2 min

The chromosomes make the counsellor

Rape Relief's slippery essentialist slope

In 2000, Margaret Wente wrote of Kimberly Nixon, “We can castrate her and shave her Adam’s apple. We can give her electrolysis and hormone injections and breast implants. But one thing we cannot do is change her Y chromosome into an X — no matter what the Human Rights Commission says.”

With this, Wente joined otherwise sensible feminists like Judy Rebick and Michele Landsberg in spewing hatred and stupidity at transsexual women who dared to try to join women’s groups.

According to Rape Relief, who just won another round of their battle with Nixon at the BC Court of Appeal, that second X chromosome is the key to making a good counsellor for raped or battered women.

Nixon herself was in an abusive relationship as a woman. She wanted to help other women who shared her experience of violence. But Rape Relief only wants counsellors who have been female from day one.

Madam Justice Saunders of the BC Court of Appeal noted that “there was no evidence before me that there is, in fact, a shared life experience that is common to all nontranssexual women.” What? Rape Relief kicked Nixon out because she lacks some experience, but they couldn’t define what that experience is?

It’s a slippery essentialist slope to suggest that shared biology, or even shared experiences, predispose one woman to understand another. I’d like to make the radical suggestion that excellent counselling skills and a commitment to ending violence against women are more important qualifications for a counsellor working with abused women.

Rape Relief does not want any counsellor whom their clients “would not accept as a woman.” At the Human Rights Tribunal hearing in 2000, a Rape Relief client confirmed that she would not feel comfortable with Nixon as a counsellor because of how she looked.

Unfortunately for Rape Relief, under questioning by Nixon’s lawyer barbara findlay, the client also identified a butch dyke (born female) as someone she would not feel comfortable with.

Of course women who stray too far from the societal concept of feminine will make many clients uncomfortable. But must every client be comfortable with every counsellor?

What about the clients who are uncomfortable with counsellors who are black or aboriginal or who speak English with an accent? What is a service’s responsibility to uncomfortable clients?

For 10 years, Rape Relief has fought against answering these and other complex questions. Instead, they work their asses off to keep people like Nixon out — proving that women-born women are not all blessed with compassion and understanding.

Can I just say that in my opinion Nixon should thank her lucky stars they never let her in.