This LiisBeth exclusive Hallowe’en photo essay was created by Jack Jackson. We asked Jack to think about Hallowe’en and the concept of fear. Formerly known as “All Hallows Eve”, This originally Celtic tradition was essentially about humans facing their fear of what lives and lies beyond and beneath. With the U.S. election looming, this Hallowe’en, ghosts and the living dead are seemingly the least of our fears. We don’t enjoy being afraid, but as we learn in this essay, sometimes struggling with fear, rather than being frozen by it, can catalyse the transformations that surprisingly, ultimately, set us free.
My name is Jack. I thought the way I felt was ‘normal’. Now I know there was nothing normal about it at all. I was scared of everything outside of the confines of my own home. Loud noises, new things, new people, new places. I think the old world was designed for certain groups of people to be scared, that’s how the rest of them held on to their power. Keeping people silenced and afraid. But I wasn’t just afraid, I was terrified.
I cut my face ashamed of the shame it revealed. No one told me it was ok to be like me, no one told me it was going to be okay.
Always in the background. Observing and mute. That’s where they wanted me, I guess. Where was the rulebook for people that looked like me? Where were the reflections of people like me – were they hiding too?
Awkward in company, yet craving authenticity and connection. So obviously ‘other’ yet with an overwhelming need to blend in. I was the perfect incubator for addiction.
But I knew what I wanted to be; I just didn’t know how I would get there. All I knew was fear and shame. And then one day I left. I left everything. My well-paid job, my house, my family and friends, my small island. I left everything I had known.
Fuck the shame, fuck the men who would prefer my silence, fuck your small minds and consumption of dumbed down spoon-fed mediocrity. I make my own rules now and the other people like me, they’re no longer hiding.
The scars are still there. I think to some extent they’ll always be there. But the panic has long subsided and the fear is morphing into excitement. The old world has gone for everyone. All of us who had been living in fear, constantly transforming ourselves to fit into their world- it’s our world too now and we’re ready to build a better future.
There has been heated debate in recent weeks—in the media, in university and college classrooms, around dinner tables—about whether or not the Toronto Public Library should have permitted Meghan Murphy to speak at one of its locations. For those who have not been following this story, Murphy is the founder of Feminist Current, a self-labelled radical feminist website and podcast, and an outspoken opponent of trans rights legislation.
Trans rights activists, organizations, and individuals protested her appearance at the publicly funded venue in October. Supporters of the event claimed opponents were denying Murphy’s right to freedom of speech—and the right of those who wanted to hear what she had to say. Impassioned debates ensued about whether what Murphy says and writes constitutes hate speech, as defined by Canada’s Criminal Code, or discrimination, as prohibited by the Canadian Human Rights Act (and similar provincial/territorial human rights codes).
It is time to put this divisive issue behind us and understand and accept that trans rights are human rights, as demonstrators outside the Toronto library declared. The law in Canada has recognized this; now individuals need to get on board before any more harm is done.
The law is clear: Both the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) and the Criminal Code (CC) were amended in 2017 to address gender identity issues. “Gender identity and expression” are now prohibited grounds for discrimination in the CHRA. In section 318 of the CC, the definition of an “identifiable group” includes “gender identity and expression” against whom hate speech (the public communication of statements that “wilfully promote hatred against identifiable groups”) is illegal.
I am a 65-year-old feminist lawyer, a cis-woman who uses female pronouns, and have been a women’s rights activist, focused in particular on the issue of violence against women, for decades. During that time, I have seen how the issue of trans rights has torn the women’s movement apart, causing deep and long-lasting harm, first and most importantly, to trans women but, ultimately, to the equality and safety of all women.
Initially, I understood the reluctance to broaden our understanding of gender identity and expression. After all, women had fought for decades to have the public, police, courts, and governments acknowledge that male violence against women is a reality. Finding political support for services for women dealing with that violence—shelters and rape crisis centres in particular—as well as for much-needed legal reforms was (and continues to be) a battle.
What would happen to the small victories the feminist movement had achieved if we starting including transgender people? How would we analyze and understand what we had been describing as male violence against women if we acknowledged that gender was not immutable or restricted to a male/female binary construct? How would self-expression of gender impact women’s safety and access to women-only spaces? What would happen to women’s public washrooms?
Just 30 years ago, the violence against women movement struggled with another group of women whose experience of patriarchal violence did not fit our tidy analysis of violence against women: lesbians. Would an admission of woman-on-woman abuse throw our analysis out the window? Surely, including lesbians in our social justice mission would jeopardize our credibility with the systems we fought hard with to gain legitimacy. What if a lesbian staying in a shelter came on to a straight resident? What if straight residents felt threatened or uncomfortable around lesbian residents?
Those fears proved to have little or no substance. Our understanding of intimate violence grew to incorporate the reality of abuse within lesbian relationships. Services expanded to meet the needs of women fleeing same-sex violence. In today’s world, those questions sound offensive.
We should remember this when we think about the inclusion of trans women and non-binary folks in our understanding of gender-based violence.
