Ottawa Trans History
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
Treasures from the Rockcliffe Park Book Fair
Little gets me more excited than a good second hand book sale and one of Ottawa’s best is the Rockcliffe Park Book Fair. This year’s edition took place from November 1st to 3rd.
For the past few years when I’ve went I’ve limited myself to looking for books on trans subjects. (If I don’t, I’ll come back with so many books that I won’t finish reading them until next decade.) It’s a great opportunity to add material to the Ottawa Trans Library.
This is still a bit of a fledgling project with no clear path forward. However, people do request from it and so I’m still trying to build the collection. This year’s book fair supplied me with three outstanding, nearly new books.
The first is Woman Enough: How a Boy Became a Woman and Changed the World of Sport, by Kristen Worley and Johanna Schneller. You may remember Worley as a world class cyclist who had to fight for her right to ride as a woman. Her research into the science dismantled assumptions and challenged fixed ideas about gender. This is a recent book, published in 2019.
Also published in 2019, This One Looks Like a Boy is Lorimer Shenher’s “journey to life as a man”. Shenher became the first detective assigned to the infamous case of serial killer Robert Pickton.
I haven’t read either of these books yet, but I have read the outstanding memoir Mamaskatch, by Cree writer Darrel J. McLeod. A winner of the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction. it’s a story of racism, homophobia and transphobia, and surviving them all. I’m excited to add it to the collection.
Book Review: Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family
The success of Amanda Jetté Knox’s book Love Lives Here suggests that in an age when hate seems to dominate the news and social media, people are thirsting for stories in which love triumphs. That’s what happens in this book. The title does not lie.
At the centre of it is Jetté Knox herself. Although she is humble enough to acknowledge her own failings and frequently deflects her accomplishments to her family – who are undoubtedly worthy – one still puts the book down with a great appreciation for how she managed under great duress to do the right thing.
When her trans daughter reveals her true identity to her parents, Jetté Knox whittles the situation they face down to the basics: her daughter has revealed something critical, she needs the support of her parents, their love for her is unconditional. This gives her the kind of clarity necessary to educate herself. What she finds is not always comfortable. The vulnerability of trans youth reminds her of her own difficult journey when she was young and the depression that brought her close to suicide. Perhaps it was her own past that informed the path she took, but even so not everyone is that clear headed.
The story out of Vancouver recently about the father who took his 14 year old trans son to court to halt his hormone therapy, despite the mother’s support, the opinion of medical professionals and the son’s pre-transition suicidal impulses, is a sad reminder that some parents will still choose litigation over love.
In contrast, Jetté Knox never attributes any fault to her daughter for being who she is. She sees the problem instead as how do I help my trans daughter survive and flourish in a trans phobic world.
Jetté Knox’s challenges do not end with her trans daughter. Her journey, and that of her family, was only beginning. This is a memoir of love, adaptability and ultimately being true to yourself. It is told with humour, humility and intelligence, and leaves one hoping that love can indeed win out in a hate filled world.
Book Signing: Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family
Neither Chapters Rideau nor Amanda Jetté Knox seemed prepared for the crowd that greeted her for the August 21st Q & A and signing of her book Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family. The 50 or so chairs were full well before the 7 o’clock start time with at least another 50 people standing by the time the event began.
Perhaps they should not have been so surprised. That week Love Lives Here was sitting in the no. 1 position on the Globe and Mail’s Canadian non-fiction best seller list. While interest in trans lives has arguably never been higher, perhaps more noteworthy was the supportive atmosphere that evening.
The MC was Jill Holroyd, who currently heads the Renfrew County Pflag. (If you’ve never been to a Pflag event, I recommend it. You won’t meet a nicer bunch of people.) Ms. Holroyd asked Ms. Jetté Knox a number of questions before turning it over to the audience. There were, of course, a fair number of trans people in attendance, but I was impressed with the questions from the cisgender folks attending. Here was a question from a teacher asking what things she could do to make trans kids lives easier; and a comment from Kim, a little girl who said she watched My Name is Jazz with her mom and was glad that people weren’t as mean to trans kids as they used to be; or the sensitive admission from a white cisgender male that he feels the sand shifting under his feet.
The evening was greatly enhanced by the presence of Ms. Jetté Knox’s entire family. They too answered some questions from the audience, but it was their warmth and evident love for one another that had the crowd clapping in appreciation. Amanda Jetté Knox also graciously acknowledged the work of the trans community in making trans lives better, that without our activism she wouldn’t have been able to write the book she had.
The book signing followed the Q & A session. Having been one of the standees, I was about ready for a drink at this point so never got my book signed. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable evening for all present. Thanks to Amanda Jetté Knox and her family.
Odawa Two-Spirit, Trans, and Gender Diverse March
A drenching rain before the event and a persistent drizzle throughout could not keep about 160 people from attending the Odawa Two-Spirit, Trans, and Gender Diverse March on Saturday, August 17. Signs and buttons were available for participants and a 30 foot trans flag was rolled out. The opening speeches at Confederation Park recognized “the pride, the resilience, and the strength of the Two-Spirit, trans, and gender diverse community”.
