More Canadian activists you should know
Many of you will be aware that Rupert Raj’s activism goes back over 50 years. Rupert is still fighting the good fight and recently sent me a list of more Canadian trans activists to supplement the biographies I’ve compiled and which lately I’ve regrettably neglected. The list is especially welcome for including many Indigenous and Black people, and people of colour.
Thanks Rupert, and thanks to all the Canadian trans activists working to make this a better country for all of us; and when I say all of us, I mean every Canadian.
The books cited in this list are available at the Ottawa Trans Library.
Dual Identity: Indigenous Trans/Two-Spirit
- Elizabeth “Raven” James (Vancouver) – activist – chapter in Trans Activism in Canada: A Reader (2014)
- Sandy Leo Laframboise (Algonquin/Cree-Métis) – (Vancouver) – female activist – chapter in Trans Activism in Canada: A Reader (2014)
- Kiley May (Mohawk/Cayuga) (Toronto) – female filmmaker/actor/activist
- Tami Marie Starlight (Cree/Nehiyawak/Norwegian from Peguis Nation) (Vancouver) – activist
- Brandon Rhéal Amyot (Métis) (Orillia) – trans activist
- Judge Kael McKenzie (Métis) (Winnipeg) – Manitoba provincial court judge – activist
- TJ Cuthand (Plains Cree/Métis) – male filmmaker
- Johl “Whiteduck” Ringuette (Anishnawbe/Ojibwe/Algonquin) (Toronto) – male Indigenous chef/ activist
Multi-Identity: Indigenous Trans/Intersex/Two-Spirit
- Alec Butler (Mi’kmaq) (Toronto) – filmmaker/activist
Dual Identity: Indigenous Latin American-Canadian Trans
- Danielle (Dani) Araya (Toronto) (Mayan) – program facilitator/activist
Multi-Identity: African-Canadian/Indigenous Two-Spirit/Trans
- Monica Forrester (Bear Clan) (Toronto) sex-worker activist
- Amanda Cordner (Toronto) – gender non-binary queer actor/filmmaker (plays gender-fluid person 7ven on TV show Sort Of)
- Roslyn (formerly Leslie) Forrester – program facilitator/activist (no relation to Monica Forrester)
- Yasmeen Persad (Toronto) trans-female educator/program facilitator/activist
- Nik Redman (Toronto) trans-male health researcher/DJ/activist
- Ty Smith (Toronto) – trans-male TS consultant/activist
People of Colour trans
- Bilal Baig(Toronto) – South-Asian) (Muslim) gender non-binary actor/filmmaker (Sort Of)
- Norma Lize (Rainbow Refugee Society) (Vancouver) Lebanese – newcomer activist
- Shadmith Manzo (Toronto) (Mexican) – group facilitator/activist
- Vivek Shraya, PhD (Calgary) – South Asian trans-female professor/multimedia artist
- Nael Bhanji, PhD (?Toronto) – South Asia trans-male academic.
- Tom Cho (Toronto) – Chinese author.
- Kusha Dadui (Toronto) – Iranian trans-male youth worker
- Kaspar Saxena (Toronto) – Indo-German trans-male filmmaker
- Kenji Tokawa (Vancouver) – Japanese trans-male lawyer
Caucasian – English
- Angela Dawn Wensley (Vancouver) – activist – TransGender Publishng memoir
- Carolyn Middleton & Connie Radbone (Transition Toronto/Transition Support) (Toronto)
- Corey Keith (Calgary) – gender non-binary activist/author – TransGender Publishng chapter in Glimmerings and/or TRANScestors
- Jade Pichet (Pride at Work Canada) (Toronto) – activist
- Karen Wood (Cornbury Society) (Vancouver) – male crossdresser/group founder/activist
- Katherine Anne Johnson (1949-2014) (Vancouver) – prison activist – co-edited (with Stephanie Castle) Prisoner of Gender: A Transsexual and the System (1997)
- Gayle Roberts (Vancouver) – writer/activist – TransGender Publishng memoir
- Michelle DuBarry (Toronto) – male crossdresser/drag queen
- Michelle Hogan (Trans Health Lobby Group, Torchlight) (Kitchener) – /group founder/human rights activist
- Micheline Johnson (Ottawa) – group facilitator/activist
- Rachel (formerly, Sally) Lewis (Xpressions) (Toronto) – activist – fonds at The ArQuives
- Stephanie Woolley (Toronto Trans Alliance ) (Toronto) – activist
- Bobby Noble, PhD (Toronto) – professor/author/activist
- Chase Joynt, PhD (Victoria) – trans-male professor/filmmaker/activist
- Dan Irving, PhD (Toronto) – activist/professor/co-editor (with Rupert Raj) of Trans Activism in Canada: A Reader (2014).
