A transphobic society says okay to Netflix and Dave Chappelle
I posted this article on October 14th when I thought the story had played itself out. I’m happy to say I was wrong. Thanks to the work of Netflix employees who continue to leak damaging internal communications that make co-CEO Ted Sarandos look like a tone deaf bumbler, the pressure to remove Chappelle continues and appears to be building momentum. Netflix first suspended a trans employee who tweeted criticism of the special, before reversing the suspension. Now they’ve fired the person responsible for leaking the documents. It seems they believe throwing gasoline on the fire is the way to put it out. At least 1,000 employees have reportedly planned a virtual walkout for 20 October in response. I’m greatly encouraged by all this, but will leave my original article up. We’ll see where this story ends.
This is not about Dave Chappelle’s latest transphobic diatribe on Netflix. I’ll leave it to others more powerful than I and who have some insight into the comedy industry to repudiate it. Black trans woman and comedian Dahlia Belle’s has written an article in The Guardian titled “Dear Dave Chappelle, transgender comedians can take a joke, but why are yours so unfunny?” that is worth reading.
I’m more interested in how this affair reflects on society in general. If you’re trans and reading this, it is no secret to you that we live in transphobic societies. As a species, we’ve evolved to the point where we’re starting to believe it’s not a great thing to single out entire populations for hate simply for being who they are, but we’re not yet that good at putting the principle into practice. It’s been such an integral part of human history that we’re reluctant to lose the thrill of ganging up on people. The gratification that comes from feeling superior may be superficial but it’s powerful. Netflix co-chief executive Ted Sarandos, responding to criticism his network has received for airing the show, said that some people may find the comedy “mean-spirited”, but “our members enjoy it”. You can be cancelled for making sexist, misogynistic, racist and homophobic comments, but isn’t it great that we still have trans folks that we can lay into?
Dave Chappelle isn’t losing his job. On the contrary, the Washington Post quoted Sarandos as saying his show won’t be removed, citing “creative freedom” and that “it’s an important part of our content offering”. Translation: it’s making us money. The rich and powerful exploiting the relatively poor and powerless is okay as long as a supine population lets them get away with it. Capitalism has been doing that since its inception so it’s no surprise Sarandos thinks raking in dollars is more important than doing the right thing; but if it were another comedian joking about Black people in this derogatory way, their “creative freedom” would get shut down pretty quickly.
As a trans woman, I’m not thrilled that so many people enjoy being “mean-spirited”. Worse still, they probably don’t even think of it. People will claim they’re not transphobic because they’ve accepted it’s not a nice thing to be, but they don’t think getting a laugh at trans people’s expense is a serious offence. They’re like the guy who sexually harasses a woman co-worker and then complains that she can’t take a joke. They don’t give much thought to the things that have a negative impact on your life.
It’s encouraging that many people found Chappelle’s schtick distasteful, but the truth is there weren’t nearly enough of them. We live in transphobic societies. Despite the work of trans activists and the help of our supporters, change won’t come easily or quickly, but it will come. In my lifetime, I’ve seen changes I couldn’t imagine when I was young.
The struggle for rights and dignity is a long one, but slow and steady wins the race. Anger has a way of being self-defeating. Patience and persistence are better long term strategies. We can’t let these Chappelle moments discourage us. We’re on the right side of history, and I have no doubt that folks from the future won’t find him very funny.
(For a more thorough demolition of Netflix and Ted Sarandos, see this article written by Kathleen Newman-Bremang. Originally published by Refinery29 in the UK it has been re-posted by Yahoo.)
Non-binary server in B.C. awarded 30K for being unfairly fired
October 2021 – There is an article on the CBC news site about Jessie Nelson, a server in Gibsons, B.C., who was awarded $30K by the B.C. Human Rights Commission for being fired after asking to be addressed by their correct pronouns. While it’s undoubtedly a decision supporting non-binary people, the text of the article suggests non-binary people have some work to do to be taken seriously.
The Commission found that the managers at the restaurant in Gibsons, B.C. “seemed committed to providing an inclusive workplace” but that “their response to Nelson’s complaints lacked any sense of urgency.” While some co-employees respected their pronouns, one bar manager in particular was so flippantly derisive that the relationship between Nelson and the manager became increasingly hostile. The Commission found Nelson was “terminated because of ‘how they responded to discrimination’ from their employer” and the bar manager. In other words, the bar owners felt Nelson was being too pushy about their pronouns.
