Transgender Day of Remembrance Speech

Hello everyone,

This is the speech that I gave at my local Transgender Day of Remembrance event. This year another 226 names have been added to the list of people killed for their gender identity or gender expression. Although it was left unmentioned in my speech, it is critically important for us all to acknowledge that most of this violence happens at the intersections of race, poverty, homophobia, and transphobia. This is not a time to ignore these intersection, but a time to highlight, question them, and challenge society to change them

[Image] A solitary burning candle on a black background

Before I do anything else, I would like to acknowledge that tonight we are gathered on Treaty 6 land, which, before people who looked a lot like me came and violently removed the peoples from this area, has had a long history of understanding and accepting gender and sexuality diversity including two-spirit identities, which I hope we will hear more about tonight.

I would also like to take a moment to thank all of those who helped to plan, organize, and run this event, as well as Miki for being such a gracious hostess tonight. Finally, I would like to take a moment to thank you all for coming out tonight. I realize that events like Transgender Day of Remembrance can be depressing and anxiety-provoking for even the most optimistic of people. But, by being here tonight you all are making a statement. You are showing that you care about what happens to those in the Transgender communities, and you show that you won’t stand passively by as yet more people are attacked, abused, and killed for their gender identity or gender expression. Your presence here tonight shows that the people on this year’s list have not been forgotten, erased, or destroyed. So thank you. For all of those who can’t say it anymore, thank you.

But without further delay, onward to the reason that I am here tonight.

Tonight we have gathered to acknowledge the most heinous of violence against the transgender people and communities; we have gathered to honour those who have been taken by this violence; and we are here to challenge society to do better for us and our transgender peers. As it always is, the list of the dead is far longer than it ever should be. However, being confronted with this list, of people who have been killed, sometimes in the most gruesome and grotesque ways imaginable, can make us forget about all the other, less deadly ways, those in the transgender communities face violence, oppression, and discrimination.

Transgender people, including some of us in this room tonight, have experienced employment discrimination where we were removed from positions, or simply never hired in the first place, because of our gender identity and/or expression. Recently, a survey of 433 transgender people living Ontario found that 18% reported they had been turned down for a job because of their gender while 32% reported being unsure whether their gender influenced the hiring manager’s decision. Further, 13% reported that they had been fired or otherwise dismissed for being transgender.

On average, the transgender people who took part in this survey reported having an education higher than that of the general population, but yet experienced joblessness at a rate nearly 4 times the provincial average. With that, is it any surprise that so many transgender people feel forced to do sex work to survive?

Transgender people also face housing discrimination. In another recent survey, 19% reported being denied the ability to rent an apartment due to their transgender status and 11% report being evicted for being transgender. This same study estimated that transgender people experience homelessness at rates at least double that of the general population, and for transgender youth it is even worse. For these youth, who too often have to face being kicked out of their house by unaccepting family members and guardians, the homelessness rate is nearly 10x that of the general population.

However, housing discrimination doesn’t even end there. In 2008, Jennifer Gale, a transgender woman died in Austin, Texas after being denied access to an emergency shelter. Her death was attributed to the colder than normal temperatures she had to bare as she slept on the street outside the Salvation Army. Jennifer was third such death in 2008 alone.

But that isn’t all. Transgender people also report being sexually assaulted at rates far higher than their non-transgender peers. In one study, it was found that 54% of transgender people had been sexually assaulted at least once, while others suggest a more realistic estimate is between 45-51%. This is at least double the rates that are considered ‘an epidemic’ by sources such as the Globe and Mail, Mother Jones, and The New York Times.

With all of this bad news, it should come as no surprise that transgender people are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, social anxiety, phobia, and other mental health problems than their non-transgender peers. As a result, transgender people attempt suicide at rates much higher than the general population. In fact, it has been estimated that between 34% and 45% of transgender people have attempted suicide at least once, and even these numbers are dwarfed by those reported by the two-spirit communities.

So, while the names on this list seem so disconnected from us, here, in this room, I ask you tonight, tomorrow, and every night after to remember the reasons we have gathered, to call for changes that would leave this list empty, and leave those of us in the transgender communities protected, locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally.

Thank you.

