By Jessica Cooper
I have no rights. I have no right to freedom from discrimination. I have no right to secure employment. I have no right to a safe place to live. I don’t even have the right to go to the washroom in peace. It’s amazing that I can sit here in the 21st century, in Canada, and be able to say that.
Let me say that again slightly differently: Because I’m a transsexual person, I have no right to legal protection in case I get discriminated against for being trans. None at all. How does this happen? It happens because transsexuals are one of the last populations not covered under Canada’s (not to say anything about British Columbia’s) human-rights legislation.
Because of this lack, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter was able to exclude Kimberly Nixon simply because she was assigned male at birth. This case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where on February 1, 2007, the cisgendered (the opposite of transgendered) judges decided to leave transpeople in legal limbo. They decided that Kimberly is not enough of a woman to be allowed to work at a women’s shelter. Because of this decision, my brothers, sisters, and I can be kicked out of any public space, we can be fired simply for the crime of being ourselves, we can be evicted without recourse, and we can be reviled, harassed, and even physically attacked merely for daring to use a public washroom.
Granted, few of these things have happened to me because I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m just another middle-aged woman. I blend in well enough that on most days the very worst that will happen to me is someone will get a puzzled look on their face as they try and fit me into one of two mental boxes in their head marked “male” or “female”. Some of my brothers and especially sisters are not so lucky. They don’t “pass”. They visibly bend the boundaries of gendered expression, which threatens the identities of cisgendered people. Threatened people tend to react violently. They may attack, verbally or physically. They may withhold essential services.
Tyra Hunter was a transwoman in Washington, D.C., who in 1995 was allowed to bleed to death by emergency workers, who stopped treating her after discovering she was trans and stood back cracking jokes while she bled and suffered in front of them. Later after finally being transported to a hospital, she was left to die, having received almost no care. None of the emergency workers and hospital staff who stood back and let her die were ever disciplined.
Threatened employers may choose to fire a transperson rather than be forced to work with them. Threatened landlords may decide to evict a transperson. Even the most fundamental portion of my identity is not mine to control; anyone at any time may choose to deny my identity and impose their own perceptions upon me. It happens every time I get called “sir”.
This has implications that go far beyond the boundaries of the trans community. How many butch lesbians have been asked to leave a washroom? How many gay males were bullied in school for being “a sissy”? How many times has a homophobic act really been motivated by the transgression of gender norms? Transgressing gender norms is one of the severest social “crimes”, and the punishment is swift and brutal. Right now, all of what I have listed above is legal. Anyone can do any of these horrible things and get away with it.
Transpeople are treated equally brutally by the media. It’s still socially acceptable to laugh at us, label us deceivers, hyper-sexualize us, and make our struggles with our bodies the sole factor of our existence. Look at the characters of Dil in The Crying Game, Lois Einhorn in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp. Look at the controversy surrounding Isis on America’s Next Top Model, and the sordid mess that was There’s Something About Miriam. The media teaches that treating transsexuals badly is okay, that we’re not “real” enough to warrant compassion and decent treatment.
This situation is intolerable, and it must not be allowed to continue. All is not bleak, however; a solution is being worked toward. Last summer, B.C.’s Trans Alliance Society began circulating a petition asking the legislature to amend the B.C. Human Rights Code “so as to include and to specify ”˜gender identity and gender expression’ as a prohibited ground of discrimination for all purposes of that legislation in British Columbia”.
I have no rights. So, how about it, Gordon Campbell, may I have my rights?
Jessica Cooper is just another middle-aged woman with a colourful past. She works for a national retail chain designing department stores, and when she’s not doing that she’s fighting for the right of transpeople to be themselves with dignity. She encourages anyone (trans or cisgendered) who wishes to fight beside her to contact the Trans Alliance Society.