Poverty: The Lynchpin of Trans Discrimination

2 Mar


They say money makes the world go round. Certainly, it is a game changer for trans people. When you have money you can find housing in safer neighborhoods, you can take a cab instead of walking after dark, you can afford flattering clothes and cosmetics; you can pay for an education and skills upgrading, you can eat healthy foods, you have better access to health care, and the list goes on. These things are a struggle to nearly impossible without money.  While this is true for everyone in our society, it is especially true for a trans people, who are at increased risk of violence because of their gender identity or gender presentation (Transgender Law and Policy Institute) and need additional health care (for sex reassignment surgery, hormones etc.). For them, these financial matters are magnified beyond that of the rest of the population.  It is in financial areas that trans discrimination is both visible and reinforced. It is in the different economic realities of trans men and women where the results of educational and employment barriers are visible, as well as the causes of these same barriers.

While there have been more trans stories reported in the over the last few years, they are usually very limited in scope. Mainstream media tends to focus on violence and outright discrimination (Hate crimes and murders or  access issues) when they get it right or view as scandal and spectacle (Beauty pageants etc.  )  when they get it wrong. Economics is rarely the focus of trans portrayals in the media.  While it is very important to highlight violence and discrimination cases, or (more rarely), to have cases of happy, successful transitions, there is much more to our reality than this. This is why I was very glad to see the CNN report linked above about the staggering barriers to transgender employment, and the very real economic barriers our community faces every day.

The CNN article includes examples of stories I have heard again and again from people in the local trans community. Each of these stories highlights the fact that we need to address the systemic problem of poverty in the community. One such story in the CNN article, that of Keisha who was kicked out of her house at 16 and forced to live in a homeless shelter, is a familiar one for trans youth.  Many trans youth do not come out to a friendly environment at home and end up homeless or in shelters where they are unable to continue education. Without education a person’s economic future is bleak and we need to provide shelter/housing solutions and economic supports that allow trans youth to continue their education in a safe environment.  The story of Jennifer Chavez is also a typical story for those who come out in the workplace later on in life. Few workplaces have policies in place to accommodate transition on the job or policies to specifically address the kinds of harassment a trans person coming out is likely to face.  A huge portion of trans people I know in this situation have had to leave their jobs and take jobs at a lower base salary with less seniority and security, if they are able to find jobs at all.

Perhaps the most insidious problem is highlighted by Rebecca Juro’s case; not getting hired at all. Most of the trans people I know who end up unemployed or who are just entering the work force face this issue. Trans people will drop dozens and dozens of applications, seldom ever finding a job. As was highlighted in the article, frequently the job continues to be posted but the trans person simply is not hired. While a lack of job history or difficulty finding work references is part of the problem, but it is only one of many roadblocks. Sometimes the trans person gets to the interview phase, but for those who don’t pass well or have inconsistent gender marker on their documentation that is where it ends. It is really hard to prove discrimination in these cases because employers can usually find some excuse to say that the trans person was not the best choice or did poorly in the interview. Even when the discrimination is clear, most job seeking trans people don’t have the money to pursue legal action. This is a very real problem faced by trans people every day.  A major study of barriers facing the trans community in Ontario, the Trans Pulse project reported that “while 71% of trans people have at least some college or university education, about half make $15,000 per year or less” (Trans Pulse Project) . This statistic is so far off the general population that it is hard to attribute it to anything but bias.

I worry for my friends; I worry for the next generation of trans youth and I worry for myself. I see recent surveys that say that 97% of trans people face harassment and discrimination in the workplace (National Transgender Discrimination Survey ) and 47% experience negative job outcomes. Is that my future? Am I going to accumulate student debt for a nursing diploma only to be unemployed or underemployed? I am already going back to school in my 40’s because I have been living in poverty for over 20 years so this is very real to me. I was unable to fully transition as much for economic reasons as any other reasons and have never been in secure living situations to do so. Economic supports, housing supports, workplace policies for transition and harassment, and employment incentive programs for trans people are needed as much as anti-bullying policies in schools and gender inclusive washrooms in public places. The playing field is not level and we need public policies in place and media attention to our situation to give us the opportunities to show what were capable of. We deserve the chance to make our lives better, to succeed or fail based on our performance, not our appearance. If money does indeed make the world go round, it is time that we got the chance to be part of the trip.

(For my regular readers I want to apologize for not having blogged in a while. School has been much more work than expected and I have a new and wonderful fiancée that I will be sure to blog about in the future)

Trans Awareness Week Video Featuring Me and my Friends!

