramatically or as quickly.

Violence doesn’t stop, of course.

And few of us are the sources of violence–though when I read of American trans-prefixed persons revelling in their guns, in their fighting–and implicitly killing–techniques, I shudder.

How to continue this thread of logic?

Along with our many overlapped demographic characteristics, trans-prefixed AND female, of colour, working class, Jewish, Muslim, the list is neverending, there is our participation in the oppressive structures, though many of us challenge it in whatever ways are open.

There is no escaping our participation in the oppressive structures; reading–and writing–this comment is participation.

Is it the same as the leaders of the G20, of course not.

Is it the same as the police, of course not.

I do not go out and beat the crap out of someone because I am, well, programed to oppress; my programming is far more subtle than that.

Sometimes, I do avert people; I cannot always engage constructively with others; I certainly do say things that I, on the other end, might well believe to be oppressive.

What I do claim for myself, is that I reflect upon what I say and do–sometimes to the point of inaction.

This is not the best post I have ever made, and I think most will see through my obfuscations.

The point I’m trying to make is that it is less the violence and the personalities we should be pointing at, as easy and as fun as that is.

The oppression at the centre of our lives is not as obvious nor as easy to focus on as what we saw over the weekend, but it is pervasive in our lives–and it is seductive and almost irresistible.

We must see it for what it is–and our complicity in it.

Free the Toronto 900!

Fight back against the police state! We are putting you under surveillance!

Build the resistance against the G20! Build the resistance against austerity!

Build the general strike!

What Semenya’s Critics AND Defenders Fear

August 27, 2009

Reading David Zirin and Sherry Wolf’s piece, Sex-Testing Victim Semenya Stands Tall, originally published by The Nation, and a somewhat different version in The Globe and Mail, it was reading the latter that something quite fundamental, and quite invisible, struck me.

While it is clear what is illuminated here, particularly in the hurtful comments by those Semenya defeated–and part of a long, if not venerable history in women’s sport–ascribing her success to maleness, is a truth not many, for all the commentary, acknowledge.

The history of female athletes of superlative performance has long been one of their adopting feminine gender expression–and emphatically so–not only to offset their physical male characteristics, musculature, lack of breasts, endurance, deep voice, not usually associated with a female body but also to deflect the slur of homosexuality–and the consequence of sex-testing, which indignity Semenya is now undergoing.

This strength of this accusation, not only in sports, does not simply derive from the irrational fear of those who have sex with those whose sex is the same as theirs.

Do we actually see the persons so attacked in intimate moments with those of the same sex?

I suspect I must actually answer this, to me, rhetorical question. This is because the near universal answer to the hate attracted by people like Semenya is that, of course, it is their sexual orientation that is the cause–and no evidence for this is needed.

But, no, we do not see these targets of hate having sex with anyone.

What, then, do we actually see?

We see people who present the physical characteristics of the opposite sex–specifically, male characteristics. And it is these characteristics that, it is assumed, must be the reason for her success. Since it could not possibly be her dedication, her talent or her training.

It is a surprisingly abstract process that jumps from the perception of seen physical characteristics to unseen sexual behaviour–and it is a common one.

It is even more surprising, and to me very curious, that gay and lesbian people, almost universally–and uncritically–promote this complicated intellectualleap.

Clarity of thought is not something usually associated with hate; but I would have hoped it might come from other quarters.

I repeat, what is it that we actually see?

What is it we are actually judging?

We see, and judge, male characteristics in one who presents as female.

We witness as Zirin and Wolf describe, the conclusion of Semenya’s critics that she has illicitly benefited from male characteristics–as if she has taken performance-enhancing drugs/steroids.

As Zirin and Wolf declare:

A country’s wealth, coaching facilities, nutrition and opportunity determine the creation of a world-class athlete far more than a Y chromosome or a penis ever could.

Both Semenya’s critics and defenders see sexual orientation as the essence of this issue. Well, not see, I suppose, but feel.

Such a curious consensus and agreement among the most unlikely partners, one might even say allies.

What struck me in all of this–and leads me to dare this statement–is precisely what Zirin and Wolf emphatically point to:

the underlying societal  assumption that it is better to be male.

So fundamental is this assumption it cannot even be seen, so normalized is it in society. It is so invisible that even Semenya’s defenders must conjure up an abstract logic to explain what is happening.

Because they, themselves, share this assumption.

This assumption is the flip side of the attacks, not limited by sexual orientation, political philosophy, religious belief or adherence to feminism, on those who seek to abandon apparent maleness.

This, too, is met with the slur of homosexuality.

While there are certainly those who say these fundamental physical characteristics are gender and gender variant presentation is itself part of  “all things associated” with homosexuality, I cannot accept these assertions.

When, for example, we learn that Semenya wore pants when we was young, this, certainly, is part of gender expression. And we can also say that the response to her physical presence is gendered in some way. But my somewhat attenuated hope is that, in the way we approach freedom, equality and dignity, we would seek clarity in what we assert.

Frankly, all I see in most of this controversy is confusion.

Am I saying Semenya is transsexual? Of course not.

Am I saying she is intersexed? I’m sure after all the sex-testing ordeal she is enduring, we may well learn this.

What I am saying is Semenya’s ordeal demonstrates prejudice that is not limited to those who criticize her performance, and that this points to a very fundamental anxiety shared by people regardless of sexual orientation.

