Tag Archives: transphobia

A New Era of Canadian Sex Work: Interview With Lowell

22 Jun

Last year, Canada passed Bill C-36, a bill that governs sex work. This new law came about after Canada’s previous prostitution laws were struck down in 2013 as being unconstitutional, and the government had only one year to either leave the laws off the books or else create new ones. They chose to go with the latter option, and based their new bill on the so-called Swedish model of prostitution laws. These laws mainly criminalize the buying of sex but not the selling of it, meaning that johns would face the harshest consequences.

In theory, these laws are supposed to protect sex workers and decrease the threat of trafficking and “sexual exploitation”. In practice, they mean that sex workers are able to sell something that no one is legally allowed to buy. These laws also have the end goal of eradicating prostitution, which is not a great solution considering that there are many sex workers who love what they do and feel empowered by it. It’s hard not to feel that while Bill C-36 promises to help people, it will actually be hurting them.

Vice recently released A New Era of Canadian Sex Work, a short documentary hosted by Canadian musician Lowell. Lowell is a particularly good fit for this role, since she worked as a stripper before releasing her first album. She’s also smart, incisive, and thoughtful as she navigates what these new laws mean for sex workers. She approaches the issue from several different angles, first talking to Conservative MP Joy Smith, one of the politicians responsible for pushing through Bill C-36. She then talks to several different women involved in the sex industry, as well as Chester Brown, the author of Paying For It, subtitled a “comic strip memoir of being a john.” Finally, she travels to Nevada to see how the regulated, legal sex work compares to what we have in Canada. The documentary is short, clocking in at just under 35 minutes, but it packs a lot in and is one hundred percent worth watching.

I recently had the chance to talk Lowell, and here’s what she had to say about making the film:

Anne: So how did this happen? Did Vice approach you about making this doc, or did you approach them, or what?

Lowell: Vice approached me to host a documentary in general, and asked me to pick somethign I was interested in. I chose to do the bill because it felt like a really good opportunity to tell my story and our story.

Anne: There’s a really tense moment near the beginning where Joy Smith pretty much looks you in the face and calls you a victim. Like, when you called sex work one of the oldest professions, she immediately jumped in and said it was one of the oldest oppressions. What did it feel like to have her say that to you?

Lowell: First of all, I was like, how do you have this perfect turn of phrase ready? How long did it take her to come up with “one of the oldest oppressions”? That’s really great marketing, I wish I was that quick.

I guess I’m empathetic to the way she feels. I understand where she’s coming from. But if I were not so confident, I would feel like she was taking away everything that i’ve gained back and everything that i’ve been empowered by. Mostly, I wanted to make her understand why what she’s saying is so terrible.

Anne: What do you think motivates people like her?

Lowell:  I think there are ulterior motives that have nothing to do with speaking for women. I want to believe that she believes her personal feminism is good for women, but I also think there are a lot of rich, white Christian people with power trying to step into the lives of people who don’t have those privileges. And they do all this without identifying any of the social reasons why people might do sex work. Saving people who don’t want to be saved doesn’t work. You can’t indoctrinate your own brand of morals into people who don’t want them.

Anne: How do the new laws impact people buying sex?

Lowell: When they’re caught, they have to go to “john school,” where they’re taught that sex workers are exploited victims. Really, the whole program is based around women being victims. Which is nothing new.

Anne: Yeah, there was a part where you talked to a woman who had been arrested a couple of years ago under the old laws and sent to a similar program for sex workers.

Lowell: These programs teach you sex work is wrong, that you’re a dirty person for what you do, and you must hate yourself. And not only that, but there’s no acknowledgment of sexuality or gender – they’re very one size fits all, all women have uteruses, that kind of thing. Which makes them especially awful for anyone who falls outside their ideas of what women who do sex work are like.

Anne: I really loved that one of the women you spoke to was a trans woman. Was it important for you to be inclusive?

Lowell: It’s an inclusive topic. When it comes to transgender women, women of colour, those are the people affected the most by the law. These women are often not able to work in strip clubs, which in my experience function as a safe place where people can solicit sex. But strip clubs are more likely to hire white, blond [cis] girls, meaning that people who don’t fit into these categories end up being forced to work on the street. The result is that these laws – which are especially unsafe for people working on the street – end up targeting certain races, poverty levels, genders.

Anne: Tell me a bit about the place that you visited in Nevada, and how that was different from how we treat sex work in Canada. 

Lowell: They call the place I visited a “sex resort,” because you can stay there over night. Contrasting with Canada, it was so much better. It’s clearly a safer way to deal with sex work. I saw women there who had been victimized in the past but wanted to continue doing sex work – they were taught how to empower themselves and given the means to do it safely. That’s huge.

But the thing is, when you talk about legalization, it’s complex. You still have people who are running things and it’s still selective and can alienate certain groups. Decriminalization is for sure the safest way to approach sex work, but it doesn’t solve everything.

Anne: When you talked to Joy Smith, she said that only two percent of people doing sex work feel empowered about it. What do you think of that number?

Lowell: I think it must be nice to be a politician and just make up statistics to prove whatever you want. 

The truth is that we don’t have those numbers. We don’t have concrete numbers about how many sex workers are abused, and part of it is that there are lots of barriers to reporting abuse. 

