Who Names Me?

February 15, 2009


I have just read Autumn’s first post on terminology. Much of what she writes, certainly her references to various Stylebooks, I quite agree with.

The references to appropriate attribution of pronouns is one of some interest. In recent months, I’ve been taking an introduction to social work and social welfare at Carleton University in Ottawa in preparation for a change in my life. In this course, I’ve found a welcoming and supportive environment but with one peculiar glitch.

I’ve been invited to be interviewed–not the first time at Carleton–by another mature student in the class for the Carleton Radio Station, CKCU–when the broadcast date is finalized, I will post. Yet, once when we spoke he declared some confusion as to how he should refer to me.

Now, I present in as feminine a manner as I can–I work at it. There is no ambiguity. My friend, though, felt my voice, being not as high in pitch as, say, a teenage girl–pretty much the majority of our class–meant I wished to be addressed as male.

There is some history to this.

In the first months in the course–a large first year lecture–I contributed many comments; I continue to do so. The purpose of taking this course is to have an academic reference for my application to the Carleton School of Social Work; I’m quite happy to say the lecturer was delighted to provide a very nice reference for me.

However, in the fall, one student emailed her with concern there was some–possibly widespread–comments, jokes, silence by other students at my expense. My voice, even as I noticed in that hall, in those seats, might have been lower than I might have preferred. Nevertheless this, as the instructor agreed, is harassment in the definition of Carleton’s Education Equity Statement–including its additions to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s categories, which don’t formally include gender identity. Carleton has formally included gender identity–and also political affiliation.

I, as all participants in that class, have an absolute right to a supportive and affirming learning environment.

The instructor made a statement to the class regarding respect in the class, adding to her previous statement about respect for visitors. I never noticed what the concerned student emailed about–though I appreciate her concern–and since the instructor’s comment I have received nothing but respect, even–though this was present before–an admiration for my commentary.

My experience at Carleton has been almost overwhelming and I look forward with great anticipation to attending full time in the fall. Yes, I’m quite out there–as I am most places.

No, I haven’t forgotten Autumn’s post.

I have written a number of documents in connection with my course and application which I will post soon. These writing exercises have helped clarify my thoughts; I look forward to the next several years to continue this process.

I’ve been thinking about Namaste’s term erasure and Shelley’s term repudiation.

When I transitioned and came into the “community(ies)” in Ottawa, and to some degree across Canada and North America, the first idea thrust upon me was Namaste’s. In Egale Canada and Canadians for Equal Marriage, in Pink Triangle Services, organizations I’ve been part of, I found her term a good description of my everyday life.

Egale’s notion of inconvenient, divisive and ultimately unnecessary is illuminated by erasure.

More recently, however, I needed to find a foundation for both of these–and I just happened to stumble across Shelley’s book and his notion of repudiation.This illuminates for me the ground of Namaste’s term and Egale Canada’s explicit practice.

Now, what does this have to do with the use of transgender as the umbrella term for both transgender and transsexual people?

In the recent TDOR, our events in Ottawa were, as they have been for five years–as in Toronto–termed “Trans Day of Remembrance.” In a Canadian trans email list, a continentally prominent–almost as prominent as a trans person can be, more so than I, for example–posted the Canadian list of events, changing our term, though keeping the Toronto term intact.

I raised concern regarding this.

Subsequently, our event was removed from the list Ethan St. Pierre keeps–but not the Toronto events, all three of them. After an exchange of email with Ethan, he explained he had been informed listing the Ottawa event would disrespect it, even though our usage has always been transgender and transsexual people, or transsexual and transgender people–and this has been the case for five years and listing had never before disrespected our event, nor been cause to erase it.

Subsequently, this continentally prominent trans person admitted to being Ethan’s informer. Frankly, I believe this imposition of another’s views upon our community, both in the Canadian list and Ethan’s list, to be grossly inappropriate, colonizing, marginalizing and repudiating.

I’m happy to accept other’s self-identification.