- j. wallace skelton, PhD (cand.) (Toronto): teacher/activist.
- Joshua Goldberg (BC FTM Network, Transcend Transcend Transgender Support & Education Society. Trans Care BC) (Vancouver) – health researcher/activist
- Kevin Wilson, RC (Lukas Walther (BC FTM Network, ) (Vancouver) – counsellor/activist
- Kinnon Ross McKinnon, PhD (Toronto) – academic/athlete/activist.
- Lukas Walther, RC (BC FTM Network) (Vancouver) – therapist/activist
- Nicholas Matte, PhD (Toronto) – professor/author/activist
Caucasian – French-Canadian Quebecois
- Gabrielle Tremblay (Montreal) – actor)
- Nora Butler Burke, PhD (cand.) (Montreal) – academic student/immigration activist.
- Michelle de Ville (Montreal) – early activist
- Inge Stephens (Montreal) – early activist – ATQ & FACT Toronto member
Caucasian – English Quebeckers
- Patricia (Pat) Fisher (1932-????) (FACT Quebec) (Montreal) – 1970s/1980s activist – deceased.
- Dale Altrows (former FTMI Canadian rep) (Montreal) – male activist
- Jo Vannicola (Montreal) – Non-binary actor.
Gender Mosaic reunion/celebration: revised date April 15, 2023
The Ottawa Trans Library is pleased to be hosting a long overdue celebration of Gender Mosaic. Founded in 1988, GM served the Ottawa trans community for over 30 years and was one of the longest running trans organizations in Canada.
Its history is the history of trans people in microcosm. It began when transphobia was the sea we swam in and having a trans support group was our lifeboat. As Gender Mosaic grew, its members threw themselves into education and outreach, culminating in later years with lobbying for the passage of Bill C-16. Perhaps most importantly, we also made friends for life.
This was our organization, and it’s time to celebrate what we did and the people with whom we did it. It’s people that made GM the dynamic organization it was for so long, and we look forward to seeing old friends and supporters again. Mark your calendars for April 15, 2023. More details as the date nears.
Ten Oaks Project call for Board Members
The Ten Oaks Project is a 2SLGBTQIA+ trans-led organization that provides summer camps and recreational programming for Queer and Trans youth across Ontario. They are looking for board members to help in their crucial mission. The board meets monthly in Ottawa at the Ten Oaks Project office, with a hybrid option. Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis. More information is available on the Ten Oaks website.
“My belief was reaffirmed: information is power”
README.txt is Chelsea Manning’s highly readable memoir
I like Chelsea Manning. I thought I’d say that up front before I reviewed her book, README.txt. By her own admission, she is an “advocate for transparency and open government.” I support that too. Transparency and open government are friends of democracy and anathema to dictators and fascists.
The US Army tried to portray the massive leak of documents she released on US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as endangering lives on the ground; but if you’ve seen the excellent BBC series Once Upon a Time in Iraq, you’ll know that the US military operation in Iraq was a mess. Chelsea Manning’s grievous sin was that she revealed that to the world before the US felt comfortable admitting it.
Manning is a smart woman. It’s not as if she leaked these documents thoughtlessly. Her job was intelligence analysis and she was very good at it. The army relied on her ability, but they weren’t so good at detecting that she also had principles. Under the smothering and sometimes absurd atmosphere of the US military’s policy of “Don’t-ask-don’t-tell”, that wasn’t so clear. Early in her career, however, Manning realized that the classification of government documents was not based on any demonstrable threat to national security. “The classification system doesn’t exist to keep secrets safe, it exists to control the media.”
Her work for the US Army is interesting enough, but the story that leads up to why she enlisted in the first place is no less interesting. A tough home life with parents that drank too much leads eventually to her living out of her father’s old beater 1992 Nissan Hardbody truck and resorting to mild criminality to survive. “I wasn’t just living on the margins, I was falling off the edge.”
She had computer skills, however, and enlisting in the army seemed like the solution to multiple problems. In the background there loomed the gender identity question, but this too was swept up in the reasons why she needed to enlist: ” I thought it would be a good way to externally enforce my own masculinity. I figured I wouldn’t have the desire to wear women’s clothing in such a regimented environment – if there was a uniform, I wouldn’t have to think about gender presentation at all.”
