Won’t Be Erased
Trans people are under threat again. Their very existence is being threatened by governments in the US and Canada. It is unacceptable that conservative governments are bowing to the social conservatives who are afraid of people who choose not to identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. Social conservatives think it is somehow their business how other people live their lives, how they identify themselves, who they love and what they do with their bodies.
Trans people are standing up for their rights and asserting themselves using the #WontBeErased hashtag. As a cis-man I am standing with them. I am asking you to step up as well and defend the rights of Trans people from the governments, groups and individuals who believe their rights and freedoms should be taken away.
According to the New York Times Donald Trump’s administration is considering implementing a narrow definition of gender as a binary of male or female across the US federal government. This is in response to pressure from evangelical ‘Christians’ and other social conservatives who feel they need to police the identities of other people. Governments in Canada and the US among others have in recent years been removing barriers for Trans and non-binary people when it comes to gender markers.
Here in Ontario it is now possible to change your gender as well as name on your birth certificate, driver’s license, health card, passport and any other official documents. In the US there are similar opportunities in many states and with the federal government.
Now these progressive changes are under attack.
Not just in America
I wish that I could say that this was a uniquely American issue. The new Ontario government under Doug Ford is currently running a consultation process to get input from Ontarians on how they can create a new “age-appropriate” sexual health education curriculum. This government initiated this process as a result of a campaign commitment that pandered to social conservatives. They committed to scrap the sexual health portion of the Health and Physical Education curriculum that was last updated in 2015 after seven years of research, consultation and development. Social conservatives, who are often against any sexual health education that isn’t exclusively about abstinence, argued that the curriculum was not age-appropriate.
The complaint about age-appropriateness is not coming from the majority of parents or from education experts. It comes from a vocal minority, many of whom are basing their opinions on misinformation and misunderstandings. Whenever I have challenged those opposed to the 2015 curriculum to identify what they feel is not age-appropriate, most of them point to the mention of diverse gender identities and expressions in grade three as their main concern. The section they are most concerned about is actually about respecting differences and gender identity and expression are only two of the many differences that are included.
Many of those opposed, talk about how there is no scientific consensus on the idea of a gender spectrum, diverse gender identities or the best course of action for people who feel that their identity doesn’t correspond to the gender they were assigned at birth.
I haven’t read much of the research on gender transitions and I don’t need to because here’s the thing…
Trans People Exist
Trans people exist. Kids encounter trans people. In my own family my kids have a friend who has an older sister who is trans and they have an aunt who recently transitioned. When my step-sister came out as Trans and began the process, we sat down to have a conversation with our kids who were three, eight and ten at the time. We had done some reading and learning before having the conversation so we could explain to our kids that some people are born in bodies that don’t match their identities. We were all set for a big complicated conversation and they just said – oh yah – like x’s sister. They had no issues or concerns. They weren’t freaked out, traumatized or in anyway psychologically impacted. In other words, the knowledge they already had was age-appropriate.
People who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth have always existed. In more recent years as societies have become more open and more willing to accept a diversity of sexual and gender identities, more people have felt safe enough to come out as Trans. Whether social conservatives believe in transgendered people or not, they are real people. The Trans people that I know are all happier in their skin since they decided to live as their true selves.
I think we all aspire to be happy in our own skin.
Why would we deny that to other people?
Controlling Other People’s Decisions
Not being religious myself, I can’t claim to understand why social conservatives have such strong feelings about how other people choose to identify, live or love. I know they feel it is contrary to biblical writings that prohibit cross-dressing and that they feel that ‘god’ only created two sexes. I understand that they feel people who don’t follow the same religious rules as themselves are sinning and need to be saved.
Be that as it may, it doesn’t give them a right to control other people’s lives. Of course this is a problem that many evangelicals have on several issues. They seek to control access to sexual and reproductive rights so as to prevent people from accessing abortions. They actively opposed equal marriage and they get upset when boys wear nail polish. These people are seeking to impose their narrow perspective about life on other people who don’t share their views.
Who Defines Identity?
Does government define identity or do we as individuals define identity. The evangelicals are demanding that the government in the United States and in Ontario take steps to officially ignore the existence of Trans folks.
I know there are many people who are confused as to why someone would want to change their appearance cosmetically or surgically from a man to a woman or a woman to a man or from one of those genders to something less defined. It makes people uncomfortable. Changing from clearly defined and socially expected gender norms is something that many struggle with.
This is not just related to gender identity and expression. There are still plenty of people who feel that women who marry men should be required to take their husband’s last name. I encountered resistance when I changed my last name to incorporate my partner’s last name.