I’m happy to have Gender Mosaic here in Ottawa–one of Canada’s oldest transgender support organizations–describe itself as transgender. Trying to be part of Gender Mosaic has always been problematic for transsexual people. We created Gender Quest group at Pink Triangle Services to address the void in Ottawa for services to transitioning persons–in particular transsexual persons–who have no home in a transgender organization.

I believe this notion of home/community to be very important.

In reading for my course, I have rediscovered Alfred Adler and how he speaks quite directly to this void I’ve always felt in my own life and alluded to in my last post.

, community feeling/social feeling, is one of a class of notions Adler describes as “regulatory ideals,” notions so powerful for us they act upon us as if they were real–they act as telos, goals of our lives.

I’m getting back to Autumn’s post–really–and recent controversy on the TGV list.

I feel no home in anything described as transgender. I find it quite difficult to speak of the needs which are at the core of my advocacy–medical, social and legal–in such a context where for transgender people these needs are of lesser concern.

I believe there is a profound category error at work here that simply compounds the erasure and repudiation of transsexual people. I believe this category error marginalizes the central concerns of transsexual people–even as Namaste has also argued. This is very close to the core of my criticism of Egale Canada’s past and present marginalization of transsexual people.

So, my usage has always been transgender and transsexual people or transsexual and transgender people. This is the usage of Bill Siksay, the Member of Parliament, who has been leading the parliamentary struggle to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code of Canada to include gender identity and gender expression.

In the organizing for the 2008 TDOR in Ottawa all the other organizers were from Gender Mosaic. They wanted to revert to the more common usage, “Transgender Day of Remembrance.” I argued against it. I suggested using “Transgender-Transsexual Day of Remembrance;” the others were, at one point, willing to use “Trans-Transgender Day of Remembrance.” All I can say, this erasure and repudiation of transsexual people is/was completely unacceptable.

But the question raises itself, why is it always appropriate to so casually erase and repudiate transsexual people?

Why is this category error so normalized?

Do we shame and embarrass not only gay and lesbian people but also transgender people?

Why is the ideology, even among those who, by almost any definition are transsexual people, to impose their views on those who do not accept them–often allying themselves with those who have no interest in our struggles and everyday/night lives?

I have no concern whatsoever in people identifying themselves in any way they wish–I respect this. I simply ask to be granted the same privilege.

Failing that, I ask for the adoption of an open usage that doesn’t erase and repudiate me.


King. R. A. & Shelley, C. A. (2008). Community feeling and social interest: Adlerian parallels, synergy and differences with the field of community psychology [PDF Format]. J. Community Appl. Soc. Psychol., 18: 96–107.

Namaste, V. (2000). Invisible lives: The erasure of transsexual and transgendered people. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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

Shelley, C. A. (2008). Transpeople: Repudiation, trauma, healing. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press.

UPDATE: Ethan St. Pierre is quite correct in comments. And in a piece on “naming,” no less. My apologies. I have corrected his name in the text.

UPDATE II: It is difficult to know where to start on comments.

Those who accuse me of being a separatist for wanting an open usage seem to be glued to words rather than actions–even actions through words. I have long advocated for transgender and transsexual people, gender identity and gender expression. I have argued, publicly, against those who would throw gender expression overboard explicitly in terms of not duplicating the removal of T from GLB.

One post seems to dismiss the need for a specific group for transitioning persons. Do transitioning persons not deserve the same support as those who do not?

I guess my commentaries discussing the need for the largest coalition possible were not read. In a coalition, among transgender and transsexual people, with gay, lesbian and bisexual people, just to start, all parts must be clearly identified, their needs and goals explicit, so that–unlike the identity politics of Egale Canada, for example–one identity will not marginalize all others.

There seems to be the same distaste for the word transsexual in comments as during discussions for TDOR 2008.

There seems to be a great fear just to say the word transsexual will do some irreparable harm to someone’s identity–the very identity politics Egale Canada practises. We are diverse and yet the intense desire is to homogenize us into one term, one identity, one life–this is the definition of identity politics.

Name calling does not advance the struggle for the provision of and access to health and social services, legal status or human rights.