22 Nov

This is a link to a video done for trans awareness week at Western University here in town. It features me and a number of my closest friends. I would be the one with the “Out and Proud, Free of Fear, Trans and Strong” sign.


For those Christmas charity pots:

4 Nov

The Salvation Army is an extremely unfriendly organization to the GLBTQ community. Check out this and  this and  this and very much this if you want to know why I say that.

I strongly urge you not to donate to them this Christmas. There are clearly better charities to give your money too. I have also stumbled onto an interesting to campaign that give you a way to tell the Salvation Army that you are making this choice.

Give money to a GLBT friendly charity, print out a few of these, and put them in those Salvation Army kettles when you see them this Christmas. Maybe the Salvation Army will finally see that hatred of the GLBTQ community is no longer acceptable in our world.

A letter to the bathroom bigots:

26 Oct

To all of the people who don’t want me in your bathrooms Roseanne Barr ,  Rob Anders  and all the rest:

The bathroom issue seems to come up somewhere on nearly a daily basis. All of you claim to be well meaning, protecting woman from a possible danger that we could theoretically pose. You say it’s all about safety. Let me tell you a bit about safety.

I have never ever in my life felt safe. Not once that I can bring to mind. This in varying degrees is the reality for nearly all of the trans community (I would never claim to speak for everyone). It is not just physical safety either; I don’t feel economic safety, emotional safety, or social safety.

We have realities you don’t face and don’t seem to understand. In many jurisdictions we can be openly fired from our jobs or, even in the places where we can’t, we are driven out of our jobs or excuses found to fire us.  Housing is uncertain even in places where we have protections. So many times you are living with hostile neighbors, landlords who find excuses not to help you, or in neighborhoods where walking as trans is very dangerous. When we face abuse or homelessness there are huge number of shelters where we are simply not welcome or not safe. We attempt to go to school and face bullying and a curriculum which ignores us or vilifies us.

It all reinforces itself. Many of us end up undereducated, underemployed, living in poverty, with few resources and inadequate supports. Even when we miss those outcomes we still have to deal with the hostile stares if we don’t meet cis standards of proper appearance, or have to pull out an ID with the wrong gender tag on it. We often can’t even share our own past and life experiences without risking someone realizing our trans histories and treating us with scorn or worse.

I want you to think about that bathroom bigot. Imagine a life where the best case scenario is often invisibility and praying a bad outcome doesn’t occur. Imagine never feeling secure. Imagine not even being able to go to the bathroom without risk; an absolutely basic bodily function. Then you tell me that were the ones making people unsafe.

On a certain petition…

24 Oct

PLEASE NOTE: I would kindly ask that you read my entire post and my reply in comments at the end before attacking me. I very much see the other side to this issue and don’t automatically claim im right. I do want you to try to see where im coming from before you accuse me of things I am not saying though. Respectful debate is welcome, attacks because you did not fully read are not. I am also a bit sad I have to add this note.

I keep getting sent a petition online about declassifying gender identity as a mental illness. You may have seen it; it’s the one with Jenna saying trans people aren’t sick. I really do understand the intent of the petition but I wanted to bring another perspective.

Firstly, I would say that most trans people would agree that gender identity issues do bring with them a great degree of mental distress. We live in a society that does not accept us, frequently we lose family and friends, have high rates of poverty, and are often the targets of bigotry and violence. This has led to very high rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental illness in the trans community. One need only look at the extremely tragically high suicide rates to see that trans people are suffering as a whole. I think that makes it fair to classify gender dysphoria as a serious contributory factor to mental illness much in the same way that diabetes contributes to a host of associated illnesses. Having gender identity does not automatically cause mental illness but it certainly increases the likelihood that you may experience one.  That alone makes me reject the point of this petition but I have a much bigger issue that really bothers me:

What is wrong with being mentally ill?

Much of the thrust of this petition seems to imply that being associated with mental illness is something to be avoided at all costs. That is an extremely ableist position to my mind. I have dealt with mental illness for years and it does not invalidate me as a person. It is not something that makes me someone you should avoid. Being mentally ill is just a condition I live with much like I live with being diabetic. Seeing my community put out a petition that says there is something wrong with me really bothers me. I have dealt with years of stigma from being trans and I would like to remove that stigma; but it is wrong to stigmatize another community to make us somehow acceptable.