It can be challenging to remember what pronouns to use with Trans people or when someone changes their pronouns. Switching from ‘she’ to ‘he’ or ‘he’ to ‘they’ or even ‘his’ to ‘xyrs’ can be confusing at first. Especially if you have always known someone as one gender and they choose to change their gender identity and related pronouns. I struggled in a recent job where I worked with several Trans and non-binary (those who don’t identify as either male or female) people, mostly because some chose to use pronouns I had not previously used such as xe and xyr. They were unfamiliar words to me and I felt awkward using them. I also had a hard time remembering who used which pronouns. In my defence I also have a hard time remembering which name belongs to each of my own children. At work I tended to default to ‘they’ when I wasn’t certain which pronoun someone used because at least I was being neutral. With some practice and more regular interaction with each person I came to remember the right options. If I can manage to remember the right pronouns for several Trans and non-binary folks, everyone else can learn to use the correct pronouns for the Trans and non-binary people in your lives.
It is important to use the correct pronouns and names for people who have transitioned their gender identity. Much like it is important to me that people call me Chris and not Christopher or that they use my full double-barrelled last name and not just one of my last names. It is who I am. I choose the names I go by and I made an active choice to change my last name. I expect people to respect that, just as Trans people choose their names and pronouns as markers of their identities.
It is not for the government to decide how people identify themselves.
Governments Should Support, Not Harm
Governments do have a role to play when it comes to Trans and non-binary folks. They can treat them in law and execution of the laws the same as everyone else. In some cases that involves removing gendered barriers to enable everyone to access programs and services in the same way. Some examples include changing mother and father on birth certificates to parent 1 and parent 2, providing a path for people to change their birth names and the genders they were assigned on their birth certificates to accurately represent the name and gender identity that they choose later in life. Governments can also provide a path for changing that same information on driver’s licenses, health cards, passports and any other official government documentation. They can provide an option to not express a specific gender on government forms either by marking and ‘x’ instead of ‘m’ or ‘f’ in a gender field on a form or by providing a third tick box for other.
Governments can remove laws that prescribe what bathroom someone has to use or that limit adoptions to couples comprised of a man and a woman as potential parents. This ought to be done to benefit all LGTBQ parents as well as single people who wish to adopt without a partner. Governments can provide job protections for parental leave as opposed to maternity leave to enable all parents, regardless of gender to access this benefit and not just restrict it to women.
Trans folks are people just like the rest of us and governments can and should use their powers to support gender diverse people and not tie everyone into old gender stereotypes and expectations.
What Can You Do to Help?
Trans people are a minority and as with any minority group in a particular population, they require support from people in the majority to protect and support their rights. You can help.
Support Your Kids
Some of your kids may come out to you as Trans at some point in their lives. Support them. Shower them with love. Use their preferred names and pronouns. Take them shopping for clothes to match their preferred gender expressions. Fight for their rights and help them access relevant programs and services. Pay for counselling support to help them manage their transition. Help them find Trans-friendly organizations and resources.
Support Trans People
If a friend, family member or colleague decides to change how they present themselves to the world and asks you to use a new name and pronouns, do as they ask. Tell them you support them and are there to help whenever needed. Support them through their transition and defend their rights. Help them access resources if they ask for assistance.
Ue your voice to amplify the concerns of Trans folks. Speak about their needs and rights and challenges to audiences that would not otherwise hear their voices. Challenge colleagues, associates and friends who make negative comments about Trans people. Remind them that Trans folks are people worthy of respect and the same rights that the rest of us enjoy. Seek out Trans voices and share those videos, podcasts and writings through your various social platforms.
Challenge Governments to do Better
Regardless of what country, province, state, municipality you are in, call your representatives and ask them to protect rights for Trans people. Ask them to make changes to make government services and programs more accessible for Trans people. Question whether gender markers are necessary information for governments to collect on government forms and if so, ask them to please provide options other than M/F. Lobby government to pass legislation that make it illegal to discriminate against Trans people as employees, customers, clients and tenants.
Where governments are considering revoking rights for Trans people – stand up and fight back. Write letters, make phone calls, demonstrate on behalf of Trans people. Let governments know that Trans people exist and that they #WontBeErased. Defend their rights.
Challenge Business and Organizations to do Better
Just as with government, you can ask companies and non-profits to do better. Change their forms, make gender neutral bathrooms available, support their Trans employees and customers. Organizations can also use their voices to encourage other organizations and governments to do better.
Voting matters. Vote for people who recognize Trans rights. Vote for people who will support Trans rights. Vote for people who support minority rights generally. Vote OUT people who are working to undermine the rights of Trans and LGTBQ folks. Encourage your friends, acquaintances and colleagues to do the same. Mobilize your fellow voters to do and demand better.
Trans people #WontBeErased.