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Trans in Canada

Nova Scotia

November 2020 – Nova Scotia has expanded the criteria for breast reduction covered by the provincial health insurance plan.

People who are diagnosed with “persistent and well-documented gender dysphoria” and are approved for a breast reduction surgery will now be covered. Nova Scotia already covers breast augmentation surgery for transgender women and chest masculinization or mastectomy surgery for transgender men.

The new coverage provides an option for nonbinary individuals who wish to access breast reduction procedures. The change comes after Sebastian Gaskarth, a non-binary individual, made a complaint to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. Gaskarth said the coverage “directly acknowledges that gender does not exist as a binary.”

British Columbia

January 2021 – The City of Victoria’s new Youth Poet Laureate is trans! James Summer was named to the post, a one year honorary position that will see him engage with local youth through the written and spoken word. Summer was chosen by a peer committee of representatives from Victoria’s writing community and will receive a $1,750 honorarium, as well as $2,000 of project funding. Summer said he hopes “to bring awareness about the topic of being transgender and to have important conversations about stigma and labels.”

Ontario

January 2021 – Jamie and Ruby Alexander are a Toronto father-daughter team that designs swimsuits for trans kids. The two are behind Rubies, a fashion business that specializes in formfitting clothing for trans and non-binary girls. Twelve-year-old Ruby, who came out when she was nine, said she was proud that trans kids could take part in activities without worrying about what they were wearing.

Ruby’s dad teamed up with Ryerson University’s Fashion Zone to design prototypes for bathing suit bottoms that use “a soft compression to provide a worry free fit.” Rubies has sold roughly 1,000 swimsuits in its first year. The company is also expanding into T-shirts and underwear.

Ruby writes a personal message to accompany every shipment. “There’s other trans kids in the world that need help, and I’m happy to see them smile, and I’m proud to be the person I am,” she said.

 

Book Review: Transgressive

This is an interesting collection of essays by an academically trained philosopher trans woman that explores various facets of the trans experience. Some are derived from her personal life, some are thought pieces on sex and gender while others are deconstructions of familiar transphobic tropes. She invites the reader to read these critically, but also notes that she does not presume to be speaking for all trans folks.

TransgressiveNonetheless, there are many ideas here worth considering. In my piece on trans woman love, I dismissed cisgender men who want to have sex with trans women but never a relationship as cowards intent on preserving their place in the patriarchy. Williams thinks their behaviour is more pernicious. For straight men, we are never women or even trans women, “but rather trannies, t-girls, gurls, t-gurls, transsexuals, TS, TS gurls, shemales, ladyboys, he/shes, chicks with dicks , and so on, and so on.” She argues that the fetishization of trans women’s bodies, seeing us as an “other” rather than women or even trans women endangers our lives. “Too many men want to fuck us (or be fucked by us) yet are so poisoned by transphobia that they reflexively feel the need to defend their masculinity after sleeping with us.” Too often this leads to assault and even murder. This attitude that cis gender men have that our bodies are exotic and otherworldly “like a living, breathing sex doll with ‘unique features’… is dangerous and fuels much of the transphobic violence against trans women.”

There are several chapters tackling transphobia including one on autogynephilia (AGP). I hadn’t heard that term in ages and thought it had been discredited, but as the chapter title says, it’s the “gift that keeps on giving.” AGP is an essentialist theory that divides trans women into two categories, one more legitimate than the other, but neither one especially affirming. Those attracted to men are “oppressed femme gay men who are struggling to survive and find men as dating partners” while those attracted to women are just “living out some fetish they have where they get off to the idea of themselves being women”. As Williams notes, Julia Serano and Zinnia Jones have already debunked AGP, and her purpose is simply to ridicule it. She does a good job of it, but given the resilience of the theory and the pervasiveness of transphobia I suspect we’ll need to be playing AGP whack-a-mole for some time yet.