Anne: What about numbers that reflect, like, job satisfaction among sex workers? Like, how many of them actually feel good about what they do?

Lowell: I don’t even think anyone’s ever asked. If we had that data, then we wouldn’t be able to use victim porn as a way to get people to vote for things.

Anne: How do you think we can make sure that all voices are heard in this conversation? I know that one of the biggest concerns about being pro-sex work is that it ignore the people who have been legitimately hurt by trafficking or abuse. How do we make sure those people aren’t being erased?

Lowell: I personally think to make it easier for the average person comprehend by putting an emphasis on the actual rape laws work – how police approach rape, how they approach assault, and trafficking. We need to train the police to work better with survivors.

Blending sex work and brutality together to make it seem like we’re ignoring people who are being abused, but people who are empowered aren’t taking anything from people who have been victimized. Laws like Bill C-36 make it seem like you have to choose who you want to support – the victims, or the people out in the streets who like their work. But you don’t get to choose who has human rights. Everyone has rights. It’s the government’s job to treat every person equally when it comes to safety and their rights.

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Shit White Feminists Need To Stop Doing

8 Mar

I’m a white feminist, and let me tell you something: white feminism* is pretty bullshit. It’s exclusive, oppressive, and serves to further marginalize the people who are most impacted by misogyny. Unfortunately, white feminism is also the western status quo of feminism, meaning that white feminists have the biggest platforms, have increased access to resources and media, and are generally considered to be The Voice of Feminism. In theory, someone truly interested in equality would use these assets to amplify the voices of women of colour. In practice, white supremacy is a real thing and white feminists often seem to forget that their white privilege makes it easy as hell to trample over women of colour as they work to dismantle the patriarchy.

So, in honour of International Women’s Day, here is a non-exhaustive list of Shit White Feminists Need to Stop Doing:

1. Believing Their Experiences of Marginalization Are Universal

White feminists like to pretend that they get it. They get it because they’ve been there. They’ve experienced sexism. They’ve experienced misogyny. They’ve been passed over for promotions, whistled at on the street, and had to listen to boring dudes at parties who require approximately ten years of your time in order to explain how fascinating they actually are. These white women have been down in the feminist trenches for years, and like your world-weary Grandpa, they’ve seen it all. They understand the oppression of all women, ok?

Except not. Intersecting forces of oppression mean that women who are queer, racialized, disabled or trans will experience misogyny in very different (and frequently more deadly) ways than white women do. Saying that just because you’re a woman you totally understand all different ways that women are marginalized is not only wildly inaccurate, it’s also just plain ignorant.  Just because you don’t have male privilege doesn’t mean you aren’t the proud owner of a whole host of other types of privilege. And whether you like it or not, those various forms of privilege influence how people treat you.

White women don’t own womanhood, and they don’t get to explain it to women of colour. End of story.

2. Crying About How We’re All On The Same Team

Also known as: “Why are you being so mean to me?”

White feminists tend to have this fantasy that we’re going to tackle this giant, slavering beast called The Patriarchy, and then once that’s done everything will be magical and all of the world’s problems will be solved. They’ll vaguely explain that destroying The Patriarchy will also end racism, transphobia, homophobia and basically everything other societal ill, but they don’t seem to have any clear idea of how exactly that will happen. It just will! Because science.

These feminists will choose specific causes to back – often those that most benefit straight, white, cis-gender women – and will balk if anyone questions why they’re ignoring other types of marginalization that have a greater impact on, say, Black women or trans women. But we’re all on the same team, they’ll tweet frantically. I thought you were on my side. We’re all women, right? The subtext is: you should help me now with the things that directly hurt me, and then maybe one day I’ll help you.

They never seem to wonder why they get to be the ones who delineate the borders between “sides,” or why they get to constantly call the shots about who’s on what team.

3. Talking About Hijabs (Or Burqas, Or Sex-Selective Abortion, Or Anything, Really)

Literally I just want to see all the white feminists take a back seat when it comes to hijabs. It’s amazing that these women will talk up the idea of pro-choice when it comes to pregnancy, but flip out if a woman chooses to cover her hair.

Look, I get it. You think those women are being oppressed, even when they very kindly and patiently tell you they aren’t. You know better than them, right? Because you’ve thrown off the shackles of … something? You think their culture or religion is forcing them into something they don’t really want, and if they believe differently, well, that’s just their internalized misogyny talking.

White women: you literally aren’t more enlightened than everyone else. Stop talking. Go to bed.

Also, explain to me exactly how telling a woman that she shouldn’t wear a specific article of clothing is “empowerment.” It seems to me that limiting women’s choices is the opposite of feminism.

4. Thinking That All Sex Workers Are All Miserable Wretches Who Hate Their Lives

This one isn’t really white women-specific, but I’m going to include it because I’ve seen a lot of white feminists pull this shit and frankly it’s garbage.

Like, this is literally what you’re saying: “I believe women have agency and can make decisions about their lives except for when it has to do with sex work, at which point I will assume that either someone is exploiting them or else they are self-hating gender traitors only interested in the male gaze.”

So just to clarify, you think that women can make choices except when it’s a choice you disagree with, at which point you’re pretty sure she’s being coerced. You also think that sex workers need to be “rescued,” even if they’re happy with what they do. You would rather see women further marginalized by anti-prostitution laws than find ways to keep sex workers safe.

