Much buzz in the community about the Netflix documentary Disclosure. I’m steeling myself to watch it as I grew up clenching my teeth at the way trans people were portrayed in the movies and media and am afraid it would not be pleasurable for me to revisit the experience. I feel somewhat reassured, however, that it is directed by Sam Feder, a trans man, and the executive producer is Laverne Cox. And what a fabulous array of trans talent there is in the trailer:
Here’s the link to the Netflix site, where you can download it (for a fee, of course):
Also, a good article by Fred McConnell, a trans writer for The Guardian, who found the film tough to watch but “profoundly cathartic.”
Okay, I’ve convinced myself. I’ll watch it. Review to follow.
Book Review: The Skin We’re In
Some white people might find Desmond Cole’s blunt talk in his book The Skin We’re In provocative: “The Canadian government and its institutions are the products of a white supremacist ideology that claims this land as the property of a white European colonial government.” It’s not something we usually like to hear. As a country we have a tendency to polish our halo when it comes to racism. It’s refreshing to hear someone drill down through all our sanctimoniousness. “This idea that Canada’s racial injustices are not as bad as they could be – this notion of slavery lite, of racism lite, of what my friend calls the ‘toy version of racism’ – is a very Canadian way of saying ‘remember what we could do to you if we wanted to.'”
Cole isn’t just throwing gasoline on the fire. The book documents the experiences of black people in this country and the pattern of abuse at the hands of various police departments. Cole is deeply involved in his community and tells the stories with far more detail than one normally receives from the media.
I found this especially so in his chapter dissecting the police practise of “carding”, but for the purpose of this web site, the chapter on the infamous Toronto Pride Parade of 2016 is also revealing. You may recall that Black Lives Matter – Toronto (BLM -TO) stopped the parade to make demands of Pride organizers, including the removal of police floats in Pride marches and parades.
I was interested to know what was going on at the time, but most of my information came from the mainstream media which I now find didn’t present the entire story. I was inclined to think that not engaging the police in meaningful dialogue to improve relations was self defeating, but in reading this chapter I realized I had been naive. The behaviour of the Toronto police toward Black LGBTQ people over the years spoke far more loudly than the pinkwashing going on at the Parade. Unfortunately, Toronto Pride was also complicit in this.
Black trans people were at the forefront of much of this activism. According to Syrus Marcus Ware of BLM-TO, who is trans, the “idea that we could be black and queer, black and trans, is unfathomable to too many people in our community.”
Cole is clearly not of the opinion that the police can be reformed. Since the killing of George Floyd, calls to defund the police have become common, but his skepticism runs deeper. The police do not act in isolation. “Rather, they are carrying out the will of Canada’s white majority.”
Passionate yet strongly argued books like this and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist are what we need right now. They cut through so much of the fog about race that has enveloped this country for too long. They also recognize that the oppression of trans folks is part of this big picture, and that we are all in this together.
For more on Black trans folks in Toronto, here’s a link to a recent piece on the CBC site:
I have finally uploaded two more issues of Triple Echo, the ‘zine I published from 1998 to 2003.
Triple Echo v2 no1 (1999) has a number of articles on trailblazer Christine Jorgensen. Jorgensen may not have been the first to transition, but she was certainly the most famous. It’s hard to imagine anyone handling the publicity with more grace than she did.
Triple Echo v4 no1 (2002) has a lengthy piece on the art, politics and history of cross-gender performance, as well as a mix of trans history, news and book reviews.
I’ve also created a separate Triple Echo page where all issues uploaded thus far can be accessed. My original intention was to upload the entire run, but it’s been slow going. Nonetheless, I’ll press on and add more issues in the future.
For more downloadable publications from the digital archive, see below.
Didn’t see that coming!
Belated congratulations to our American LGBT friends and their supporters! On Monday, June 15th, the US Supreme Court ruled by a majority of six to three that to fire someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity was a form of sex discrimination, and therefore illegal.
What made this especially stunning was that the majority opinion was issued by Trump nominee and presumed arch conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch. “We agree that homosexuality and transgender status are distinct concepts from sex,” Gorsuch wrote. “But as we’ve seen, discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second.” OMG! A thinking conservative! I thought they were an extinct species.
There are many challenges ahead as Trump continues his assault on trans folks. He has tried to ban transgender people from the military and the week before issued regulations that would erase protection from discrimination in health care for trans people. However, the court’s decision has now made legal challenges to these policies likely.
Sadly, Aimee Stephens one of the plaintiffs at the centre of the case did not live to hear the decision. She was fired from her job in 2013 after coming out as transgender. She died in May. Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union who represented her in court said, “This was her life’s mission at the end of her life. She tried so hard to hold on to see the decision. And I thought that we would lose and that would be the last thing that she saw. But instead, we won. She won. I wish she had lived to see that.”
