Book review: I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World, by Kai Cheng Thom
February 2020 – This book consists mostly of essays and some poems that range from the personal to the political. At the end of one worthy essay on sexual harassment and violence in the queer community, Kai Cheng Thom writes: “I want to live in the real world now – an uglier place, to be sure, but I hope, a more honest one. I have spent my entire adult life searching for the Truth. It’s possible that I’ve been looking in all the wrong places.”
This suggests that perhaps she’s grown beyond what often seems to be the insular worlds of her queer community and the radical left social justice movement. There are truths in those worlds, to be sure, which she expresses in the essay Righteous Callings when she affirms the principles in which she believes. However, insular communities also suffer from the things she’s often critiquing here. She lists these in the same essay, and they include, as two examples, “Performance of Virtue”, which “often relies on adherence to startlingly simplistic slogans that are applied rigidly across situations regardless of context” and “Bullying and Call-Outs” a culture in which “the majority of political education is done through public shaming.” Indeed, the social justice movement is sometimes its own worst enemy with some of its ideas being easy targets for ridicule.
An essay called Stop Letting Trans Girls Kill Ourselves provides a good example. In it, Thom argues against the idea that suicide is “an act of personal agency that should be upheld and supported by the ‘community'”. In other words, the idea that if someone wants to kill themselves, step aside and let them do it. I would never have thought such a notion would be remotely defensible, and yet evidently there are enough people in the “community” who think so, enough that Thom felt compelled to write an essay against it. Although Thom dismantles the argument, she may be a little generous in her analysis of how anyone could arrive at this dubious position. Issues of consent and body sovereignty are undoubtedly important, but when you are effectively saying, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, so go ahead and kill yourself” you’ve gazed so long into your navel that you’ve misplaced your moral compass.
For this reason, I preferred the personal essays that made their point through stories from her life as a Chinese trans woman. There is a delightful and insightful essay here occasioned by the death of her grandfather and another titled The Chinese Transsexual’s Guide to Cheongsam – the instantly recognizable dress linked to Chinese women – which for a time she became obsessed with wearing. Both these are entertaining, educational and insightful.
Underlying all these essays and poems is a trans woman aware of her own growth and deliberating upon the communities which nurtured her, but which she is reluctantly discovering may now be limiting her. I didn’t enjoy all of it, but she’s a good writer and I appreciated her courage in sharing her concerns about herself, her communities, and the future.
I Hope We Choose Love is available from the Ottawa Public Library.
Ottawa Trans Library (Cont’d)
My plea for donations in my last Ottawa Trans Library update (below) proved fruitful. I received a gift from my friend Joanne of several interesting old publications, one of which I’m especially excited to receive. It is The 1991 Crossdresser’s Resource Survival Guide, With Listings from Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton.
Some companies now advertise their trans friendliness – Starbucks is the latest to do it – but the Guide is a reminder that businesses were not always so eager to take our money. It listed trans friendly shops and bars where novice crossdressers and trans women could shop and mingle without fear. The Crossdresser’s Resource Guide was a collaboration between trans groups Club M.E.T. (Montreal), Gender Mosaic (Ottawa), Monarch Social Club (Toronto) and Illusions Social Club (Calgary). It was a project originated by Gender Mosaic’s Belinda Doree, who also served as editor and artist.
Joanne also donated several issues of Transgender Tapestry and Monarch: Canada’s Transgender Reader. Transgender Tapestry – it went through a number of minor title changes all with the name “Tapestry” in them – was published from 1979 to 2008, and was the major trans magazine for many years. Many issues are available through the Digital Transgender Archive, but the paper copies make for fun browsing and I hope to accumulate more.
Monarch was published in Toronto by Xpressions and is also an interesting read. I had to closely examine the two issues I received to figure out that they were published in 1999. Why so many trans publishers refused to put a date on their publications is utterly beyond me, but it drives me nuts.
The Ottawa Trans Library started as a wild aspirational idea, but the more donations I receive and the more I talk to people about it, the more I think it may be possible after all. A library is more than just books and documents, although that alone is worthy. It’s also a social and cultural centre that allows us to hold meetings, lectures, and book launches, invite special guests, and develop programming that will interest trans folks and our supporters. It’s a community builder, but if it’s to be successful it will require the collaboration of our fractured and often fractious community.
Sometime this year I hope to put together a working group to explore the viability of this fledgling project, but in the meantime, I’m still accepting donations. If you are going to dream, you may as well dream big!
Book review: This One Looks Like a Boy, by Lorimer Shenher
January 2020 – The more trans memoirs I read the harder I find it is to review them. Where once I may have taken comfort in reading a story that in its broader strokes is similar to mine now I want something more.
The first half of Lorimer Shenher’s book This One Looks Like a Boy will feel familiar to many trans folks. The story itself is different from yours, but the echoes in your own life are probably undeniable. It is a fairly straight forward trans narrative that works best for people new to the reality of trans lives as it effectively conveys our sense of alienation.
I’m looking for something more, however, and for me that only happened half way through the book when Shenher joins the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). It’s here that his trans journey intertwines with a police culture I knew little about. That his time with the VPD coincided with the horrendous disappearance of women from Vancouver’s Lower East Side and the subsequent arrest of Robert Pickton makes for interesting reading and raises questions about the VPD itself. Nonetheless, his feelings of guilt and the other negative effects the investigation had on him are muted here and probably better explored in That Lonely Section of Hell, the book he wrote about case. The emphasis here is on his trans experience. His interaction with fellow officers in this regard is revealing.
