The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Trans Day of Remembrance

Last Friday, Toronto’s 519 Community Centre hosted a Trans Day of Remembrance at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. My friends and colleagues and I went to join with others to celebrate the trans community’s ability to thrive despite the horrendous violence they are exposed to due to transphobia. We also went to mourn the dead.

As the ceremony concluded with a stark reading of the 2008 murders and suicides of trans people from around the world, it occurred to me that much of the oppression I’ve faced as a gay man was really transphobia and not homophobia.

I was beat up a lot in school. The first hundred times weren’t for ‘sucking cock’ or any such thing; the beatings were administered for “acting like a girl”. Punches were accompanied by “you talk like a girl;” kicks, by “you play with girls”. My initial social crimes weren’t sexual; they began WAY before puberty. My crimes were gender-non-conformity.

For example, in grade two, I said that a story our teacher read us was “sweet”. She informed me that “sweet” was a girl’s word. At recess, the boys kicked the sweet out of me. I still pause a little before saying it, even though it’s a cool enough word for Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott now.

I’m sure if the schoolyards I endured had managed to work themselves up to capital punishment I would have made the “Remembering Our Dead” list. It was certainly the message I was given: act like a boy or die. They trained me to butch it up. As best I could. And punished me when I slipped.

This is why it enrages me that the gay community is often a lacklustre ally of the trans community. The protest against homosexuality is often not about what we do in bed. It’s about breaking the gender code. When the opponents of same-sex marriage in the States see two little tuxedoed figurines on top of a cake, their innards seizure. But it’s because men are not supposed to be affectionate with one another. It’s not really about what sex they are going to have; it’s about how they show up in public. Holding hands! Dancing! Taking their children to the park! This is not “Acting Like a Man” and it must be curtailed.

Transphobia locks every human being into a rigidly defined gendercode that almost everyone would naturally transgress. Not even John Wayne could be “John Wayne” all the time. Fighting transphobia is a help to all the straight women who haven’t felt ‘pretty enough’ or ‘nice enough’ and for all the straight men who’ve feared appearing ‘weak’. And fighting transphobia is certainly the fight for lesbians and gays to be able to love outside the binary-gender-code as well. We’d all do well with a more flexible, less anxiety-ridden sense of the possibilities of gender.

Cheers!! to those at the forefront of playing with gender and exploring their own versions of identity! And Shame!! to those who got so scared by it that they worked to wipe it off the face of the earth.


Anonymous ruth taylor said...

In 1997, I wrote about the drive-by shooting death of Luis Palencia, also known as Maria Conchita, a transvestite sex worker in Guatemala City, for the news agency where I worked. The major media had been silent on this and two other similar shootings that had occurred. But after we wrote about it, and more importantly, several organizations representing gays and homosexuals and people with HIV (Palencia had worked with one of the latter) had denounced the homicides as a hate crime (the term used was actually "social cleansing"), the media took up the cause. For the first time I'd seen in Guatemala, discrimination and violence against homosexuals, transvestites, and sex workers became an issue of public debate and concern. Unfortunately, I cannot say that this kind of violence has diminished or that Palencia's murderers were ever caught or punished. But with your post, I thought I should remember him here.

Wed Dec 03, 12:13:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Beautifully said, Andrew. Thanks for posting this.

Wed Dec 03, 01:30:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Thanks Tamara! And thanks Ruth for sharing Maria's story here.

Wed Dec 03, 04:57:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Thanks for sharing this Andrew. As you may know I have two sons - 4 & 9. I attended a seminar a few weeks ago in Calgary when William Pollack spoke about some of the things you have mentioned here. I learned a great deal. Here is short interview with him, I find him fascinating.

Thu Dec 04, 11:42:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

You've heard it before: fear is good. The adrenaline kicks in, and voila, that mom hoists the car off her child. But fear is also dangerous because it ain't always easy to separate the ignorance from the fear. Another great reminder of what's at our core, Andrew - just another human being. Thanks.

Thu Dec 04, 05:19:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Great post, Andrew.

Fri Dec 05, 12:45:00 am GMT-5  

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