It’s hugely satisfying to see US conservatives having a meltdown from this decision. Trump promised his evangelical followers that he’d fill US courts with conservative judges and he’s been largely successful at that. Presumably they were expecting Chinese like “justice” from them. Gorsuch has sown hope that they’re not all lapdogs.
I have a hard time with cisgender people who had a period in childhood where they thought being the opposite sex might be nice and who now think this has given them some deep insight into what it means to be trans. This is about as convincing as a white person saying, “I like hip-hop and Denzel Washington so I know what it’s like to be black in America.”
People who tell this story about themselves often use it as an example of why they couldn’t possibly be transphobic. “How could I be? I once had transgender feelings too!” Then, smug in their knowledge of trans lives, they use their childhood confusion as an argument against trans kids transitioning. Or imply that they were once trans too, but look at me now!
Shut up. Please. You don’t know what you’re talking about.
When I read that JK Rowling had a childhood transition story of her own, I rolled my eyes. Of course she did, and true to form, she used it in a subtle way to justify the repression of trans people.
Rowling talked about her girlhood and how easy it is now to read about transgender issues online, adding she “could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred” had she had the same trans materials available to her that are available now. Yeah, right. It’s strange how cisgender people seem to think changing gender is so simple anyone could do it.
Rowling told the story to show her support for young girls, but framed it with a transphobic trope that suggested trans people were a threat to them. It was manipulative and dishonest, but consistent with Rowling’s attempt to portray trans women as a danger to cisgender females.
Rowling was not and is not trans. Her “I coulda been one too” anecdote is a fantasy worthy of Harry Potter, but the thought process behind it is transparent. Because she does not accept that someone born with a male body can be a woman, she employed it to suggest that trans people are confused and don’t know who they are. She may think it original, but it’s a recurring theme in the transphobe canon.
Needless to say, Rowling claims she’s not a transphobe. She just reveals herself every time she opens her mouth.
Black Lives Matter
I was 10 years old when the civil rights marches were happening in Selma and other southern American cities. I saw the faces of white folks contorted in hate and rage in the pages of our newspaper and on our black and white TV. It gave me a chill. I already knew who I was and I knew what kind of world I was living in. Those faces of hate could just as easily have been directed at me. I was a white kid, but I knew whose side I was on.
Unfortunately, empathy among oppressed groups sometimes only extends so far, much to our collective detriment. There was an article on the BBC site about problems black trans people have encountered being accepted in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. For some, black trans lives still don’t matter that much. The article concludes on a hopeful note, however, as it reports that BLM in the UK released a statement on social media saying: “All forms of oppression are interrelated, you cannot be for Black lives if you do not emphatically support the cause for Black queer lives, Black trans lives [and] the lives of Black women.”
There have been times when I have heard members from my community, people who have tasted the bitterness of oppression and people without privilege, make insensitive or ignorant comments about race. I haven’t called them out on it when I didn’t believe them to be racist people, but as Ibram X. Kendi notes in his book How to Be an Antiracist, this laissez faire approach is not acceptable. It’s not enough to say you’re not racist. That’s a neutral expression that will never effect real change. We need to be antiracists.
This feels like a watershed moment, and I hope it is. The protesting crowds have been noticeably multiracial and many recent polls indicate a stunning shift in public opinion. A Monmouth University poll suggests that 57% of Americans now believe that police are more likely to use excessive force against African Americans compared with just 33% in 2014.
It’s sad that it takes people so long to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, but exciting when it finally happens. The prospect of real change has rarely been so tantalizing. This fight has been led by those who have felt the cruelty of racism, but as trans folks we have a stake in it too. No peace without justice.
Queerphobia and the pandemic: LGBT communities around the world targeted
May 2020 – Since nothing much was going on, I decided I’d take a wee vacation from the web site, but with the tulips in bloom in Ottawa again and some restrictions being lifted, life is returning to the city, and I too have returned.
I’ve read a lot in the past few months and news that the pandemic has not been kind to LGBT communities around the world is not surprising. They join an already long list of vulnerable communities that have been hit hardest by Covid-19, or its consequences. Here’s an incomplete survey of recent international news affecting trans and queer communities.
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán finagled legislation to allow him to rule by decree. Orbán said he needed emergency powers to fight the pandemic, but there is no time limit on when they expire. According to The Guardian, Orbán is set “to push through legislation that will end the legal recognition of trans people by defining gender as ‘biological sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes’ and thus making it impossible for people to legally change their gender.”
“Orbán’s government has become more hostile towards the LGBTQ+ community in the past two years, moving from generic language about traditional values and the benefits of heterosexual marriage to openly discriminatory language, such as comparing homosexuality to paedophilia.”
In Turkey, teachers encouraged kids to paint pictures of rainbows and put them in windows to cheer people up during the pandemic. You can guess what happened. They were ordered to stop, rainbows being part of a giant gay plot to turn kids into homosexuals. While “homosexuality is legal in Turkey, the LGBTQ community still faces huge stigma and is often the target of bigoted ire from conservative politicians and pundits. The furore over children’s rainbow drawings, combined with dogwhistle remarks by the head of the religious affairs directorate during a Ramadan sermon that gay people “spread disease”, were met with concern by human rights and legal advocacy groups.”
