To find out who you are these days you need to start with a dictionary. Mine tells me I’m now “cisgender.”
That means I’m not a woman. Neither in body nor mind.
And I’m not an X. Though if I want to be one I just have to say so. I can have an X on my birth certificate, my driver’s license and anything else to identify me as non-binary.
Should I one day discover that deep inside I’m a woman after all, then I’d automatically have a woman’s rights. Bill C-16 now makes it unlawful for anyone to discriminate against me because of my “gender expression and identity.”
Whatever the rest of me might look like, it’s mind over matter. I’m a woman, and that’s all she wrote.
I support any law that aims to protect transgendered people. They have a tough life, often being “othered” by family, friends, employers, colleagues and the public at large. Twenty percent suffer physical and sexual assault, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
So, what about the ones who some persist in calling real women. Meaning biological women.
Not surprisingly, some women feel that the rights and freedoms they’ve struggled to achieve over the past century are now compromised, that the definition of “woman” itself is under siege.
While one’s sex remains pretty well straightforward in terms of our reproductive kit, gender is a social “construct.” It’s determined less by your chromosomes than by your nurturing, culturing and interacting with other humans. You don’t need a note from your doctor to say you’re transgender because there’s no scientific evidence of it. You don’t need a note at all. Your gender is what you feel and it’s fluid.
Except when it’s not.
Recently, someone who felt they were more a woman than a man was refused admission to the Body Blitz Spa in Toronto because it’s a woman-only establishment. Women bathe in the healing waters, have saunas and massages, while wearing little or nothing and feeling comfortable doing so. Seeing a male appendage up close or even at a distance isn’t quite what they’re there to experience. For many, it’s what they’ve come to escape.
In Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days, one in three women has experienced sexual assault, and the MeToo movement itself is about raising awareness of harassment and assault against biological women. It’s not surprising that a perceived male presence in a women’s spa might trigger unpleasant memories and emotions.
As feminist Meghan Murphy has said, considering the extent to which male violence and fear of male violence shapes women’s lives, it should not be unreasonable to keep certain spaces free from male bodies—even if the people in those bodies identify as women.
She, like activist Sheila Jeffreys (both call themselves “gender critical”) believe that the idea of “gender identity” disappears biology and all the experiences that those with female biology have of being reared in a caste system based on sex.
Murphy has been a controversial figure recently in Vancouver and Toronto, where angry rallies have protested her appearance at the cities’ public libraries, and demanded to have her de-platformed for spreading transphobic hate speech.
Murphy, for her part, speaks against the decision in April by Vancouver City Council to withdraw funding from the city’s Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter because it excludes transgender women.
Pride Vancouver and Pride Toronto have since severed relations with the libraries for allowing Murphy to speak, and Toronto Mayor John Tory has criticized the library for not “disappearing” her speaking engagement.
So have Fay and Fluffy.
They are two transgender women belonging to Drag Queen Story Hour that performs for children in libraries across North America. An organization that’s been criticized for indoctrinating children is duly accorded a right to perform. It’s what libraries do.
“Why would Murphy encourage targeting people like ourselves who are already marginalized by society?” asks Fay.
Good question, except Murphy doesn’t. Or at least says she doesn’t. Trans people absolutely deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. But as many feminist and women’s groups have argued, Bill C-16 has the capacity to actually undermine women’s rights.
Some feminists deny Murphy’s credentials as a feminist at all, saying she only “self-describes” or “self-identifies” to be one, when really she’s not. That’s a bit rich, says commentator Rex Murphy (no relation to Meghan), and not the ideal tactic “for a movement itself built on self-identification and self-description.”
Once again, what we have here is a failure to communicate. To “have these conversations,” as some like to say, though they say it in a manner which makes me think the conversations have already been had because if the real ones were to take place at all someone might be offended.
We already have way too many people telling us what their God thinks about transgender people. Bringing morality into an issue only intensifies the shouting match.
So what’s the solution?
It’s not Bill C-16. Any law just tells us what we can’t legally do anymore, it doesn’t solve the traffic jam that results whenever two sets of opposing rights and freedoms collide head-on. That’s for us, not government, to figure out. It’s up to reasonable parties to examine the problem, listen to the feelings of those concerned, explore the possible alternatives without shouting at each other, and apply the one that causes least harm to everyone.
If, as a member of one vulnerable group, I discover that my presence in certain circumstances would unnerve a much larger and perhaps more vulnerable group, do I not have the option of forming my own group of like-minded people? Wouldn’t it be reasonable for me to consider doing that?
Inclusiveness always sounds like a great idea, but in practice it can create all kinds of problems. In any case, is inclusiveness in our DNA or is it just another social construct?
Like rights and freedoms?
The Israeli writer and history professor Yuval Harari observes that while some questions are impossible to answer, they’re always better than answers that can never be questioned.