Despite being found not guilty of giving information to an enemy – “not guilty of treason, in other words” – she was sentenced to 35 years. It’s the going price for her having embarrassed the government, “disclosed unflattering truths, made officials’ lives more complicated, and revealed just how poor the army’s security procedures were.”
No longer having to face a transphobic world and justice system, however, she immediately began her transition. “There was no reason anymore to play along with masculinity.” The authorities were, of course, not cooperative, but here again Manning’s innate intelligence gave her an advantage. She knew her rights and understood how things worked, talents which, incidentally, also served her well in a hostile prison environment.
In one of his last acts as president, Barack Obama commuted her sentence. It didn’t erase her conviction, but acknowledged an over punishment for the crime. (Ya think?)
This is a highly readable memoir. Chelsea Manning reveals herself to be a woman of principle, not just for the one act of disclosure for which she’s famous, but with the way she conducts her life. People of principle scare the hell out of authoritarian governments.
It’s why I like Chelsea Manning.
README.txt is available for loan from the Ottawa Trans Library.
Sophie Labelle at the Ottawa Trans Library!
In collaboration with Trans Outaouais, we are proud and delighted to present trans activist and writer Sophie Labelle. Sophie is the author of numerous much loved books and comics for children and young adults. She will be at the library Sunday, December 18th from 5:30 to 7:30 PM. This is a French language event. The library is located at 1104 Somerset St. West in Hintonburg.
Plus, now open Saturdays!
Beginning December 10th, the Ottawa Trans Library will be open Saturdays from 12 to 5 PM. This is in addition to our regular hours of Monday, Wednesday and Friday 3 to 7 PM, and Sunday from 12 to 5. Josephine is your hostess and librarian, and will be behind the desk each Saturday. Because we left this announcement to the last minute, she may be lonely the first few Saturdays. Come by, have a coffee and keep her company. Or just read a book. Please note, however, we’ll be closed December 24th to 26th, December 31st and January 1st.
Two issues of Triple Echo
It’s been a challenge keeping this website current while being preoccupied with my Ottawa Trans Library duties. I don’t consider myself a serious writer, but writing is nonetheless something I need to do from time to time, and I’ve been feeling the absence of it in my life lately.
Since I’ve not written anything new, it’s a good time to dig up something from my past. A friend scanned a few copies of Triple Echo, the ‘zine I published around the turn of the century, and I’m adding them to the digital archive I’ve already uploaded.
It’s difficult reading something you wrote over 20 years ago. It’s not just that the terms I used then may seem inappropriate now. It’s coming face to face with the ideas and arguments I believed then and wondering whether I still believe them now. I was almost fearful of uploading these for that reason, and yet reading these issues now reassured me that they’ve stood up pretty well. I may cringe at parts of them, but on the whole I have nothing to be ashamed of. What a relief!
Triple Echo v1 no1 was published in December 1998, but at the last moment I decided I’d put 1999 on the cover. First issue, first blunder. The date remained 1998 on the inside. Oh well.
Earlier that year, I organized a photo shoot of my friends in New Edinburgh Park and Rideau Falls, and used the photos for this issue. The reproduction isn’t great, but the memories are. I also like what I wrote in the editorial: “The trans community is at an interesting point in its history. We are on the verge of creating our own culture instead of just mimicking the one we have had to grow up with.” So true, and I’m glad I lived long enough to see it.
For the cover of Triple Echo v1 no3, I used a photograph my friend Sharon took of a mannequin behind a display window. She looks pensive and almost real. I’m not sure what message I was trying to convey, but I loved the photo and it seemed meaningful.
The two anti-trans candidates running for school trustee positions in Ottawa were soundly trounced in the election October 24th.
In Zone 6, incumbent Lyra Evans, an experienced and committed trustee, received over 54% of the vote. Shannon Boschy, whose signs blared “Education not Indoctrination”, received just over 9%. The result is especially gratifying as Ms Evans is trans.
Meanwhile in Zone 8, Donna Dickson, another advocate for all kids, obtained over 55% of the vote while anti-trans candidate Chanel Pfahl had just over 18%. Of the three candidates running in Zone 8, Pfahl ended up in third place.
As the CBC reported, many anti-trans candidates were funded by groups that cloak themselves in righteousness, but are in fact some of the most divisive in our society: Christian fundamentalists and the American far right, which can’t keep its nose out of other people’s business.
We have caring teachers, trustees and education professionals in this province who are doing their best to ensure all youth have access to a good education. The idea that they are “indoctrinating” kids to a gender ideology is ludicrous.