Currently there is a new push to have gender dysphoria treated like cancer, a condition that needs treatment but isn’t a mental illness, but allows us to have coverage. Ask yourself why you are making this distinction and what it says about attitudes towards the mentally ill. Perhaps instead of this petition we could put some working into de-stigmatizing both mental illness and trans identities.  Everyone’s acceptance and success is conditional till everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

A brief message for the men

9 Sep

Rant ahead:

Ok, I am not sure what it is with my moms neighborhood. It is supposed to be more middle class then where I lived before (which was very poor). I am facing way more harrassment here however and its not for being trans its for being a woman. Today I had about my 5th situation with guys passing me on the street and slowing down to make sexually harrassing comments. At least this morning it wasn’t at night and they werent drunk.

Guys who do this – its way beyond not funny. If you want to terrify a woman this is a really good way. You wonder why woman are uncomfortable around men? Why we are careful when and where we walk? It is guys like you combined with very real threats out there.

Stop it. Now. Learn to be a human being.

The Current Debate on Rape: Doing More

21 Aug

After Todd Akin’s horrible comments on rape recently; the subject has been front and centre in the news and in the debate on twitter, facebook and most social media.  I have never seen the subject so front and centre in the media and honestly, as someone who dealt with childhood sexual assault and a very recent sexual assault, it has become very hard for me to follow the media without dealing with stress and flashbacks. I realized however that I couldn’t avoid it at the moment so I have decided to turn that in to a plea for something more.

In spite of the effect the debate has on me it is a very necessary debate. Attitudes people hold on the subject of rape, especially our legislators and health care providers, need to be questioned and exposed. Unquestioned attitudes on the subject have led to blaming, shaming, and a lack of empathy and understanding. They have also led to something else which is the focus of my blog: a serious lack of services.

After my recent sexual assault many of my PTSD symptoms returned and I needed to seek out services to help me cope and recover. I can tell you from experiences that those services are extremely lacking. I live in one of the better spots to get treatment and still the waiting lists are months. Many people who experience sexual assault need services much faster than that before self-harm, suicide, and various other serious health and personal consequences descend on their lives. Even now months after trying to access services I am still waiting on an appointment just to get a referral to a trauma specialist. Even beyond therapy there is a lack of shelters, a lack of crisis lines and services, and a serious lack of public information and public safety programs to prevent and deal with the sexual assaults.

What can we do? First donate money to your local shelters, sexual assault centres and services, and to education and prevention programs. Secondly, you can volunteer. Most of the services I just mentioned need people to help, staff a crisis line, hand out fliers, help with rides, or any multitude of tasks. Thirdly, if you don’t have money or are able to volunteer many shelters and services can use donations of clothing, food, or toys. Lastly, you can be aware of the local crisis lines and provide an ear for people you know so that you can put them in touch with these services when they need it.

The only one thing I ask before you donate or work with these services is that you make sure they are trans inclusive. Many locations refuse to serve or shelter trans clients and we frequently need these services very badly because many of us lack a support network do to loss of family and friends. Make sure you put your money with services that respect all people.

Don’t let this just be a debate in the media and internet. If this issue is important to you I urge you to do a little more.

Feedback Request: A radical safety idea…

22 Jul

I am posting something I’ve been thinking about for a while and have discussed with a couple of my friends in hope of getting some feedback. If you read my blog, twitter, or facebook you are aware of my recent bullying situation. The entire affair has had a very detrimental effect on my mental health and caused me enormous stress. I noticed one of the worst things aout the situation for me was that I was unprepared for this happening and I had no control over it at all. I also still don’t know who is and isn’t comfortable with me in the classroom. Having considered this I came up with as idea and wondered if it seemed crazy.

I am thinking that from now on I will go to school in a completely out fashion. I am already out to whoever asks but I mean more in the wear my trans symbol necklace, have a trans pride sticker from Toronto pride on my book bag kind of out. Basically, I would be declaring to the world loudly and clearly that I am trans. I see this as an advantage in several ways. Firstly, I would immediately get an idea of who the allies and problem spots are in my classes. This allows me to mentally prepare and also to avoid the people I need to avoid. Secondly, it would give people a chance to ask me questions and to see a trans person as a real person. It would be a chance to educate and normalize being trans. Thirdly, it would allow me to become more comfortable with myself as a trans person and leave behind that baggage of shame. It would be me saying “I am trans do you have a problem with me? I don’t have a problem with me.”

There is the downside. I would be very open for mockery, abuse, and potentially violence. I would have to get used to the looks and the gossip because I know from past experience they happen. I know some people will also distance themselves from me who otherwise wouldn’t. Most worryingly, I would open myself up for discrimination and mistreatment from teachers and authorities which is a very difficult situation to handle.

