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.

Did hell freeze over and no one told me?

I was looking at the new online application system for Income Assistance and I was shocked to find out that they had changed their choices for gender. Here are the choices as I remember them:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Transgender Male to Female
  • Transgender Female to Male
  • I prefer not to stay

I could not believe it when I read it. Government institutions move at a glacial pace. Not only have they expanded on the traditional binary categories, they have differentiated between trans folk. Plus they have further acknowledged that gender can be a private issue for some people.

This move is a monumental step forward for trans folk but also gender outlaws. The binary gender category has been with us forever. In fact we organize so much of our world into binary categories: good and evil, black and white, God and Satan, etc. It really is the basis of how we organize things in our minds. This is an extremely important first step in the Ministry of Housing and Social Development becoming a much responsive organization.

A Trans Travesty


Katherine Johnson wants her johnson gone- because that’s the only way she’ll be allowed to transfer to a woman’s prison.

The above was the headline on this morning’s Province in Vancouver. I am stymied as to why the editors of the Province think that it was ok to further humiliate and denigrate Katherine Johnson (unfortunately, I have not been able to find a link to this story as of yet).

Here is the synopsis. Katherine seems to have always had gender identity disorder. She has been involved in criminal activities for most of her life. It would seem that many of her struggles with law have been rooted in her untreated medical condition. She has had her testicles removed and she remains desperate to have her penis removed. She has been assessed by two psychiatrists who have deemed this procedure a medical necessity. She has tried to remove her penis several times herself.

So why hasn’t this procedure been done? It seems that Corrections Canada would rather see her suffer in a male prison than give her medically necessary treatment so that she can transfer to a somewhat safer female environment. The descriptions in the article stated that Katherine spends most of her time in her cell, does not shower and barely eats. Could it be that she is depressed? According to the article she has been attacked several times in prison and been forced to have sex with other inmates to gain personal protection. It is up to Corrections Canada to protect her. She needs to have the surgery and be moved to a womens’ prison. If a prisoner needed any other kind of surgery it would be performed. There is no excuse for allowing her to languish, depressed and untreated in a men’s prison.

Now, on to the headline. I was rendered speechless when I read this headline. It is completely transphobic and sadly some redneck will likely read it and have his/her beliefs validated. Unfortunately the story may also generate pressure on Corrections Canada to not give Katherine the medical treatment she needs. The politically conservative climate does not help this situation as I am sure that Corrections Canada is getting their direction from their political masters in situations like this one. I can only hope that saner heads prevail and Corrections Canada steps up and allows her to have her surgery. What a travesty.


Ok, so I have to confess that one of my dirty pleasures is watching Dr. Phil. I mostly like watching his show becasue he generally gets the issue of personal responsitiblity and can be quite hard on men who are abusive to women etc. He seems to demand that people respect one another and their relationships. Well not so today.

Where to start? He was interviewing a family (2 daughters and 2 ex-wives) and Kyla (the children’s father who is in the process of transitioning. In the beginning segment he referred to Kyla as she and her. Once they got on the stage and he brought out her daughters – Kyla became he and their father. This went on an on. Kyla faced a barrage of hurt feelings from her daughters and, in my opinion, remained remarkably calm and in control. Dr. Phil read this as Kyla not caring about her daughter and he even asked her how she could hear the poem that one of her daughter’s wrote and not get emotional!!! I tell you how – she is a strong woman,who has been through adversity in coming to terms with her own gender issues. He then asked her if she did not want to just go over and hug them and she said of course but she was not sure it would be welcomed. Then the question came up about her maintaining a relationship with her daughters. Kyla said her daughters did not want to have a relationship with them so why would she push it? She was giving them time and space to come to it on their own. I thought she was being quite respectful of their feelings.

By way of explanation – Kyla related that she had always felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body and really did not have a choice in transition. As a male, she had engaged in all sorts of macho activities like being in the army and being a police officer. One of her daughters actually said that Kyla had kileed their father. The same daughter also asked if Kyla was happier as a woman than when she was with her family. Kyla responded that she was somewhat happier as a person but wished she could have a relationship with her daughters.