Thanks to the courage and dedication of trans activists with the patience to teach and lead, and the openness of third-wave feminists (and many older, like me!) to listen and learn, we have made some progress.
Our definition of women has broadened to include anyone who self-identifies as a woman. Our understanding of violence against women has expanded to include violence directed at those with a broad range of gender identities and expressions. Most women’s shelters and rape crisis centres serve all those who identify as women, and they have developed policies, procedures, and training to ensure they deliver those services in a positive and supportive manner.
Yet, our learning must continue. Murphy shows us that. She focuses (regressively, I would argue) on a couple of key themes: That to expand a definition of “woman” beyond biology to include transgender will undo decades of work by feminists to advance women’s equality and address violence against women—and will make gendered spaces unsafe for women.
I challenge those themes, based on my experience working in the feminist movement.
I have not seen the loss of a single woman’s right as the result of including trans folk in our work or our understanding of who is a woman. What I have seen is a steady erosion of women’s rights in this country because of government action and inaction. Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s decision not to implement a gender-based violence plan, for example, had nothing to do with trans rights and everything to do with misogyny.
Personally, I have never felt unsafe in spaces that now include self-identified women. I use gender-inclusive washrooms, where they exist, without concern for my safety. Unlike my trans sisters, I can also use a women’s washroom without fear of being called out for being in the wrong place. In shelters and rape crisis centres, I work comfortably alongside and on behalf of self-identified women as well as cis-women.
It is trans and non-binary folks who feel and often are unsafe: When they are out on the streets in our communities; when they use a public washroom; when they seek medical services; when they board an airplane or cross the border.
Murphy claims that the trans rights movement is a threat to women’s equality and safety; in reality, it is Murphy who poses a threat to feminism and women’s equality through her hate-filled, exclusionary speech.
Her public commentary that gender is an immutable biological fact may be the most offensive of all. To claim that a transwoman is simply a man who wants to do things that are considered female (and vice versa for transmen) is so facile a denial of reality it is difficult to know how to respond. There is no reputable science to support her assertions, and her repeated statements to this end cause deep pain and harm to the trans and non-binary people in our communities.
What, then, are we to do about the problem of Meghan Murphy? That is not easy to answer. In thinking about whether to write this article, I wondered if it might be better to remain silent. Would I draw more attention to Murphy’s hateful views by critiquing them? Where do her public pronouncements fit on the spectrum of free speech/hate speech? Are her ideas simply ones many of us don’t agree with? Or are those ideas so harmful she should be required to keep them to herself? Should public venues such as libraries allow her to speak in their spaces? Or does allowing her that platform infringe on the rights of trans folks?
Ultimately, I decided that what Murphy says and writes cannot sit in the public arena without being critiqued. And that it is important for cis-women who have been part of the feminist movement to be among those critiquing. I certainly don’t want her claims to be a feminist go unchallenged.
My own belief, as a cis-woman feminist, is that Murphy’s opinions are hate-filled and hateful. Her denial of the reality of transgender identities—and the way she expresses that denial—causes what must be unbelievable pain for those whose gender identity or expression is trans or non-binary. Her opinions encourage fear among those who believe them. Fear is only a step away from hatred, and hatred only a step away from violence. I would happily never read or listen to anything she has to say again. And I don’t think she should be invited into public spaces; to give a platform to her opinions invalidates the experiences of trans people.
My belief, as a lawyer, is that her words offend both the Canadian Human Rights Code and the hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code. Someone could bring a complaint against Murphy under the CHRC or go the police with evidence to support criminal charges being laid. Such action would be entirely justified and we would need to support it, both individually and collectively.
But, I also think it is important that we not be limited by legal responses to transphobia. The criminal law is a blunt instrument at best. It does not foster dialogue, which is surely what is needed here. The adversarial atmosphere of a courtroom makes it difficult for people to admit to wrongdoing and change their position. Criminal proceedings often do harm even when they mean to do good.
I suggest we consider a restorative justice approach to ending transphobia, an approach that would allow us to repair the harm done while also educating ourselves as to how we can progress to building communities that are transphobia-free. And a future in which people of all gender identities and expressions can participate fully and safely without fear of exclusion. After all, shouldn’t that be our ultimate goal?
It’s not everyday that you find yourself at a party in a startup gourmet pet food store with 80 people and ten dogs. But in this case, at the launch of a new movement to elevate trans awareness, it made perfect sense.
Toronto-based and Canadian newcomer trans-preneur Jack Jackson and New York-based Deb Klein are both professional photographers and multi-skilled entrepreneurs with a passion for dogs and gender justice. They came together to create Don’t You Want Me (DYWM), a globally sourced photography project that showcases stories about trans and queer people whose lives have been transformed by the acceptance and unconditional love they experience from their rescue dogs. The startup photo-plus-stories project will leave you wondering, who rescued who?