In Colombia, trans folks were put in peril by directives issued in Bogota that men and women should leave their residences on alternate days. The policy became an ideal opportunity for transphobes to take it upon themselves to police gender and brought on the inevitable attacks on trans people who were accused of being out on the wrong day. According to trans woman Juli Salamanca, “The city has given the police the weapons to control and do gender profiling of trans people, and now this is translating into the same from people in supermarkets, banks and society in general, where trans people are being prevented from entering places because they don’t conform to the stereotype of what is a man or woman.”
A similar policy was in place in Lima, Peru between April 2-11 but was dropped after it was reported that abuse of the LGBT community, and particularly of transgender women, had become common.
In South Korea, a new outbreak of the Covid virus was tracked to clubs in Seoul’s Itaewon nightlife neighbourhood. Unfortunately, some of these bars were known gay clubs and those visiting them are terrified of being outed in a society that is still largely homophobic. Officials were using telecom information and credit card transactions to track down unknown individuals. “Given the sensitivity, authorities have introduced what they call “anonymous testing,” with people only needing to provide a phone number and not a name.”
There seemed to be a bit of good news out of Egypt where Hisham Selim, a prominent Egyptian actor, was praised for his acceptance of his trans son. Egypt is a religiously conservative society and it follows that the LGBT community is widely stigmatised. Trans people are comparatively more accepted by society and government than gays, who are periodically subjected to crackdowns on the grounds of “debauchery”, despite there being no legal prohibition against homosexuality.
Ah, but there’s always a fly in the ointment. Selim admitted that his reaction would have been different if he had a trans daughter instead. “I thought, ‘Thank God, it’s not the other way around. Although I believe both are the same, as an Arab and an Egyptian who’s raised believing that men are stronger or have higher status, then it would have definitely been different for me.”
Ottawa Trans Library Digital Archive
Since Covid-19 has shut down much of the world, including whatever fledgling plans I had for moving the Ottawa Trans Library out of my basement, this is an ideal opportunity to put some of the collection online. This will be an ongoing project, but here are a few titles to get started.
NFTU was the newsletter of Gender Mosaic, Ottawa’s long running trans social and support group. It was published from December 1988 to December 2004. I previously uploaded six issues only, but have now put up the complete set of issues my friend so kindly scanned for me.
Gender Mosaic was originally called New Ottawa Women (NOW) and was a chapter of the California heterosexual crossdresser organization Society for the Second Self (Tri-Ess), although it disregarded Tri-Ess’s narrowly defined membership criteria from the outset and welcomed all trans folks.
NFTU provides 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. See the NFTU page for issues uploaded so far.
Triple Echo is the ‘zine I published from 1998 to 2003 and, incidentally, the original name for this web site. Here are two of my favourite issues. I hope to put up the entire run in due time.
This issue is what I hoped the ‘zine would be, but which I achieved only rarely. It has a mix of reporting, history, personal stories and commentary.
Contents include Micheline Montreuil’s battle with Quebec’s Registrar of Civil Status to get her name changed, a piece on Ed Wood, and an opinion piece on trans fantasy fiction, “the erotica of our people”.
My friend Rachel Steen had a big impact on the look of Triple Echo through the collages she put together for me. Some of these illustrated articles, but mostly I just let her do her thing. The cover of this issue is one of my favourites, but the black and white reproduction didn’t do justice to her art. (Here is some of her work in colour.)
There are good stories in this issue too, including one on gay and lesbian history and what trans folks could learn from it. Also, did you know Ernest Hemingway’s born son was trans? Unfortunately, and perhaps not surprisingly considering the times she lived in and whose daughter she was, hers is not a very happy story.
Drag Queen: A Study of the Life Style of the Drag Queen
The current definition of drag queen as a performer is not what it was historically. In 1972, when this booklet was published, a drag queen was a trans woman living within a gay milieu and generally surviving through prostitution. The author of this “study” regards the drag queen as male, which was typical of the time, despite her living as a woman. (She probably identified that way also.)
Superficially this is a fairly straight forward publication, but the passage of time leaves it open to many layers of interpretation. For example, are drag queens living this way freely (as the author suggests) or is it simply because they have no choice?
This booklet was published by Seattle’s Empathy Press, which was a prolific trans publisher during the 1970s.
There is no publisher nor date to this booklet, but my guess is that it was published in the early 70s also. This publication has the requisite educational component that seeks to explain the causes of transvestism, but it also has a number of case histories, which are always fun to read despite being pilfered from other sources.
The educational aspect to the publications of this era is problematic. While it’s laudatory that trans folks, who are clearly the intended readership, would wish to understand themselves, inherent in this wish to understand is an acceptance of the transphobic notion of the time that trans folks are strange and need to be explained. That these publications regurgitated the psycho babble of the time was probably not helpful.