It’s undoubtedly the right decision. The restaurant owners could have fired the bar manager, but instead blamed Nelson for not working with the team. It’s ultimately a question of respect, but the whole sad story shows that many cisgender people do not take non-binary people seriously. I’m sure that many reading the story would be outraged by the decision for the same reason.
Book review: Trans Pornography
I learned a lot from this special issue of Transgender Studies Quarterly on trans pornography, but could never quite convince myself – as several of the contributors have – that performing it was “empowering”. The increasing popularity of trans porn in recent years has fortunately moved the industry from its early exploitative origins when trans people were labelled with derogatory terms like “she-male” and “tranny”, but it’s difficult to ignore that most of the people who get involved do so because they’re excluded from other employment. That there are significant issues around race and racism in trans porn, consent and HIV considerations, the fact your window to make money is very small, and that there is a “relatively high rate of regularly occurring suicides in the industry” suggest to me that trans porn might not be your best choice toward “empowerment”.
And yet, life is complicated.
The reality is trans people do need money to survive and because of their limited job prospects, the lure of trans porn, particularly in the age of new media where for the first time they are able to control the content, can be persuasive.
There is a chapter here on trans* porn remix (TPR) videos that analyzes the highly creative ways that “microporn employs images of trans* bodies taken from traditional productions, as well as cisgender images that are remediated to be read as trans*.” These sophisticated editing techniques obviously run afoul of copyright laws and so are created anonymously, but they engage the viewer in ways that I never dreamed possible. Unlike most trans porn which is directed at a nominally cis hetero male audience, TPR engages a broad range of viewers. The videos are a form of sex/gender play in which viewers imagine themselves exchanging bodies with performers of a different sex.
One example of this is a subgenre called “sissy hypno”. A gentle voiced narrator will mimic hypnosis through suggestion and repetition – “you are the girl” is a common phrase – as the “viewer begins as a man and undergoes a transformation into a sissy or woman.” The audience for this type of video is diverse. Cis men may imagine becoming the ‘opposite gender’, but trans women will have different experiences with this material. “TPR represents a dovetailing of identities and sexual practices, in which transitioning becomes mixed and conflated with fetish gender play.” Aster Gilbert, the author of this article, maintains that “TPR represents possibilities for pre-realization trans* people to experiment with their sex/gender identities in productive ways.”
The internet has become the place where we interact with others in our process of sexual self discovery, and so trans porn is the first place many people see trans bodies. The medicalization of transsexual people created an environment where they were expected or required to have a dysphoric relationship with their genitals. “A trans* woman who enjoys the pleasure of her ‘girl dick’ was historically disallowed.” Trans porn has normalized the representation of trans bodies for many, which isn’t a bad thing.
The cis hetero male, however, is still the primary customer and their sexual desire for trans bodies pose no small number of problems, including objectification, shame and, of course, violence against trans women. As Gilbert notes, “within the cultural context of expanded trans* rights and visibility, cis-hetero attraction to trans* bodies remains a troublesome terrain.”
Indeed, there is a chapter here written by a “transamorous” cis man that is perhaps more revealing than he realized. He explains his attraction by noting that his marriage works on an emotional level, but that he hasn’t had sex with his wife in fourteen years. He has a moment of self reflection when he tells us that for a while he blamed himself, but then plunged into having sex with various men and women. He does not tell us how his wife feels about this.
At the end of the article, he regrets that there is a stigma associated with being attracted to trans women and suggests that if the world were less transphobic this stigma may dissipate, but of course he himself would never speak up for his own desires. He has a wife, after all.
There is another essay written by a young trans woman performer in which she gushes about how sex work is the most rewarding job she’s ever had. She feels she’s making a difference in someone’s life when they tell her “My wife doesn’t understand me”. Cheating husbands have been delivering that line to their gullible mistresses since the beginning of time. In this new variant, trans women are the ones playing second fiddle. The author of this essay would do well to read the one in this same volume by Korra Del Rio, a trans porn veteran who has a far more clear-eyed view of the business she’s involved in.
So, yes, it’s complicated. It’s far safer for trans people to produce trans porn in which they have some control and can exercise their creativity than it is to work the street. It can be validating, but its exploitative nature is never far from view.
Pornography in general was not considered a subject for scholarly study until the publication in 1989 of Linda Williams’s book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the “Frenzy of the Visible”. This issue of the Transgender Studies Quarterly reveals that there is more than enough for study in trans porn alone.