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The Nebulous Definition of Rape: Critique of My ‘Diet Caffeine-Free Rape’

Hello everyone,

Right now, I likely should be sleeping, but I thought that I would quickly write a post about something that I just read. The article that I am referring to really pissed me off and, what’s more, is that it wasn’t meant to. It was meant to be one of those articles that all feminist/women positive people really agree with. It was meant to be one of those scary yet affirming stories about a young woman battling with the role and identity of being a sexual assault survivor. And, like most of these stories it ended with the woman understanding and accepting that identity, in effect highlighting the nebulous definition of rape that society uses.

For those of you that aren’t mind readers the article that I am referring to is linked here. I strongly suggest that you read it and form your own opinion on the topic.

As I mentioned above, in my opinion this article has one major flaw: in this case, it wasn’t rape! This is likely to really annoy and piss off people, but please bear with me as I explain. I am not trying to claim that everything that this guy she mentions did was saintly, I am not saying that it wasn’t a bad situation, and I am NOT claiming to know all of the context. For all I know, the context was cut out of the article in editing, or it was too painful or too long to write into the article in the first place.

So, I am not saying that this woman is not a sexual assault survivor. What I am saying is that what was described in the article is not something that I would call rape, and there is one passage in the article that really drives this point home for me.

I never said, “No, no, no.” When I’d cry — almost every time we had sex — he asked if he should keep going. Keep going, I’d say. Just finish. And he would. He could.

My issue is not that she never said “No, no, no.” There are millions of ways not to consent to sexual activity. My issue is that when he asked her if he should keep going, she agreed that he should keep going. For me, as someone who focuses a lot of time and effort on consent during sexual activity, this means, well, keep going.

If my partner and I are engaged in sexual activity, whether it be vanilla sex or intense pain and edge play, if I ask my partner if she wants me to continue and she says yes, I take that as consent.

That being said, it is fair to point out that the consent that this woman gave was far from unequivocal, and that is something that should give anyone pause. However, what she went on to say was not something that completely negated the consent that she gave; Instead it changed the consent from something clear (a “yes” or “keep going”) to something a bit more murky. That is, she made the answer to his request for permission to continue a “yes, but…”.

In answering the question in this way, she moves from giving her full consent to giving conditional consent. That is important, and it should be respected (as all consent should be)! This means, at least to me, that the condition that she made should be followed out, and if it can’t sexual activity should end. And from my reading of the next sentences, that is exactly what happened.

I mean, don’t get me wrong here, when she starts to express displeasure with the sexual activity, and asks for it to end sooner rather than later, this should sound all kinds of alarm bells in her partner’s mind. He likely should have stopped at that implication and done a more in-depth check-in making sure that she didn’t feel pressured to continue and the like.

But in my mind that is exactly the problem, this was based on an implication; this wasn’t based on verbal speech or intense, clear signs of transgressionsee notes. The removal of consent was done through implication. This is a huge problem for me, as it should be for all feminist/women positive people, because this is one of the main ways for rape victims to be ignored and blamed for their rapes!

I mean, how many times have we heard that a woman implied that she was wanting sexual activity based on how short her skirt was, where she was, who she was with, when she was out of the house, how tall her shoes were, or any other absurd thing? I think that I can safely assume that all women positive people think that this defense and victim blaming is completely and utterly ridiculous; But, how, exactly, is implying one’s non-consent any more or less relevant than implying someone’s consent?

Even though this seems like it is simply airing on the side of caution, relying on implication to remove consent still strips women of agency over their sexuality. It takes the power and control that comes with consent and places it in the hands of the person interpreting the consent, rather than in the hands of the person consenting (or not) to the sexual act. This is a major problem!

On top of that, this heavy reliance on the implications around women’s consent during sexual activity feeds right back into the old social tropes about women not having a voice and about how women are always manipulative in relations with men. Again, this is a huge problem, and one that feminists have been fighting for more than a century. 

So, whether this woman is a survivor of sexual violence or not (which, sadly, she likely is given the stats), can we please not hold this description of rape up as shining example of the complexities of sexual assault? It only serves to further undermine women, not empower them.

Notes:

As many of you know, this is a blog written by someone who identifies as kinky. As such, I read things a bit differently than other people. Many people would assume that her mention of crying during sexual intercourse is an “intense, clear sign” that this woman is not consenting to this sexual activity. However, this is not the case for all women, nor should it be assumed to be.