There’s been a lot said about the pleasures and the politics, and for some people the necessity, of “passing” as cisgender and Williams throws in her two cents here too. This is a personal essay in which she expresses how she is “learning to say ‘fuck it’ to passing” while acknowledging the satisfaction she derives from being perceived as a cisgender female.

Transgressive is an enjoyable read, Despite being an academic at heart, Williams’s essays are accessible, often thought provoking, and provide texture to the already rich life experience that is being trans.

 

Regarding Two Trans Musicians

Despite being a music lover, I have never enjoyed techno or electronic music. Consequently I was unaware that Sophie Xeon, known as Sophie, the music producer who died accidentally at age 34, was a trans woman. When I read an excerpt from the book Glitter Up the Dark, by Sasha Geffen that was especially complimentary of her work, I thought I should see (or rather hear) what she’d been up to.

SopieTrueThe excerpt from the book that intrigued me referred to the track “Is it cold in the water?”: “It’s not hard to read the album’s middle section as a transition narrative: Is it cold in the water? Should I jump? Should I unmake myself, not knowing what I’ll be on the other side?” When I watched the video for this track, I didn’t get as much from it as the author did, but as I mentioned, I’m not attuned to electronica.

“Is it cold in the water?” is included in The Guardian‘s list of ten best  Sophie tracks so you can judge for yourself. Track 10 on their list, “It’s Okay to Cry”, moved me the most, as it’s a more conventional piece of music. Sophie was widely admired and undeniably creative. It’s sad she died so young. We’ll never know what direction her music may have gone and how she may yet have expressed the trans experience in her art.

At the end of the The Guardian piece about Sophie, there was a link entitled “Glenn Copeland: the trans musical visionary finding an audience at age 74.” Why is that name familiar to me, I wondered.

BGCopelandAlthough Beverly Glenn-Copeland didn’t sell many records 40 odd years ago, my sister was one of the few people in the world to buy one. It was a folk singer type album (see photo) with a few jazz flourishes which I liked well enough, but never grew familiar with. He was performing as a she at the time, but found his identity as a trans man in 1995 before coming out to the world at large around 2003. The Guardian article identifies him as Glenn Copeland, although he still uses Beverly Glenn-Copeland as a stage name.

Although he represented Canada at Expo 67 in Montreal, he never found musical fame and the lack of record sales spun his career toward kids shows like Mr. Dressup and Sesame Street, where he performed songs as a secondary character. He has a wise perspective on his career as an artist: “It ain’t for fame that we do stuff. I’m going to die relatively soon, from a statistical point of view. If I’m going to base how I’ve gone about my life on whether or not I’m going to get famous, it’s not going to be very satisfying in the end.”

About his transition, he is similarly philosophical: “If I had become better known when I was younger, I would not have been able to fulfil a part of what I’m here to do, which is to be able to say: ‘Yeah, this is a reality for me.’ In the 1970s, it was a burden. And even in 2005 it felt burdensome, because I was not yet totally comfortable just being. Now I am very comfortable being who I am, whatever that is, and however that changes. So the timing is right.” (These quotes are lifted from the 2018 Guardian article.)

Glenn Copeland’s music now is a fusion of new age, jazz, world, and classical influences. I’ve heard it called electronic music too, although it’s a world away from Sophie’s brand. And yet, in their own way there’s a spiritual element to both of them. I’m not sure whether Sophie would see herself that way, but in her art she appeared to be striving to capture the ephemeral.

A good sample of Glenn Copeland’s music is available on Bandcamp.

 

Blog

A Salute to The Kinks

I’m a music lover. During the darkest days of my early 20s, I relied heavily on music to make my life endurable.

One of my favourite bands since childhood was The Kinks, led by brothers Dave Davies, who was the guitarist, and Ray Davies, vocalist and principal songwriter. I loved them when I was a kid for their killer rock riffs (You Really Got Me), uplifting yet slightly melancholy ballads (Waterloo Sunset) and drily satirical observations on society (A Well Respected Man, Dedicated Follower of Fashion). There’s a lyric in the latter song that made me prick up my ears when I heard it: “And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight / He feels a dedicated follower of fashion” As a child with a secret, I clutched at the smallest of things to keep from feeling alone.