The march then moved to the Human Rights Monument where a mourning vigil was held for North American black, indigenous and other trans women of colour who have lost their lives to transphobia. As the names of each woman was called out, a symbolic red high heel was placed at the foot of the monument. From there it was on to Parliament Hill for a call to action and afterwards an opportunity to meet and mix with the community with a pot luck at Jack Purcell Community Centre.
Congratulations to Fae Johnstone, Jade Byard Peek and other organizers and volunteers who contributed to making the march a success.
Books: I’m Supposed to Relate to This?
This is an interesting addition to the discussion on how trans people have been represented in film and television. Originally a Masters thesis, Valérie Robin Clayman’s analysis of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Dallas Buyer’s Club and Transparent is augmented by Kat Herhoeven’s illustrations, creating a kind of “graphic thesis”. It’s a curious design decision for a book that is at times academic in nature, but it does pad the book out to 120 pages.
Clayman describes her approach as autoethnography. Although she did not originate the term, in this case the autoethnographic method “allows trans people to be researcher and not simply the research.” In her thesis, Clayman reflects upon how she interpreted the above filmed works as she moved through the stages of her life: being closeted, accepting herself, coming out, transitioning and living as a trans woman. As Clayman’s life progressed, she found that characters she initially accepted as being trans looked less and less so.
This is the case in Clayman’s interpretation of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Dallas Buyer’s Club. Of Hedwig, she writes:
Like the mainstream viewer seeing the film through the male gaze, I was transing Hedwig and the Angry Inch from my spectator position in the closet; as an out member of the LGBT community, I no longer feel the need to. My trans-self ponders Hedwig from a different position. Does she complicate common definitions of what is trans (and make things harder for trans people) because she chooses gender rather than gender choosing her? Does a gay boy submitting to a sex change make him trans?
Clayman deconstructs Jarded Leto’s character Rayon in Dallas Buyer’s Club in similar fashion. “The language used in the film implies the viewer to see Rayon not as trans but as a gay man in drag.”
While she initially believed the films she chose “would be easy to tear down and use as fodder to further the discourse on Hollywood’s lack of realistic trans representations.” She realized that “my analyses would necessitate a re-assessing of what I consider to be trans moving images in order to re-situate myself as a trans spectator.”
It would be nice if we could simply eliminate all negative stereotypes of trans characters by asserting they’re not really trans, but if the mainstream audience continues to believe Hollywood’s simplistic portrayals are indeed authentic trans people than we are obviously no better off. Ultimately it’s still in the filmmaker’s hands, and the more trans people there are involved in the creation of the work, the better off we all are.
It is perhaps not surprising then that Clayman sees herself most in the TV series Transparent, which at the time of writing had 20 crew and 60 extras that were trans folks.
I’m Supposed to Relate to This? makes for a thought provoking examination of the complex business of representation, identification, and perspective in films. A worthy read for film buffs and those interested in the representation of trans people in moving images.
Tales of the City
I was sitting at the open window of Atomic Rooster recently waiting for my friend to show up for lunch. It was a beautiful day and I was sipping my beer watching the pedestrian traffic on Bank Street when I became aware of a woman walking her bicycle along the sidewalk. As she drew near, I realized she was a trans woman! When she saw me, she smiled, and we exchanged a shy hello before she went on her way.
This little exchange had me smiling for some time. Despite the rise in trans visibility, I still don’t see a lot of recognizable trans folks on the street.
The time before was last fall when I pulled into a gas station to put some air in a tire. I was disappointed when I saw there was a car ahead of me, but decided to wait. When I got out of my car, I realized it was a trans woman holding the air hose. We were both a little startled to see each other. She went about her business without acknowledging me until, tires full, she handed me the wand with a knowing nod. (She graciously left me time to fill up my tire without my having to pump more coins into the machine. Yay!)
It always feels good to unexpectedly meet another member of the tribe, but it’s always a little awkward also. It’s as if we don’t want to intrude upon each other’s space or blow each other’s cover. When I mentioned this to my friend, she thought we should always acknowledge each other, that not to do so just reinforces our place in the closet.
She’s right in theory, but it’s a complicated business being trans. Our awkwardness comes from our empathy. We know so well the experience of being trans, but we don’t know where our sister is in that journey, how comfortable she is with being acknowledged, or if she is hurt by being read. (I say she because it’s a more difficult task recognizing trans men, cisgender women having more leeway in expressing gender non-conformity.) There were times in the past where I’ve let the moment pass and always felt briefly disappointed, as if I’d missed out on making a connection, however brief it may have been.
I hesitate to impose myself on another trans person, but I believe we should push ahead and always acknowledge each other’s presence. It builds strength and solidarity in the community, and it feels much better than pretending we don’t see each other.
Out of the mouths of…
A little while ago I was speaking to a woman with schizophrenia. She didn’t appear to be suffering from any delusions when she first started talking to me, but after a while what she said made less and less sense. The ramblings of people with schizophrenia often sound poetic because of their stream of consciousness delivery and surprising use of images, but their illogic makes for a one way conversation. Just as I was wondering how I was going to extricate myself, she suddenly stopped talking. She looked at me blankly and said, “I don’t know if you’re a man or a woman, but you look nice.”