It is precisely these actions that alienate, that foreclose the possibility of coalition as opposed to identity politics.

Naming is one of the most important things we do in the world, this is why open usage is so important.

There is no single name–and to insist upon one is to marginalize all those who do not fit. I would have thought all those who have been erased and repudiated by the ideology of inconvenient, divisive and ultimately unnecessary would understand this.

UPDATE III: In the legislation proposed by Bill Siksay there is no trace of identities, embodied in the words transgender and transsexual (Bill uses the same terminology as I do, transgender and transsexual people); legislative language uses categoriesgender identity and gender expression.

There will always be a dynamic tension between identities and categories.

All of us, as marginalized people, require naming, hence the “alphabet soup” so dispised, particularly by some gay people–who just happen to always have their identity named.

For the rest of us it is just too inconvenient and divisive for our identities to be mentioned. So we must.

I believe the inevitable multiplication of identities must always be respected–this is the foundation for any coalition which must also be based on anti-oppression principles.

At the same time, there must be a way of making sense of it all–this is the role of categories and their place in legislative language.

Agencies that begin to make the small steps from the time when they all were gay, abandon the multiplication of identities that grew almost out of control for categories.

Pink Triangle Services in Ottawa no longer itemizes the identities in its Mandate–gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, two spirit and queer–but includes categories–issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

These categories include us all.

This step is a long time coming and only a first step in the direction of clarifying the thinking we must do to move forward.

It is, clearly, the hardest step.

UPDATE IV: Shannon poses an interesting question in comments.

A first thought: Transsexual people, certainly transsexual women, are not particularly transgressive, unlike, well Genderqueer, especially Genderfucker and transsexual men.

Even transsexual men in their gender/sex support stereotypical gender/sex roles. Namaste refers to this, as she refers to the stereotypical roles transsexual women support. She makes the strong argument that transsexual people are only heard if they present their lives through the prism of gay/lesbian concerns.

Namaste marshals these as part of her argument that transsexual people, as opposed to transgender people–which include gay/lesbian people–diverge from the goals of gay/lesbian people.

Namaste’s roster of trans opinion leaders who are heard are Leslie Fineberg, Kate Bornstein, Riki Ann Wilkins and the theorist, Judith Butler. But, she argues, where are the transsexual people who support traditional roles.

We can add Julia Serano to this line of argument. Serano has explicitly asserted there is not only a disconnect but a complete reversal between our “connumity(ies)” and the larger society.

In our “community(ies)” those on the F2M spectrum are lauded as transgressive, a high value, particularly in communities, like those valued by Capital Xtra, of sexual freedon–what some have called liberationist.

In society at large, Serano has pointed out those on the M2F spectrum are a cause celebre, objectified and hypersexualized.

In our “community(ies)” femininity, even femaleness, is not valued. It is even worse than that–these values are erased and repudiated–especially if presented by male-bodied persons. The entire M2F spectrum, transgender and transsexual.

Serano’s point is trans women are spectacle in society at large. More even that cissexual/cisgender women because we have given up male privilege.

Society at large does not find it at all out of the ordinary everyone wants to be male/masculine. This is what a masulinist/mysognous/sexist society is all about.

Namaste, less directly, seems to make the same point.

The last step in this argument hinges on the historical predominance of M2F in discussions about trans/transsexuality/transgenderism. This is itself a function of what might be called the Serano reversal.

I often ask at this point: Who would want to be a woman?

UPDATE V: Appearances can be deceiving.

The only topic of conversation in comments, now that Shannon has retired, is gender, gender, gender.

When we are born, what the doctor presiding declares is not a gender, but sex. His (historically a “he”) made this judgement not on the colour of the blanket or the baby’s hairstyle or makeup, but on the baby’s physiology–on primary sexual characteristics.

One may wish to say this is only gender, but that requires a rather sophisticated theoretical structure, built upon the work of Judith Butler.

These do indeed become the foundation for gender signs as the baby grows into a man or a women–gender–though the foundation may remain, apparently, male or female–sex.