And then, when I was 15 years old, the Kinks released Lola.

LolaLola is the story of a young man’s sexual awakening at the hands of a trans woman. It opens with a guitar strum from Dave Davies that creates anticipation for the song that follows, which does not disappoint. Lola was released in 1970, just three years after homosexuality was decriminalized in England and Wales. Despite being a hit, it was controversial, with some radio stations fading the song out before Lola’s biological sex was revealed. Ray Davies responded with, “It really doesn’t matter what sex Lola is. I think she’s alright”.

I’d lost touch with The Kinks by the time their album Misfits was released in 1978. Society hadn’t changed much in the eight years since Lola’s release. The media’s interest in the album focused on Out of the Wardrobe, a song about a crossdresser. That song, and my love for the Kinks, was enough for me to buy the album.

While Out of the Wardrobe is a pleasant piece of whimsy (“‘He shouldn’t be hidden, he should be seen / ‘cos when he puts on that dress / He feels like a princess”), two other songs were more meaningful to me because they encapsulated the way I was feeling.

MisfitsThe title track Misfits starts slowly before gradually building in musical and emotional intensity. “You’re a misfit, afraid of yourself, so you run away and hide / You’ve been a misfit all your life / Why don’t you join the crowd / And come inside.”

‘I’m trying, Ray,’ I’d think. ‘But people won’t let me.’ I can’t listen to this song today without becoming emotional. It sends me right back to the dark place I was in at the time. The song concludes in a hopeful way, however, telling the supposed misfit (me), “This is your chance, this is your time / so don’t throw it all away.”

The other song on the album I loved was A Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy.

There’s a guy on my block, he lives for rock
He plays records day and night
And when he feels down, he puts some rock ‘n roll on
And it makes him feel alright
And when he feels the world is closing in
He turns his stereo way up high
He just spends his life, living in a rock ‘n roll fantasy
He just spends his life, living on the edge of reality

That was me. I turned my stereo way up high so often it’s a wonder I didn’t get thrown out of my apartment. Ironically, this was one of the songs I liked to crank up. Despite the depressing story, this song too ends on a hopeful note, with both Ray’s vocals and Dave’s guitar rising in a crescendo of empowerment that had me singing at the top of my voice: “Don’t want to spend my life, living on the edge of reality / Don’t want to waste my life, hiding away anymore.”

The Kinks weren’t solely responsible for getting me out of the deep funk I was in. I still had to do the hard work to come out and escape my “rock ‘n roll fantasy”. I needed hope to keep going, however, and I relied on music very much to deliver it. Music has the power to provide comfort and, for a short while at least, the power to free your soul.

Notes from the Underground

I have uploaded four more issues of the Gender Mosaic newsletter Notes from the Underground (NFTU). These are from 1989 and were some of the first published issues – literally nos. 2 through 4 – and reading them again reminds me of how far trans people have come.

These publications reflect a community that was completely erased from public life and that was still in the process of defining itself. Newsletters were the internet of the day. We sent NFTU to other groups in North America and received their newsletters in exchange. They were our way of communicating with other trans people.

Gender Mosaic was initially a “sorority” of the California-based heterosexual crossdresser organization Tri-Ess. It was soon obvious, however, that there was a need in Ottawa for a broader based group and so all trans folks were welcome. Indeed, even the supposed heterosexual crossdresser was not always who she claimed to be. We each learned a lot about the other. A trans woman I met at Gender Mosaic once told me that before she’d met any trans folks she thought they were all weird except her. I laughed and said my experience was almost the opposite. I thought I’d meet people like myself and discovered everyone was different.

