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.

The Reason I Refuse to go Stealth

[Image] Stealth, as written on a hockey stick

Photo by:Andrew Jensen

Going stealth is something which a lot of Trans* people strive for at the beginning of their transition. They hope, as many would, that never bringing up the fact that they were assigned to the wrong sex category at birth would make their life much easier somehow.

I was one of those. When I first started transitioning, I felt that the end goal was to be fully female (whatever the hell that means). I thought that, at the end of my transition, I should be able to just stop mentioning that I was Trans* and fade into the background. I thought that I would just be able to live my life, as just another woman, without being hated or discriminated against because of who I was. I mean, I even lied to my first boyfriend about it. (A story for another time)

Today however, I am of a completely different mind. I have been in the process of transitioning for over 5 years now and, if I wanted to, I could probably go stealth.

I just don’t want to anymore.

It isn’t because I don’t think my life would be any easier if I just stopped talking about being Trans*, I know that it almost certainly would. Instead, it is because I now feel that it would be selfish of me to go stealth.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I don’t think it is inherently selfish to go stealth. There are a lot of reasons to make that decision, for or against, and some of them are really good ones. Personal and familial safety are two of the biggest of those, and I would never fault anyone for doing what they need to to survive.

However, for me, I feel as though it would be. You see, I am rather lucky for the most part. I live in Canada (a white, mostly progressive country) as a white, young, passable Trans* person. I do not get threats or harassment while walking down the street. I don’t get told that I am not allowed in Rainbow safe spaces or Women’s Only spaces. I don’t get picked on or made fun of because of the way that I look.

The only time that I get blow back for being Trans* is when I out myself.

This just isn’t true for many Trans* people in my community or even for many Trans* people in the larger Trans* communities. For many Trans* people, they don’t have any choice but to not pass. It isn’t due to any failure of their own, but rather a failure of their genetics or their current situation. However, as a result of no indiscretion on their part, they are thrown into the role of being the public image of the Trans* community.

In this role, these members of the Trans* community have their body and actions policed. Everything they do, everything they say, is assumed to be generalizable to the entirety of the Trans* community. They are forced, often without the knowledge or ability to do so, to defend the Trans* community and all of its members.

And, in choosing to be stealth, as a privileged person with little risk of societal reprisals, I am condoning the mistreatment of those who can’t hide from society’s abuse and harassment. I am choosing to relegate my knowledge of the Trans* communities and the experiences I have gained throughout my transition to the dustbin, never to be used again.

And, that just isn’t fair.

That isn’t fair to me or my narrative. That isn’t fair to the Trans* community. That isn’t fair for the larger Rainbow communities. It just isn’t fair for anyone.

So, for that reason, I actively choose, as I hope to always do, to use my privileged position within the Trans* communities to advocate, fight, and rally for the inclusion of all Trans* people in society. And, I actively choose not to hide or to force the others around me to create my narrative for me.

RCMP Harass and Threaten Trans Women… again

[Image] The outdoor sign of the RCMP

RCMP Sign
Image by: waferboard

On Thursday, two Canadian Transgender Artists, Nina Arsenault and Lexi Sanfino, were arrested after their WestJet flight landed in Edmonton, Alberta. During this flight, Lexi Sanfino took off her top and walked topless down the aisle of the plane. When the plane arrived at its destination, Sanfino was taken into custody for causing a disturbance while Arsenault was detained but released without charge.

Here in Canada, laws against women baring their breasts are scantly used. For the most part, police and legislators alike understand that any woman arrested for baring her breasts would likely challenge the law all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada. Given that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms promises equal protections under the law based on sex, the law in question (and all laws like it in Canada) would most likely be ruled without standing, and thus, be struck down.

Because of this, police officers use other laws to cover their butts. In this case, they used the law against “causing a disturbance,” a catch-all that allows police to arrest anyone who they feel is doing something they don’t like. Usually, when the police resort to catch-all laws to arrest people, the line in the sand between fair policing practices and police abuse of power has already been crossed.

In this case, that is exactly what happened. In further conversations with Nina Arsenault, news sources such as the Huffington Post and The Toronto Star found out that, while in police custody, Nina had her camera confiscated, had pictures and videos (including those of the arrest) deleted, and both women were verbally harassed by police. Given that the arresting officers were members of the RCMP and given the RCMP’s track record of harassment, this isn’t surprising to me. However, the comments (allegedly) made by the officers still warrant examination.

According to the Toronto Star,

Arsenault and Sanfino said they were taken to an RCMP holding cell, where Arsenault claims an officer took her camera and deleted photos and a video of the arrest.

They claim the officers began referring to them as males after seeing their passports.

“They were addressing us by male pronouns,” said Arsenault. “I was like, “OK dude, I understand that legally it says ‘M’ on our passports, but we present as women. . . . Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of surgical procedures to feminize myself.”

“They said, ‘Just so you know, we might have to put you two in the male prison.’ ”

Regarding the alleged comment, Sanfino said, “All I kept thinking is they are threatening me with one hell of a good time.”