I, for one, happen to strongly enjoy crying and screaming (something else the author mentioned) during sexual activity. In fact, there have been times where my partner has ended a sexual encounter because she was uncomfortable with my screaming and crying, and I was still asking for more. Whether this is your brand of sexuality or not, the statement stands that the author’s removal of consent was based more in implication than it was in verbal cues, and thus, I feel that the critique is still relevant.

Sex Negativity and the National Post

Hello again everyone,

I found a topic to talk about! (3 actually!) Now just to find the time to write them up for you all.

So, yesterday, Google alerts alerted me to an opinion piece in the National Post about a sex-positive activist, Kendra Holliday. Someone who I happen to have heard of previously, but never had the chance to speak to. I thought that I would give it a read. Wow! Was it bad. There were so many sex-negative tropes throughout the piece, that I figured that I had to talk about it. But, the problem was where to start really and what to focus on. So, I decided that I would paste the entire thing here, adding my comments where I saw fit.

But before that, I think I should make it known that I am rather biased against the National Post. Being Canadian, I have heard quite a bit from the National Post, and I have always felt that the opinions in the newspaper as a whole didn’t reflect mine. In fact, I would say that the newspaper is possibly even biased towards the conservative. (Not as far as FoxNews in the United States though.) I will try to keep my words for the author, Barbara Kay, and topic separate from this, but kind of a full disclosure statement.

Next, I am assuming the author of the opinion piece is female-identified (from her name), so I would like to thank her for putting her views and opinions forward. Women are very much underrepresented in op-ed submissions and publications. So, I want to validate the act that is a woman speaking her mind in a publication. ( ^_^ )

Now, on to the critique: (All of the emphasis is my own, it is used as a guide to show a rough area where I have problems with something the author said.)

A while ago, a Toronto policeman had the misfortune to suggest publicly that women who didn’t wish to be raped should stop dressing like sluts. It’s too bad he exaggerated. Obviously real rapists are not so fussy in their choice of victims.

Really, I don’t think there is much misfortune involved here. There are a very large number of people that feel that women can avoid rape by not dressing more conservatively. What the police officer in Toronto did was much more than an exaggeration of the “facts,” it was straight up victim blaming, and women have the right to be angry about that.

Also, “real” rapists do take looks into consideration, we “feminists” know this. It isn’t that they are more likely to pick a “slut” because she is “asking for it” or anything stupid like that. Instead, they pick the “slut” because we, as a society, are less likely to believe the “slut.” And what the police officer said really just acts to reinforce that belief.

But the impulse behind his remarks was not altogether wrong. In his bumbling way he meant to say that normally it is women’s dress and behaviour that set the parameters for the social barrier between men and women, and that women who dress modestly usually won’t be harassed by men.

Oh, yes! Do tell us what the police officer meant to say! I mean, you know exactly what he was thinking while he was giving this talk, right? I think I will file this under the “mind-reading” cognitive distortion.

Um, speaking from experience, women dressed modestly ARE harassed. Yesterday, my girlfriend and I went for a walk, her in a T-shirt and jeans, me in a Polo-shirt and dress pants, and we got harassed, right there on the street, no less than 6 times. Being honked at, cat-called, hooted at, and chatted up by strangers IS harassment, and I really don’t think that many people would tell my girlfriend and I that we were dressed provocatively.

But even that nuanced comment may have spawned enough outrage to create SlutWalk -a growing protest movement whose message is that women need never be ladies, but men must always be gentlemen.

No, no! Really, it isn’t. I mean, each SlutWalk is organized and run by different people with different agendas. But, I can say for the most part, SlutWalk is about telling the world that women are pissed off about being the ones at fault when one of us is raped.

And, really, not raping someone doesn’t make you a gentlemen! Not harassing a women does not make you a gentlemen. Being a gentlemen is a lot more than just simply not cat-calling me in the street, but, yes, cat-calling me or raping me would mean that you have no chance of being a gentlemen in my eyes.

Last week, while presenting at Moses Znaimer’s annual Toronto ultra-marathon for the mind, IdeaCity, I had the unusual opportunity of spending one-on-one leisure time with a professional slut.