All through the program, Dr. Phil seemed to be attacking Kyla in addition to referring to her with male pronouns. It was insulting and disrespectful. The daughters were also insulting saying that Kyla looked gross etc. Oh, and then they had to get on the topic of child support. Kyla does not have as much income as she once did and is behind in her child support – she freely admits this fact. But they were all very quick to point out that Kyla’s hair and nails were done.

No wonder Kyla was stoic and seemed like this was not fazing her. She had to in order to protect her dignity and sanity. Having Kyla breakdown would not have helped the situation. She was constantly under attack and did little to defend herself as I suspect it would have made her way to vulnerable in that cesspool.

Now, a word about pronouns. I am of the opinion that we must address people by the pronoun with which they primarily identify. It is a matter of respect and dignity.

Privilege (heterosexual and others)

I am writing this blog entry in response to all the comments I received on facebook when I updated my status to indicate that I was annoyed by heterosexual privilege. Frankly, the comments surprised me but I guess I should not have been. Inherently, when one is in receipt of a societal privilege they may not be aware of it. This appears to be the case. Rather than going into a long drawn out explanation of heterosexual privilege I will refer you to an excellent blog entry written by Teh Portly Dyke. She does an excellent job explaining this and its impact on homosexuals. She also issues a challenge in her entry I encourage you to try it to gain a better understanding of how insidious heterosexual privilege is in our society.

Privilege is everywhere in our society and depending on your class, race, economic status or gender expression you may or may not enjoy privilege. Being Caucasian in our society affords you a great deal of privilege. Our society is geared to make life easier for people who are white. All of our institutions are inherently racist and difficult for people of colour to navigate and receive fair treatment. If you don’t believe me ask a person of colour what their experience is at a bank or worse trying to get welfare or other government services. When I worked in a downtown eastside welfare office in Vancouver there was a great deal of racism dished out to people of colour and particularly aboriginal people.

Class is another area of privilege. I certainly noticed that as a homeowner I am treated very differently by service people than I was when i was a renter. The white woman in Kerrisdale is treated much differently than an Aboriginal woman from the downtown eastside. Many of our judgements about class are rooted in the Protestant work ethic and Protestantism in general. One of the foremost Protestant thinkers, John Calvin, believed that it was predetermined who was going to heaven and who was not. Those people who were successful in life were assumed to be going to heaven and therefore treated differently from those who were impoverished. It was also believed that if those who were not successful ‘just tried a little harder’ they too could be successful. The old adage of ‘pulling up their boot straps’ applied. We may not consciously think this way but these ideas inform our culture and the way we view the world and the people in it.

Gender expression is another area of privilege. Those who fit into society’s binary gender roles of male and female enjoy privilege. There is no question which bathroom to use and you are treated with respect. Those who are gender queer, gender ambiguous or trans have murky waters to navigate. A male to female transsexual for example may be harassed for using the woman’s bathroom. Gender expression seems to invoke violent responses from some people. Many trans people are routinely targeted for abuse by people in our society who are uncomfortable with their gender expression.

It is interesting to talk to people who are different from you and to learn how privilege or the lack thereof impacts their lives. As a white woman I know that I enjoy a fair amount of privilege in our society. I have privileges of class, race and gender. However, somethings work against me. As a fat lesbian woman I have been the target of discrimination and hate although not that often. The group with the most privilege in our society are straight, white men. It is interesting to determine what privilege you enjoy and why you have it. Deconstructing privilege helps us to understand how our society works and how we can work to be allies to those who do not enjoy the same privileges that we do. It takes a great deal of work to look inside and see what is really there – the racist and classist thoughts and to try and understand how they impact our interactions with other people. It is a life-long process and one that is very difficult. Realizing our own racist, classist and gender biases can be uncomfortable. Talking about them and challenging others racist, classist and gender biases is even more difficult. If, as an individual, you are committed to an egalitarian society it starts with you.