Arsenault alleges an officer questioned her about her operations.

“He said, ‘So have you had the final sex change surgery? Do you have the original parts down there? Did you get something new?’ I said, ‘I don’t think that has anything to do with my arrest.’

If the conversation between police, Sanfino, and Arsenault took place the way that Arsenault reported to the Toronto Star, there is a (yet another) major issue with the RCMP. While it is not exactly uncommon for people to ask trans people about what is between their legs, it is still something that is deeply problematic. In this case, however, it wasn’t just that someone was breaching social decorum to ask questions that were transphobic and offensive, but a police officer (someone with training in how to lawfully arrest and detain people) was asking them.

However, this is not the worst part of the conversation, not by a long way. The worst part of the conversation comes when the police officer openly threatens to place these two Trans women in Male prison environments. In doing so, these officers have to have a clear understanding that this would put the women at greatly increased risk of sexual violence, assault, or even murder.

If the police officers in this conversation didn’t know that this were the case, this wouldn’t have been a threat, it wouldn’t have even needed to be mentioned. However, in mentioning that they could well lock these women up in male lock-up, these officers made it extremely clear that they wished to use their power to harass, embarrass, debase, and degrade these women.

This shows, yet again, that police services throughout Canada do not have the training or general knowledge to appropriately handle the transgender population. Further, this shows, yet again, why legislation (such as Bill C-279) is needed to ensure that those in positions of power do not continue to use their power to deny opportunity, harass, degrade, assault, or threaten trans people as a matter of business as usual.

Signal Boost Sunday :: On the Twelfth on of May

[Image: A black and white cartoon like drawing featuring a radio tower in the background with visible circles of radio waves extending on all sides, a pond with catails and reeds is in the foreground]

Signal Boosted.

Elizabeth Smart contends that part of the reason she didn’t seek escape from her captors was because abstinence only education made her feel worthless for being raped.

You know that guy we placed in charge of preventing rapes in the military? Yeah, probably a rapist.

In case you thought that brutalizing woman was all serious, here is a sexualized, zombified verision of your ex that you can shoot at. Oh? That’s problematic too?

All that sex that teenagers are having, all that sex that adults are decrying as THE WORST THING EVAR!? Apparently, it is a lot safer than we like to assume.

Also, military rapes? Still rising in number.

More military rape bad news: Air Force releases a brochure that tell rape victims to submit to rape and tell rapists… well, nothing.

Still on the military: Rape is just “hookup culture” gone wrong, according to a misinformed top general.

In fashion news: Slut shaming is big this year, especially in the school dress codes.

Once again, false rape reports are extremely rare.

Again, again, rape does happen to men, and it isn’t fucking cool.

Politifact, you are wrong. Gay people can still be fired in 29 US States for being gay. Also, Maddow schooled you.

Good news: Asshat extraordinaire, and founder of “Girls Gone Wild,” is going to jail for general asshattery.

North Carolina seeks to win the prize for worst idea ever by forcing teens to have a notarized letter of parental consent to get an STD test

Why trans* rights matter: Graduating student denied use of his chosen name at graduation ceremony, outing him to all his peers, their families, and friends.

Now for the good news, I wish there were more:

California has passed a trans* equality bill!

Delaware has legalized gay marriage, making it the 12th state to do so.

Signal Boost Sunday :: May the Fourth!

[Image: A black and white cartoon like drawing featuring a radio tower in the background with visible circles of radio waves extending on all sides, a pond with catails and reeds is in the foreground]

Signal Boosted.

Apparently, FoxNews thinks that sex between teenagers is illegal. Hint: it isn’t.

Feminism has a bit of a transphobia problem.

What does affirming verbal consent like? Not this

So, tell me again how men can’t be raped?

A Nova Scotia boy has been blocked from playing soccer because he is trans*

Have you ever wondered what feminist porn looks like? Ask Rachel Rabbit White

What is it like to have a transgender parent? It’s, well, normal.

Maybe you heard that Jason Collins came out as gay. Well here is a history of professional sports women who have been out for years.

Good news:

Rhode Island becomes the 10th US state to legalize gay marriage.

Do it online now!

Awesome kickstarter of the Day: Assigned Sex, a documentary exploring gender roles from a trans* perspective

The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network is holding a T-shirt design contest. Your design could end up at San Francisco Pride.

[Autogynephilia] Reviewing “Men Trapped in Men’s Bodies” :: An Introduction

[Picture] A stack of brightly covered books roughly making a rainbow

Photo by: Horia Varlan

Last week, I took some time to pen a letter to you, the reader of this blog. In that letter, I mentioned that I have found new motivation to create and write, and that I am interested in making writing a larger part of my life. Of course, if you happen to know me, you know that I would never risk saying something like this without some sort of plan to back it up. So, I would like to welcome you to my plan: the first series written for this blog!

