When a ‘case’ is not just a ‘case’

I am on an email list for people who work in the social services. There are people from many different groups, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities and religions. It is mostly focused on a rather narrow subject but, from time to time, other stuff is posted.

The other day one of the list members posted a link. This person prefaced the link by saying it was a good example of questions, posed by lawyers, at a tribunal hearing. The case he posted was that of Kimberly Nixon vs Rape Relief. It was her human rights case.

Immediately, I was livid. How dare this individual exploit Kimberly Nixon in this way! I don’t care that the Supreme Court found for Rape Relief, they don’t get everything right. The other thing that pissed me off was that this case had nothing to do with the topic of the list and seemed to have been presented without any thought. I am sure there were equally compelling cases that did not exploit a trans woman.

I fired back an email. What I found interesting was that my initial draft began with: “It is just my opinion…” I read again and couldn’t believe that I was about to soft shoe this one and try to diminish what I knew to be wrong. I re-wrote it. I replied that posting this case, as an example, was inappropriate as the case dealt with a great deal of discrimination leveled at Kimberly by Rape Relief. I pointed out that she Rape Relief discriminated against her because she was not a ‘woman-born-woman.’ I told him that I was sure there were lots of great cases out there that did not focus on discrimination against a trans woman.

He has yet to reply. The other responses to the thread have run about 50/50. Half of the people responding ignored my comment and the other half have tried to take me on. Then of course we have the peanut gallery who tried to restate for me the purpose of the post being an example of good questions being posed at a Human Rights Tribunal. I have also been told that it was Kimberly Nixon’s team who invented the term ‘woman-born-woman’ to describe those of us born as women so that she could have the term ‘woman.’ Personally, I don’t buy that. I don’t buy that. I am not sure where the description came from but I do not believe Kimberly Nixon and her lawyers invented it. In fact, I was peripherally involved through some other non-profit work at the time and I don’t recall hearing that at all. I could be wrong.

What I find interesting here, besides my own reaction to soften my stance, is how people can just ignore discrimination when they see it. What do they do if they are faced with blatant racism? Do they ignore it or do they sit in a little bubble claiming that they are not racists? I don’t know the answers. What I do know is that I had to say something. I could not let that go by without telling everyone that it was unacceptable.

Standing up and voicing our disgust about overt discrimination on gender identity (make no mistake, Kimberly was not allowed to be a Rape Relief volunteer because of her status as a trans woman) was reprehensible to me at the time and remains so now. Being told that the Supreme Court eventually sided with Rape Relief, by one of the other list members, only pissed me off more. Supreme Courts here and in the US have upheld all sorts of discriminatory practices for as long as we have had courts. The only reason this changes is because society changes and it is no longer deemed acceptable in polite company. One only needs to look at the fight for same-sex marriage and the role of the courts.

What really disturbs me is the half that ignored my comments. One can only assume that their silence is tacit agreement. This really makes me wonder how they handle their own issues and how they work with clients. Do they subscribe to an anti-oppression framework or are they out there imposing their values on other people? I fear for the transfolk who have to go to any of these people for help. What kind of experience do they have?

When I worked on the DTES in a welfare office we have a significant number of transfolk. One of the things I noticed amongst some of my colleagues was a tacit acceptance being given to transfolk but if there was an issue, they immediately referred to them by their birth name. I was appalled at this practice and I challenged it. What ended up happening was that I then handled all of the trans clients who came to the office. I also advocated that the supervisor note on the information field the name the client wishes to be called. I made this suggestion for several reasons: it would allow us to respect people’s choices. However, there was another more compelling reason to do this – client safety. It was simply not safe for trans clients to be called by the incorrect first name. Even though my supervisor was ‘a member of the tribe’ it fell on deaf ears. I hope things have gotten better in those offices but I doubt it.

I think we must always be vigilant and challenge discrimination when we see it. I know that I will continue to do my best to continue to educate myself and ensure that I am doing the best that I can. I can only control myself. However, if anyone wants to listen (and even if they don’t) I will express my views to all who want to hear.

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Published in: on April 13, 2011 at 9:25 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I thank you so much for your solidarity Chris! It’s so appreciated. 🙂

    gentle side-note reminder: it is really, really important to some of us that we not be referred to as “transwoman”, but rather as “trans woman”.

    • Thanks Shannon – your comments mean a great deal to me. I have already made the edit. Thank you for that too!

      Out of curiosity, can you explain the differences to me. Does it also apply to transfolk?

  2. I think that transfolk is okay. I don’t use it often myself, but it doesn’t pose the problem that “transwoman” does. I prefer to say trans folks or trans people, but the lack of a space in the term “transfolk” doesn’t directly challenge or deny any person’s gender identity the way “transwoman” does for many of us. To be clear, some people don’t mind and even identify with that formulation, but a great many (I would say most, by far, in the activist community) do object to being referred to as some sort of “new thing” called transwoman (no space.) First Nations woman. queer woman. white woman. transwoman? What gives? The space matters, as trans is an adjective to me that describes one aspect of my being. I’m a trade unionist woman, not a tradeunionistwoman. A trans woman. A woman who is trans. Not a transwoman, as some sort of new noun. The lack of the space is significant. It implies a lack of regard or acknowledgment for our womanhood. Nobody, and I mean nobody, gets referred to that way but us.

    Now, I should point out that a lot of trans guys do use the term “transman” but they are deliberately adopting that to distinguish themselves from simple manhood and deliberately claiming that form of identity and self-understanding. They have that luxury in a society where “female masculinity” is not punishable by summary, extra-judicial execution on the streets like “male femininity” is. I believe that social context of violence and denigration has shaped our political self-understandings in different ways, as between trans women and transmen.

  3. Shannon, thanks for that explanation and discussion. “Trans woman” and “transman” make good sense when you spell it out like that.


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