It was so unexpected I burst out laughing. I also realized what she’d said was about the best I could expect from my transition. But that’s okay. I’m glad she thought I looked nice. I feel good about myself and am grateful for the life I have. Things could be worse.
Trans friendly city?
A little while ago I was waiting in the check out line at my local grocery store. I had my stuff on the conveyor and, being a polite Canadian, had put the plastic separator down to demarcate my groceries from those of the person behind me. No sooner had I done this when a bottle of ketchup fell over onto my side. The man whose ketchup it was gathered it up and, seeing only the back of my 6′ 3″ body and being a polite Canadian, said, “Sorry sir.”
I may have sighed. I don’t remember exactly, but I know I was more exasperated than angry. So when I turned around I simply smiled at him. He was a short man with greying hair, probably in his early sixties. What he did next threw me completely. He gently laid his hand on my arm and with a kind smile said, “Oh, pardon me. Ma’am.”
I am often astonished at how nice people are to me. Having grown up in the transphobic 70s and 80s, I developed a not so healthy misanthropy that I nurtured for many years. I’m still no great lover of people, but I have had a glimmer of an idea that perhaps I was being a little harsh on humanity.
When I was changing my name on the various accounts I hold, many of the people I was dealing with congratulated me on my change of life. Small thing, but it touched me. It’s not what I expected from bank tellers and people working for Hydro Ottawa.
Without a doubt I have never had better service in stores than I do now. On several occasions I’ve had two clerks come up to me at the same time asking if I need help. Complete strangers say hi to me in the street. People seem to want to talk to me.
My neighbours have been great. I have a neighbour who knows what’s going on with everyone on the street. One day he saw me in my driveway and came over to chat. I knew right away he was on a recognizance mission. He greeted me by my old name, but it was more of an inquiry, as if he weren’t sure whether it still applied. “Tara,” I corrected and then told him about my transition. We talked for a while and when it was time to leave, he said, as if to explain his curiosity, “You know, my mother-in-law was telling me, ‘He’s looking a lot prettier lately'”. I laughed. “See you later, Tara,” he said, and he’s never dead named me since.
I don’t want to minimize the obstacles that trans people face because they are many. I’ve encountered plenty of rudeness and one threat of violence, although the latter was a long time ago. I also wouldn’t recommend being in the Byward Market at 2 am when the drunks are stumbling out of the bars. Based on my experience, however, Ottawa is as welcoming a city for trans folks as there is in Canada.
Or is it? Could my experience be the product of my privilege?
I’m white. The harassment black trans women face is well documented, but most of what I know is based on the experience of black trans women in the USA and Toronto. How are trans people from so-called “visible minorities” and two-spirit indigenous people treated in this city? I really don’t know.
I’m 64. My age also accords me respect.
I read Fae Johnstone’s article in the Huffington Post about the report from Support And Education For Trans Youth Ottawa (SAEFTY) regarding challenges trans youth face in accessing health care. I was struck by how little agency people in positions of authority grant young trans people. They don’t take their wants, concerns or sometimes even their identities seriously. I think it’s safe to assume that the treatment trans youth receive in the medical community is reflected in broader society also.
This has never happened to me. Presumably people think if I’ve reached this age I’ve figured out who I am.
My last privilege is one I originally believed would be my great disadvantage. As I mentioned earlier, I’m 6’3″ tall. This does not work well when you want people to see you as a cisgender woman. In fact, in earlier transphobic times this alone would disqualify me from accessing hormones. While it’s still not ideal, I realized recently that tall and slim, even for a trans woman, is a privileged body type. It’s a contradictory situation because while trans bodies aren’t universally respected, tall slim bodies usually are. If being this tall hinders my ability to live as I see myself, nevertheless it also accords me basic respect in this world. It has its advantages.
So perhaps my view of Ottawa as a trans friendly city is naive. This would be a good topic for a survey. Although I have no experience in framing questions that would provide the most credible answers, it strikes me as a worthwhile project to pursue. It would be good to know other trans people’s experience of the city.
The pitfall to such a survey is that it must necessarily require some subjective responses. The danger to that is clear from my last tale of the city.
The ‘Fair Lady’
I own a black 2005 Nissan 350Z.
One day I was in said car waiting at a traffic light. It was a fine day and I had the windows open and the music playing. Despite this, I was under a cloud. I had woken up in one of those misanthropic moods I mentioned earlier. I thought most people were ignorant hypocrites, and don’t tell me otherwise.
I became aware of a fellow bicycling toward me on the other side of the street. He was looking at me, which raised my ire a little, but I thought it might be an incidental glance and so tried to let it go.
But no, dammit, he’s still looking at me.
As he approached my window I was glowering at him and ready to pounce. Just give me a reason! As he came alongside, he said, “Don’t ever sell that car!”
Oops! It’s not always about you, Tara. It’s not always about you.
The pioneer days of trans acceptance
Although I wake up every day thankful to be a citizen of Canada, I am also often reminded that when it comes to trans acceptance in this country we are still very much in pioneer days.