All the way back at the beginning of January, I was just sitting around idly checking my email when I saw a message forwarded to me by an academic listserve that I am part of. In this email, Dr. James Cantor, a rather infamous figure in the field of transgender research, recommended a book for everyone to read about transgender issues. Being that this email was from James Cantor himself, I was already a bit wary of the type of book that he would recommend to a list full of academics interested in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* issues. However, once I opened the email, shit hit the fan. It would seem that the book that he felt best to recommend to this rather discerning crowd was none other than the most recent book by yet another hugely infamous figure in transgender research, Dr. Anne Lawrence, Men Trapped in Men’s Bodies: Narratives of Autogynephilic Transsexualism.

[Picture] Cover for Men Trapped in Men's Bodies: Narratives of Autogynephilic Transsexualism

Men Trapped in Men’s Bodies: Narratives of Autogynephilic Transsexualism

After taking a minute or two to cringe (and maybe dry heave) at the thought of Anne Lawrence’s works being offered as a positive resource for academics to gain accurate knowledge about transgender people, I penned a polite response back. Then, a few days later, I got another email in my inbox. This time from a Trans* positive researcher in the field. He offered me a chance to write a review of the book, and I jumped for it! I thought it a great opportunity to make use of an academic medium to explore and explain the internalized transphobia that saturates just about every word Anne Lawrence writes.

However, this isn’t what ended up happening. Instead, after only the first chapter, I am finding myself enthralled by the book, trapped by the nuggets of well-reasoned, rational points in a sea of transphobic language and biological determinism. And this is exactly the problem, unlike what I originally thought, this book seems to be rather complex. Sure, there are a huge number of problematic aspects of the book (and the research that it is based on), but there also seem to be good things that can still be gleaned from its pages.

So, instead of just simply reading the book through and bashing it for its more obvious faults, I have decided to take things slow and write reviews as I read. Hopefully, by doing things this way, I will be able to read the book in more depth, evaluate its points with more complexity, and allow my thoughts a chance to grow and naturally develop before I confine them to the pages of an academic review. This means, that, while I don’t plan on holding back on the more academic side of my writing, I do want to strive for a more expansive and revealing series of posts, in which I can play with ideas, dabble with theories, and say rather nonacademic (and sometimes even rather rude) things.

So, without any further delay, I would like to introduce you to the first series for this blog: Autogynephilia!

International Day Against Homophobia

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) banner

Today, it was brought to my attention that tomorrow, 17-May, is the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia. Much like last year, I was very skeptical that the inclusion of Transphobia in the title would lead to anything real or substantial in the way of including the lived experiences of transgender people, and it seems that I was right to be skeptical. In searching the website, which is still at http://www.DayAgainstHomophobia.org/ despite the inclusion of transphobia in the mandate, I found very little in the way of information about transphobia or transgender people. Instead, I found that most of the time, the only inclusion of trans* experiences was when the website mentioned about sexual orientation and gender identity. Almost like it was just thrown on there to make sure that they are good with us trans* folks.

That being said, I did manage to find a section in the news section of the site to do with transphobia; However, even this section had major issues which made it completely impractical. The main issue that I had was that there were so few stories even on the page. In total, there were 4 unique stories, and some of these were over a year out of date. There was no mention of the events which happened to CeCe McDonald, there was no mention of the death of Lorena Escalera, there was no mention of the trans* movement’s success in Argentina, and there was no mention of the murders of trans women in DC.

This is a MAJOR problem, but it gets worse still.

I then went over to the section on the site which contains the press releases for the organization. Here I was shocked by what I saw, or more correctly, shocked as to what I didn’t see. On this page there were a number of different press releases; there was one about the death penalty, there was one about an event that happened in Malawi, and there was one about International Women’s Day. However, there wasn’t one about Transgender Day of Remembrance or any other trans* day or event of significance.

This, to me, was extremely distressing. This is because Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is an international day of remembrance on which, those trans* people who were killed for being trans* or gender non-conforming are remembered, and the transphobia that led to their death is highlighted and questioned. This places TDoR directly in alignment with the mandate of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and, as such, demands some acknowledgement by those in charge of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

However, I worry that things go a bit deeper than that. You see, TDoR is a day to remember murdered trans* people which was started and run by trans* people. So, to not include this important date in the trans* agenda, those who are in charge of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia are not only showing that they are out of touch with other movements with similar goals, but also that they are out of touch with the trans* communities entirely.

So, while I do not advocate a boycott of tomorrow’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, I do ask you, the reader, for just a couple of things.

The first, and most important, is for you to take a moment to think about both Transphobia and Homophobia. In doing this, I hope that you come to the realization that both of these prejudices are aberrant, and both must be challenged at every opportunity no matter the day of the year or the way that the prejudice appears.

And the second is for you to speak up and make it clear to those in charge of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia that, in order to effectively challenge these prejudices (and meet their own mandate), they must take notice other events, and work with other organizations, that have similar or overlapping mandates.

Morwen

P.S. You may have noticed that I didn’t shorten International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to the acronym which appears in the banner above. This was done deliberately because the acronym IDAHO seems to lose something important from the main title; Namely, the focus on transphobia.

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