If it were all about gender, there might be little need for hormone replacement, certainly no need for surgery. Or the kind of concerns mentioned in Ethan’s last post–maybe for a man and male person these concerns are superficial, certainly a gender characteristic. I cannot describe them in a way satisfactory to one who does not value them.

We could just work for a society in which there is no gender binary. This is precisely what Namaste discusses and points out the very incomprehension transgender have for these concerns of transsexual people.

At base there is a category error which subsumes “sex-changing” transsexual people into “gender-changing” transgender people. On the surfance it appears that all transsexual people are doing is what transgender people are doing, changing their gender.

This may well be the basis for the repudiation and erasure of transsexual people so evident in this and other discussions. Historically, we can look to Judith Butler for, on the one hand, opening up space for “gender-changing” transgender people on the one hand, but closing down space for “sex-changing” transsexual people on the other.

The very tragic life of David Reimer, which I will discuss in my next commentary, illustrates issues at the core of this vigorous debate–and butler’s perspective: the persistence of gender identity–a term which I do not like for obvious reasons, but keep for some of the same pragmatic reasons champions of transgender do: it is not accurate, but everyone understands it.

Has this attitude historically not been the foundation for much misery?

For those who will not accept what Serano calls subconscious sex then nothing Shannon or I have said, clearly, makes any sense.

More than that it threatens their identity politics, world-view and lives, not to mention linguistic habits that are as challenging to change as male/masculine speech habits.

I am loath to resort to biological arguments, especially with those who I would seek to form the coalitions Shannon and I have been at great pains to describe, but, we know the incidence of physical intersex is about 1:2000 births.

Why then is it so hard to accept there is, as Lynn Conway points out, an incidence of  “strong TG feelings” 1:200, “intense TS feelings” 1:500, “TG transitioners (w/o SRS)” 1:1000, and “TS transitioners (w SRS)” 1:2500?

In the arguments presented in comments–except for Shannon’s–I find lurking a justification for excluding those who seek medical intervention, particularly surgery. If we accept the lives and struggles of those who do not need to do what Shannon and I, among many, many others have done, why is there so much resistance to accepting our lives and struggles? As they are?

Is there some shame and embarrassment that marginalizes us from those who should be the first to join in coalition?

Ottawa Trans Community Consultation Document

May 24, 2008

April 5, 2007


In Ottawa, there is no document describing the needs of trans people other than a Trans Legislative Needs Assessment document prepared by Chris Boodram and Corie Langdon in 2004. This document does not articulate the wellness needs of trans people.

In 2000 a Community Wellness Survey was co-sponsored by Pink Triangle Services and the City of Ottawa to inquire into the state of LGBT people in Ottawa. The results were over-represented of gay men and under-represented of all other members of the community–especially trans people.

In recent months there has been a convergence of thinking and action in the Ottawa Trans Community.

It is in the light of this development that on November 21, 2006–as part of Trans Day of Remembrance events–a meeting of trans people was held to generate a needs document for trans people in Ottawa.

It was held on the premises of Pink Triangle Services, which supported this initiative, as did Gender Mosaic, Trans Youth Ottawa, the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Trans Two Spirit and Queer Community Centre of Ottawa and the Ottawa Police Service LGBT Liaison Committee.

Participants responded to invitations on email lists and word of mouth.

At the meeting it was decided that participants would be offered the opportunity to contribute to the drafting of the final document. It was circulated by email to participants on February 19, 2007

Trans People

“Trans” is an umbrella term for transgender and transsexual people.

These, and all other terms describing those who in their lives challenge the gender stereotypes of society–as all trans people do–are fluid; not all people who use these terms–or even all those who might be identified/described by these terms–accept them.

They are evolving.

Only a minimum of terminology has been used in this document.

Self-identification is considered paramount; people are accepted as they describe/present themselves. This also conforms to the Safe Space Policy of Pink Triangle Services where the consultation took place.

Transgender generally includes those who dress in the clothes and present in the gender they were not assigned at birth for lesser or greater periods of time but who retain their birth-assigned gender.

