‘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!”
Conversion therapy and the Conservative Party of Canada
(The Senate did not pass Bill C-6, the bill that would ban conversion therapy in Canada, before they rose for the summer, and with the election called the bill died on the Order Paper. In the following piece, I lay most of the blame on the Conservative Party, although there is indeed plenty of blame to be passed around.)
There’s a good possibility that Bill C-6, the bill to ban conversion therapy that passed the House of Commons on June 22nd, may end up dying in the Senate either because Parliament adjourns for the summer or because the Liberals will call an election. The House gave the Senate very little time to deal with the bill, and the Liberals certainly could have moved with more urgency than they did, but if the bill does die there’s only one party that’s ultimately responsible and that’s the Conservative Party of Canada.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole always has plenty of empty words of support for the LGBTQ community, but when it comes to doing the right thing, he blames the Liberals for his own inaction. They’re playing politics, he cries, and pretends that the opposition to the bill from the so-called “social conservative” wing of his party, the same ones who enabled him to become leader, plays no part in his dithering.
Of course the Liberals are playing politics. They didn’t become the most powerful political party in Canada by being choirboys. It’s O’Toole himself, however, who’s given them this glorious opening to exploit. He keeps voicing support for the LGBTQ community but then is undermined by the anti-LGBTQ elements of the party he leads. That’s a gift for the Liberals, and they’ll keep pumping it as long as O’Toole allows the situation to continue. That he pretends that the Conservatives would never do the same if presented with a similar opportunity is laughable. (Pierre Poilievre, anyone?)
The Conservative critics of the bill claim that it does not adequately define conversion therapy and therefore would criminalize voluntary conversations between children and parents or clergy. (Given that the most rabid opponents of the bill are religious fundamentalists, that word “clergy” alone sets warning bells a-ringing.) O’Toole typically continues to play both sides, as he voices support for the bill and yet claims it is insufficiently precise.
Meanwhile, the credibility of the people who profess that these are legitimate concerns looks a bit suspect from the perspective of LGBTQ folks. These include Conservative Senate leader Don Plett, who proposed the infamous bathroom clause to NDP MP Randall Garrison’s private member’s bill to amend the Canadian Human Rights Code to include gender identity (Bill C-279); and former Conservative MP Derek Sloan, who claimed that the bill “would contribute to the massive increase we are seeing with little boys and girls who are being chemically transitioned because of their feelings of gender dysphoria.” (O’Toole finally expelled Sloan from the Conservative caucus in January.)
It’s a bit tiresome hearing Mr. O’Toole crying foul every time the Liberals exploit the divisions in the Conservative Party. The Liberals are doing what political parties do. It’s LGBTQ folks who are being used as the political football here, not you, Mr. O’Toole. If you do indeed support the LGBTQ community, as you claim, then do the right thing. Step up and ensure Bill C-6 does not die in the Senate.
“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.
The Trans Memory Archive of Argentina
On June 24th, I attended a Zoom event hosted by The Embassy of Argentina and Inspirad@s, a group which raises awareness in Canada of Latin American culture. The event celebrated the creation of the Archivo de la Memoria Trans (Trans Memory Archive) and launched the recently published book of the same name.
The Archivo de la Memoria Trans (AMT) is an archive started by Argentinian trans activists who imagined having a place in which they and their surviving companions could preserve their memories. For two years the AMT was a virtual space where they gathered stories and documents and objects from the community. Finally in 2014 with the help of the visual artist Cecilia Estalles, work began to conserve and protect the collection. The Archive contains more than 10,000 documents, beginning in the early twentieth century to the end of the 1990s. It includes photographic, film, and sound memoirs, passports and national identity papers, letters, notes, police files, magazine articles, newspapers and personal objects.
The event was in Spanish, but with English interpretation and so I missed some of the translation, but the testimony of Carmen Marcial was nonetheless riveting. Sitting alone in front of a simple curtain background, she related with great dignity the persecution, exile and imprisonment of the trans community in the late 70s and 80s. “We had our shield,” she said, in explaining their survival, and raised her arms in defence, a gesture I felt was both literal and metaphorical. She moved me greatly. I was not the only one affected, to judge by the running comments on the sidebar that expressed the respect and admiration of those attending the event. Carmen was two continents away from me in Argentina, but she was my sister.
Many thanks to the Embassy of Argentina for the invitation.
For more, see the Archives website. It’s in Spanish, but has lots of cool photos. See also the book review on this site Revealing Selves: Transgender Portraits from Argentina.
Trans info from the Ottawa Public Library
There is an informative blog about transgender issues and people on the web site of the Ottawa Public Library currently. (The above link goes directly to it, but it’s listed on the main page, left sidebar.) It’s essentially a Trans 101 course for those who don’t know much about us, with a welcome side trip into trans history that contradicts the mistaken notion that we only popped out of nowhere in the last number of years. There is of course the obligatory reference to famous American trans celebrities – Laverne Cox, in this case – but that’s to be expected when you’re living in a colonized country. (Don’t mind my griping. It’s a good piece.) Note also the excellent suggested reading at the bottom of the blog.