Any thoughts or any extra things you think I should consider? Feel free to reply to the post or use my contact info for direct mail/twitter if you prefer.  I would really like some other peoples input as this would be a big step.

Things I want…

7 Jul

This post is dedicated to all the people who make me need to do a list like this: The Christian Right, Radfems, LGB who hate the T, Harry Benjamin trans folk, Transexxual seperatists, trans folk who think there is a “right” way to be trans, Mens Rights people, trans fanciers, the beauty industry, insensitive/sensationalistic journalists, pandering politicians, gatekeeping doctors, judgemental people, police, the legal system, and all the other haters and exploiters.

Here are the things I really badly want in life but will probably never have:

1.  To be viewed as a sexually desirable human being without it being because of a fetish.

2. To not be able to add 30 more groups to this list with just 2 minutes of thinking..

3. To not have to feel hate in my heart towards the above because hate makes me sick.

4. To be able to go 24 hours without fear or shame.

5. To have been able to adopt a child, because I had so much love to give and would have been a great Mom.

6. To go one week without seeing a story containing some outrage against my community

7. To not be called “brave” because being brave isn’t actually necessary for me to live.

8. To not have to just accept certain humiliations because there is nothing I can do about them.

9.  To not have to explain my motivations for being who I am inside.

10. To be able to see myself as beautiful.

11. To not have to decide whether to be out or to be safe.

12. And most of all: To be able to be happy, for an extended period of time without you people above and those like you taking it all away in one cruel heartbeat.

Just Because: My 10 Favorite Movies!

4 Jul

I grew up religeously listening to Casey Kasum’s Americna top 40 every weekend so I am sort of addicted to countdowns. Here is the first of what i’m sure will be something I do semi regularily. As is tradition we will start with number 10…

10. Magnolia (1999) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0175880/

A few themes will reoccur in my list of films and this has a big one; forgiveness. Its a movie about a bunch of people who face lonileness, loss of dreams and despair. We see their pain and the way in which they connect with each other through this pain. Much is made about the start of the film and an event later which seem to be about randomness but it misses the point of the movie which is about connections and compassion for each other. William Macy is a particular stand out as a child quiz star who’s life has fallen apart since those younger days.

There is a humanity in Paul Thomas Anderson’s films that resounds deeply in me and this is one of his best. I highly recommend it and any of his other work.

9. High Fidelity (2000) Dir Stephen Frears http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0146882/

John Cusack may be my favorite actor. I will admit to having more than a small crush on him as well. This may be his strongest performance as a used record store owner who is recounting his past breakups and revisiting them. It is essentially a movie about growing up.  We can see th e ways in which Cusack is charming but also a jerk, through his self exploration he also begins to see he is a jerk and doesn’t like this about himself. He takes so much around him for granted and he comes to learn that there is more to everyone he knows and starts to grow up in the process. It is not all simple solutions but we see someone coming to grow as a person and it is both encouraging and highly entertaining to watch.  Don’t want to make it sound too somber because it also a very funny film with probably Jack Black’s funniest on screen moments.

8. A Very British Coup (1988) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094576/

This was originally a BBC mini series brought over to PBS as a movie. I am a bit of a political junkie and this one hooked me immediately. It is the story of a radical Labour MP who becomes Prime Minister. He has many dangerous ideas, nuclear disarmament, US bases off British soil, ethical investment and a host of ideas that upset the powers that be. He is subjected to a campaign by the intelligence agencies, media and civil service to drive him from power. He is aware this is coming and it becomes a very high stakes game for the future of the UK. Much political intrigue doesn’t resonate very true to me but this seemed plausable enough that I found it very gripping. Some of the actual incidents in the movie are now dated because of the politics of the time but I still think its very relevant, particularily the Rupert Murdoch news baron protrayed in the film.

7. Field of Dreams (1989) Dir Phil Alden Robinson http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097351/

This movie combines several of my great passions, baseball, sentimentalism and forgiveness.  Most of you have probably heard of the movie but if you havent its about an Iowa corn farmer who hears voices telling him to build a baseball field in the middle of his farm. He follows this advice and begins an odyssey to find redemption and forgiveness for himself and others. It is an extremely sentamental movie and it was one I will always remember sharing with my father. If you can put aside being jaded for a moment and let the love and forgiveness just wash over you I guarentee you will find it worth the experience.