[Although not all election results have been reported, here’s a link to the October 25th CBC article stating that anti-trans candidates failed to make “major gains”.]
More on anti-trans school board candidates
Further to my article below, the CBC has twice reported on anti-trans candidates running in school trustee elections. The first article is Ontario wide, while the second reports on candidates running in Ottawa only. The article about Ontario candidates revealed that a Christian group and the American far right are funding many of these candidates. Oh, and why am I not surprised to find Derek Sloan’s name in there also.
In both articles, Shannon Boschy blames school policies for his being estranged from his trans child. Boschy, whose huge signs shout “EDUCATION not INDOCTRINATION”, would have us believe that his attitude had nothing whatever to do with it. Right. Sure.
School’s back, and so are the “gender ideology” warriors
In late August, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal dismissed a complaint made by parents of a six-year-old girl that an Ottawa elementary school had discriminated against her daughter based on her sex and gender identity because of remarks made by her teacher. The teacher had initially said there was no difference between a boy and girl before correcting herself and drawing a spectrum with boys on one end and girls on the other with points between. She considered it a teachable moment about gender identity in response to a class member being teased.
During the hearing, the mother of the girl described the discussions around gender identity at the school as “cultural colonization” and a method of “reprogramming a child’s identity.” She reported that her daughter found the lessons “very upsetting”. The tribunal noted, however, that neither parent was able to explain how they came to the conclusion that their daughter was upset by the lessons.
Not surprisingly, the mother also runs a website and Twitter account that criticizes education and legal matters on child gender identities, particularly policies around transgender and gender-diverse rights.
I was thinking of this mother recently when a nonbinary youth around 12 years old came into the Ottawa Trans Library. They were eager to show their two girlfriends the library and some of their favourite books. The parents of the girls were obviously aware that their daughters had a nonbinary friend and didn’t have a problem with it. The girls themselves were friendly and weren’t at all upset by a visit to a trans library. On the contrary, they were walking around with big grins on their faces. One of them even complimented me on my shoes! All of which led me to conclude that if the daughter of this complaining parent was indeed upset, then she learned it from her mother.
There’s an old maxim that says kids aren’t born racist; they learn it from their parents. We can substitute transphobic in that expression and it would still be true.
School Board Trustee Election
Municipal election day in Ottawa is Monday, October 24, and there are two anti-trans candidates running for a trustee position with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. One of them, Shannon Boschy, is running in Zone 6 against Lyra Evans, the only trans school trustee in Canada.
Evans has an exemplary track record of advocating for inclusive education, not just for trans kids but for children from lower income neighbourhoods. Some of the committees she’s worked on include Budget, Special Education, and Environmental Education.
Meanwhile, Boschy has allied himself with Chris Elston, a prominent Canadian anti-trans activist, and joined him in a demonstration outside Broadview Public School in October 2021. Boschy also appeared with Elston during the truck blockades that terrorized the residents of downtown Ottawa in February.
There is not much to his platform beyond being against “trans ideology”, although in the September edition of the community newspaper The Manor Park Chronicle, he’s added “Protecting parental rights and relationships with their children as primary cultural and moral guides”, which is code for much the same thing.
The anti-trans folks run with some nice company, don’t they? It would be a dark day in this city if a committed and experienced school board trustee like Ms. Evans lost to a trucker convoy candidate.
The second candidate is Chanel Pfahl, a former secondary school teacher running in District 8. According to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Pfahl “repeatedly posts and retweets anti-trans statements, fear-mongering about “Critical Race Theory,” and far-right media figures on her Twitter account.” More people you’d rather not invite to dinner. Pfahl is running against Donna Dickson, who is advocating for increased funding for mental health programs and promoting free breakfast programs, and Shannon Kramer who “will advocate for an environment where all types of students are encouraged to succeed.”
Well, I certainly know who I wouldn’t vote for!
I’m old enough to remember when it was taken for granted that gays and lesbians should never, ever, be teachers. Heterosexuality was apparently such a fragile sexual orientation that children could be taught to adopt a “homosexual lifestyle” whose great attraction at the time was social persecution. People don’t change much. Now it’s “gender ideology” that’s the great threat to “our” children. It can be tiring waiting for the human race to evolve, but I am consoled by the many people I’ve met who see the haters’ smokescreen for what it is.
Book review: The Myth of the Wrong Body
There are many good ideas in this book, but the author, Miguel Missé, undermines them by insinuating that his personal experience of being trans is the Truth for all trans people. He speaks of our bodies being “robbed” from us, acknowledges that it’s a strange term to use when trans people are fighting for the right to take hormones or have surgery, and yet continues to use it anyway. His great Truth is “there is nothing biological or innate about this intense rejection of the body.” This is the pattern in the entire book: I know about your suffering, but listen to what I’ve discovered!