‘We Still Demand’ is on the street
As I was walking on Elgin Street the other day, my eye spotted a series of posters attached to assorted poles in the vicinity of the Human Rights Monument. The banner at the top of each one read “We Still Demand”, a reference to the first demonstration for gay rights held on Parliament Hill in August 1971, but the social justice message underneath varied for each poster. They were clearly put up by members of LGBTQ community, but why did my spidey sense start tingling and suggesting this was an initiative by trans folks in particular?
The first one I saw was not about LGBT issues at all, but rather a call to return land to Indigenous people. The further I walked the more they focused on issues relevant to LGBTQ folks: here was one calling for “queer inclusive sex ed”, another demanding “no banks” at Pride. But as I walked further, my spidey sense seemed to have been correct. Here was one demanding “gender neutral options” and another for “trans health care for youth”. There’s one last one at the corner of Lisgar Street that has been torn down, but that’s to be expected. We know there are angry people out there who don’t like that people are demanding to be heard.
I may be wrong and this is not a trans initiative, but I have noticed that trans youth, being the most oppressed of the LGBT community, also have fire in their bellies for all social justice issues. Regardless, you have to love the passion necessary to engage people on the street with these posters. Cheers to the perpetrators, whomever they may be!
Book review: Trans medicine: the emergence and practice of treating gender
This history of trans medicine makes clear the problem from its inception has been that many medical providers don’t really know what they’re doing. Author stef m. shuster writes: “Confronted with a lack of scientific evidence to guide their decisions, and often having little experience with this population, providers face a considerable degree of uncertainty in medical decision making.” Uncertainty makes medical professionals uncomfortable, and to combat it they established standards and guidelines. In the past, these standards usually strictly enforced the gender norms of the dominant society and were responsible for the gatekeeping that characterized trans medicine for so long.
While there may be much to criticize about the way trans people were treated in the early years of trans medicine – generally regarded as the mid-20th century – its early practitioners should also be afforded some sympathy. Working with trans people was not regarded as a wise career choice, and there was a fine line between what some doctors regarded as innovation and others as quackery. Doctors needed to protect themselves from legal liability. In attempting to establish legitimacy to hormones and surgery as suitable therapeutic procedures, they enlisted the aid of mental health professionals to help identify the “worthy” patient.
It wasn’t long before physicians became concerned about the expanding role psychologists and psychiatrists assumed in trans medicine. They had been asked only to assess a patient’s mental health, not to demand extensive therapy sessions which drained the finances of an already low income population.
And so began our misery. For the mental health professionals of the time, “identifying as trans was a symptom of delusional thinking, and anyone who wanted to ‘change their sex’ was met with suspicion and labeled as having some form of psychosis.” Physicians gradually began to lose their authority over trans medicine.
It all makes for a fascinating history that explains much about how we got to where we are. While treatment for trans folks has improved so that our own agency is now considered, the central weakness of trans medicine still creates problems for its practitioners. In a profession that is evidence-based, there is actually very little scientific evidence to rely on. Consequently, the standards that were developed to help practitioners feel they were on solid ground mostly reproduced a binary definition of transgender and imposed a set of normative expectations on trans patients.
shuster characterizes current professionals working with trans clients as either “close followers” or “flexible interpreters”.
Close followers regard gatekeeping as a tool to benevolently aid clients from having regret. However, this inevitably limits a trans persons agency and often reinforces dominant gender norms. Flexible interpreters don’t see guidelines as rigid rules, but rather as recommendations. They are better able to embrace uncertainty. Some even regard gatekeeping as unethical and “were keen to avoid creating barriers to care.”
While medical practitioners were struggling with how to treat trans people, non-binary people came along and threw another wrench into the works. They are sometimes dismissed as not knowing their gender identities. As one practitioner put it, “Give me a man who says he wants to be a woman, or a woman who wants to be a man, and I know what to do. Give me a genderqueer person and – what is that?”
This book is an excellent study of trans medicine, and of how the uncertainty of the medical profession shaped its treatment of trans people.
Wicked Wanda’s is a sexual wellness and adult store in the heart of Ottawa’s Rainbow Community. They asked that I pass along the news that they have a handful of large size Pleasure heels that go up to size 16. If anyone is interested, they currently have a 50% off sale, and they’ll also throw in a pair of stockings for 10% off for “your members”. Trans Ottawa is just a website and thus has no members, but feel free to say we sent you!
Happy to support trans friendly business! Wicked Wanda’s is at 327 Bank Street and online.
Digital archive of Notes from the Underground completed
The dog days of summer have arrived in Ottawa in what we hope are the waning days of the pandemic. My motivation the past few weeks has been limited to reading a few books and watching my tomatoes ripen from green to orange to red.