Shenher is a good companion through these pages. When I closed the book I realized the first half of it, which I personally didn’t find as interesting, nonetheless had value for it provided the necessary background to explain the good man he’d become. Ultimately a worthwhile and readable memoir.
Ottawa Trans Library
On January 18th, 2020 I joined 30 or so other book lovers lining up in the cold outside the James Bartleman Centre, home of the City of Ottawa Archives, for the monthly Friends of the Ottawa Public Library book sale. I was looking for bargains for the fledgling project I have ambitiously named the Ottawa Trans Library (OTL) and was rewarded with two books, Trans: A Memoir, by Juliet Jacques and Me, Myself and They: A Non-binary Life, by Joshua M. Ferguson.
Although I acknowledge that having the collection in my own home makes it seem inaccessible to most people, I hope by year end I’ll have a better idea of where this idea is heading. In the meantime, I’ll continue to assemble the collection as best I can in the hope it develops into something magnificent. At the minimum, I beg you not to throw away any old trans newsletters, books or documents you may possess. I hope also digital documents are not being thoughtlessly deleted. Please consider making a donation of whatever you have to the OTL. I’ll be happy to pick them up if you live anywhere in the Ottawa region. As you will have deduced from this web site, I’m a firm believer in preserving our history and culture. This collection is not mine, but I hope one day to make it accessible to all. If that plans falls through, I will try to pass it on to anyone willing to assume the responsibility.
Back to the Future: Advice for the Conservative Party of Canada
January 2020 – Several months ago when Andrew Scheer was still clinging to the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, I was going to write a piece saying why he should go; namely, that he is a homophobe and that it is no more acceptable to have a homophobe as leader of your party than it is to have a racist.
Scheer’s supporters downplayed his homophobia by saying we should respect his religious beliefs, as if that somehow made his homophobia acceptable. That excuse may have satisfied people in the past, but justifying the exclusion of a large number of Canadians from society by invoking the “good book” doesn’t fly quite as easily as it did a hundred years ago. Countries whose politics are dominated by religion aren’t generally bastions of human rights.
A less than enthusiastic response like Scheer gave when pressed on his current view of gay marriage – that he would uphold the laws of the country – did not inspire confidence among LGBTQ folks and the majority of Canadians who have embraced gays and lesbians in their communities.
So yeah, Scheer had to go. Now the Conservative Party of Canada is set to pick a new leader in June and though I hardly expect members of a Party that finally got around to recognizing gay marriage in 2016 – eleven years after it was the law of the country! – to be open to advice from a trans woman, I’m going to give it to them anyway.
It’s time to go back to the future.
A generation ago we used to have a Conservative Party in this country quite unlike the current one. It stood for human rights, respected scientific research, and did not sacrifice health, safety, and environmental protections to corporate interests. It was a Party that, even if you weren’t a Conservative supporter, you at least didn’t have to fear if it were elected.
Now we have what I call the Republican Lite Party of Canada and a large number of Canadians, having seen the bat shit craziness of their southern Republican counterparts, want them nowhere near power. Even if we are not entirely convinced Canadian conservatives would go that far, it should come as no surprise to the Party that a recent study by Abacus Data revealed many Canadians regard the CPC as “old”, “traditional”, and “closed”.
If the Conservative Party believes its best chance of electoral victory is to court what are euphemistically called “social conservatives” and fanatics so far to the right that most normal people would find them very unpleasant dinner guests – see Ezra Levant and the gang at Rebel Media – I don’t see much of a future for this party. Or at least I hope there’s no future for such a party because it looks kind of ugly to me.
I suspect it looks kind of ugly to the majority of young people also. It appears they weren’t fooled by that Potemkin Village of a climate change plan the Conservatives tried to bamboozle people with in the last election and I don’t think they’re much interested in vilifying LGBTQ folks either.
So Conservatives have a problem and they need to decide. Do they continue being the Republican Lite Party of Canada or is it finally time to return to their roots and become the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada once more.
Do us a favour. Go back to find your future.
Ottawa Trans History
Notes from the Underground
My new friend supplied me with scans of many back issues of the Gender Mosaic newsletter Notes from the Underground (NFTU). NFTU was published from December 1988 to December 2004. The issues provide not only a running history of Gender Mosaic, but also an interesting historical perspective on the evolution of the trans community and shifts in trans thinking. Here are six iterations of NFTU over the years in PDF.
The complete run of (paper) NFTU is held by the Ottawa Trans Library. These issues are rare and not available for loan, although there is a good number of duplicate copies that are.
I’ve added an entry for a Housing Help pamphlet issued in 2001. It reflects the vulnerable housing situation for the LGBT communities at that point in time, one which I believe is still relevant for members of the trans community.
Housing Help, which assists people in finding safe, adequate and affordable housing, develops a registry for landlords interested in renting to a member of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. Registries were created for communities deemed vulnerable to housing insecurity.
Housing Help also advocates on behalf of people in need of housing, provides legal advice related to housing & discrimination and represents clients at the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal.
Soar, Adam, Soar
Broadview Magazine (formerly United Church Observer) has printed Chapter 3 of Rick Prashaw’s book Soar, Adam, Soar. It’s a heartfelt and loving book about his trans son Adam. You can read it here: https://bit.ly/2pfUhge
Here is my review of Soar, Adam, Soar