Invisibility

I met with the Director the Women’s Directorate, an agency of the Yukon Government, yesterday. Previously, I had sent a letter to the Minister of the Women’s Directorate, Elaine Taylor, highlighting how their newly launched website ‘Gender Equality’ was actually a picture of Cis-gender women’s equality in the Yukon, at the exclusion of all other gender identities and expression. Trans and Gender non-conforming Yukoners were once again made invisible. I recommended that they either include other gender expressions to truly reflect gender equality in Yukon or that they change their title.

So the Director invited me to have a conversation with her. We had a delightful discussion and I believe she is a strong ally to gender non-conforming individuals. According to her, the main reason why gender non-conforming individuals were excluded is because there were no statistics on this population within the Yukon. They looked. In fact, there were very few at all. Which is true. The TransPULSE study out of Ontario is the only study of significance in Canada that I am aware of. The Director and I spoke a lot about the invisibility of my community, which is perpetuated by the absence of quantifiable measures.

 Today I decided to complete my copy of the long form Census sent to me. It exclaims very aggressively on the front “Complete the Census-it’s the law.” So I attempted to.

 Except I can’t complete the Census, because I can’t get past question E(2). This questions states “What is this person’s sex?” and provides me with the options of “male” and “female.” I don’t know what to pick. I wonder what intersex people do, so, I googled it. I discovered a lot of helpful information by other gender non-conforming Canadians who are in the same situation as me. 

These advocates and activists have been told by the MP’s and MLA’s and Statistics Canada Representatives that they should leave the question blank, then put in the comment box why it was left blank and how you feel the question is inadequate. We have to comment, because section 31 of the Statistics Act states, refusing or neglecting to answer a question "without lawful excuse" is an offence.

 Perfect. I will do that.

Except, I can’t skip this question. I can’t skip the question because my Census is online. I tried to.  It won’t let me.

So now what should I do? I could call 1-855-699-2016 “if you prefer to receive the paper questionnaire.” However I shouldn’t have to. I want to do mine online. I must complete the census by May. 10th – will the paper questionnaire be here with enough time for me to complete it? 

Furthermore, I have a learning disability that impacts my written expression. So I absolutely do not prefer a paper copy.  A paper questionnaire would be a significant inconvenience to me and take me two to three times longer to complete than when I have access to my assistive technology on my computer.

I am growing tired of the ways I am expected to do additional work and be inconvenienced as a result of being discriminated against.

I could send emails to MLA’s, MP’s and Statistics Canada. However I have sent so many letters on so many topics that I am exhausted. I sent easily 6 delicately worded advocacy emails/letters last week. I do this so frequently that I have the personal cell phones and emails addresses of several allied NDP MLA’s who are the official Yukon opposition at present.

I could just compromise my integrity and dignity and pick the ‘closest option.’ Except I have had to do that so many times before just to accomplish simple things. Each time sending myself the message that my existence is not valid. That I should not be. That I am inherently wrong. Fragmenting your soul. So long ago I decided to stop doing that. I stopped playing small. I stopped apologizing for inconveniencing the person or agency that use forms that are exclusionary or a violation of my basic human rights. I won’t de-value myself anymore for the convenience and ease of others. F**k that!

Today, I was taking a self-care day for me. A day to catch up on stuff. A day in which I actively chose not to leave my house. I chose not to leave my house today because emotionally I am not in the mood to be discriminated against. I just did not feel like facing ignorance and injustice today. My reality is that when I leave my house I must be prepared for the inevitable barrier, injustice or discrimination as the minute I step foot out my front door I entire a society that is so deeply rooted in the gender binary system that I can’t go a single day without having to fight.

What I noticed todays is something I have felt and denied for a long time. The walls of my home are no longer enough to keep me safe from the barriers and discrimination. Discrimination found a way in.

As a transgender person I am systematically and individually discriminated against several times a day. SEVERAL TIMES A DAY. Usually it is subtle though at times it can be overt. Often, as is the case with the census - it presents me with very significant barriers to completing what would otherwise be considered simple tasks of daily living. All because of a single limiting question and the inability to override it – because nobody thought about how that might be problematic for some – because nobody consulted with the trans and gender non-conforming community – because this community is invisible and as a result of the invisibility it is made further invisible.

Not only can I not figure out how to complete my census, but the implications of not doing so are substantial.

