Posts Tagged ‘ op ed ’

Bucking The Trend. Why I can’t support Jenna Talackova’s bid for Miss Universe

Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss Photogenic, Miss Congeniality (and you thought it was just a movie?)  – all around the globe there exists contests in which women fight to be crowned the winner. While all of them certainly include questions about goals, education, and passions it’s alarmingly evident that it’s still a beauty contest when you watch their swimsuit and evening-wear segments.  Particularly in the televised pageants, there is, at best, a cursory examination of a contestant’s educational and humanitarian qualifications.  In fact, when you look at the categories, there is one-thing that stands out, over two thirds of a contestant’s score is appearance driven.

The trans community as a whole struggles against society’s narrow definition of what is acceptable and what is beautiful. Particularly in North America, the trans community is very vocal in saying that acceptance of one’s gender does not depend on one’s body and how it looks. Why then, is our community rallying around and supporting the inclusion of a trans woman in a contest in which two thirds of the contestant’s score is appearance based; a contest that enforces a narrow and generally unobtainable standard of beauty.

From bleaching one’s hair to obtain that perfect platinum blonde shade all the way to the ravages of anorexia and bulimia, it’s hard to argue that society’s obsession with beauty and the attainment of it, for some women, has become an unhealthy and dangerous obsession.  Reports in the news and scientific journals of girls as young as 11 years of age dieting in order to maintain an appearance they believe men want; the kind of appearance that leads to an average industry weight somewhere around 120lbs for a woman approximately 5’8”. While the Body Mass Index scale has been said to be of limited value, a woman who is of the weight and height stated here has a BMI scale of 18.2, a number that would mark her as underweight.

Why does this concern me; you may ask. After all, haven’t I walked away entirely from the pressures put on me by the beauty industry? Indeed, since my transition, I’ve been fortunate to be able to not have to worry if my makeup is on right, if my hair and breasts are displayed just so or if I’m slim enough to be noticed. That said, I still have female bodied, female identified friends who have to contend with the images they are bombarded with every day about what kind of appearance is acceptable from women and what is not. These kinds of standards are driven by the beauty industry and reinforced using beauty pageants. Standards that I believe are harmful to women of all biological configurations.

Historically the transgender community has fought not just for acceptance, but acceptance based on more than just physical appearance. Whether you have transwomen who should be accepted as women regardless of their physiology or transmen who should not be classed as lesbians simply because of how they dress, one of the primary messages the trans community wants heard is that looks aren’t everything.  A message that seems to be the very antithesis of the appearance based message that these pageants promote.

While no one should be denied entry into something based solely on their birth sex, I have to wonder what kind of message our community is sending out when we blindly support the kind of activities in which looks are the chief reason for its existence. 


this post was originally posted at PositiveLite

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–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
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.

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