Between these sedentary activities, I found time to scan the remaining issues of the Gender Mosaic newsletter, Notes from the Underground. 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.
In the meantime, here are the last issues to be scanned. 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 issues, the digital archive of Notes from the Underground is now complete.
Canadian Trans Activists
I knew when I began compiling this directory that I was going to encounter a few obstacles.
I knew it was impossible for me to be aware of all activists working in the country, and did not want their being excluded from the directory to be seen as my thinking their work was not worthy. Also, because I started this project with a list of people I was aware of and have been filling in their bios first, younger trans activists were likely to be excluded in the beginning.
I mention these defects as a plea for patience. The directory is imperfect, but its premise is sound: we should know and celebrate the achievements of the Canadians that have made this a better country for trans folks. Thus, I slog on.
With these three activists, the directory numbers twenty individuals.
b. 1966, Toronto, ON.
Former world-class cyclist and now an international inclusivity and diversity advisor, educator and public speaker.
After starting her transition in 1998, became the first athlete in the world to submit to the International Olympic Committee’s Stockholm Consensus, a gender verification process that would allow her to engage in her sport as Kristen. Though she fit their biological criteria, the IOC, international and local cycling associations and the World Anti-Doping Agency insisted that transitioned male-to-female athletes should not receive testosterone. They regarded the testosterone supplement as performance enhancing, although Worley required hormones to stay healthy and to compete, as her body after transition did not produce any hormones. Their ruling failed to recognize that born women produce testosterone also.
Because Worley had stopped competing, she was able to take her case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, rather than the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is the only legal avenue for an athlete with a dispute who is still active in the sport. Thus, she became the first athlete to legally challenge the gender policies of the International Olympic Committee and related international sports bodies, which she successfully argued were designed to discriminate against female athletes. In 2017, the IOC agreed “to promote inclusive sporting environments,”
Also worked with South African middle-distance star Caster Semenya, who had challenged International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules that sought to control naturally high testosterone levels in female athletes.
With co-author Johanna Schneller, wrote Woman Enough, an account of her battle to dismantle assumptions about gender, especially in sport, through scientific fact.
b. 1956, Toronto, ON
School caretaker with the Toronto District School Board (retired).
Toronto Pride Award in 2012. Subject of 2016 documentary Transfixed, which also highlighted her challenges as a trans woman with Asperger’s. One of 16 community torchbearers who carried the flame in the torch relay in advance of Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games.
In August 1998. Stonehouse had been approved for gender confirmation surgery (GCS), but in October of that year the Ontario government delisted GCS from OHIP, leaving Stonehouse along with several others no choice but to pursue legal action.
With support from CUPE and lawyer Susan Ursel, who worked pro bono, she launched a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Stonehouse won the right to complete her sex-change surgery, as did two others whose approvals had been cast into limbo. However, the surgery remained delisted. The government of Ontario eventually relisted gender-confirming surgeries in June 2008.
Became involved with the labour movement in 1999 as her case with OHIP ground on. Sat on her local’s equity committee, the Pink Triangle committees of both CUPE Ontario and CUPE National, and the pride committees of both the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).
Part of Trans Lobby Group with Susan Gapka and Rupert Raj, whose work and political lobbying eventually made Bill 33, (which added gender identity and expression to the Ontario Human Rights Code) a reality in 2012.
Martine Stonehouse’s oral history is available from the ArQuives.
b. 1968, Halifax, NS
Writer, activist, cultural critic, and university professor. B.A. (1992) and M.A. (1994) in creative writing at Concordia University in Montreal. Ph.D. in English Literature at York University (Toronto)
Author of Lyric Sexology, Vol. 1 (2014), Wanting in Arabic (2002), and numerous scholarly articles.
Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction 2014 (for Wanting in Arabic).
While a teaching assistant at York, was politically active in the Canadian Union of Public Employees as the first transgender representative to their National Pink Triangle Committee.
Currently teaches in Gender Studies at Queen’s University (Kingston). Her creative and scholarly work addresses transgender and transsexual politics and experience, transgender literature, theory and cultural production, postcolonial literature and theory, diasporic Arab identity and culture, anti-racism, queer politics and economic and social justice. Her poetry moves between and combines traditional and experimental forms.”
Day after day, I get up and I say, do it again! do it again!