Transsexual people are those who who, out of great dysphoria with their birth-assigned

gender, seek through hormone replacement therapy, gender transition and surgery to the fill the gender role in society they were not assigned at birth.

There are also those whose gender presentation is neither masculine nor feminine according to society’s expectation and those who present as both masculine and feminine in alternation.

Those who participated in the Consultation were primarily transsexual people–both Male to Female and Female to Male.

Because of the challenge to society’s expectations of gender and gender presentation trans people of all descriptions are marginal in society and all the communities in which we seek to be members. Trans people face challenges in accommodation, services and employment.

Arguably trans people are the last in society whose human rights have yet to be formally recognized; this contributes to our universal marginalization and its many consequences in wellbeing—physical and mental—that naturally and inevitably arise from marginalization..

Rarely are trans people ourselves asked what our needs are–others routinely usurp this role.

The Ottawa Trans Community Consultation was undertaken in order to break the silence regarding our needs.

This document is the result.


In the area of Recreation one of the greatest single barriers to participation of trans people is

the availability of changing facilities. In some situations Male to Female trans people are required to use Men’s Changing Facilities and Female to Male people are required to use Women’s Changing Facilities.

At the very least this can be embarrassing.

It can also be very dangerous and/or lead to legal complications.

The use of Family Changing Facilities–with the privacy provided–can help, but places like the YMCA may not be willing for trans people to use them because they are not ‘families.’.

In Ontario, the Ontario Human Rights Commission mandates that those trans people who are full time use the gender segregated facilities that conform to their full time presentation. However, the exercise of this right, as the exercise of the rights of all marginal people, can sometimes be so complicated that it discourages all but the most determined.

This is further complicated by the lack of statutory and well-known rights–such as those for gay and lesbian people.

The determination necessary to claim rights may not always be available to those who are marginalized.

Public Rest Rooms

Possibly the single most inflammatory situation for all trans people is the use of public rest rooms. Especially for early transitioners–and for those who do not easily pass–this can, as the use of Change Rooms, be at least embarrassing and often dangerous. And unlike the use of Changing Rooms the use of rest rooms is not optional–without great discomfort and medical consequences.

To be challenged on the use of a public rest room–and the use of one is always when in need–is an affront to the fundamental dignity we hold to be due all Canadians.

It has often been suggested that certain institutions–such as universities/colleges, shopping malls–provide more single stall washrooms. Also, that these institutions be made aware, and make their clientele aware, that in Ontario full time trans people have the right to use the gender segregated facility that conforms to their gender presentation.

Public Education Campaigns also with respect to the actual danger trans people present to cisgendered (non-trans people) in public facilities–none at all–should also be considered.

Trans people, marginal in all these situations, are the ones at risk.

Women’s Shelters

Although many women’s shelters have adopted policies permitting trans women to use their facilities, the recent refusal of the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the appeal of Kimberly Nixon regarding her exclusion from the Vancouver Rape Relief Society’s shelter training program continues to place in jeopardy the acceptance of trans women from the facilities dedicated to sheltering women from assault.

This would have been the first case concerning the rights of trans people heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. This refusal is a blow felt by all trans people.


The role of athletes as role models, particularly for trans youth, was identified, as was the need for networking with those trans athletes who are out.


Trans people are marginal and trans youth even more marginal within society.

As with any marginal youth the need for employment services was voiced, including employment data banks of trans-friendly and trans-unfriendly employers, information for employers on trans people in general and trans youth in particular.

Scholarships in the community for trans youth were proposed, possibly sponsored by Pink Triangle Services and/or other organizations in the community.

Above all, the concern of reaching out and contacting trans youth, much along the lines Trans Youth Ottawa has pioneered was expressed.


While there is some information on the health concerns of trans people out there it is not readily available–and in some cases it is not available at all; there is some information about transsexual people but little about transgender people.

