Tai Withers, Queens University.
Transgender rights have been a point of contention in the modern world for quite some time. Unfortunately, this remains the case today. While more and more countries are recognizing binary trans and non-binary rights, it is a slow march towards progress. Trans rights extend beyond basic human legal protections; they include access to mental health professionals trained in trans issues, comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, corporate action for fair treatment, and positive media representation.
Transgender children, teens and adults all report significantly higher rates of mental illness than their cisgender counterparts—and those who consider themselves outside the gender binary at an even higher rate. The relative risk of trans youth having seriously considered suicide was five times greater than that same risk for cisgender teens as found by one Canadian survey. In Ontario, access to psychologists and psychotherapists is extremely limited, not to mention expensive. Finding someone who understands gender dysphoria and with whom one feels comfortable is—unsurprisingly—a great ordeal.
Bill C 16, passed in 2017, updated anti-discrimination and hate crime laws to include gender identity and expression as protected rights. This is a massive leap forward in terms of Canadian legal protections. The United States however, currently has no federal anti-discrimination laws in place, though states can, and have, enacted their own legislation. While the majority of US states allow the change of a sex marker with some level of proven medical intervention; Tennessee, Ohio, Kansas, and Idaho do not allow change of sex on birth certificates regardless of surgery, and Tennessee specifically forbids changing sex marker’s on transgender people’s birth certificates.
While binary trans identities are becoming more ‘socially acceptable’, there are still a great many people who simply don’t fall within the boundaries of ‘male’ and ‘female’. Those born as intersex – with physical or karyotypical characteristics not typically associated with one particular gender, and those who identify as genderqueer or non-binary. They as a singular pronoun even in 2020 can invoke hot debates about the ‘grammatical correctness’ of it’s usage. This is generally a mask for a general refusal to recognize non-binary people as existing or valid. Canada is slowly making progress in non-binary recognition. As of June 2019, the federal government allows ‘X’ as a gender marker on identification. However, they make no claim as to what this will mean for Canadians traveling abroad. Thefear of discrimination from border officials may discourage people who would otherwise wish to change their gender marker. In Ontario, changing the gender marker on many pieces of documentation requires a physician or psychologist’s approval, which can be challenging for many.
One industry where being trans turns out to be unexpectedly embraced is insurance. The British insurance corporation Lloyd’s recently created a guide for their employees on how to correctly address transgender and non-binary customers. It covers pronouns, speaking out against transphobia, and even the fact that the proportion of genderqueer staff were likely to increase in the future. This kind of benevolent corporate behaviour can go a long way, Lloyd’s has not only claimed to be trans-positive, but made clear steps to improve behaviour and knowledge among their employees.
Despite the steps some corporations are taking, life and health insurance are still cases where being trans may be an unexpected cost. Between compensation claims for hormones and declaring intent to have gender reassignment surgery with insurance companies, these are situations often unconsidered in the corporate bureaucracy. Additionally, life insurance premiums for some companies such as Sun Life are influenced by sex. This brings in difficulties if an insuree’s sex doesn’t align with their gender. Medical risks are greatly sex-dependent, a trans man would beunconcerned with his risk of prostate cancer, but if he chose not to disclose his trans status to his insurance, his premiums could be miscalculated, particularly if he has a family history of the disease. Some companies offer a section to fill out gender identity, and others allow non-disclosure, which begs the question: should companies ask?
Early transition, gender-non-conforming, and generally non-passing transgender people can have difficulty finding accepting places to live and breathe judgement free. Trans individuals at risk, particularly trans youth, are routinely turned away from homeless shelters due to discrimination or a lack of understanding as to how to accommodate trans identities in a space commonly segregated by sex. Gender segregation unfortunately occurs at all points of life. This can especially be an issue for elderly transgender people who require care and may be unable to call on friends and family. The palliative care world can be a scary place for trans elders, with patients facing obstacles ranging from fear of discrimination to a mere wish to keep their identities private. When many have faced discrimination, violence, and abuse at the hands of medical professionals, it’s no wonder trans adults fear what conditions they might live in if at a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable. They risk being cared for by people who don’t respect who they are.
The International Olympic Committee updated their guidelines to allow trans-masculine athletes to compete in men’s sports without any requirements for medical intervention. The Guardian says that “[u]nder the previous IOC guidelines, approved in 2003, athletes who transitioned from male to female or vice versa were required to have reassignment surgery followed by at least two years of hormone therapy in order to be eligible to compete.” Trans-feminine athletes however, still require over a year of hormone monitoring and modulation with a maximum testosterone level for at least twelve months prior to competition. While these guidelines are only official in the Olympics, one can only hope other sporting organizations will soon follow suit.
The existence of trans people is too often ignored in media. Trans media that does exist is often harmful at worst and ignorant at best. Porn is perhaps the most prevalent form of media that frequently depicts transgender people. However, this naturally comes with a whole host of issues from the use of slurs and degradation to the fetishization of trans women and men. There’s a common argument in Leftist spaces that cis actors shouldn’t play trans characters in film. This comes from cases of male actors being cast for trans-feminine roles, which reinforces the idea that trans people don’t exist and are truly the gender they were assigned at birth. This argument tends to come with the additional caveat that perhaps even a cisgender woman is not fit to play a trans woman. Julia Serano saysthat this sort of black and white thinking does not take into account the validity of trans people who don’t pass as their gender due to an inability to , or lack of wish to medically transition. She suggests that the authenticity of a trans character’s experiences should determine the acceptance of the portrayal. In the recent past, however, there has been a boom in media that features trans people in a positive light. The popular cartoon Steven Universe has been widely thought to have trans representation. Laverne Cox plays a trans woman on Orange is the New Black. The Netflix original She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has trans and non-binary representation among it’s praises from fans.
Allyship can often be a minefield for friends and family of trans folks. In the words of Lorimer Shenher, “An imperfect ally is better than no ally at all”. Trans voices are becoming more powerful in all aspects of life and there is a growing need for cisgender allies to provide platforms so that trans words are able to carry farther. The trans community—subdivided though it is—is one of strength, hope, and love. The determination that can be found here is one that would be unlikely to give up the fight for equality and acceptance.
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