4 min

A transsexual woman’s perspective

Inclusion isn't inclusion if it stops at the bedroom door

I’ll admit I winced when someone handed me a copy of the Dec 4 edition of Xtra West.  Two men in bed, not exactly groundbreaking news for an LGBT paper.

Then I saw the title of the piece splashed across the photo: “Shifting Desires: How Trans People are Reshaping Same-Sex Attractions.” I winced again.

Truth be told I don’t read Xtra West very often. That’s not meant as a singular slight against the paper, I just don’t do many LGBT community things anymore. I don’t go to Pride parades, I haven’t been to a bar in years, and I rarely go to any other mainstream LGBT event.

The reason I wince, and why I don’t do these things anymore, is because I am a queer transsexual woman, and being a queer transsexual woman in Vancouver is, to put it mildly as I can, a difficult proposition.

There have been a great many words written about Kimberly Nixon v. Vancouver Rape Relief Society, and I don’t have much to add to that. To begin a discussion of the relationship of trans women and Vancouver without acknowledging it, though, would be remiss.

The ripples from the ruling in that case (where a BC Supreme Court judge sided with Rape Relief that a trans woman is not a woman) are still being felt, and the implications for trans people and all minorities are still yet to be fully realized.

But I don’t want to debate a court case, and I don’t want to debate my identity. Having spent years involved in the trenches of these discussions I’m tired, and I don’t think I’m going to change anyone’s bias based on a good argument anyway.

I think, however, those biases will have a harder time if faced with stories about people. It’s a great deal harder to hold essentialist beliefs about someone you know.

My path to being queer was in many ways extremely similar to the cisgendered women I’ve spoken to (cisgendered means those of you who aren’t transsexuals. It’s a mouthful, sure, but so was heterosexual when it started being used). I’d spent a number of years dating men, and was in a long-term relationship with a man when I realized the people I kept falling in love with were women.

With this realization came a range of emotions, but ultimately the strongest of these was trepidation —and the excitement of coming out and finding this part of myself was tempered with fear.

Although I’d been living in the straight world, I knew that Nancy Burkholder had been escorted off the land at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 1991 for being transsexual, and I had heard from queer trans women I knew that I should brace myself for shunning, exclusion and anger. 

Whipping Girl, by American writer, trans activist and biologist Julia Serano, reads like a primer for a feminism that includes trans women. Her primary thesis deals with what she calls trans misogyny —a kind of misogyny perpetrated on trans women, but having far deeper implications. Serano argues, and I’d agree, that much of the anger and fear of trans women speaks to a deeper misogyny that is somehow legitimized when it is aimed at trans women.

As a transsexual woman myself, especially one who considers herself a feminist, I often feel scrutinized by cisgendered feminists in ways that other women are not.

Trans women are in a tremendously difficult position: if we’re too feminine we’re acting as sexist caricatures, whereas if we’re too masculine that just proves we’re not women in the first place. If we speak up, we’re aggressively grabbing the microphone, and if we don’t we’re supporting the premise that women are meek and submissive.

The most troubling part, though, is that often in the middle of a screed against trans women the ‘trans’ part begins to feel secondary, and the focus of the anger becomes femaleness or femininity itself.

It is of great concern to me, then, and should be of concern to all women that the community in which I have experienced the most anger and bigotry for being a transsexual woman has been the community of cisgendered queer women.

Eventually I found a community of my own, although it was largely made up of people far from Vancouver.

In blogs and on message boards I began to find other trans women who felt like I did, frustrated with being excluded from the community of queer women. It was a place in which I could discover myself and begin to tell my story in ways I could feel proud of, the place I had hoped the LGBT community would be.

I didn’t just find other trans women, I found a host of queers who had become disaffected in one way or another with LGBT.

Most importantly, I found a place where I could meet women and it didn’t matter if I was trans or not, or if they were trans or not, we just got up to what queer women will get up to.

How often we’re seen as desirable is a fairly accurate measure of a community’s relationship with trans people. Inclusion isn’t inclusion if it stops at the bedroom door.

There was a time when I would have been glad to see Vancouver in my rearview mirror, but I’ve come to realize that I have a life here with some great people. This gives me hope for a community, and I don’t want to be run out of town because there’s some work to be done.

I recently saw comedian Jon Stewart take on conservative Mike Huckabee over gay marriage in America. “It’s a travesty,” Stewart said, “that people have forced someone who is gay to have to make their case that they deserve the same basic rights as someone else.”

That the queer community has done the same thing to some of its own members is a travesty, too, but the thing that gives me the energy to reach out now is that, unlike the conservatives, we know better.

Despite the rocky road I’ve had with being queer, I’ve met enough fantastic people to know we’re capable of great things, and this is as good a place to start as any.