Again, explain to me how this is a pro-woman stance?

5. Arguing That All Other Forms Of Oppression Are Over So We Need to Focus On Women

I’M LOOKING AT YOU, ARQUETTE.

Look, I know that her Oscar speech has been critiqued and analyzed to death, so I won’t dwell on this too much, but – come the fuck on. First of all, saying that we need “all the gay people and people of colour that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now” kind of insinuates that none of those gay people or people of colour are women, no? Second of all, literally read a book or something because racism and homophobia and transphobia are far from over. Third of all, you are a white woman who has benefitted from enormous privilege her entire life. You don’t get to tell other marginalized groups what to do.

I know that her remarks were well-intentioned. I get that. But that’s a huge part of the problem – white feminists toss this kind of shit off the cuff, then get huffy when they’re called out, and then we’re right back to number two on this list. Just own your privilege for a hot second and stop bleating about how mean everyone else is being when they point out how you’ve rightfully fucked up.

White feminists: this is a call for you to get your shit together. The point of equality isn’t to claw your way to the top so that you can treat other people just as badly as white dudes have treated you – we need to elevate each other, amplify each other’s voices, and maybe let someone else tell us if we’re allowed to be on their team. Because, as per Flavia Dzodan, if your feminism is not intersectional, then I’m sorry but it’s complete bullshit.

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* by “white feminism” I mean a certain demographic of white women who are straight, cis and able-bodied and view their brand of “feminism” as being better and more “real” than that of anyone else’s.

Guest Post: On Being a Trans Woman and Crossing the Bathroom Line

20 Feb

By Xeph Kalma

I don’t work for a big company. It’s tech, and it’s a small office, and everyone knows each other. The people are generally kind, I guess, and frankly, I mostly feel like I should just be so gosh darn happy to even have a job me that I shouldn’t have any problems with the situation there.

I tell myself that I should just deal with the constant microaggressions, the misgendering, the fact that no one speaks to me unless they have to; I should get used to the fact that I basically get treated like garbage there, because HEY, LET’S BE REAL. As a trans woman of colour, I am literally super, duper, lucky I have a job. Not kidding. Look at the stats. Probably the only reason I’m employed right now is because I started transitioning while at this company.

So I guess what I really mean is that I’m lucky I haven’t been fired yet.

How fucked up is it to say that I, a professional of 10 odd years, I feel sincerely, honestly, lucky to be considered employable? But that’s the honest truth for me and other trans women of colour; our lives are so precarious that it seems like anything and everything could be taken away in a hot second.

Before coming out/while presenting as male, I had no problems finding work. I spent seven years working in South Korea, then came back to Canada and worked for several more. Whenever I left a job, I was always able to find something new, and quickly. I’m good at what I do.

So when I took out a bank loan, I didn’t really think twice about it. I mean, I was always going to have a job, right? So I didn’t worry about not being able to pay it back.

But now pretty much all I think about is the possibility of losing my job, and the huge challenges I would face if I had to find another one.

You might be wondering how I could lose my job – especially if I’m as talented and hard-working as I say. But here’s the thing: while talented and hard-working helped keep me safe when I presented as male, they don’t mean much now that I’m out as trans. Since I started transitioning, nothing I do seems to make my boss happy. I told myself I’d just keep my head down, nose to the grindstone, and hopefully go unnoticed. Unfortunately, that didn’t work as well as I’d hoped; I’m the trans elephant in the room. Even if no talks to me anymore, everyone still notices me.

I told myself, “Just get work hard and get it done. Be true to yourself, carry on with transitioning, work hard.”

I’ve tried to do these things.

But recently I’ve crossed a line.

You see, with all the work I’ve done in transitioning, things started to get really weird in the men’s washroom at work. My co-workers never said anything, but our office is in a complex, and the bathrooms are shared. I began feeling very unsafe in the bathroom whenever there someone else was in there. I started to become very acutely aware of when other people were using the washroom; I trained my ears to the sound of people going and out, so I could use it while it was empty.

Sometimes people would be in there longer than I thought possible, or I would get trapped in the stall for longer than I thought possible because I would wait until the space was empty before quickly washing my hands, drying, and getting the hell out of there. It was torturous, but I felt like listening to these dudes take a ten minute shit was better, easier, than them knowing that, I, just being me, was in there with them.

I worked this bathroom system for months, a huge slice of my time at work taken up by watching, waiting, listening, waiting, worrying about getting “caught,” whatever “caught” mean. Then a friend let me know that due to where I was at in my transition and living in Ontario, I could go change my legal gender marker. It felt like the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought that it I presented a legal document to our human resources department, then things would have to change. So I let my employers and workmates know that I had applied for this document. I let them know that I would be using the woman’s washroom and asked them to start using my preferred pronouns (she/her/hers). I asked human resources to help ease everyone into it; I wanted this to be as smooth for everyone as possible.

I asked human resources to tell my officemates I’m legally a woman.

I thought, “This will be easy.”

Which brings us to now.

It’s been over a month getting this legal document declaring my gender to be female, I still get misgendered 100% of the time at work. Everyone – literally everyone – in office is aware that I identify as a woman. They just don’t acknowledge it.

I’ve started using the women’s washroom.