This is a list of specific health information participants provided:

2) STD’s
3) Reproductive Options
4) Post Transition health concerns
5) Breast/prostate health
6) Health Risks of Transition
7) Long Term Effects of cross-hormone replacement

Female to Male Concerns:

Stress Responses
Muscle growth without tendons growing
Anger management

There was the unanimous expression of the need to sensitize medical professionals and other providers of services to the specific need of trans people and of what constitutes treatment with compassion and dignity.

The Ottawa trans community is deeply concerned by the lack of doctors knowledgeable in trans health issues and willing to prescribe hormones in the Ottawa area and by the fact that the Ontario Government currently does not list surgery or any other transition service as a necessary medical service under medicare.

The frequent dismissal of the necessity of these services as cosmetic and trivial is one indication of the marginalization of transsexual people—and materially contributes to depression, alienation, other mental concerns and physical sonsequences of dysphoria.

The community expressed its desire to give the medical community feedback on its concerns.

Only those transsexual people with either their own independent resources or those whose employers have generous insurance can now access surgery.

Surgery for transsexual people is no different than surgery for others to treat physical disorders. Necessary medical treatment should not be be matter of money.

Mental Health

Excluded from the mainstream of society by our nature, trans people face serious depression and other problems of mental health. The alienation that is commonplace leads to the highest suicide rates–though not documented because of our marginalization; it is this very marginalization and exclusion that is the breeding ground for suicide.

It is noted that while the suicide rates of gay and lesbian youth is far higher than for straight youth it is nevertheless clear there are supports in place for them: adult gay role models, explicit human rights and the profile that goes with it, gay-straight alliances in high schools, PFLAG chapters.

It is true gay-straight alliances and PFLAG–Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays–chapters welcome trans youth, the fact that they do not includes trans people in their names is part of the absence of recognition of trans youth

Although every trans person knows the effects of not treating gender dysphoria it is not clear how much if any of this information is available to those organizations and individuals who have the authority to address it.

Employer Health Insurance

Given that medicare, at least in Ontario, has long given up any semblance of serving the needs of trans people concern was expressed about the possibility of employer’s health insurance covering the needed services.

The only catch is that one must must be employed in more than a part time or casual position in a company that does have health insurance.


In addition to the needs detailed above, the community makes a number of specific recommendations it believes can be accomplished in Ottawa to begin to address its needs:

1) Workshops to help those beginning their transition to develop the confidence and self-esteem necessary to live in the world. They would include the following topics:

Washroom issues as discussed above, including the right of those full time presenting to use the gender segregated facilities that conform to their presentation.

Women’s shelters, also as discussed above.

Transitioning rights, including those discussed above and the obligations of employers, in particular, as mandated by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

A bathroom map, as has been created in other jurisdictions, showing where single stall washrooms are available and/or institutions where the issues of trans people using public washrooms have been settled.

2) A Community Health Centre to, in one location, bring together the necessary health care providers to address all the medical, psychological and social needs of trans people in Ottawa.

3) A Legal Clinic where specifically legal concerns, including, but not limited to marriage, divorce, adoption and legal name changes, including changing names on diplomas and degrees, can be addressed and supported by qualified legal counsel.

4) A Community Support/Advocacy Worker, to be housed in a community organization such as Pink Triangle Services, to support trans people in their struggles with accommodation, services (including health services), employment, advocating for them in these situations and working to bring about the goals/addressing the needs articulated in this document.


The support of Pink Triangle Services and its Interim Executive Director, Wayne Adams, and its Office Administrator, Claudia Van den Heuvel, is acknowledged.

The Ottawa Trans Community Consultation was organized and facilitated by Jessica Freedman. This document was prepared by Jessica Freedman.


The Ottawa-Carleton GLBT Wellness Project


Trans Legislative Needs Assessment


Further information about trans issues can be found here:


Some information on trans, queer and two spirit youth can be found here:

Bent and Unbroken, Egale Canada, 2005. A report of a Symposium held in Toronto in October, 2004.

Ontario Human Rights Commission:

Policy on Discrimination and Harassment because of Gender Identity (approved by the Commission March 30, 2000)


Toward a Commission Policy on Gender Identity: Discussion Paper (dated October 1999)