Reimagining Women's Rights panel
- International Women's Day 2018, 09:00-11:30am
- York University, Senate Chambers Room N940, Ross Building
- 8-10mins total per speaker
Note: in solidarity with CUPE 3903 workers striking since Monday, I will not be crossing picket lines to participate in this event. The following are remarks I prepared in advance to respond to organizers' questions.
Since I am not a humanities or social science scholar, I will limit my remarks to areas of lived experience: intersections between misogyny, ableism, and transphobia. I would prefer that a trans woman/femme was speaking to gender justice on this panel today rather than a nonbinary trans person, but I imagine it is possible that none who were approached felt safe enough to speak out.
For 45 years, I was thought to be a girl and then a woman. Like other folks socialized as girls and women, I chafed against misogyny, all the way through primary school, high school, undergrad, grad school, postdocs, and being a professor. Almost five years ago, I figured out that I am transgender and nonbinary. I decided to physically transition, to restore a balance in The Force. Crossing over from being perceived as a woman to generally being perceived as a man -- even though I am actually neither -- has been a very eye-opening experience. Here are some key lessons I learned that I would like to share.
Gender is not a binary -- it is a spectrum. For example: people can be feminine, masculine, nonbinary, agender, or genderfluid.
Sex is not a binary either -- folks may be designated female, male, or intersex at birth. Intersex folks are as common as natural redheads.
Neither sex nor gender is determined solely by whether or not we have a Y chromosome. If we think it is, we should be aware that our biology and psychology knowledge is rudimentary and outdated.
Body parts are not inherently gendered. For example, facial hair is not inherently masculine. More men have facial hair than women, but plenty of women also have some, both cis women and trans women.
Whenever I see a
pussy hat, I worry that the cis woman wearing it does not routinely include trans women in her vision of feminist justice.
It may surprise you to learn that trans women often know significantly more about misogyny than cis women do. But this is not at all mysterious: a trans woman has had to fight so much harder for her womanhood to be recognized.
Trans women face more discrimination than cis women, in every facet of their lives, across every demographic group. Six of our trans sisters were murdered in the USA in the first two months of 2018 alone. Here in Canada, Toronto Police failed to properly investigate the murders of Alloura Wells and Sumaya Dalmar. Trans women frequently cannot access material necessities of life, like housing, health care, education, and employment. The median annual income of a trans person in Ontario is $15,000 (Trans PULSE survey, 2015).
For almost 20 years, I have been significantly disabled by chronic pain, mostly from a bad skiing accident. I have also experienced PTSD from six violent crimes against me, four of them committed on university campuses, as well as anxiety and depression secondary to pain. During my disability odyssey, I have experienced many humiliations, both grand and small, at the hands of university administrators, coworkers, and students. I have come to understand that university campuses are currently far from friendly to disabled folks managing physical and mental health conditions. Ableism and toxic masculinity are interconnected.
Too often in social justice work, including among feminists, disabled folks are left behind. (I hope today's event organizers have sign language interpreters and other accessibility measures in place, like nearby disabled-accessible trans-friendly toilets, and chairs comfy enough for women in chronic pain to sit on for two hours.) It is not good enough when the main stories we hear about disabled people are tokenistic and journalists treat us like
inspiration porn -- as if all that is needed to clear ableism hurdles in universities, corporations, or nonprofits is a perky attitude.
What things do I encourage you to advocate for?
- The primary beneficiaries of university EDI (equity, diversity, inclusivity) policies since the 1970s have been comfortable cis White women, by a wide margin. Please advocate for your more marginalized sisters as well, including Black, Indigenous, and other racialized sisters, trans sisters, bi sisters, lesbian sisters, and disabled sisters.
Instead of focusing on the deficit model of why historically underrepresented minorities are scarce, we should encourage two key things across the board to foster pluralism: learning to de-centre our own identities in every discussion we join, and adopting an emotional growth mindset.
Folks with privilege -- cis, White, straight, wealthy, healthy, neurotypical folks -- need to learn to take up less space in EDI discussions. We need to cede the microphone to more marginalized folks more often. They have the lived experience, and the history of reading scholarly works by members of their communities, which many privileged folks are unaware of.
We all need to be willing to do emotional labour to educate ourselves about anti-oppression without expecting marginalized folks to teach us for free on demand. Our marginalized sisters have their hands full just existing.
Feminists on campus and in society should be advocating for disabled women -- not only women in wheelchairs, but also women managing invisible disabilities, chronically ill women, mentally ill women, Deaf women, autistic women, and so forth.
University teachers need to do better on mental health accommodations. Avoid being a deadline terrorist.
Any cis woman still worried about sharing washrooms with trans women should know that statistically, cis men are much more of a threat to their safety and security. Refuse to support
bathroom bills or other oppressive measures intended to cleanse trans folks from public spaces. Stand up for your trans sisters.
Trans folks consistently report higher rates of urinary tract and bowel problems from
holding it so much for so long. (57% of trans Ontarians avoid public washrooms due to safety fears: Trans PULSE survey 2015.) Advocate for trans-friendly toilets -- any single-stall toilet with a lock is a good target for conversion. Note: the best sign to put on the door is a sign depicting ... a toilet! There is no need to invent bizarre half-skirt half-pants chimeras: a proper toilet door sign does not specify which kinds of bodies are allowed to use it.
When looking at toilets for event planning, remember that an attendee may be both trans and disabled. If a trans-friendly toilet is not also disabled-accessible, or vice versa, that is a major intersectionality fail. Trans folks have a higher incidence of disability than the cis population does.
There is an old campus joke that goes
There are three genders: Mr., Ms., and Dr.. If you are looking for a rank-free gender-neutral alternative title, use
Mx., pronounced Mix.
Thank you very much for reading this essay.
Resources for further reading