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.


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.