St. Louis-based Kendra Holliday, a fellow IdeaCity presenter, is not only, according to her bio, “a passionate sexplorer … of kinks, fetishes, BDSM, swinging, polyamory and perversion.” Kendra is also an active evangelist in the moral laundering of sexual obsession. She evangelizes on her blog, The Beautiful Kind (not for children or the sexually squeamish), and whatever media will indulge her. Why the need to go public? In a word, honour.

Well, I have to say that I see a wee bit of spin in the description of Kendra’s work. I think the idea is more to get people to understand that sexuality is just another part of life, and to get them to talk about it, like you would anything else. However, I have to admit that I haven’t read all of Kendra’s work, so I am probably not the best person to ask. Though, Kendra is quite active on her blog on The Beautiful Kind, if you would like to head over and get the word from her, herself. (Which is really what one should do when making assumptions about another’s work, be it professional or recreational.)

Um, I think that you, too, are falling into this “whatever media will indulge her” category. Also, ad hominem (on both bold statements, really).

In his illuminating book, Honor: A History, media critic James Bowman defines honour as “the good opinion of those who are most important to us.” According to Bowman, honour is an intrinsically human preoccupation, always linked to one’s sex. For men honour is inseparable from physical or moral courage. For women honour is inseparable from circumscribed sexual behaviour. Too much male honour results in burkas and honour killings. Too little female honour hyper-sexualizes society.

I have to admit that I have no experience with the view points of James Bowman. From what is here, I happen to disagree. However, there is far too little here to gain a contextual knowledge of his views and ideologies on the matter.

For decades honour as a driving force for any behaviour at all has been considered a retrograde encumbrance to social progress. Cultural changes seem to have vindicated this view, for Western women’s control of their own bodies is now effectively absolute, while manly courage -apart from pious encomiums to male victims in the protective professions: dead soldiers, police and firefighters -is mocked or ignored.

WHAT!? I didn’t get the memo!? You are telling me that all street harassment has ended!? Rape is a thing of the past!? Women can get abortions without white men in suits telling them that they have to stay somewhere for 3 days listening to all the reasons why she shouldn’t get an abortion and being shown the pictures of what her fetus will/does look like!? Oh, this is a figment of the author’s imagination, darn! I thought that we made it.

If you haven’t gathered from my sarcasm, women do not have “effectively absolute” control of their bodies. You may have noticed that in my experiences from yesterday, or the fact that 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted, or that abortion is under attack the world over.

Next, men are being ignored? What? You know that men make up the VAST majority of the politicians that make the decisions for the entire country, right? You do know that women are being told that they have to wear skirts and refrain from grunting while playing tennis, because the (male) viewers are complaining? You do understand what patriarchy means, right? If you really think that men are underrepresented in the news, movies, music, video games, sports, or anything else, please look at some of these resources:

Feministing

Feministe

Feminist Frequency

This video [Warning: Auto-Starting Video]

SexGenderBody

Kendra Holliday is the poster woman for this sea change in our culture. She has a 10-year old daughter (to whom she claims to be a “goddess mother”). But motherhood doesn’t deter her a whit. Her aggressive promotion of sluthood in the media has prompted her ex-husband to sue for full custody, and Kendra admits that in her socially conservative environment, his odds of achieving that goal are good.

Okay, I am going to call ad hominem again on “sluthood” as you, yourself, say at the bottom of this article that slut is always a pejorative.

In her talk Kendra said she was kicked out of her daughter’s Girl Scouts program “because I have sex.” No. Nobody cares what she does in private; it is her relentless publicizing of her raunchy activities and fetishes, publicity that is likely to impinge negatively on her daughter’s life, that turns mature people off.

Okay, I think that you have a fair point here. Yes, I think that the Girl Scouts probably have more of a problem with the publicizing of the sexual activities, rather than the sexual activities themselves.

I am calling ad hominem on “turns mature people off.” But, I am not really all that sure that it would impinge negatively on her child. I happen to think that being open and honest about sexuality with children (about the good AND the bad) is the best strategy. However, I have to admit that I don’t know of any research into the issue. (You know, besides the biased research of places like the American Family Association and such.)

Why is it worth losing her child? I think her yearning for the good opinion of “respectable” people is trumping her self-interest. Kendra wants to have her cake and eat it: Like prostitutes whose legal battles are mostly about social validation, Kendra wants to be a slut and still have the respect of people who aren’t, or have contempt for, sluts. Kendra wants to believe sluts can have honour. But they don’t.
Kendra is fixated on “honesty” as the highest virtue. But discretion with children around our adult sexual activity is not dishonesty, it is our way of protecting children from too early sexualization.