As you might expect from these early issues, NFTU was just finding its footing, but there are some good stories here. My Débutante Soirée, the lead article in no. 5, describes the event at which the photo in the left sidebar was taken (under Ottawa Trans History). The photos in this issue did not reproduce well. Judy and I surreptitiously photocopied all these early newsletters at her workplace on Sunday evenings when there was no one there. If the photocopier wasn’t in fine tune, well, we took what we could get. It was the only way to run a trans group in the 1980s.

NFTU-no.5-89small1989 No2

1989 No3

1989 No4

1989 No5

 

 

Update to Directory of Canadian Trans Activists

I’ve added two new names to the Directory of Canadian Trans Activists, both from Québec.

Marie-Marcelle Godbout (b. 1943 d. 2017) was the founder of L’Aide aux Transsexuel(le)s du Québec in Montréal (1980). Known as the “Mother Teresa” of Québec trans folks, she was one of the first to give media interviews in Québec on transsexual issues (1980) and made many media appearances throughout her iife. She created a telephone help line for trans people and ran it for decades.

Hélène Micheline Montreuil (b. 1952 in Quebec City) is a lawyer, professor, writer, radio host, trade unionist and politician. Known primarily for her precedent setting five year battle with the Registrar of Civil Status of Québec to win the right to the name Micheline. The court finally ruled in her favour in 2002. Since 2016, Hélène Montreuil has been a member of the LGBT Committee of the Bar of Québec, the regulatory body for lawyers practicing in the province of Québec.

Full bios here.

 

In the News…

The detoxification of American life continues. “Transgender service members will no longer be subject to the possibility of discharge or separation on the basis of gender identity,” the White House said.

The White House also released its new contact form, which includes the option for users to select their pronouns of choice.

The revamped website allows users to select from a dropdown list of pronouns which include “he/him”, “she/her”, the gender-neutral “they/them” or “prefer not to share”.

The contact form has also been updated to include the gender-neutral prefix Mx, alongside the more traditional Mr, Mrs and Ms.

WhiteHouseForm

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55814358

Ringette: I’m not sure why I’m supposed to feel outraged by this story on the CBC web site (January 24th) about a young trans man complaining that he was not allowed to play on the “girl’s” ringette squad. He made the difficult decision to come out as trans and then expected… what? That the world would bend to his will? I applaud his efforts to highlight ringette’s inclusion problem, which he says caters mainly to “higher-income, white cis [gendered] women”, but the ringette association didn’t allow cis boys to play in the girl’s league, why should they bend the rules for a trans boy? It occurs to me that he might be a little privileged himself. There are consequences when you come out as trans. Don’t be so naive.

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/docproject/the-teens-are-alright-1.5877661/this-teen-was-a-celebrated-ringette-goalie-in-quebec-until-the-league-learned-he-was-transgender-1.5877666

Interesting item on The Guardian web site (January 23rd) about trans comedians and cancel culture. People like Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais who make transphobic “jokes” complain they are being censored while they make millions from appearing on Netflix. Meanwhile, as the article reports, trans comedians don’t get booked because they’re trans. Who’s being cancelled here?

Like Anna Piper Scott, I’m surprised people haven’t noticed that the “jokes” aren’t even funny: ““Honestly with transphobic jokes, I’m more offended as a comedian than I am as a trans person. They’ve been done to death. Every joke is like, ‘Oh, I identify as being a dog.’”

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2021/jan/23/trans-comedians-transphobia-cancel-culture

But we have friends out there too. Here’s Justin Willman’s two minute demolition of the anti-trans bathroom argument.

 

Who Do You Think You Are?

In the late 70s and early 80s, all the trans women I knew classified themselves as either being transsexuals or transvestites. Both terms were coined by sexologists and medical professionals earlier in the twentieth century. It seems absurd now that the range of trans experiences could be distilled into two categories, and even more absurd that we should so easily adopt these categories without questioning them but the terminology we used to describe ourselves reflected the time in which we lived.