The census information is used to allocate funding, shape policies and procedures and identify needs. On my census form it states “Census information is important and is used in planning services such as schools, public transportation, senior housing and police and fire services.” I suspect these services are not about to become any more inclusive for gender non-conforming individuals after the 2016 Census data is synthesized.

Erasing trans and gender non-conforming people from inclusion and representation in data collection ensures that these communities continue to be ignored, made invisible and discriminated against. There are no comprehensive demographics on our community. No measure of how many we are, how prevalent we experience discrimination, how few have access to health care.  No way to quantify our existence and thusly our collective struggle. No way to indicate that I am not a single isolated case in the Yukon.

I don’t know what I am going to do tomorrow. I know what I will not do. I will not compromise who I am. I will not inconvenience myself and take more of my time and energy to explain to somebody why and how they discriminate. I will not go out of my way to ask for a paper copy because it is against the law for me not to fill out a census that is preventing me form doing so. This I have decided - is not my problem.  This is the government of Canada’s problem and as such, they can come to me when they fix it. Maybe somebody who reads this is a personal friend of Trudeau’s and will flip him my blog.  That’s a totally plausible Yukon thing and he seems like a guy who really cares. Maybe enough cis-gender folks who are allies will take the time to use their comment section and highlight that limiting sex designations to male/female is discriminatory and exclusive.

Truthfully, tomorrow I will probably just go fishing. The wind, earth, trees and fish – the bush has never discriminated against me to date.  I don’t anticipate it will start. I have always been able to find a gender inclusive tree that is safe enough for me to pee on, around, or behind.  I’m going fishing, because despite all the hardship I am able to be happy, comfortable, confident and secure in my own skin for the first time in my life and this is a priceless experience.

Visibility is having characteristics you identify with, reflected in questions on forms and subsequently in the statistics generated from its collection. Privilege is being able to fill out the form without having any barriers.

Mirror, mirror on the Wall

It’s scary sometimes to see reflections of a self we do not recognize. Whether it is an emotional reaction such as a parent screaming at the child they adore, a behavior like an addict when using, or my physical body pre-transition. When you stare into that glass intently –you may be very surprised at the image you see staring back at you.

17 months ago I started medical transition to male. It was the most exciting and joyous time of my life. Everyday I would wake up and meticulously inspect my body in the mirror – a mirror that like all windows, cameras and reflective surfaces, I avoided for my entire life, to that point.

Prior to my physical transition, reflections of my image caused me shame, disgust and shock. On rare occasions, I accidentally caught glimpses of my physical body and I would be surprised by the unfamiliar image staring back at me. Wide child bearing hips, the chest of those assigned female (and some assigned intersex) at birth, general proportions reflective of a body and sex I did not recognize, could not recognize. It lacked any resemblance to the image of my physical self that was imprinted on my brain.

I remember standing before the mirror. Naked. Staring intently. I had injected my first shot of testosterone and with that, the reflection staring back at me would be my baseline. My starting point. My ground zero. A war wagging biological sex against science and technology.  Fighting for authenticity, happiness and the liberation of my soul.

Thankfully science and technology was allied with medical professionals and slowly but surely it began to encroach on biological territory. Erecting hairs on my legs, face, belly and back, flagpoles of the territory it claimed.

Slowly, I would notice subtle changes. Hear laughter I did not recognize as my own leave my mouth. My witty responses suddenly lacked the inflection at the end that communicated sarcasm and humour (this one resulted in several insistent and panicked apologizes at my voices failure to accurately convey the meaning). My shoulders broadened.  Somedays I would wake up and know that something on my face was different, and not be able to identify why.

No longer painful reflections of physical body I did not recognize – the mirror became my best friend. The lens through which I could witness myself transform and become.

After 17 months of waiting, I had my top surgery consult today in Victoria, British Columbia. As the surgeon inspected my bare chest, I noticed the conflicting story my body told. My female chest deflated from the year and half of testosterone injections and chest binding. Sagging and with obvious loose skin, covered in the chest hair of a testosterone-based organism.

I miss the soft touch of my partner on my back. The gentle kiss of the wind on my skin. Rays of sun on my skin welcoming a summer return. I miss swimming. I miss the feelings of my lungs and rib cage in full expansion.

In three months, I will no longer have to miss those things. In three months, I will wake up from a surgery and see a reflection of my soul. The man I am. In three months, I will look into the mirror of eternity and it will be magnificent.