3 min

Memo To: Toronto queers

Re: Free trade

On the train from Quebec to Toronto my clothes reek of tear gas, I’ve not shaved in days, and I look less the glamorous transsexual femme than like an international socialist boy. Except for the tits, which are definitely TS, and which are as troubling to my fellow travellers on the train as to some of the good people at the solidarity camp outside of Orsainville prison.

I’m finding it difficult to write about the protests for two reasons; first, because emotionally I’m still there. When I see a cop I flinch, falling asleep I imagine whistles, shouts, gas canisters shot into crowds. I’m glad I wasn’t jailed.

The second reason is that though I had a trans positive affinity group, largely queer, I didn’t feel particularly queer or transsexual in Quebec. I didn’t feel much like myself. Too busy with the revolution or something.

It may sound odd but there wasn’t the time or the space for sexualities or gender identities to be on the table. Which is both understandable and a problem, because our sexualities, our genders, our bodies continue to implicate who we are and how we move in the world, whether we talk about it or not. It’s also a problem because what happened in Quebec cannot really be separated from what happens here.

But though queer issues were nowhere on the official agenda, talk about it I did, feeling more alienated every time I opened my mouth, whether to speak with an ill-mannered environmentalist white boy on a Canadian Union Of Public Employees bus, with an overly earnest feminist urging me to the back of the women’s march, or with anti-globalization activist Jaggi Singh as he explained the necessity of maintaining a gender balanced speakers list.

I gave free Tranny 101 more times than I care to remember, because sometimes if you don’t speak up you simply cease to exist.

Of course, a lot of transsexuals and queers didn’t go to Quebec because they know that that we are prone to being targeted by the police under “normal circumstances.” And the police were certainly targeting medics with plastic bullets and gassing journalists. But it wasn’t just a matter of the cops.

Given the sexual assault of several women in a common sleeping area during last autumn’s protests in Prague against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, some transsexuals were understandably cautious about mass sleeping arrangements.

However it’s not as if we can afford to ignore either the anti-globalization movement or the trade agreements it challenges.

Under the Agreement On Trade Related Aspects Of Intellectual Property Rights, the US government has threatened trade sanctions, and brought a complaint to the World Trade Organization, against Brazil, whose extremely effective national AIDS program has made generic, anti-retroviral medications freely available to people with HIV and AIDS. That the Brazilian program saved countless lives doesn’t matter to the corporations whose “right to profit” the US so jealously guards.

And as the excessively violent policing of last weekend’s summit demonstrates, the authors of the Free Trade Area Of The Americas (FTAA) treaty are no more inclined to balance favourably the lives and well-being of people in the north against the interests of corporate investors.

In Toronto, policing of targeted populations – queers, sex workers, racial minorities and the homeless – has meant increased surveillance, harassment and a rise in police violence. Interestingly enough, according to the Toronto police website, “one of the most significant reasons [for community action policing] is the demand placed on the Toronto Police Service resources to police parades special events and demonstrations.”

Special events like the Pussy Palace? Parades like Caribana or Pride?

Demonstrations like the brutally suppressed anti-poverty protest at Queen’s Park on Jun 15, 2000, or the over-policed “free the text” (of the FTAA) demonstration two weeks ago?

My point is a simple one: targeted policing and militarized policing are two arms of the same machine, a tooled up, high tech police bureaucracy that manages “difference” as disorderly and which criminalizes dissent.

It is increasingly clear that the objective of policing is the surveillance, management and removal of people who get in the way of business, that threaten its ethos, or its profits.

Toronto’s queer community has mobilized impressively to challenge the police raid on the Pussy Palace. What remains to be seen is whether we will challenge the larger structures of which it is a symptom. If so, we might begin by casting a skeptical glance at the community liaison the police are appointing to manage relations with “the community” and put more energies into alternative liaising with other targeted communities which many of us also belong to: the homeless, Somalis and other communities of colour, youth, sex workers and the poor.