My ears still acutely listen to doors opening and closing, and I end up hiding in stalls until people are done what they’re doing. I’ve noticed the two cis women in my office doing the same thing; they don’t want to run into me either.

I mean, god forbid, I may be taking a minute to enjoy looking at myself in the mirror and being proud of what I’ve accomplished. I might be fixing my makeup.

And just to be clear: I am, and I do.

But the fact that others have changed their habits because they’re scared to see me in the washroom hurts. It hurts to be treated if I’m not a woman, or not even human for that matter. But what strangely hurts the most is that I seriously, actually, believed that a different letter on my ID would change something.

So I’m worried about losing my job. They can’t legally fire me for using the women’s washroom, but there are other ways, you know? Totally legal ways to get rid of me and make it look like it wasn’t discrimination. These thoughts colour my every action and interaction at work; I’m always on my guard.

That’s what it’s like to be the only trans person in the office, I guess.

I just want cis folk to know something. If you’re cis, I want you to read the following, digest it, try to understand it:

If you ever run into someone who might not visually match the gender of the washroom you’ve found them in, just chill. They are probably way, way, way more scared of you, than you of them. Scared of losing their job, scared of not being able to find employment again, scared of losing housing, scared of having to even look someone in the eye/talk to them. Don’t say anything; just leave us be. We’ll be on our way in no time.

Chances are, especially if we’re alone, we didn’t even want you to find us there.

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Xeph, while mainly being of this world, has spent a large amount of time occupying space in others, and hopes she brought back the best aspects of those other places with her. She’s now committed to somehow, possibly, making this world a better space. She has a background in Earthly psychology and tech, and spent many years passing on communication skills to others. One of the main things she’s learned is, animals are better than people.

10 Reasons Feminism Might Not Be For You

18 Sep

This post originally appeared on the blog The Outlier Collective. But since that blog is now defunct, and since people have been asking for this post, I’m republishing it here.

I’m typically a huge proponent of the idea that feminism is for everybody. Feminism is for ladies! It’s for men! It’s for individuals who don’t subscribe to the idea of a gender binary! Feminism is for teenagers and small children! In fact, I’m even pretty sure that at least one of my cats is a feminist, although the other one just prefers to think of herself as a cat-ist, because that’s less political. Regardless, I’m usually of the opinion that feminism, as a philosophy, can and should be embraced by everyone.

Lately, though, I’m not so sure. I’ve been seeing a lot of questionable behaviours and comments, many of them coming from purported feminists. I’m starting to wonder if some people might want to re-think whether the feminist movement is right for them. With that in mind, I’ve created a handy-dandy list of ways to tell whether or not this movement is for you.

So without any further adieu, here are ten signs that feminism might not be for you:

1. You are against victim-blaming except in the case of _____

No one is deserving of any kind of violence, sexual or otherwise, at any time, ever, full stop. I would have thought that this would be something that would be fairly well understood within the feminist community, but apparently that was just wishful thinking. I’ve heard self-professed feminists say all kinds of nasty victim-blaming shit, especially about women who have been sexually assaulted, ranging from complaints about girls giving out mixed signals (hint: there is no such thing as a mixed signal, there is only consent and lack of consent), all the way to suggesting that if a woman does not loudly and forcefully defend herself against an attack then she’s somehow complicit in it. I’ve also heard people criticize and even doubt assault victims because they’ve said something problematic or at some point in history weren’t very nice. But let me tell you something right now: there is no such thing as a perfect victim.

You guys, a victim is a victim is a victim. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’ve lived an exemplary life. It doesn’t matter if they’ve said things that you find disagreeable. It doesn’t matter whether or not you like them or would want to be friends with them. None of those things mean that they are deserving of violence.

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2. You think that one of the goals of the feminist movement should be to make men feel safer or more comfortable about feminism.

Someone recently shared this video with me and it made me want to throw up everywhere:

I mean, I have so many issues with this video that I could probably write an entire series of blog posts about it. Also, I’m not sure that someone who doesn’t understand that sex and gender are two different things should be telling anyone about anything, and especially not opining on feminism. But the moment that especially makes me want to claw my own eyes out is when she asks “young women” to make feminism “male-friendly.”

Look, lady, the entire world is male-friendly, for one thing. For another, feminism isn’t anti-man – it’s anti-patriarchy, which is completely different. It is really fucking toxic to the feminist movement to suggest that we need to be more open and welcoming to men. That’s like saying that the civil rights movement should have been more open and inclusive towards white people. And this isn’t to say that men can’t be involved in feminism, in the same way that white people are still able to fight against racism – it’s just that movements working to forward the rights and freedoms of the oppressed should never, ever try to make themselves more friendly to those who have been historically oppressive.

That’s just common sense.

3. You think that someone can’t be a feminist based on how they dress or present themselves.

I can’t help but think of an interview with Zooey Deschanel that Glamour ran in February of this year. In it, she said,

“We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?”

There’s this weird idea (even within the feminist movement) that femininity somehow takes away from feminism. And, I mean, I guess that I kind of get it? Maybe? Sort of? Like, wearing pretty dresses and putting on makeup and removing your body hair definitely plays into patriarchal ideas of beauty. But you know what? Feminism is about choice, and these patriarchal ideas are so deeply ingrained in our culture that’s it’s nearly impossible to escape them. So you know what? You fucking wear your feminist Peter Pan collar with pride, Zooey, and I will do the same.

