Canada
3 min

So, what do you want?

All of us: let's talk about our priorities

Seems like my last column upset a few people. For those who put the paper in the birdcage before checking out what I wrote, the gist of it was this:

  • Over the past half-dozen years, I’ve noticed a definite trend among trans activists (no, not one lone Ottawa individual) arguing that they are more oppressed than gay men or lesbians and so their issues should go to the front of the agenda;
  • Middle-class gays and lesbians have been forming community groups and paying the bills of legal fights for more than two decades. So why are they being trashed so often these days on activist blogs and websites? (In my last column, I failed to properly give the large amount of credit due to working-class people and activists who got the movement rolling in Canada and continue to make contributions through volunteering their time);
  • There’s a lot of pressure on our major provincial and federal gay and lesbian groups right now to put trans rights at the top of their activist and legal agendas. There has not been sufficient public discussion about whether gays and lesbians want to see a battle for trans rights come to the forefront and get the majority of effort and funding. This could easily be a 15-year battle;
  • Those same middle-class gays and lesbians who are often being sneared at in public by some activists are the very people who will be asked to pay the bills for future fights, whatever they are;
  • And I wonder, frankly, whether the majority of gays and lesbians see trans issues as their issues (or at least whether they see it as a high priority), since ours is primarily a struggle for sexual freedom whereas trans are struggling for gender equality.

I am glad to see my column provoked discussion. It’s long overdue. I wish I’d written it some six years ago when I first noticed an upswing in trans activists arguing that there was a hierarchy of oppression. They argued that because they considered themselves more oppressed than, say middle-class white gay men, their issues ought to get the most funding — paid for by middle-class white gay men, of course, as some sort of penance for our ‘privilege.’ Perhaps I just thought the argument was so bogus it would die quickly. But it hasn’t.

I repeat: whatever the merits of the case for putting an emphasis on winning trans rights, it cannot hinge on a bogus argument that there is a hierarchy of oppressions that ought to translate into funding priorities. Surely, our activist coalitions can agree on that at least?

It also seems to me that since marriage equality was won, some of our organizations, Egale Canada for example, seem to be making trans issues a very high priority. Now, perhaps that is where the majority of us want to go next. But maybe not. Maybe we want to put school safety and the creation of gay-positive curriculum at the top of our agenda. Or a bill to reform Canada Customs. Or legalizing prostitution and adult performances. Or the right to donate blood and organs. Or legalizing threesomes. Or increased funding for AIDS prevention. How about getting rid of the Stephen Harper government?

All of these are important issues. And yes, some may disagree with me but I personally believe trans rights should be one of the issues. But I don’t personally think it should be top of the list. I’d like to hear from other lesbians and gays about what their priorities are.

Now, for making some of these points, I got called all sorts of names on our website. Of course, that’s part of the fun of commenting on the web — the technology encourages people to let loose without self-restraint. And some people made really good points that I’m still mulling over. I knew when I wrote it that the column would be controversial — columns are supposed to be provocative at least some of the time.

But all the name-calling and nastiness in some responses drove home something for me: those trans activists aren’t going to get very far by guilt-tripping, name-calling and intimidating. Sensible people just walk away from that kind of poison — and some of us have been down that road before.

Meanwhile, let’s talk. All of us. Marriage rights are behind us. We’ve been going backward, not forward, in sexual freedom and social justice in Canada. What are our priorities now? Who is our community now? Or perhaps instead of calling it a ‘community’ we ought to be referring to ‘our coalitions.’ So, who and what are our coalitions and what do we want?