What transsexual and transvestite really meant was ‘having surgery and living invisibly as a cis woman in a cisgender, heteronormative world” and ‘everyone else’. There was another term that we used at the time, but it was not common because it described someone who lived as their true selves without surgery or the aid of hormones (although some may have obtained them illegally). These people were transgender, but they were rare birds indeed. “Passing” was pretty well a necessity and if you weren’t doing it, you weren’t making a living. Not in a “respectable” fashion, in any case. Transgender as an umbrella term to define the entire community was not yet common, although it was gradually coming into use.

Many transsexuals resisted the word transgender. It was important when they presented themselves to the gatekeepers who determined whether or not they had surgery that they fell under the strict medical definition of transsexual and that they were not “everyone else”. In the 80s, some transsexual folks used the term as a form of empowerment in which they perceived themselves as being superior to those not sufficiently “authentic”.

“Transvestite” is now largely reviled among trans folks, and though in the 1970s it was generally assumed to mean ‘crossdresser’ its original definition was similar to what we’d now call ‘transgender’. It was coined by German physician and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) who wished to distinguish trans people from gays and lesbians, and to de-emphasize the pathological manner in which trans folks had until then been characterized. Hirschfeld believed that trans people lived on a spectrum and though the word in its etymology clearly refers to clothing, he emphasized that “clothing does not appear here ‘as a dead thing,’ that the kind of clothing a person wears is no arbitrary expression of a capricious whim but a form of expressing one’s inner personality, a sign of one’s disposition.”

HirschfeldBenjamin
Harry Benjamin (left) and Magnus Hirschfeld

The term ‘transsexual’ is now generally attributed to endocrinologist and sexologist Harry Benjamin (1885-1986), whose 1966 book The Transsexual Phenomenon was immensely important in outlining a care treatment for transsexual individuals. However Hirschfeld first used the term to describe those on one end of the transvestite spectrum who sought the help of medical professionals to live the life they wanted. Hirschfeld also shone a light on “female transvestites”, or what we’d call trans men, whose existence was of course widely denied for many years by people with an axe to grind. Hirschfeld’s pioneering book Die Transvestiten was – somewhat surprisingly – not translated into English until 1991.

Trans people were not initially in control of the terms that were used to describe them, and yet they had to take the good with the bad. We needed to be defined in order to advance our cause politically or move our lives forward personally.

We define ourselves now with an almost limitless number of terms. On the one hand, this is right and proper as people – trans and cis – express gender in a limitless number of ways. In another way, it’s also a little absurd.

Genny Beemyn and Susan Rankin conducted one of the largest surveys of US trans folks, which they published in a book called The Lives of Transgender People. Their problem was that people used different terminology, but were often describing the same identities. Or they were using the same terminology but were describing different identities. How do you make sense of this? Some of the survey participants even refer to themselves as “tranny”. Tranny is now regarded as a derogatory term for trans folks, although somehow I can’t get too worked up about it. It’s fine when we use it among ourselves, I suppose, and less so when others do. Other people are wary of the word transsexual because it presumes that all trans people seek surgery or that medical treatment defines what it means to be trans. This is ridiculous, but I sometimes feel like I’m walking on eggshells, worried that what I call you may somehow offend.

I’m not sure whether all this is useful anymore. In the book The Trans Generation, one of the youths described themselves as “a demi-polyromantic, polysexual, gender-queer individual”. It’s nice that you know yourself so well, but there’s a good possibility that next week you’ll be someone else. We are too contradictory to be static beings.

After a while, our quest to define ourselves precisely starts to sound like navel gazing, or a game we’re playing while we wait for the important stuff that matters in our lives to get resolved. Cis men and women express their gender in many different ways, but they still consider themselves men and women. Maybe it’s enough just to be trans.

 

Join the Transgender Media Lab and Transgender Media Portal project in 2021

Carleton University / University of Ottawa (Ottawa, ON, Canada)
Application deadline:
MA Transgender Digital Privacy and Security Analyst – March 1, 2021

The Transgender Media Lab (TML) at Carleton University investigates the aesthetic, political, and cultural work of audiovisual media created by transgender, Two Spirit, nonbinary, intersex, and gender-nonconforming filmmakers and artists. As part of that investigation, the lab is building the Transgender Media Portal, a collaborative digital tool that will enable new ways of analyzing these works and their circulation while making information about them available to trans arts communities and the public.