ABC's "Live With Kelly And Michael" - 2012
Still A Feminist

4. You don’t think that feminists are funny.

We’re fucking hilarious. Deal with it.

And not only are we funny, but our jokes don’t rely on the same old tired stereotypes about women that dudes seem to find so charming. That’s right – we’re actually coming up with new material and it’s fucking fantastic and maybe you should get over yourself and read some Lindy West or Mallory Ortberg or one of the other million woman who are a riot and a half. Turn off your white dude comic show for HALF A SECOND and check out something new for once in your life. Just saying.

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5. You’re not interested in hearing how women of colour, queer women, or trans* women feel that the feminist movement has failed to recognize or address their needs and wants.

The feminist movement likes to think of itself as being anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia. And I do think that most feminists believe in these ideas in theory; unfortunately, many of them have a harder time putting these concepts into practice. There’s a tendency to ignore or even silence queer women, trans* women and women of colour, and while I don’t think that this silencing is intentional, exactly, I do think that many people, even those working within the feminist movement, don’t want to address this problem or even acknowledge that it happens.

Here’s the thing: when someone from an oppressed group speaks up, you listen. You shut your mouth and you listen. You don’t tell them that we’re all women, here, and the issues that we’re working to resolve are issues that affect all women. You don’t discount their lived experiences by countering with your own examples of being oppressed as a white woman. And finally, you most fucking do not pretend that sexism experienced by women of colour or queer women or trans women is exactly the same as what you’ve experienced. Because it’s not; it’s worse. Get off your high horse, acknowledge your privilege, and let someone else have the microphone for a while. Feminism isn’t an egalitarian movement if it’s only promoting the rights of white, educated, middle-class women.

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6. You can’t handle being called out.

Getting called out is going to happen, I can guarantee it. Pretty much any person working in any kind of social justice movement is going to fuck up at some point (or, at the very least, do something that another person views as “fucking up”), and someone is going to call them out on it. And when that happens to you, it’s important to take a moment, cool your jets, and not immediately get your back up or become defensive. Instead, actually listen to what that person is saying (especially if they’re coming from a place of oppression that hasn’t been your lived experience). Try to take what they’ve said into consideration, even if you think that you’re not, ultimately, going to agree with it. And you know what? The funny thing is that you may very well end up realizing that the person calling you out is, in fact, right.

If you do realize that you were wrong (and let’s be real, probably you are if the caller-outer is from a more marginalized group than you) and you need to apologize, try taking a few notes from the fabulous Chescaleigh:

7. You ever, ever, ever feel the need to clarify that you’re not one of those feminists.

This is code for, “But I don’t hate men! I don’t wear cargo pants! I shave my legs! I promise!” And for sure those statements are true for many feminists; in fact, none of us hate men. But by distancing yourself from those feminists, whoever those feminists are, perpetuates the idea that a) there’s something wrong with those feminists, b) those feminists are totally threatening to men and masculinity, and c) that they make up the majority of the feminist movement.

Remember how we were talking earlier about feminism being all about choice? Well, it’s a two-way street, my friend. You can choose to wear your lipstick and your Peter Pan collar, and another woman can choose to wear hiking boots and a baseball cap, and at the end of the day, both of you are awesome feminists.

8. a) You think that there might be a type of body-shaming that is acceptable.

Nope. Never ok. You don’t get to comment negatively on another woman’s body, ever. You don’t make fat-phobic comments, you don’t make divisive remarks about how real women have curves, you don’t treat “fat” as if it’s a dreadful, dirty word. Oh, and while we’re on this subject, you can also feel free to keep any remarks about plastic surgery to yourself. Recently, when the new season of Arrested Development came on the air, a ton of my friends were gleefully jumping all over the fact that Portia DeRossi appeared to have had some kind of plastic surgery.

And yes, plastic surgery typically plays right into patriarchal ideals of how women should look. And maybe these women are furthering the idea that there is only one, very narrow definition of beauty, and that the appearance of aging is to be avoided at all costs. But you know what? Bodily autonomy. Bodily autonomy means that you get to do whatever you like with your body, and other women get to do whatever they like with their own body. End of story.

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8. b) You think that there might be a type of food-policing that is acceptable.

I once had a woman say to be that she openly judges anyone who uses margarine instead of butter, because apparently margarine is a tool of the devil or some such shit. Now listen, I am the last person to deny being judgmental. I will openly judge you if you are sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-choice, mean to puppies, or any of that sort of vile shit. But when it comes to what you put in your body? I literally have zero things to say about that. No wait, I have one thing: bon apétit.

You guys, food is complicated. On the one hand, yes, you do need a certain combination of nutrients in order to keep your body functioning at an optimal level. On the other hand, not everyone has access to so-called healthy foods, and even if they do, they are under no obligation to eat them. In fact, no one is really under any kind of obligation to even be healthy. Bodily autonomy! You get to treat your own body however you want.

9. You are pro-choice, except in cases where _____.

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you were on Jeopardy or whatever, the WRONG ANSWER buzzer would be going off right now.

The first part of this statement should never be followed up with an “except” or a “but.” You are either pro-choice or you are anti-choice. There is no hierarchy of abortions; they should be available to everyone, on demand, and without apology.

