A rose by any other name?

As some of you may know, I occasionally go out into my local community and provide information sessions/educational presentations to our local universities and colleges regarding transgender issues. I often talk about my experiences before and after transition as well as some of the obstacles i face in day to day life. My presentations are open discussion styles and I always encourage my audience to ask their questions so that i can address the needs of my audience, rather than just rambling on aimlessly.

I also provide at least one interactive component to my presentation to get my audience engaged and thinking. At this last one, I asked the folks to write down three things that are related to their gendered identity starting with their name. Once they’d all indicated they were done, I asked everyone to hand me over their names. I explained that they didn’t get their names anymore as part of transition. They looked startled and I explained that often when one is transitioning, one of the first things given up is your name. Granted, there are some folks who choose to keep their name, or alter it ever so slightly however if one is planning on going through the Gender Identity Clinic (GID) at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), one needs to realize that the name they pick will be subject to just as much scrutiny as everything else about that person and if the name is found wanting, it could result in denial of service.

Names are also how we identify ourselves to the outside world. They can immediately indicate to people very important things about our identity and possibly even how we wish to be addressed. Most people who hear the name ‘Lisa’ are going to assume they are dealing with someone who is female/woman. Likewise, most people who hear the name ‘Wesley’ are going to assume they are dealing with someone who is male/man. I was at the doctors the other day when the nurse came out and asked for ‘legal female name’. I sat very still for a moment seeing if she would correct herself. Rather than that, she went back to the receptionist, looked at my chart/file and called ‘legal female name again’ only then pausing and asking for me by name.

I was infuriated. It’s very clearly set out on my file that I am transgender and that I prefer my ‘use name’ to be used. By way of apology she said “I’m sorry, I looked so quickly I didn’t notice”

I was restrained and polite. Very, very polite. I simply nodded and said I see.

She indicated very vehemently that it wouldn’t happen again from her. I’m willing to believe she won’t make that mistake again. However, this is the second person in this office (and the second appointment in a row) who has made this mistake. This is not ok.

Before you ask, I didn’t bring the issue up with my doctor. I’m trying to find a way to approach it that doesn’t go straight for the jugular while also not being so passive as to have the point missed. It’s a delicate balance. How do I explain to them that outting me that way could potentially be a fatal mistake? How do I explain that slowing down and actually reading my name isn’t really going to take any more time than going back to check the name on the chart? I understand they are busy however names are one of humanity’s defining features. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect that if you go back to check the name, you actually read the whole of it.

I ask you dear readers, how do you make the transition from your birth name to the name you want used. What do you do when you can’t afford the legal name change? Do you educate folks as you come in contact with them or do you just sigh and answer to your legal name?

A life without hope

Yesterday i had the opportunity to share my story with a group of students at a local career college. It was a fantastic group full of good questions and honest curiosity. As part of an course on becoming an addiction counselor, the topic of addictions in the trans community came up and the teacher (who knew my history from previous presentations) asked me if there is a higher than normal rate of substance use/abuse in the trans community.

I laughed and asked the teacher if he knew something about me (which he did). I then went on to tell the class that I am recovered alcoholic/addict and that I believed that part of the reason I used substances was because I was trans.

Earlier in the presentation I had explained to the class that I had always known I was different but was utterly unable to articulate what exactly it was that made me different from everyone I knew. I could only point out and say that I wasn’t like everyone else and eventually came to the conclusion that it was just me and that i was crazy.

I talked about how I used substances to escape the pain I was feeling; a pain that never really went away. I asked them if they liked how they felt when they were hurting. Predictably none of them indicated it was a feeling they enjoyed. I pointed out that neither did I but that every single day felt like a struggle and the only way I knew how to cope with that struggle was to anesthetize myself with substances.

The rest of the presentation went well and I was thanked profusely for my time and I went on my merry way.

Then last night, as I lay in bed with my partner, I fell victim to a panic attack. Now don’t get me wrong, they aren’t fun and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone however, they are not unknown to me and by and large I just wait them out. As I was waiting it out I was talking about some of what’s going through my head and out came the phrase “ I can’t keep doing this…..this death march”

I realized this morning that I’ve traded one struggle for another. Instead of struggling to figure out what’s wrong and put a name to it, I’m now struggling for recognition and legitimacy. I’m struggling against a health care system who wants to label me crazy. They want to tell me that in order to get medical treatment for a condition I had nothing to do with, I need to be crazy.

I struggle to find the resources it takes to keep myself employed, fed and housed. I panic in interviews because I haven’t had the funds to change my name legally and so am outted every time I need to reveal the discrepancy between my legal and common names. I struggle against a society who says I’m sick and wrong for believing that biology is not destiny and that they are NOT always in agreement.

This struggle leaves me living a life without hope. It’s a pretty miserable way to live don’tcha think?

Is it really a choice?

The other day when I was a guest on our local radio talk show, both the host and one of the listeners used wording that made it seem like being transgender is a choice. One of the listeners that called in said “…these people are trying to have us legitimize their behaviour(1)..” and another caller said “…well it was your choice to be who you wanted to be…(2)“. What this sounds like – at least to me – is that many people still think that being transgender is a choice -that it’s a lifestyle or set of behaviours that we choose.

