Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21, 2011 - C-389: Countering the Rhetoric

I didn't write this (in fact i don't even know who did). but i wish i did. this precisely illustrates how transphobic fear-mongering continues to be a problem, and points to the reason as to why Bill C-389 and explicit Human Rights protection for transgender people is necessary:

C-389: Necessary Exactly Because This Persists

You know you're less than human in the eyes of society when people are debating about whether you should be allowed to use the same public restroom as anyone else.

If that sounds a little melodramatic, you'll need to bear with me. You see, I'm transsexual, and have been using the womens' restroom ever since I transitioned, years ago. It has never been illegal for me to do so. Making it an issue at this point in time is archaic on a level that is mind boggling. People who struggle with the idea of transsexuals in womens' restrooms should know that the Transgender Law and Policy Institute notes around 130 jurisdictions in the US where explicit legal inclusion for transgender and transsexual people exists (some back to 1975), and yet there has never been any washroom issues of the kind being suggested by opponents to trans human rights. The conflation of trans people with sexual predators is a fallacy, and it's also ludicrous to speculate that some other sexual predator would risk drawing attention to himself by crossdressing, in order to access a washroom that he'd have better luck just sneaking into when no one is looking. Considering that washrooms have already been a non-issue for decades and aren't even addressed in Bill C-389 at all, there is no rational argument here, but rather a meme designed to generate a quick panic response.

In the US south, decades earlier, there was reluctance to desegregate washrooms because of “delicate sensibilities” and beliefs in the inferiority and impurity of entire groups of people. In the advent of HIV, there were ignorant comments about gay men in washrooms, borne by fears that had not yet been dispelled by science that AIDS could be contracted from a toilet seat. And every time, there was hysteria. Every time, it was unfounded. Every time, our society ultimately moved toward progress, inclusion and accommodation, anyway. And every time, we looked back and realized that the potty panic was just plain offensive.

One of the Conservative government’s stated reasons for opposing Bill C-389, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), was that it was “unnecessary.”

But it IS necessary. It's necessary exactly because this irrational fear of the unknown persists. Exactly because trans people still get conflated with sex predators and child predators, or labelled as "sick," "perverse," and "freaks." Exactly because people become so clouded with assumptions and myths that they seize upon entirely irrational and unfounded fears. Exactly because people are willing to fabricate or conjure these ideas from nowhere, to argue for our deliberate exclusion from human rights under the pretext that granting them would be "dangerous" or "scary." Exactly because this bias is so entrenched that people think nothing about broadcasting it openly as though fact. Exactly because it is so pervasive and out in the open that discrimination becomes not only likely but inevitable.

What bothers me, however, is that the washroom scare approach has practically overwhelmed the conversation to the point where it probably seems like human rights protections aren't necessary. With a few exceptions, we've largely not heard from trans people at all, nor any of the real troubles we face.

When a friend began her transition, the company she worked for, for nearly twenty years, requested that she delay presenting as female in the workplace until a policy on trans people could be developed. After delaying for three, four, five and eventually seven months, she crashed emotionally from having to return to the closet every day for work. She went on stress leave. After three months, she requested to return, but received no replies. After six months, she was terminated by default... At first. The company she was with eventually agreed to have her return at a reduced position, reduced pay and further deductions to reimburse them for the cost of her short-term disability period. She agreed to this, because her alternative was to lose 19 years of employment on her resume, to a name change. And to this day, said company does not have a trans policy: She's been told that because they're consistent with existing legislation, it isn't needed.

Someone I know in the trans community was in a car accident while traveling in rural Manitoba. She was half conscious, but remembers receiving excellent care, until emergency personnel began to cut off her clothes. At that point, people froze, and emergency care stopped until she was transferred to a Winnipeg hospital. The rural facility told her that they "didn't have a means to accommodate" her.

Someone very close to me experienced an extended campaign of harassment, verbal threats, rumour-spreading and incitement within the small town she lived in. She contacted the RCMP a number of times, and nothing was done about it. Eventually, she was told that, "This doesn't classify as a hate crime. You're not in one of the protected classes. We checked with our legal department." Ultimately, she was able to obtain a peace bond, and the situation was resolved. However, if the government's position is that transsexuals are "already protected" by existing legislation, they might want to inform their law enforcement and legal departments.

These stories have gone unreported largely because they come from a community that has been disenfranchised within a society that doesn't know what to do with us and doesn't want to be bothered to figure out a solution. If we aren't too discouraged to pursue justice, then we're discouraged by those around us, because it's easier to make our existence the problem than actually finding a way in which we can reasonably coexist. These things continue unnoticed because this bias is so pervasive in our society that without a definitive statement from the upper echelons of power, and that because we are "unnecessary," it is perfectly fine to continue to discriminate.

Affirmation in the form of C-389 is necessary exactly because this persists.

(Author Unknown)

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