Sure, you are totally free to feel uncomfortable about why someone might choose to terminate their pregnancy, but you know what? You keep those feelings to yourself.

Say it with me, now, one more time: b-o-d-i-l-y a-u-t-o-n-o-m-y

10. You think that there is one specific way to be a feminist.

I know that I’ve pointed out a ton of things that people do that are unfeminist, but the flip side of this is that there’s no one way to be a feminist.

You can be a feminist and be married. You can be a feminist and be single. You can be a feminist and have kids. You can be a feminist and be childless. You can be a feminist and take your partner’s last name. You can be a feminist and keep your last name. You can be a feminist and breastfeed. You can be a feminist and formula-feed. You can be a feminist and work outside the home. You can be a feminist and stay home with your kids.

You can be a feminist in a box. You can be a feminist with a fox. You can be a feminist in a house. You can be a feminist with a mouse. And so on. And so forth.

Seriously, you guys, I can’t believe that I have to say all of this in 2014.

And yeah, I know that I said earlier that maybe feminism isn’t for everyone, but I totally take that back. I still think that everyone can and should be feminist. But I also think that it’s super important for people, especially those already within the movement, to be able to take a step back every once in a while, re-evaluate their beliefs and ask themselves if their speech and actions actually do help to promote women’s rights and equality. Because you know what? It’s easy to fall into the trap of offering the appearance of giving a hand up to women while actually actively engaging in pushing them down. It’s easy to feel that you are working towards “equality” while still sliding back into the old patriarchal beliefs that we all grew up with, to one degree or another. And it’s especially fucking easy to find things to criticize about the ways that women dress, act or talk – in fact, I actually can’t think of anything easier than that.

But we’re not here to take the easy route, are we? So let’s all start taking the time to check in with ourselves, to make sure that the stuff that we say and do actually promotes the changes that we want to see in the world. Let’s take a long, hard look at our thoughts and beliefs, and try harder to call ourselves out before anyone else can. And let’s all try to take few moments every night to repeat bodily autonomy is a necessity five times, out loud, in front of the mirror.

Because, you guys? This is our movement. And it’s our job to continue to make it a better, safer, happier place.

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“But Not All ______ Are Like That!”

25 Feb

I see this happen all the damn time.

Someone describes the actions of a privileged group of people and how these actions, purposefully or not, encourage the marginalization of a less-privileged group. Most often this description occurs within the context of trying to explain to the privileged folks how this dynamic is hurtful and oppressive. The hope is that the privileged group will listen to the marginalized person, examine their own behaviour, and try to do better in the future. The reality is that the person doing the explaining is nearly always met with a chorus of, “but not all men/white people/straight people/cis people/able-bodied people are like that!”

Look. I get it. You, whatever privileged group you happen to fall into, are a good person. You want to remind the marginalized group that you view yourself as an ally. You want them to know that not everyone is against them – the world, after all, isn’t such a grim place as all that. You want to make it clear that although you understand that your group has done some not-so-great things in the past, you are a better, more evolved person than that.

Maybe you even think you are somehow helping the marginalized group realize that you’re more than just a blank face in a group – you’re an individual person with your own thoughts and actions.

You know what, though?

You are not helping.

You are just making things worse.

In fact, you are only helping to prove the original point: that you, as a privileged person, perpetuate actions and ideas that oppress less privileged people.

See, what you’re really doing with your comment is a classic derailment tactic. In a discussion that is supposed to be about those who have frequently been silenced, you are contributing to that silencing by making it all about you. The message that you are giving out is that your feelings, your poor, hurt, privileged feelings should be taken into account no matter what the topic at hand. You are putting yourself in the centre of the discussion, and pushing the original topic off to the side. You are occupying a space that was created by and for people who don’t have many other spaces to occupy, and yet you feel entitled to be there because your privilege has taught you that you are entitled to be anywhere you want. You are telling oppressed groups that they cannot discuss the issues that affect them unless they have first considered the feelings of the oppressive group.

You are being a bad fucking ally.

I’m going to give you three pieces of advice:

1. If you don’t feel like the action attributed to the privileged group is something that you do, then assume the person is not talking about you

If you are not guilty of this particular oppressive act, then great! You are a good ally! Here’s a cookie for you! You can revel in the knowledge of your goodness without having to ask for reassurance from anyone else.

2. Take a moment to examine your past actions and ask yourself if this might, in fact, be something of which you have been guilty

The truth is that you may very well have been unconsciously participating in subtle forms of oppression without realizing it. Often our privilege is so deeply ingrained that we don’t always recognize when we are abusing it; before you decide whether or not you’re fully innocent of any wrongdoing, it’s worth taking the time to check in with yourself and see if you’re being totally honest.

3. Use this as a learning opportunity, and an opportunity to educate others

Whether or not you are guilty of involvement in some kind of oppression (and, I mean, spoiler alert: you probably are), any marginalized person relating their lived experience should be something you take seriously. Rather than just dismissing what they’re saying as something that you would never, ever, ever do, use what they are telling you as a chance to further educate yourself on the dynamics of oppression. Not only that, but use your privilege to amplify their voice – share their post, retweet their message, reblog it on your Tumblr. Instead of crying that not all ____ are like that, use your actions to show that you, personally, are not like that.

