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Back to the Future: Advice for the Conservative Party of Canada

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.

 

NFTU-web
NFTU v.5 no. 3, 1993

NFTU Vol 2 No 5 1990

NFTU Vol 4 No 2 1992

NFTU Vol 5 No 3 1993

NFTU Vol 8 No 3 1995

NFTU No 1 1997 

NFTU No 2 1999

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.

 

Housing Help

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. 

See also LGBTQ seniors face housing discrimination.

2001

HousingHelpHousing 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.

WomanEnoughThe 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.

ThisOneLooksAlso 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

LoveLivesThe 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.

knox4
Amanda Jette Knox

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.

knox1The 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

OdawaA 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 odawa2women 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.

odawa4

 

Books: I’m Supposed to Relate to This?

imsupposed-2This 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.