BY DANNY GLENWRIGHT – When I first read the name of Andrea Houston’s sex worker
source a lump formed in my throat.
As her editor, I had been hounding her to find a sex worker
for her story about violence against sex workers — ahead of the Dec 17
International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I was not prepared to
run such a story if it didn’t include the voice of someone who is affected by
That’s the type of journalism I practise; that’s the type of
activist I am.
Nevertheless, I was also more affected than I was prepared
to be when I learned Lexi Tronic was that source.
In another place, at another time, Tronic was responsible
for some of the worst bullying I ever received as a young, awkward (not yet
happily) gay kid in Winnipeg. I recently wrote about my experiences in the
pages of Xtra in the wake of Jamie Hubley’s suicide. This week I remembered
writing that piece and thinking specifically about Tronic, who was the
perpetrator of much of the taunting I recalled in it.
That pain came back when I read Andrea’s sex-work piece,
just as it does every time Facebook suggests I befriend Tronic, with whom I
share many friends from days we both spent together in Winnipeg’s gay bars and
rave scene. I had never found the courage to befriend Tronic on Facebook — she
is someone who unearths memories I’d rather suppress or forget.
But I also believe in second chances and fresh starts; I’ve
had many. So I happily edited, published and shared the sex-work story on
Xtra’s website, in the pages of Xtra, on Xtra’s Facebook page and on Xtra’s
Twitter account. I also shared it on my personal Facebook page, with many
friends who know us both (as the people we were all those years ago in
I noted that it was a “wonderful small world” connection
that our paths had once again crossed years later, stating (rather than mention
our negative past) my best memory of Tronic, which was attending my first rave
with her at age 14. I also said (no secret to any of our old friends) Tronic’s
birth name so those friends we both share would pause to read the story. I
won’t apologize for that. It was the only way to tell that story.
I was proud of the story and there was a part of me also
proud of Tronic, who has gone from being a sex worker in Winnipeg’s dangerous
north end to become a strong advocate of safe sex work in Toronto. I was happy
to see her speaking openly on behalf of a marginalized community we have tried
to champion during my short time at Xtra, out there doing good things, a person
I remember as deeply troubled and unhappy.
But the tenor of the discussion quickly changed and, in
fact, any helpful, informative dialogue that could have come from this story
turned into bad activism and knee-jerk bandwagon jumping.
I was once again being bullied, asked to apologize for being
transphobic. “Activists” told me if I failed to apologize on behalf of Xtra for
my transphobia, they would boycott this newspaper. The trans community would
boycott a newspaper that is a lone voice for trans issues; and yes, these
people deigned to speak on behalf of the entire trans community.
From the very beginning I was sorry if I had been hurtful to
Tronic, and I have always said this. I did not know that using a trans person’s
birth name could be so distressing — especially because several trans friends
(and others I have seen interviewed) are more than happy to discuss their
former lives and use their former names. It was a learning point. I am thankful
I have now been allowed to have it.
I understand the pain that must accompany many trans people
on their personal journeys. I would never want to contribute to that pain and I
hope I never have. I am not a person who wants my actions to hurt people at any
time. I said this yesterday on the phone to Tronic, and she also apologized to
me for what happened between us more than 20 years ago, something I’d long
We commiserated about how we’d both been bullied, how we’d
both also been bullies. Lexi told me how she, too, has often mistakenly
referred to some of her trans friends by the wrong name (does that make her
We also celebrated the successes we’ve had that brought us
to a place where we can have an adult discussion about these important issues —
issues that are significant to both of us, and the work we now do.
But as a journalist I also question the idea that it would
be considered transphobic to refer to a person’s known history in an effort to
best tell their story. Many of us have painful pasts, whether we have changed
our names or not; do we all then have the right to accuse others of
discrimination against us if they refer to something from our past we’d rather
Should all Xtra staff members (and there are dozens of us)
have to make formal, public apologies in the pages of the newspaper every time
they say something provocative, hurtful or divisive in their private lives, or
on personal social media pages? I think not. If that were the case, we would
have no room in Xtra to report on the important stories that have helped
liberate our community for more than 40 years.
In my short four months at Xtra we have published several stories
about the dangers faced by trans sex workers in many parts of Canada; we have
doggedly chased after politicians and rightwing media for distributing
transphobic ads; we have reported on how police and the trans community in
Ottawa came together to raise a flag for this year’s Trans Day of Remembrance;
we have reported on the federal trans rights bill.
I am ashamed for members of the community who toss around
words like transphobic and homophobic as weapons, people who use these words
quickly and with abandon rather than trying to impart lessons, change minds and
educate. These words will soon lose meaning if they continue to be used in this
People I have never met, people who have no idea what goes
on in my head or what has happened in my past, called me such names yesterday.
These people decided I was wrong and Xtra was wrong before they actually knew
anything. We were all painted with one giant transphobic brush and dismissed.
The very type of reactionary response the queer community has been fighting for
I ask these people how this is helpful in our shared
struggle against very real, very active, very organized transphobia and
homophobia in our society?
If only we could summon half the energy certain elements put
forward in a bandwagon boycott yesterday to fight these real enemies, we might
actually be getting somewhere. Let’s stop fighting each other and instead learn
from each other, educate one another about things we might not know, and speak
in reasonable ways before reacting in hurtful, destructive ways.
I hope to continue to contribute to this discourse in a
peaceful, respectful, positive way. I invite Lexi and others to do the same.
Let’s sit down and discuss some of these painful stories; let’s have open,
frank discussions about what bothers us; let’s stop fighting each other and
calling each other names. Let’s keep talking.