Whether or not you intend to cause harm, you, as a privileged person, have almost certainly engaged in some form of oppression or marginalization. Our culture has taught you that your skin colour or gender or sexual orientation mean that your thoughts and feelings are more valuable than those of other groups, and that is some social programming that takes a lot of hard work to undo. But if you want to consider yourself to be anti-oppression – if, instead of just saying that you’re not racist or homophobic or a misogynist, you actually want to actively not be any of those things – you need to put in the time to try to dismantle the fucked up outlook that your privilege has given you. Otherwise, you have absolutely no place in any kind of social justice movement.

And if you really want others to believe that not all men/white people/cis people/straight people/able-bodied people are total assholes, then instead of whining about how good you actually are, you need to prove it.

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The Incarceration of Avery Edison

11 Feb

Here in Canada, we tend to think of ourselves as claiming a sort of moral high ground when it comes to social justice issues. We think of ourselves as liberated, fair, and anti-oppression; we look down on other countries for their medieval legislature, patting ourselves on the back for being so good, so forward-thinking, so tolerant. And then, every once in a while, an event occurs that proves just how awful and backwards we really are.

On Monday morning, 25 year old British comedian Avery Edison tried to enter Canada through Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, hoping to visit her partner and pick up a few of the possessions she had left behind after moving home to England. Knowing that she had previously overstayed her student visa, she travelled on a non-refundable return ticket and brought with her a copy of her London lease – unfortunately, this was not good enough. She was denied entry and detained by Canadian immigration officials, a fact which she admitted was her own fault:

It was while she was being interviewed by an Immigrations Canada officer that things started to go from being unfortunately inconvenient to nightmarish. Edison, who is trans* and whose passport lists her gender as female, noticed that the officer kept switching between masculine and feminine pronouns when discussing her over the phone. She then overheard him say that he had “one male for pickup” [emphasis my own]. She was told that she would be placed in a solitary cell due to her status as a pre-operative male-to-female, a fact that didn’t exactly thrill her but which she found unsurprising.

She asked if she could go home to England, but was told that was not a possibility.

She then had to submit to an examination by a nurse to determine where she would be sent. It was decided that because of her male genitalia, she would have to go to Maplehurst Correctional Complex, an all-male facility. This, in spite of the fact that her passport lists her as female. This, in spite of the fact that there is a trans* unit at the nearby Vanier Centre for Women. This, in spite of the fact of the high rate of violence against trans* folks in the general population, let alone the prison population.

Fuck.

And this is where I lose it. I mean, really lose it. I lose everything – my mind, my temper, my faith in humanity. What the fuck kind of government do we have in this country? How can a so-called progressive population stand the fact that we still have people in charge who think that you can tell someone’s gender based on a physical examination? How can anyone, anyone think that it’s all right to put a person in such a potentially harmful, violent situation? How is this happening in Canada, in this day and age, with all of our so-called tolerant and liberal values?

Before you start to roll your eyes at all of this, before you make any proclamations that start out with, “well, of course I’m sympathetic, but -,” imagine how humiliating it would be to be constantly questioned about your professed gender, even though you have official government documentation to back you up. Imagine how horrific it would be to be asked to submit to a physical exam to have your gender, which you have already disclosed and which is written on your passport, determined. Imagine how frightening it would be to be sent to a facility where you stand a high chance of suffering physical, emotional, verbal and, of course, sexual abuse.

Now imagine if that fear was something that you lived with, on one level or another, every day of your life. You would have to live your life always walking on a knife’s edge, never sure just how much information you can relay to any given person – information that cisgender people would give out without thinking twice. You would spend your days hoping that people can view you as who you are, but are never surprised when they call you by the wrong name or the wrong pronoun. You would have to answer all of the same questions, personal, prying, awful questions, over and over and over, because people just don’t want to get it. All of this because you committed the great and horrible crime of having a gender that does not align with the genitalia you were given.

Edison is currently being held at Maplehurst, and will be there until at least Monday. Her partner, Romy Sugden, has been able to visit her, and reports that the guards have continued to misgender her. According to Sugden, one staff member, after being corrected repeatedly on Edison’s gender, said, “I don’t care, she’s a man to me.” A friend of Edison’s took a picture of this staff member in order to file a report, but was forced to delete the picture.

You would think that all of this would be illegal here in progressive Canada, but it’s not. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission,

Transgendered people may be placed with those of the sex with which they do not identify.

Take a moment to re-read that, and really let it sink it. Transgender [not transgendered – the law doesn’t even bother to get the term right] people may be placed with those of the sex with which they do not identify. This is government-speak for we do not give a shit about your professed gender, our only interest is in punishing you whatever way possible. This is very, very fucked up.

This has to change. Action has to be taken, not just for Avery Edison’s sake, but for the sake of all trans* prisoners and detainees. The personal indignity is too high and the threat of violence is too great for us to be able to look the other way. This is something that has to happen now.

If you are in Toronto, there will be a rally held here on Saturday, February 15th. You can find the details here.

Other things you can do:

– You can call Goran Vragovic, the Canadian Border Services Agency Director General, at 905 803 5590 and request Avery Edison’s release

– You can send support to NDP members, including NDP MPs Randall Garrison and Peggy Nash, who are working to help Edison in particular and to change the discriminatory laws in general.