I would like to ask these people a very, very simple question: Why would anyone willingly choose a lifestyle or set of behaviours which puts them at a much greater risk for depression, suicide, assaults both sexual and physical and even becoming a victim of homicide?

In an e-bulletin issued on November 12th 2010, the Trans Pulse survey group released results from the survey that had been sent to people who had identified as transgender. This survey was unique in that it is a respondent driven survey. Once you had obtained a code to complete the survey (presumably from a transgender connection of your own) you were given three codes to pass on to other trasngender folks. This survey garnered 433 results and was limited to Ontario only. Of those numbers, a startling 77% said they had seriously considered suicide(3). What’s even more heartbreaking is that 43% had actually attempted suicide(4).

That’s just the most recent statistic I was able to find on the subject of suicide and transgender folks. This doesn’t even address the homicides,assaults (sexual or physical), discrimination, or issues of homelessness that transgender people face on a daily basis.

I ask you, do you really think someone would choose a lifestyle that puts everything on the line like that? Do you think boys, girls, men and women just wake up one day and say “Hey, I’d like to dramatically increase my risk of dying and of being assaulted. I haven’t been discriminated against enough lately and I could really use some fuel for some suicidal ideation. I think I’m going to just change my gender and see what happens.”

Sounds silly when you say it that way, doesn’t it? Yet that’s what many critics of trans folk argue. That it’s a choice, that we somehow woke up one morning and decided we weren’t happy with our gender the way it was and just decided it was time for a change.

I know I wouldn’t be going down this road just for kicks, would you?

Thanks to Ashley N for her editorial assistance

1 The Jeff Allan Show podcast on March 1st 2011 “Gender Identity Bill” segment http://www.570news.com/listen/listenplayer/190907–10am-gender-identity-bill
2 Ibid
3 Ontario’s Trans Communities and Suicide : Transphobia is Bad for Our Health. Trans PULSE E-Bulletin Volume 1, Issue 2. November 12 2010 http://transpulse.ca/documents/E2English.pdf
4 Ibid

Why can’t we all just get along?

This morning I had the opportunity to serve as a guest on a local call in talk show. The host was discussing bill C-389, The Trans Rights Bill which passed in the House of Commons not long ago. One of the most widely discussed objections to this bill is the fear that this bill will allow ANY man to simply claim ‘an innate feeling of femaleness‘ as an excuse to engage in behaviour that is sexually inappropriate in women’s washrooms.

The Honourable Marlene Jennings mentioned during her conversation with the show’s host,
“….it is a criminal act to assault, sexually assault a child, to lure a child, to sexually exploit a child, or an adult. Any sexual assault, it doesn’t matter where it happens it’s a criminal act and nothing in bill c-389 changes that.”

Essentially what that tells me, as a transgender person, is that I will still be held to the same standard of the law as every other Canadian or visitor to Canada. This is as it should be.

One of the callers to the show questioned the need for this bill. Essentially their argument was that as this applies to such a small minority of people, there really is no need to single out this group out as in need of protection.

In 2001, census statistics put Canada’s population of disabled persons at about 12.4% of . There were over 28 million people counted in that census. That figure translates into about 3.6 million people living with disabilities and  we don’t dispute the need to protect the rights of disabled Canadians.  As per Canada’s Human Right’s act, discrimination based on disability is illegal.

Why? Because they are Canadians, plain and simple.

I don’t believe that protection should be extended to a group of Canadians ONLY if their numbers exceed a certain arbitrarily set amount.  Firstly because, who would set that number? Our government? Our population? Some obscure think tank? So let’s go ahead and say that someone has said that any special interest group must have more than 1000 people who qualify for inclusion into this group. How exactly do the rights of 999 people mean any less than the rights of 1000 people? I know that when we say one person can make a difference we really mean it, but does not hitting that arbitrary number invalidate the rights of all the other people included in that group? I don’t believe it does.

Secondly, even if we did decide who would set that number, how do we know that the people who went ahead and set that boundary are well and truly qualified to assess the needs of a group of Canadians that they may not even know? Does this same group of policy makers decide what criteria need to be met in order for inclusion in this group? How do they go about that process? Do they ask the Canadians who are seeking to have their human rights spelled out what constitutes inclusion into that group or do they again make arbitrary decisions about what inclusion means? Are these policy makers in touch with the Canadians who’s rights they are deciding on?

As a person of transgender experience I find it insulting when people who have never had the experience of living in a gender role other than what they were assigned at birth presume to be able to say with any certainty what transgender means, what it looks like or even how it’s experienced.

We protect our ‘special interest groups’ and their rights because every one of them is Canadian. End of story.

Hello world!

Welcome to my blog! I hope you like what you see here and go and tell all your friends. Any information posted on here that doesn’t have a source attached to it is solely my opinion and should not be taken as scientific, peer reviewed facts.

Now that that disclaimer’s up, enjoy your stay!

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