MA: Transgender Digital Privacy and Security Analyst – Deadline: March 1, 2021
We are seeking an incoming MA student to design and analyze approaches to digital privacy and security for the Transgender Media Portal. Host program: Human-Computer Interaction at Carleton University. For more information on this position, visit: https://carleton.ca/transmedialab/2020/privacy-and-security-position/

These positions are run in collaboration with the Humanities Data Lab at the University of Ottawa and the Security and Privacy Interactions Research Lab at Carleton University. Questions? Feel free to reach out to TML director Laura Horak at laura.horak@carleton.ca.

FB/Twitter/Instagram: @TransMediaPortl

 

Books! We Have Books!

What’s a girl to do in the middle of a lockdown in the worst part of a pandemic but read and buy books. Here are summaries of a few I’ve acquired lately through purchase or borrowed from the Ottawa Public Library.

The Transgender Studies Reader, edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle

TransgenderStudiesR-smallI’ve wanted to buy this volume for some time, but was put off by how expensive it was. I finally found a more reasonably priced copy and am glad I did. Transgender studies as an academic exercise took off sometime in the 90s and this volume is like a survey course of important texts. It is a collection of 50 essays or chapters from books that have largely framed the discussion around trans issues. It begins with a selection from Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s 1877 book Psychopathia Sexualis, includes a chapter from Janice Raymond’s 1978 transphobic book The Transsexual Empire and concludes with a contemporary essay by Richard M. Juang that argues that “anti-transgender discrimination and violence are often accompanied by racial and ethnic discrimination, and conversely, that situations interpreted as instances of racial and ethnic injustice often also involve a policing of gender and sexual boundaries.” Each chapter is introduced with a contextual analysis by one of the editors. So much to think about in this valuable book!

A follow up volume, Transgender Studies Reader 2, was published in 2013. It’s expensive too, but to judge by the quality of the first volume it’s worth having. My search for a reasonably priced copy begins.

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity, by C. Riley Snorton

BlackOnBoth-smallThis book expands on the theme of Richard M. Juang’s essay in The Transgender Studies Reader. It identifies “multiple intersections between blackness and transness from the mid-nineteenth century to present day anti-black and anti-trans legislation and violence.” It is an academic book published by the University of Minnesota Press, but in reading the introduction I found the language was mercifully free of the jargon that so often turns academic books into boring sludge.

Transgressive: A Trans Woman on Gender, Feminism, and Politics, by Rachel Anne Williams

A collection of essays from a trans-feminist perspective that “explores issues surrounding gender, feminism, and philosophy and challenges misconceptions about trans identities.” I’ll be reviewing this in the future.

Others of My Kind: Transatlantic Transgender Histories

OthersOfMyKind-smallI love books that have photos of trans people from the past. They make me wonder what their lives were like and how they faced their struggles. This large format book has more than 180 images, including many previously unpublished photographs. It documents how trans people were proactive in “bringing their needs to the attention of medical experts for more than 100 years.” “By exchanging letters and pictures among themselves they established private networks of affirmation and trust, and by submitting their stories and photographs to medical journals and popular magazines they sought to educate both doctors and the public.” It seems these brave souls faced their struggles in much the same way we are doing now, albeit through different mediums.

This is a new book which the good folks at the Ottawa Public Library (OPL) were quick to order. Four copies, in fact. I recommend you put a hold on one if trans histories interest you. I generally don’t buy books that are available at the OPL unless they’re important ones that a respectable trans library should have. This is one of them, I think.

 

NFTU Digital Library

I have uploaded four more issues of the Gender Mosaic newsletter Notes from the Underground (NFTU). I hope eventually to have the entire run available. NFTU was published from December 1988 to December 2004. It is a record of the voices of Ottawa trans folks over 16 now distant years. Here is the list of uploaded NFTUs thus far.