The launch was held in Toronto, Canada at Tom & Sawyer, a socially progressive pet food store with an onsite production facility, doggy bakery, plus comfy couches and Wi-Fi. The exhibit opened on March 31st, International Transgender Day of Visibility, a global initiative founded by Human Rights Campaign, a 3M+ membership-based LGBTQ civil rights organization based in the United States.
“I do think that a part of me was trying to heal myself by taking care of someone else that was broken and forgotten, our new skinny, sick, terrified Lunie-bear.” – Reuben
“I work 70 hours a week in my current venture but wanted to work on developing this project as well because frankly, I’m furious,” said project co-founder Jackson. “Why? Because discrimination causes so much harm. Let’s take Charlie over there, 22, who volunteered here tonight. His family has actually disowned him. Things are still really, really hard for [trans] people. No one is doing anything about it.” Recent research shows that 16-24-year-old trans kids who have supportive parents are far less likely to suffer from depression or attempt suicide.
Jackson adds: “I think these kinds of stories need to be told. Because people still don’t get it. They think oh, you’re trans, and they think that is the issue, but being trans is not the issue, discrimination—society’s perception of trans people, is the real issue. Trans people have something really important to say. Something that doesn’t just affect trans people, but also women, effeminate men, basically anyone that doesn’t fit the heteronormative norm.”
At present, there is little data on the total number of trans people in Canada, or their experiences. However, qualitative research is clear that there are significant barriers to social and economic inclusion. TransPulse, an Ontario-based community research hub estimate in 2014 that “as many as 1 in 200 adults may be trans (transgender, transsexual, or transitioned).” And while Canada has recognized trans discrimination as a hate crime and illegal in its charter of rights and freedoms, trans people continue to face physical abuse, unemployment at three times the national rate, and high rates of mental health issues.
The pain experienced as a result of social exclusion and brutal discrimination, especially from those who at one point, loved you, were part of many stories shared at the launch event. T Thomason is a UK-born 23-year-old who was raised in Halifax. The “trans-guy” indie pop star was recently signed by Taylor Swift’s record label and performed an acoustic version of his latest singles, “Bliss” and “Hope”, the latter of which he says taught him a lot about being a trans person.
I just walk, and the farther I go
I am stepping with a changing shadow
I just walk and I hope I am getting close
Catching up with all the ghosts I would like to get to know
Past all your fears, you will find bliss
Hold onto this, move past your fears, you will find bliss.
— T. Thomason, Bliss Lyrics
Statistics show that over 43% of trans people eventually attempt suicide, yet Jackson is hopeful about the future. “Deb [Klein] and I were talking about trans people going swimming. In Brighton [U.K.] that is a real issue. For me, in Toronto, I was scared shitless about the first time I went swimming, just in shorts. And absolutely no one gave a shit — that was awesome.”
Klein, a New Yorker, scout for the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” production company, bass player, and foster mom to rescue dogs, found Jackson on Instagram. She loved his idea and his photography, and quickly signed on to partner on Don’t You Want Me. Klein and Jackson plan to grow the project into a global movement. “This launch is just the beginning. We hope to see a thousand more photos and stories like this submitted to our project from around the world,” says Klein.
The DYWM “minimal viable project” exhibit will stay in east Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood at Tom & Sawyer until April 6th, and will then be moved to Black Lab Brewing for rest of the month. Tom & Sawyer co-founder, Kristen Mathews, a former forensic accountant whose love of animals led to starting her doggy bakery and pet food company three years ago, didn’t hesitate to host the exhibit. “T & S is very welcoming to the community. A lot of LGBTQ community members have dogs and cats who they consider part of the family.”
For those who can’t make it to the exhibit, don’t worry. LiisBeth has prepared a two-minute slide show of the event, including some of the featured photos. We hope you take a moment to watch and share, in support of equality and visibility for trans people in your community and everywhere. Enjoy.
Gender discrimination in tech. Illustrated by Robot Hugs
Robot Hugs is a webcomic based out of Toronto. The artist is identifies as a non-binary genderqueer peoplequeer mentally ill non-monogamous kinky critical feminist robot. They were always impressed by the creative work of their friend Chrissie who told them that since she came out as a woman she would find men persistently trying to direct her in her work which led to blended feelings of frustration, sadness, and lack of surprise.
Robot Hugs had this to say about Chrissie’s story:
When we talk about the differences in how men and women are treated professionally, especially in technical fields, we are often dismissed with ‘everyone has to deal with that’, or ‘women need to demonstrate more confidence with their skills’, or ‘they’re just trying to be helpful’, or ‘it’s all in your head’.
It’s frustrating when we know something like this is happening, but we spend so much of our time actually trying to get people to believe that it’s a real phenomenon. I find narratives like Chrissie’s validating in that she has a comparative set of experiences and is like ‘oh yeah, people totally think I’m less competent at my job now. it’s totally a thing’. So, can guys just believe us already and get on helping it not happen? source robot-hugs.com
If you like discussion of identity, gender, and sexuality make sure to check out Robot Hugs’ website for updated comics every Tuesday and Thursday.