6. Citizen Kane (1941) Dir Orson Wells http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033467/

Frequently referred to as the greatest movie of all time but I won’t enter into that debate. I do think it is a brilliant movie. Others have wrote about the new film techiniques and the brilliant acting and directing but I want to focus on the story. The story begins with the death of a famous newspaper magnet and aspiring politician Charles Foster Kane; and a newperson trying to tell his story by finding out the meaning of his last word “rosebud”. The newsman interviews the people in his life to understand Kane. It is fascinating to see a life story told from the people around a person instead of from the person himself. We see differant events told in differant lights based on the feelings of the person telling the tale. In between though we can get a very good picture of Kane himself, a man who was obsessed with a control that always eluded him. A very unhappy man who hurt many around him.

If you can get the version of this movie which includes the documentary “the Battle Over Citizen Cane” which documents attempts by William Randolph Heart to stop the movie (essentially based on him) from being made. It is a fascinating watch on its own and a great companion to the movie.

5. The Wizard of Oz (1939) Dir Victor Fleming http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032138/

What can I say about this? Fantastic music, stunning visuals, vivid technocolor and a tale that enthralled me as a child. I have seen this movie approx. 75 times and it never bores me. I won’t try to go into deep meaning about why because its a part of me from childhood I will never lose but couldn’t easily explain.

4. Boogie Nights (1997) Dir Paul Thomas Anderson http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118749/

My second Anderson film in my top ten is a story about a group of people working in the pornographic film industry of the 1970s. I very much considered making this movie higher on the list. It never judges the characters, it understands its characters, it even respects its characters. We learn about these people and we care about these people as it covers a decade or so of time. The music in the movie is perfect and the acting is superb. It is another extremely humanising movie from Mr Anderson and it ends on perhaps the best last line of any movie I have ever seen 🙂

3. Primary Colors (1998) Dir Mike Nichols http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119942/

I was very worried when my friend draged me to see this movie. I assumed it was going to be an anti Bill Clinton attack from the right or at best a simple minded political expose. It was so much more than this. I have been a political activist since I was very young and even worked for a time as a paid employee of a canadian political party. This movie gets it right. Many people go into politics with the best of intentions, they want to change things for the better, and they want to make a differance. Unfortuantely for these people the system breaks them down, so many want power at any cost and are really good at convincing you to overlook or let slide the little things till you realize somewhere along the line you have lost everything you believe in. It is a movie about how you can, with good intentions and intelligence, still sell your principles by inches. It resonated deeply for me and it expresses better than I ever could how you can’t compromise important principles for the team or for the hope of better down the road or even for the lesser of evils. In the end nothing is ever accomplished.

2. Amadeus (1984) Dir Milos Forman http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086879/

A movie about obsession set to the brilliant music and backdrop of Mozart’s Vienna. The story is told by rival of Mozart’s now in asylum having suffered a breakdown because he claims to have kill Mozart. He takes us through how someone’s love of something and urge to create could be lost in jealousy and obsession. Seeing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and recognizing his brilliance but viewing him as immature and uncaring about his work Sallieri sets out to destroy him for having a gift that no matter how much he wants it Sallieri can never have. The visuals are amazing and the acting is perhaps the best from top to bottom of a cast I have ever seen. Small moments and single words can make you wince and feel what each of these characters feel.

As a small note its hard to get to watch the original cut of the movie but if you can I recommend it. The directors cut adds footage that makes the character murky and detracts more than adds to the film. Even the directors cut is still an amazing film but I do think the original is better if you can find it.

1. Walt Dinsey’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116583/

Yes a Walt Diney version of a classic novel is my favorite film. Plese try to take this movie at face value and put aside your preconceptions of either disney or how this movie should be told because the movie stand very tall on its own merits. The music is stunning and epic; Alen Menken (an amazing composer) and Stephen Schwartz combine to give us songs that have deep meaning and touch on obsession, self doubt, poverty, prejudice and more. The movie takes on themes that are very adult for a disnet movie and has extremely dark images. One scene even has a major “religeous” figure singing about lust in one of the darkest scenes I have ever seen in a disney film. The animation is also absolutely first rate as one would expect of a disney movie of this period. The animators went to notre dame cathedral to make sure they got the visuals right and did a brilliant job. The voice work is top notch and conveys the depth of the characters and story. It has a minimum of the cutesy disney secens and even undermines the most typical of these types of scenes with some very dark humor. (Side note: Tom Hulce voices the hunchback and he played Mozart in Amadeus so he appears in my two favorite movies)

I really can’t recommend this enough. I was skeptical myself but I was hooked and enthralled within the first 5 minutes of the movie. I could watch it again and again for its visuals, its music and its depth of story.