Corroborating evidence of my assertion that it is the mundane assaults on trans folks that are most exhausting (see below) appeared on the CBC News website July 27th. A trans woman related her frustration at trying to get an ID card that matches her gender, and her encounter with a government functionary who asked whether she’d had “the surgery”. Whether it’s transphobia or not knowing your job, this is inexcusable, but not surprising. Being trans means being poked at, day after day. Poke, poke, poke. No wonder we’re such an angry lot.
Note too at the bottom of the article the short video of Dr. Joss Reimer, head of Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, apologizing to trans folks for ‘wrong, inappropriate and disrespectful’ wording related to a question about gender on the COVID-19 vaccine consent form. The video doesn’t say what the question was but Manitoba’s original form had four boxes people could pick from when designating sex: male, female, intersex and unknown. After objections from non-binary folks who didn’t see themselves reflected, this was changed to three boxes designating sex: male, female and X, which some people still objected to, claiming X isn’t a gender. (It is, actually, as some non-binary people fought for the right to use it.) The true issue was that the province wasn’t clear about what information it needed and for what purpose, and their apparent lack of awareness that gender and sex are not interchangeable. Trans people worried that they wouldn’t have access to the vaccine if their health card gender didn’t match their vaccine consent forms.
We live in a cisgender world. It will take time for them to catch up. In the meantime, steel yourself for lots of frustration and annoyance. In the words of Ray Davies and the Kinks – who I’ve celebrated before on this site – “Back where you started, here we go round again, day after day I get up and I say, do it again! do it again!”
“Where were my big sisters?” Trans women elders and their community
It’s interesting how some things stay with you.
It’s been over a year since I read Kai Cheng Thom’s book, I Hope We Choose Love, but I never forgot the questions she asked in one of her essays: “Where were my big sisters? Where were my foremothers? Where were the older trans women, the accomplished trans women, the fierce survivor trans women that queer culture is so fond of mythologizing in my life?”
Thom’s answer to her own question is maybe more accurate than she knows. “Some of them died. Others went mad. Perhaps there are others who simply dropped out of the public eye – as much as any trans woman can – to try to live quieter, less visible lives.”
I’m a 66-year-old trans woman, and one who often asks herself why she doesn’t drop out and live a less visible life, but since Thom’s question has stayed with me, I thought I’d fill out her answer as much as I can.
Demographics obviously play a big role here. Trans women my age were not a big cohort to begin with. Sure, there were many of us out there, but there weren’t many of us who were actually out. Of this reduced number, I’m saddened when I take the tally of how many have died.
A few years ago, I ran into a trans woman older than myself who I considered a mentor when I was young. She was a mentor to many, actually, and trans folks who knew her often ask me, “Whatever happened to…?” Inevitably I got around to asking her about the intervening years. She sent me her reply in an email. Here are some of her observations, with my comments following lest the passage of years has obscured the reality under which we were living.
After I achieved my goal (transition), I just wanted to live a happy life as a woman, and forget all the pain that had preceded it.
The 70s and 80s were highly transphobic times. There was little joy in being trans. Your best chance at escaping the life was medical transition, if you could get past the gatekeepers. If you couldn’t, hormones acquired illegally and self-administered based on other trans women’s knowledge of correct dosage was not uncommon. Even many of the trans women I knew who were of an activist bent, ended their activism and disappeared when they transitioned. Trust me, they have no desire to come back.
Socializing with what appeared to the public to be “men in dresses” drew attention to me as possibly being one of them.
Her observation about “men in dresses” may seem transphobic, but it’s a reflection of how we were perceived and how we struggled to escape the identification. Those who “passed” as cisgender were more privileged than those who didn’t because in a transphobic world if you can slip into the mainstream not only are you safer, your identity is not being misinterpreted or challenged. (Privileged as I’m using it here is a relative term. I’m sure they weren’t feeling privileged when they were being bullied as kids.)
I no longer wanted to associate with those unhappy people as a group. I just wanted to be a normal person.
Ouch. Her comment about “unhappy people” was a hard truth then, and can still be now. In her essay, Thom talks about there being “no respite in either my personal or professional life from narratives of trauma, enormous responsibility, and scrutiny.” At some point, self-preservation must take precedence over feelings of responsibility. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. If your best path requires you to abandon the trans community, then that’s what you need to do.
You don’t have to have lived through those times to understand all this. I often hear trans youth express how tired they are. That’s a commonality we share. It’s exhausting being trans.