Do share! What, in your opinion is too early? 18? 16? 14? 12? 10? You know that our society sexualizes young people (especially girls) well before their parents do, in most cases. You should check on the APA sexualization report, or sexual clothing being marketed to tweens, teens and kids.

Yes, Kendra does want the respect of those around her. Just like as a woman, I want the respect of those that have contempt for women. Just like as a disabled person, I want to be respected, even by those that look down on me. Just like as a transperson, I want the respect of those that would rather me dead. Just like as a lesbian, I want the respect of those that don’t think I should have the same rights as them. Just like as a christian conservative, you want the respect of those that disagree with both of those ideologies (or you wouldn’t have written the opinion piece in the first place).

I don’t think what Kendra is looking for is all that unusual, really.

Also, I would like to think that conservatives can have honour. But … of course they can, much like sluts can, and sex workers too (since you seem to be against them too). Because honour is a subjective term that is used to try to inappropriately encapsulate one’s entire being. So, what is honour in my eyes, isn’t in yours, or my girlfriend’s, or society’s.

I think Kendra was disappointed in the polite, but rather tepid applause following her presentation, which included taped voiceovers from her daughter testifying to the value of honesty. (Kendra’s cheerful reference to the belly dancer she provided as entertainment for her daughter’s birthday party was a bad judgment call.)

But her talk went down very well with the organizers of SlutWalk, which seeks to extort validation from those trying to lead honourable lives for a word whose connotations have always been pejorative, and never honourific. Kendra has been asked to participate in the next Toronto SlutWalk program. She spoke of this invitation with pride. She doesn’t get it. Groucho Marx’s famous comments about membership in clubs springs to mind.

Extort? That is a loaded word. Also, ad hominem with the whole “sluts are bad” theme.

For those that didn’t catch the reference, Groucho Marx famously said “I would never belong to a group that would accept someone like me as a member.” I imagine this reference was used completely without context, because I believe that the quote is actually a self-deprecating try at humor. Realistically, if you feel this way, you have a few self-esteem issues to sort through, especially since this could, realistically be applied to membership on a university campus or in the ranks of employment.

Overall, I happen to disagree very strongly with Barbara Kay’s opinion piece, even though I wasn’t at the presentation, nor do I know Kendra personally. I happen to be one of those people that feels that the world needs to be more accepting of those that are different from the “norm” (which isn’t really the average of every in society). This holds true whether you are talking about sexual orientation, sexual practices, BDSM identification, transgender status, age, size, class, race, (dis)ability status, or anything else.

Here in the BDSM community, we have a saying “your kink is not my kink, but that is okay.” This is something that more people within and outside the BDSM community should apply to just about anything. “Your life is not my life, your choices are not my choices, but they are okay.”

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

So, today is the International Day to end violence against sex workers.

I have to say that while I support this day (and these actions), I have very little functional knowledge about what it is like to be a sex worker, or what the violence, or risk thereof, is like. What I do know is that the society that I live in (the North American one) sex workers are very commonly degraded, looked down on, joked about, and used as examples what not to be. Society paints these people as caricatures, rather than as people with families, rights, and feelings. Society makes jokes at the expense of these people. Society uses the status of sex worker, or slang for sex worker, as insults for (mostly female) people that they feel the need to shame. And with these actions, society condones the violence, oppression, and degradation of these people (who chose, coercively or otherwise, or were forced into becoming sex workers).

Each time:

  • a joke is made with the punchline being about a sex worker being sexually violated…
  • a person is called a name that compares them to a sex worker (in a negative way) for the way that they dress, the way that they act, the company that they keep, or the sexuality they have…
  • a song, game, movie, or television show is listened to, produced, or performed that glorifies the mistreatment and violence towards sex workers…

society is condoning the violence, sexual violation, hatred, discrimination and oppression of sex workers.

So, for these reasons, on this day, I plead with you, stand up against those that use language that degrades sex workers, stand up against the actions that put sex workers in greater danger, and stand up against the violence and abuse that sex workers face. And remember that sex workers are people too, with families, feelings, existences, and rights.