Not only does this have to do with those who change their physical sex characteristics, or simply present opposite-sex physical characteristics, but in particular this anxiety is heightened when it has to do with those who appear to abandon maleness as well as those who seem to inappropriately benefit from maleness.

There is a lesson here I suspect will be lost on most.

Tools for the Struggle

August 27, 2009


This a bit of an experiment. Though I have not been posting to this blog for some time–issues around available time, particularly in relation to keeping up full time work, and my penchant for doing rather involved pieces that have much thinking and drafting to do.

I have, nevertheless, been posting comments to various lists and sites over the months, finding the motivation of responding to be very helpful in getting something worthwhile, I believe, out.

This is one such response to this.

There were no other comments. I debated whether to post this because after an interesting and necessary discussion to a previous post, there was silence. There remains silence.

This is an ominous sign.

Over the years, I have read with interest, great respect and admiration the work of catkisser whose contribution includes not only this blog, but others and a body of advocacy I can never hope to emulate.

I regret from this point our paths diverge.

To abandon the tools of privilege and power relations analyses is to voluntarily give up what is most effective in the struggle for empowerment.

The need for one to “own one’s womanhood,” to posses one’s self-esteem, are certainly foundational pre-requisites for ANY struggle, including the struggle for equality–which remains a struggle.

The vision of anarchism in the Spanish Civil War was not limited to women, but was one shared by all those, Spanish and not Spanish alike, who answered the call–forever changing them.

The challenges faced by those men and women were different at least in degree from those we face today–I would even argue the degree of difference we face today passes the threshold to difference in kind.

The most visible collective of women in Canada, with a long and respected, by some, history of working for the benefit of women, is the group that founded Rape Relief and the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective and Pharmacy, called Lu’s, which have SUCCESSFULLY excluded those women not born women–those of use who DO NOT BLEED.

I have myself been attacked by those who wield “horizontal” beliefs–white, middle-class, gay men who argue there is no difference between either our status or struggles.

This, when gay and lesbian people have have had explicit human rights in Canada for more than a decade, hate crime protections for almost that long, and same-sex marriage–called in Canada “equal marriage”–for more than 5 years in most parts of my country and everywhere since.

And MANY other administrative law and collective agreement benefits.

There is no explicit human rights protection in Canada–except North West Territories–for transgender or transsexual people, no hate crime protection, nor FORMAL equality anywhere.

There is a Rainbow Health Ontario agency that seeks to improve health care in Ontario for ALL of us whose adherence to the social
determinants of health does not move them even to acknowledge that this FORMAL exclusion from society has any effect on transgender and particularly transsexual people.

Once, this very much upset me on a deeply personal level until I worked out my own grief and despair, finding my own healing path,
taking ownership of my womanhood and finding my self-esteem.

While my transition has completed, I continue on my healing path.

The tools you declare should be abandoned are those I see put to good use, by the women I admire, in the empowerment of those oppressed by the primary structures of oppression–race, age, gender/sex, sexual orientation, class, etc–and all their intersections in the lived lives of all of us.

Without these tools, there is no way to answer the charge that there is no difference between the struggles of those excluded from the mainstream of society and those closer, nor able to gauge this exclusion and what maintains this–the simple exercise of raw power.

And more importantly, to challenge it.

The time has long since past when we can withdraw into our communes and communities and celebrate the Goddess in each other and ourselves to the exclusion of this struggle–balanced with what we need to keep ourselves healthy in the world, which DOES include celebration and mutual recognition.

The Spanish Civil War, among its MANY lessons, gave us this very painful and very bitter one.

Regardless of my own yearnings for the glory of the past–and my grief for being forever excluded from it–there is nothing I can do to resurrect what WAS right and good.

All I can do–merely contribute, really–is to build for the future with all the tools I can muster in the face of the ever-perfecting
machine, maintaining my balance along the way as best I can.

It saddens me more than I can express that the two of you, whom I admire for what you have endured and accomplished, call on us to abandon the very essence of the consciousness and empowerment that it is to be a woman.

UPDATE: When I wrote about silence, it was not in reference to the posts, but to the absence of comments to them.

The comment refers to a discussion in response to my comment.

I do not see a discussion, of the sort that was in response to this post. I just wonder where the discussion in comments is to the more recent posts.

UPDATE II: Another comment to the original post.

I believe the starting point of feminism–well, maybe second wave feminism–in North America–one in which few “women” actually had a part in–were the ‘bitching’ or consciousness-raising sessions.

Out of these came the awareness of power-relationships on the one hand and privilege–male privilege–on the other.

Cultural differences are the inevitable result of, well, different cultures.

One of the goals of social work is to work at cultural competency–not always succeeded or even understood. Feminism is very much a part of the practice and theory of social work.

But my point, which I don’t believe you have addressed, is that out of one’s taking ownership of being a woman and coming to one’s self-esteem–a difficult process given the oppressed state of being a woman, and yes, being a woman of transsexual history–comes empowerment.

This empowerment is entangled with understanding privilege and power relations.

This is the gift of feminism to all those who struggle against oppression. What has been absorbed into what is called anti-oppression practice and theory.

Feminists work in all parts of the “woman’s movement,” including those we both have challenged. These women do the Goddess’s work in their lives and in living their lives.

What they–we–do with our lives after taking possession of our empowerment is not for another to say.

This just gets us back to where we started.