Missé dismisses proposed biological causes for being transgendered as “essentialist”. He is a great skeptic of “identity”, asserting at one point, for example, that “Heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and the entire range of possible sexual orientations are not intrinsic traits.” Huh? So, conversion therapy should work then, right? His ideas are as essentialist as the ones he abhors.
He’s so enamoured of his personal epiphany that he’s blind to the diversity of trans experiences. We’ll probably never be certain of the causes of transgenderism, but the most reasonable explanation is that it’s biological sometimes, other times it’s not. Some people have a fluid sexual orientation, others do not.
I have met many trans women in my life who couldn’t be men if their lives depended on it. How did they develop such a feminine appearance? It sure as hell wasn’t testosterone that did it. So, yes, it can be biological. Some people are indeed born in the wrong body, and their desire to change it is not unreasonable. Missé would tell them, “Love your body!”, but that’s a political position that he’s imposing on a personal issue.
Is it any wonder that a lot of trans folks are angry with him? He thinks it’s because he hasn’t explained himself very well. Maybe, but it sure sounds like he’s throwing some trans folks under the bus for the sake of his theory.
It’s unfortunate, because otherwise his views on the trans body often make sense. For Missé, we are not women and men, we will always be trans women and trans men, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
His thoughts on “passing” as cisgender are a reflection of that idea. What he wants “is for society to let us look trans, not to applaud us only once a trace of trans remains.” He’s skeptical of this new era of trans acceptance. “The majority of trans references presented as successful in this new wave of trans visibility are precisely the people who pass totally unnoticed as men or women… it is problematic to understand passing as the trans ideal and the key to social acceptance.” He borrows a phrase from Lucas Platero, who calls this the “trans spectacle”. It’s toxic “because it promotes total self-absorption and obsession with the body’s evolution without any solidarity, community, or critical reflection. Just me and my body which I mold to my will.”
Sure, it’s provocative, but there’s a lot of sense to it too.
He has many good arguments about trans minors also. His central thesis is that by identifying youth early on as trans we create an identity for them that limits their choice of gender expression. He is concerned “that the entire projection of these young people’s futures is founded on the notion that their lives will be much better if they don’t look like trans people and can pass unnoticed as adults.”
Missé is writing about Spain, where he lives, and while that may be the case there, my sense of the situation in Canada is that therapists don’t rush into suggesting hormone therapy and body modification without presenting other options. Still, his ideas on care for trans youth are not unreasonable. Unfortunately, he then does what he so often does in this book. In attempting to reinforce his argument, he makes an absurd, wholly unsupported statement that will make the questioning reader groan. In this case, he suggests that gender non-conforming youth were better off before trans identification became current, “that the range of possibilities in their minds was broader than it is today.” What good was that “range of possibilities” if they only existed in their minds and could not be tested in reality? No good at all.
It is good to have thought provoking political ideas that may advance trans acceptance to a deeper level than where we’re at now. It is also good to be aware that some of those political ideas exist as theories, and when applied to existing trans realities as facts appear critical of some trans people for the choices they make about their bodies. Missé is good at the former, but he needs to do a little work on the latter.
The Myth of the Wrong Body is available for loan at the Ottawa Trans Library.
Canadian Trans Activists
Here are two more worthy individuals who, it shames me to say, should have been included in the Directory of Canadian Trans Activists long ago.
Ivan E. Coyote
Born August 11, 1969, Whitehorse, Yukon
Writer, performer, filmmaker, and educator.
Coyote has published 11 books, 10 with Arsenal Pulp Press. Columnist and regular contributor to Xtra! and Xtra! West, Georgia Straight and CBC Radio. Writer-in-residence for various institutions over the years: Carleton University (2007), Vancouver Public Library (2009), The University of Winnipeg (2011), and University of Western Ontario (2012).
Coyote often combines their story telling with performance. Co- founded Taste This, a queer performance troupe that incorporated live music, poetry and story-telling into their shows. Some of the musicians they’ve worked with include Veda Hille, Dan Mangan and Rae Spoon.
In 2010 Coyote joined with two of their compatriots from Taste This, Anna Camilleri and Lyndell Montgomery, to create Swell, which premiered at the 2010 Vancouver Pride in Art Festival.
In 2012, collaborated with Rae Spoon on a touring multimedia show called Gender Failure. A book based on the show was published in 2014.
