Some of the most basic human rights statements like “a trans woman’s sex, biological sex is female” tends mainly by cisgender people tends to be viewed as “GASP! How can that be? B-but what about the trans part?” and there’s a general lack of understanding around that stuff, such as what it means to be trans: someone’s sex designation doesn’t match their sex at birth- essentially a female is misidentified as male at birth, usually for having sexual characteristics that aren’t typically thought as to correlate with their sex. A female born with a penis, for example, will in our society since we only determine someone’s sex at birth based on their genitals- if a female is born with a penis they’re going to be mistaken as male, when really they’re female, and likewise for a male born with a vagina, or someone who is neither male or female or a mixture of the two.
There’s a lot of miseducation; a lot of people when they hear “transgender” think “a man in drag!” or “a male that becomes female”. You can see that with older terminology being used by cisgender people like “MTF” or “FTM” when really no, they don’t change sex, they were always that sex, they are biologically that sex.
They [transgender folks] may need to go through medical treatments like hormone therapy if they suffer from dysphoria, which happens when a female has a high testosterone level or a lot of sexual characteristics which aren’t typically associated with their sex. But it doesn’t make them male. Those statements are thought of as revolutionary for some reason, when if you just listened to trans people you would understand that. So I took on the title “Radical Sex Theorist” and also because it sounds really, really cool.
And I said “Well if I’m cool with this then it’ll be down to the next poor child to have to suffer through this, and I’m not really cool with that on my conscience, so I’m like no, I’m not going to follow it.” Sure enough eventually they suspended me. I of course fought it, and media ended up hearing of it. Very recently trans rights legislation passed in the provincial legislation, which means it’s illegal to segregate and discriminate against trans people in Nova Scotia. The media got ahold of that and made it into a big story so the school board went “Well, we’ll make you an exception to rule!” So I’m like “No, I’m not cool with that!”, so I met with the school board, and again, then the department of education, and eventually they created new trans-friendly policy; they consulted me, the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, and The Youth Project.
Now it’s not only illegal, but against department of education policy to discriminate and segregate trans people. The scary thing is that these laws are not in place in every Canadian province. A young child could be expelled from school for being trans, which is frightening to think about. That’s what got me into human rights activism.
The first time that I decided I wanted to call myself a human rights activist was when the human rights commission called me. After all of this went down they presented me a human rights award, and I thought “You know what, I kind of like that title” and I went on to lead a petition to make it easier for trans people in Nova Scotia to change their sex designation, to not require any kinds of surgery. Yeah, I guess I’m a human rights activist now. That’s what started it.
So it was definitely brutal, there was definitely pushback. It became less of who is my friend and who isn’t, to who thinks I should deserve human rights and who doesn’t. Even close friends would begin to get targeted just from being my friend. Bottles were thrown at cars, catcalls were in abundance. It was something, alright. I feel it really desensitized me to bigotry towards myself, which is useful as an activist, to not take it personally, but also as you analyze it, it’s pretty scary to think about.
A big thing about education is that you can give them the resources, you can put it there for them, give them the support, but if they’re not willing to learn, they’re not going to learn. It sucks. I try to be out there on social media, and when LGBT youth ask me “What can I do to make my parents accepting?” it’s really hard to say. All you can do is give them time and education and maybe, hopefully they’ll come around, but you can’t make them accepting.
Another thing that annoys me so much is the sort of overeager ally, the try-hard ally “You’re so brave for existing, you’re so beautiful!” as if it’s somehow a shock that I’m attractive, like I am attractive thank you very much, I am beautiful, I’m wonderful- but are you flirting with me? I know I’m brave, Pottermore said I’m a Gryffindor. I’m a human rights activist and that requires some bravery and guts, but being inherently LGBT doesn’t make me brave. That’s kind of an annoying, repetitive comment to get. So I’m thankful that I keep being trans separate out of my personal life so I don’t get that comment all the time, because it slowly grits at your ears.
If you want to compliment me good, compare me to Luna Lovegood- sorry I’m a massive Harry Potter fan, it’s my weakness. But why not actually compliment specifics of my work, not “You’re LGBT (specifically trans), you’re so brave!”
Personally, I definitely do go to Youth Project events, which I’m very happy that that community is there. The LGBT Youth Project is an organization for LGBT Youth in Halifax; they have drop-ins and other groups for LGBT Youth, [ages] 25 and under. That’s in Halifax, Nova Scotia (2281 Brunswick St, Halifax, NS B3K 2Y9, Canada). I very much recommend it. When I grew up, me and a closeted friend went to a trans youth support group that they had. It was my first time meeting other out transpeople. I was sitting there like “Woah, others, others in person, in real life that are standing in front of me- what is this? Other out youth!” That was an incredible experience for me. I don’t know what I would have done if I never had that community back then. I would have been a much more solitary person with a much less optimistic outlook. When I was in the closet I definitely made some trans online friends that I still have on my personal Facebook today that I occasionally talk to because it’s so important to know that you’re not alone and there are others out there. Human beings are very social animals. We have a pack mentality, we socially imprint on others, and it’s so important to have that community there. We are not solitary animals.
Global Village online communities are wonderful. I started an online trans social group. I don’t check it as much as I probably should, there are other people moderating it so I’m not particularly worried. Seeing that community come together when it does appear on my Newsfeed or in my notifications makes me smile a little.
There are plenty of accepting older folks, usually they’ve grown up with more miseducation. I’ve met lots that are wonderfully accepting and are trying their best to learn, and absolutely want to learn. I’ve met some very unaccepting older folks and very accepting older folks. In International Development, which is my minor, we learned that three generations is what it takes in a human rights struggle to learn, to un-learn, to grow up without those stereotypes. It takes three generations, which is an interesting theory, that we will one day achieve a world without those stereotypes believed, but it will be something I will never fully live to see. But it’s also something I can live to create. It’s an interesting idea.
Something I’ve noticed with people over 50, their morality seems heavily tied with legality. So just pointing out that discriminating against trans people is illegal in Nova Scotia, and trans peoples’ rights are in the Nova Scotia human rights act, can surprisingly shift their opinion quite significantly. Where in our generation there seems to be quite a dissonance between legality and morality, which in the older generations that dissonance doesn’t seem to be there.
With my mum, I know she wasn’t accepting at first, like at all. She was the model of unacceptance. But after time, after education, a couple years later she became very accepting and now is the model of acceptance essentially. Changes do happen, they might not be terrible in a sense forever, you just have to give them the education, give them the time. There are resources on the Youth Project’s website.
I personally love metaphors, it might be able to click for them, to bring in how harmful transphobia, biphobia, homophobia is, how it kills. Learning how much it hurts when these things happen can definitely help influence them.