NFTU99-04small1999-04

2002-01

2002-02

2002-03

 

 

Book Review: The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution, by Ann Travers

This is a good book. It is based on interviews with 19 transgender kids and 23 parents from the US and Canada, with the overall sample consisting of the experiences of 36 kids ranging in age from 4 to 20. Not all parents in the study were initially supportive, but their reluctance to accept their kids’ trans identity was sometimes due to fear for their kids future. Once reality set in, they became – whether they liked it or not – “accidental activists” for their children.

TransGenerationDespite a greater understanding and acceptance of trans people, trans kids still live in a state of precarity. All life is precarious, but precarity “involves social positionings of insecurity.” Modern neoliberal states govern by “imposing precarity on part of the population, but not so much that it results in insurrection.” What this means for trans kids is that there is some help, but it’s piecemeal and many less privileged trans kids are left out.

The coping strategies trans kids employ are familiar: invisibility, trying to fit in (otherwise known as “sucking it up”), living a double life, self harm or suicide, gender non-conformity, and transition. Where the latter two are possible, it is largely due to activist parents and a sympathetic school, but even under these favourable conditions, transphobic teachers and bullying are not uncommon. The bathroom and gym class are still sources of deep anxiety. Sympathetic teachers mess up. There is a story here in which a teacher outed a trans child thinking it was a sign of sensitivity and support when in fact it just put a target on his back.

Many “good” schools will address the issue by making dispensations for individuals without challenging the gender system itself. This leaves many other kids who may be experiencing gender issues on the margins and choosing invisibility as a survival strategy. “Transitioning the environment” is preferable to transitioning in schools because it allows kids to explore gender non-conformity without necessarily following the medical model of transition. Travers is careful to note that this is necessary for some trans kids, but as their study reveals several of the kids interviewed would have been more comfortable living non-binary or gender non-conforming lives had they been presented with that option.

Children who transition before puberty are able to achieve a “more ‘normal’ and satisfactory appearance” than would someone who has transitioned as an adult. Passing privileges certain trans people over others and does not challenge the gender binary. Some of the young people interviewed live in rural areas where resources for trans kids are non-existent, or were in low income households where the parents could not advocate for their kids like more affluent parents could. This leaves many trans kids to fend for themselves. It can be a cold, hard world out there.

The Trans Generation explores all these complications . The chapter on the parents includes a discussion of the effect having a trans child has on siblings and the extended family. Having a trans kid is very much a family affair and it’s traumatic when not everyone is on board. It’s not easy telling the grandparents they can’t visit if they continue to deadname their grandchild. The gender work that these parents do benefits all kids – cis and trans – but it is tiring and takes its toll.

The book has a chapter on supportive healthcare and concludes with a discussion on the way forward. Travers notes that while the gains LGBT folk have made in the last while would have been unimaginable several decades ago, “we see binary gender normativity restabilizing itself” to accommodate transgender people. Only privileged, passing trans folks are allowed into the party while “racialized, impoverished, and non-binary-conforming trans kids are denied recognition and care”. LGBT folks are doing better, but “legal and policy reform often leaves structures of oppression untouched.”

The solution is to create the gender revolution cited in the subtitle. Travers identifies four key tasks, among them pressuring social institutions and spaces to create room for kids to determine their own gender identities within a wider range of possibilities, striving to ensure that gender affirming health care is available to all, targeting damaging gender systems and ensuring the most precarious trans kids are at the centre of all our social change efforts. If we focus on the most precarious, then the privileged benefit too.

Travers has a holistic view of social change that strives to leave no one out. It is laudable even as it is difficult to achieve. It is a socialist approach that might be a hard sell in the current political atmosphere, especially in the United States.

Trans Generation is, nonetheless, a sensitive, well researched book on what can be a contentious topic. It is well worth reading.

 

Rachel2
Courtesy Rachel Steen