Delivered a TED talk in Vancouver in November 2015. Entitled “We all need a safe place to pee”, it advocated for the need to have gender neutral bathrooms in all public places.
In 2020, Coyote performed as part of CBC Gem’s Queer Pride Inside special.
Throughout their work, Coyote has consistently interrogated the gender binary through storytelling and performance, and has made a significant contribution to Canadian literature through their representation of queer lives.
For more on Ivan Coyote see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Coyote
Michael A. Miqqi Alicia Gilbert
Born Brooklyn, NY. Emigrated to Canada in 1968.
Ph.D., University of Waterloo (1974); BA, City University of New York
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at York University, Toronto, Canada. Research interests are Philosophy, Critical Reasoning, Argumentation Theory, Informal Logic, and Transgender and Gender Theory.
Book review editor and regular columnist for Transgender Tapestry, the magazine of the International Foundation for Gender Education.
Director of Fantasia Fair for 8 years. (Fantasia Fair started in 1975 in Provincetown, Massachusetts, to provide cross-dressers and transsexuals an opportunity to mix in a tolerant environment. It evolved from a holiday experience to an event that combined practical, social, and educational opportunities for personal growth.)
Founding member of the Toronto trans group Xpressions; editor Monarch: Canada’s Transgender Reader.
Recipient in 2007 of an IFGE Trinity Award.
S/he has presented workshops at numerous trans events including Fantasia Fair, Southern Comfort, and Trans/Equity: Past, Present and Possibilities.
Besides her research writing and two novels, Gilbert has published works on gender theory, including “The Feminist Crossdresser,” in Trans/Forming Feminisms (K. Scott-Dixon, ed., 2006); “Defeating Bigenderism: Changing Gender Assumptions in the Twenty-First Century.” Hypatia (2009) and a chapter in the recent book Rethinking Transgender Identities (2022) titled Defining a Crossdresser.
Gilbert is a cross dresser and an activist in the international transgender community. “I’m thinking of doing a workshop called Not Trans Enough. So many trans people look upon me as a dilettante. Worse yet, cross-dressers are considered annoying little sisters: ‘They wear too much makeup, they don’t know how to dress properly, they get in the way.’ In being out, I see myself as an educator in the trans world. People can point to the cross-dressing professor and say, ‘Being a cross-dresser doesn’t make you weird.’”
York University profile: https://profiles.laps.yorku.ca/profiles/gilbert/
Questions and answers on the sex life and sexual problems of trans-sexuals
This booklet, published in 1950, provides an interesting snapshot of trans life two years before the great shift brought on by news of Christine Jorgensen’s sex affirmation surgery. It consists of letters written by diverse trans people to D. O. Cauldwell, a medical doctor who had acquired a reputation as being an expert on matters gender. Some write in desperation, some to reassure themselves that they’re “normal”; most are baffled by themselves and accept Cauldwell’s medical authority.
On this, Cauldwell is not as transphobic as one might assume, given the era. His position generally is that the differences between the two acknowledged sexes is not as great as it seems, and is largely a social construct. This view enables Cauldwell to have compassion for his letter writers, but it also oversimplifies the complexity of gender and how individuals identify with it. The range of trans identities represented here is far more varied than the dichotomy of transsexual-transvestite that became the template in the medical community in later years.
Consequently, the title is deceiving for modern readers, as the term “trans-sexual” serves here as an umbrella term for what we’d call “transgender”. There are indeed transsexual people writing for help, but also people whom we’d recognize as non-binary.
Regarding transsexual people, Cauldwell has no understanding. “There is no necessity for an individual who is a member of one sex to cultivate a persistent attitude that he or she is sexologically (or biologically) of the wrong sex.” He declares that “being metamorphosed into an individual of the opposite sex” cannot be done by medical or surgical means. At the time, this was probably true, although all that would change in two years. He also asserts that taking hormones would not result in breast development, which is demonstrably not true. He regards changing the shape of your sex organs as “mutilation”.
However, regarding non-binary people he is more sympathetic, and has no “rational objection to the term mental or psychic hermaphroditism”.
This booklet is interesting both in understanding historical attitudes to trans people, and in reading the stories of our trans ancestors. And for those still flogging the tired theory that being trans is a trend, Cauldwell’s conclusion from 1950 that being trans “is far more prevalent than it is suspected of being” is a fitting rebuke.
“Questions and answers on the sex life and sexual problems of trans-sexuals” is available for viewing at the Ottawa Trans Library.