– You can check out the #freeavery hashtag on twitter

– You can share this post, or any other post about Avery Edison, and let everyone know what’s happening

– You can do anything within your power to make this a more visible issue

Because this issue is really, really important.

You can find all of Edison’s and her partner’s tweets here about everything that has happened so far.

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UPDATE: Edison’s partner just announced that she will be transferred to a women’s prison, either tonight or tomorrow:

However, the hearing is set for tomorrow and Edison is still in need of a lawyer:

Sources are now confirming that Edison was moved to the Vanier Centre for Women.

I will keep you updated on the situation, and let you know how and where donations can be made.

UPDATE II:

Avery is going home!

Do We Have To Be Offended By Everything

9 Jan

You are a smart person and you pride yourself on your critical thinking abilities and general good taste.

You read or hear or watch something and find yourself smiling, nodding in agreement, maybe even laughing out loud. This, whatever this happens to be, is genius. Whoever created it somehow articulated exactly what you’ve been thinking but have never been able to put into words. Nothing has ever been more perfect.

You share what you’ve just read, heard or watched with your friends, expecting that they’ll be just as blown away by the insight and hilarity as you were. And some people do get it, so you high five to celebrate your mutual intelligence and awesomeness. But then a few of your friends start to voice misgivings, and then someone comes right out and says it:

This isn’t cool.

Here’s the thing – you’re not a bad person. In fact, you would typically describe yourself as kind-hearted, open-minded and even downright liberal.  You support marriage equality, you think that the patriarchy is a Real Thing, you’re against oppression and intolerance of any kind, and you use terms like social justicewhite privilege and problematic. You are a good person. So if you think that what you shared was cool, and so many other people that you like and respect thought it was cool, then it stands to reason that it must be cool. And rather than second-guessing yourself or taking a fresh look at the video or blog post or whatever it was you shared, you let your knee-jerk self-righteousness and fear take over. Because, let’s be honest – as much as you believe that you’re in the right right, you are also afraid. Afraid that you are what you purport to hate, or at the very least unconsciously participating in a system that you hate.

And so you begin to loudly dismiss and belittle the other person’s concerns.

“Calm down, it’s just a joke.”

“You’re taking this too seriously.”

“You’re reading something into this that just isn’t there.”

“Honestly, do we have to be offended by everything now?”

“You are way too sensitive.”

“I have a black/gay/trans*/female friend, and they don’t think this is racist/homophobic/transphobic/sexist.”

You might even throw in a word or two about censorship, if you’re in the right mood.

Because of course you must be in the right. If there was any problem with the content in question, you would have been the first to see it. If the joke was offensive, you wouldn’t have laughed. If this was something likely to hurt another person, you wouldn’t have shared it.

You are a good person.

So if someone is offended, that’s their problem, not yours. Maybe they’re too sensitive, or else maybe they’re just trying to show off somehow or cause a ruckus when there doesn’t need to be one. Chances are that they don’t even really feel hurt or upset; they have some other ulterior motive for their reaction. Or maybe they just don’t get it. Maybe they don’t understand satire, or maybe the joke went right over their head.

Whatever the case is, there is no possible chance that you could be wrong.

And yet.

What if you are wrong?

And what if your defensiveness has effectively shut down an opportunity to learn something?

And what if you genuinely did hurt someone?

Because the thing is, typically if someone is telling you that something isn’t cool, they’re not doing it out of a spirit of malice or a desire to police the things that you enjoy. They’re not trying to ruin all your fun. They’re telling you that this, whatever this is, could at best hurt someone’s feelings and at worst promote a dangerous and potentially violent world view.

Our experiences obviously vary a great deal from person to person, and the lens through which we view things can very much depend on factors like race, gender, sexuality and class. So something that might strike one person as harmless has the potential to affect someone else in a very different way. And I get that it’s hard to get outside of our own heads sometimes, and it’s hard to admit that we might be wrong, and it’s especially fucking hard to examine our own privilege and the way that privilege colours our perception, but seriously – how else do you expect to learn and grow as a person?

Take a moment right now to ask yourself what you are truly saying when you tell someone that they are too easily offended. That you value your ability to post rape jokes on Facebook more than you do their friendship? That the right to free speech is a one way street, open only to you and those agree with you? That you don’t care about something so long as it doesn’t directly affect you?

So I guess it all boils down to what kind of person you want to be – do you want to be someone who is caring and compassionate, someone who takes others’ feelings into consideration? Or do you want to be someone who is always right? Because there’s no way that you can be both.

Life is an ongoing exercise in empathy. As a human being, your job should be constantly learning how to make your own way in this world while causing as little harm as possible.  Which is why I’m ultimately baffled when people wonder aloud if they’re supposed to look at everything critically and worry about its potential to harm others. Because yes. Yes, that is exactly what you are supposed to do.

And while you may laugh at the ridiculousness of what some people find offensive, the fact is that one day you are going to stumble across something and it’s going to hurt you. When that day comes, you are going to want someone to listen to you and try to understand where you’re coming from. So you know what? You be that person. You be that person right now, and you listen to others, and you exercise empathy. Because one day you’re going to be on the other side of the calm-down-it’s-just-a-joke argument, and when that time comes you are going to bitterly regret every single instance in which you downplayed or ignored what someone else was trying to tell you.

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