Thom knows this, of course. In her essay, she mentions the numerous ways trans women are abused. “We carry the stigma…of being dangerous, perverted, mentally ill, deceptive, aberrant. On the flip side, trans women are also fetishized – not only sexually but ideologically.” All that is no doubt true, but many trans folks don’t face that drama every day. It’s the mundane aspect of being trans that takes its toll.
We still live in a time in which trans folks cannot just be. You are who you are, but too many people insist that you can’t be who you are. This is not like arguing about politics, which god knows can be tiresome. You can walk away from that and regard it as a difference of opinion (however misguided). It’s hard to walk away from people telling you that you can’t or don’t exist. It undermines you as a human being. You have to fight for your identity, but you’re only fighting for something that other people have the privilege of taking for granted. It’s exhausting when you’re running to remain in the same place.
I hate to paint a dismal picture of this, but if you’re fed up with it already, then imagine how it feels after fifty or sixty years. The good news is that it does get better. The bad news is you carry your trauma with you, and as you get older and you find some place that’s comfortable – and you will, whether that’s in someone’s arms or in a place that allows you to breathe and grow – you don’t feel like reliving past pain.
You may wonder then why I’m still doing this. I wonder, and often, but I can’t change who I am. I have an itch for social justice that won’t go away and by staying active I feel like I’m doing my part, however small. Self-preservation is, however, never far from my accounting.
Writing and keeping a website still allows me to keep a safe distance. I’m not on social media because I couldn’t be bothered, and whether this website gets ten or a hundred visits a day won’t change what I’m doing. Every writer likes to have her work read, of course, but I’m not going to kill myself for visitors. If I need a vacation from being trans, I’m going to take it.
I believe a healthy society is one in which all ages participate, but prolonged transphobia has prevented us from achieving that idealized state. What I like about many of Thom’s essays in her book is her facing the reality that the queer community is not what she thought it was and feeling out her place in it and where she’s going next. We’re all going to get older – it’s better than the alternative, as the old saying goes – and it’s helpful to think about who we want to be when we get there.
Here’s the link to my review of I Hope We Choose Love. I enjoyed it the first time, but I appreciate it more now upon further reflection. It’s a thoughtful collection of essays.
Out with a whimper: the demise of Gender Mosaic
And so this is how it ends.
A few weeks ago I was checking the links on this website to see if they still worked. When I clicked on Gender Mosaic (GM), it sent me to a page telling me the GM URL was available. I can’t say I was surprised. Before the pandemic, I’d heard that no one was responding to messages sent through their website. It had been a moribund organization for some time, but who was I to put a stake through it and declare it dead?
Since I removed the link, I’ve heard from several former members all asking the same question, “What’s happening with Gender Mosaic?” I don’t have an answer. GM has served the trans community for 30 odd years. No one wants to be the person to say it’s done, but this slow death has been painful. It’s time to call a spade a spade: it’s over.
I was a founding member of Gender Mosaic, one of the six souls who showed up in May 1988 to Judy’s townhouse in what to me seemed like another futile attempt to start a trans group. I’d been to so many of these things before. I’d get my hopes up, show up for the big launch and find three people there. On one occasion I arrived and found that even the person organizing it hadn’t bothered to show up! How many times can a person do that before she gets cynical?
Gender Mosaic did not exactly get off to a rousing start either. Had I not brought along two friends, there would have been only four of us, not much different from the failures I’d been to before. There was one difference, however, that became clear in the following months when we struggled to get people to attend. There was a committed core that was going to see this thing through. I knew I could count on these people and it gave me hope that this time it might work. It wasn’t easy finding trans folks pre-Internet, and when you did there was a lot of fear that kept them from coming out. Our patience paid off, however. That fall the membership grew with every meeting. It was exciting to meet new, diverse, and interesting trans people. They, along with that committed core who stuck it out, eventually made GM the dynamic organization it was for many years.
Everything changes, however, and all good things come to an end. Whatever services GM was providing pre-Covid – and I admit I have no idea what they were – can surely be found elsewhere, and if they can’t be found, then perhaps it’s better to start afresh than to watch a once great trans group wither away.
Before the pandemic, I asked a friend if Gender Mosaic even existed anymore. She laughed and said it will always go on. In a sense, she was right. So many people were involved in its over 30 year existence that they inevitably changed the city for the better. It was not just through their activism. Simply being who they were sent ripples across our community. Some did the heavy lifting, others provided the vital support, and for many others GM was the avenue that finally enabled them to come out. Gender Mosaic saved lives. But we also had fun, and met many people who would become life-long friends. It’s a great legacy to leave behind, and everyone involved should be proud of the part they played in it.