Trans, non-binary people and the 2021 Census
The 2021 Census data is in, and it was no surprise that transgender and non-binary people attracted much of the media’s attention. True, most of the headlines were about an aging workforce and population, but once they got that out of the way, it was mostly about us. (By contrast, you had to look around the more sedate Statistics Canada site to find our numbers.)
If you missed it, these are the main stats: 0.33 % of the nearly 30.5 million Canadians aged 15 and older and living in a private household identified as trans or non-binary. That broke down to 59,460 transgender folks and 41,355 non-binary, or 100,815 in total.
It’s hard to call us a trend with those kinds of numbers, but there was one statistic – reported without comment – that could perhaps be used to suggest that. The proportion of trans and non-binary people among generation Z and millennials was three to seven times higher than for generation X, baby boomers and those older. There could be several reasons for that, the most obvious being that society is more accepting of gender non-conformity than it ever was and people are freer to self-define. Transphobic people think that greater freedom is the problem, of course, but it is in fact social evolution.
Speaking as a baby boomer who lived through transphobic times, my perception of many people my age is that if they didn’t transition, they eventually learned to accommodate themselves to the gender binary. People become more conservative as they get older. I may be wrong, but there are many trans folks I knew who disappeared into the ether. It’s probably no longer important for them to let Statistics Canada know who they are. They survived, and they’re all right, and that’s enough for them.
Here’s a fun table posted on the CBC site that lists many Canadian cities and the percentage of their population that is trans and non-binary. Scroll down the page and find your city. (Swipe sideways to access all 8 pages.) Not sure why Ottawa-Gatineau is listed twice. One is clearly for the entire Ottawa-Gatineau area, but if the other is for Ottawa only, why identify it as Ottawa-Gatineau?
Here’s my blog post on Census Day 2021.
Strands for Trans
I was leaving my friend’s hair salon recently when she showed me the sticker she’d applied to her front door. It was the iconic barber pole image with the usual blue, red and white stripes replaced with pink, blue and white. It’s part of a campaign by Strands for Trans to signify hair salons and barbershops that are trans friendly.
One would think hair salons would be the businesses most accepting of trans people, but I know how long I searched before I found one that made me feel comfortable. As the Strands for Trans website says, “Haircuts are historically gendered: Salons for women. Barbershops for men. This leaves the trans community feeling uncomfortable, unwelcome and unsure.” What a great initiative! Tell your salon or barbershop to join up at Strands for Trans.
Some notes regarding trans people
A few items in the news recently that may be of interest
Torrey Peters was awarded the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel for Detransition Baby. The judges’ citation read in part: “Torrey Peters’s Detransition, Baby, with its sharp wit, devastating clarity, and keenly observed characters, is exceptional not only for its fluid, intelligent prose, but also for the way the novel challenges dominant narratives of time and of gender that flatten and erase the rich complexity of the lives of both cis and trans people. There’s an elation, an honesty, and a verve to Peters’s voice that sounds unlike any prose in recent memory, a unique energy which keeps the narrative moving as she threads in and out of the consciousness of her unforgettable characters.” Um, that’s sort of what I said in my review too.
Cheers to Canadian commercial TV networks for hiring trans women to play parts in major shows. I’ve already noted the CBC series Sort Of, and Bobbi Charlton’s recurring role in Family Law, but was unaware until recently that Kiley May, an Indigenous two spirit trans woman, plays assistant pathologist River Baitz on the CBC series Coroner. Kiley May is Hotinonhshón:ni, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) and Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River territory. Besides being an actor, she is a multidisciplinary artist and storyteller, writer, activist, and emerging filmmaker.
Elliot Page revealed that a trans character will be appearing in season three of the Netflix series Umbrella Academy due to begin in June. Page has been part of the cast since the beginning of the series. The Movie database describes Umbrella Academy as a “dysfunctional family of superheroes [that] comes together to solve the mystery of their father’s death, the threat of the apocalypse and more.”
The BBC recently reported on the ground breaking Serbian film Marble Ass. Released in 1995 and made during the height of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the film celebrated the lives of members of the LGBT community in the conservative country, and made a star of the trans actor Merlinka (Vjeran Miladinovic). Written and directed by Zelimir Zilnik and inspired by the director’s accidental encounter with Merlinka as she worked the street, the film occasioned an emotional and intense coming out moment during the premiere screening in Belgrade. A video of Zilnik’s description of that event and the difficulties he had in making the film are on the BBC site. As a friend to the community, Zilnik’s bumbling of trans terminology can be forgiven, but it was distressing to learn that Merlinka was assaulted and murdered in 2003. No one has ever been charged with her killing. The Merlinka International Queer Film Festival held in various Balkan nations that were once part of Yugoslavia is named in her honour.
Gender neutral passports are coming to the USA! Beginning April 11th, American citizens can now choose X as their gender designation. It is impossible to imagine something like that happening during the Trump presidency, and I’m sure it won’t go over well in the halls of government in rabid anti-trans states like Florida and Texas. Tough! The USA joins Canada, Australia, Germany, India, Nepal and New Zealand as nations that allow citizens to designate a gender other than male or female on their passports. Cheers to the Biden administration.
Meanwhile, the UK continues on its well-trodden path of transphobia. After declaring conversion practices “coercive and abhorrent” in May 2021, a briefing paper leaked this past week indicated the Boris Johnson Conservatives wouldn’t proceed with a ban. The paper suggested the government blame “pressures on the cost of living and the crisis in Ukraine.” Needless to say, the backlash was swift and furious, and so Johnson made a reversal. Now his government would introduce legislation in May, but it would only cover sexual orientation and not trans people.
The same dishonest arguments we heard in Canada prior to the ban here were trotted out in the UK: if we ban conversion practices then it will scare therapists away from talking to young people about complex identity issues. That kind of bullshit is only believable in a transphobic society. Conversion is coercion, not therapy.
The Peter Tatchell Foundation, which promotes and protects the human rights of individuals and communities, accused Johnson of “throwing trans people under the bus”. It said: “We feel conned and tricked. The prime minister has taken a decision to appease transphobes who oppose protection for trans people and who support attempts to turn them cisgender … It looks like a bid to stoke trans culture wars for political gain in the run-up to the next election.”
A journey through time with Go Info
Ottawa’s first publication for gay, lesbian and bisexual people reported on the ups, downs, and internal and external battles of an evolving queer community
I recently spent over four hours in the Main branch of the Ottawa Public Library (OPL) sifting through issues of Go Info. Go Info was first published by Gays of Ottawa and continued under the organization’s later names, Association of Lesbians and Gays of Ottawa (ALGO) and finally the Association of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Ottawa (ALGBO). The name changes reflect the gradual involvement of lesbians and bisexuals after the various groups acknowledged they were oppressed in the same ways and had the same political goals. The T was added much later, but by then Go Info had ceased publishing. The OPL’s run starts with volume 2 number 4, 1975 and ends with volume 24 number 8, 1995.
My interest in Go Info was to see if I could find any item that might be pertinent to Ottawa’s trans history. Trans people did not appear in its pages often, and when they did, they weren’t regarded during this period as colleagues in a shared fight. The articles were more of an informational nature, not unlike what you’d find in a mainstream publication, but for the acknowledgement that trans folks were present on the fringes of the gay community.
This isn’t surprising, as it took years for lesbians and gay men to work together, and as late as the December/January 1991/92 issue an article appeared protesting that bisexual people were still not taken seriously.
Overall, it was a fascinating four hours of reading. While my primary interest in Go Info was trans, reading through it revealed the similarities in our history, although gays, lesbians and bisexuals went through it all decades earlier. In the end, I found only four articles on trans people, and only one of historical interest.
When I first asked about Go Info at the OPL, it had been so long since someone requested it that they couldn’t find it. Cheers to the staff at the OPL, however, for staying with the search. When they located it, they seemed as excited as I was. Anyone interested in the slow progress of queer rights will find Go Info to be a valuable historical resource.
Incidentally, while I use “queer” as shorthand for all that Go Info covers over the course of the 20 years I scanned, there was a debate in its pages during this time whether it was appropriate to adopt a word that had for so long been a homophobic expression of hate. It’s gratifying that “queer” no longer has such an association.
Digital archive of Notes from the Underground completed
These are the last issues of the Gender Mosaic newsletter, Notes from the Underground that I have that were not scanned. Unfortunately, there are missing issues from Margo’s term as editor. These are MR9, MR12, MR14, MR18, MR21 and MR22 (issue numbers are at the top left.) If any former GM member still has a few of these lying around, I’d be happy to take them off your hands.
I like that Margo always had an upbeat, rallying headline to each issue she edited. From vol. 2, 2000: “Power and Presence is Yours. However You Must Reach Out and Be Seen”. Vol. 4 2000 preached unity: “One Community – Respecting and Benefiting Through Our Individual Differences”. Or vol. 4 2001, “What If We Refuse to Apologise” (Right on! Unfortunately, this issue is short pages.)
Aside from the above mentioned missing issues, the digital archive of Notes from the Underground is now complete.