Newfoundland and Labrador’s most outspoken trans rights activist answers some questions on St. John’s Pride Week celebrations, common misunderstandings related to gender identity and sexual orientation, and the wider LGBT and transsexual rights movement.
Minor edits have been made for the sake of brevity and clarification.
Justin Brake: What does the LGBTQ “community” represent to you?
Jennifer McCreath: I feel this is a group of people who have been lumped together by mainstream society for being different. Initially, we were viewed as a group of people who were attracted to the same sex, but after being lumped together we have understood that there are many sub-classifications within this community that make us as diverse and unique inside the box as we are outside the box. While the first three letters represent sexual attraction, the T represents a range of folks who do not identify with the gender commonly associated with one’s birth sex. And the Q represents anyone and anything who falls outside of the heteronormative and cisnormative world (cis stands for someone who is not trans).
JB: Explain how you understand transsexualism (and/or advocacy of transsexual issues) as sharing something in common with LGBTQ issues and causes, and why they are two distinct groups of people with separate concerns.
JM: Gender identity and sexual orientation are a dichotomy. All human beings have one of each. The majority of people in the world identify as cisgender (meaning they do not desire to transition to the opposite gender), and identify as heterosexual. The key factor both gay and trans folks have in common is that we have battled oppression, discrimination, and misunderstanding from the rest of the world.
If i could break things down in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy (of needs), I would suggest that gender identity is a more primary issue. If you aren’t comfortable with yourself, then you aren’t going to be comfortable with others. If you don’t feel you have the right body parts, it will be very difficult to function in social, romantic, or sexual situations.
The key factor in the sexual orientation fight for equality has much to do about acceptance of partnerships by others. Trans matters deal with acceptance of one’s own identity, by others.
Gay/lesbians do not need medical treatment for sex or gender. They do not need hormone therapy and they do not need genital surgeries. Also, gay/lesbians don’t have to out themselves. Sexual orientation is a state of mind. But changing gender through a transition has to be done in front of the world. There is no way to hide it.
JB: Explain why and how you first became involved with Pride Week organizing in St. John’s, how you felt about the way transsexual people and issues were interpreted and/or represented in St. John’s Pride Week celebrations, and what kind of progress (if any) is being made in terms of trans issues being understood by the public as distinct from gay or queer issues and concerns.
JM: My primary motivation for getting involved with Pride was due to concerns that trans issues were either misunderstood or outright ignored. I wanted to make sure that the LGBs were aware of what T was really all about, and to ensure that there was an equal opportunity for T issues to be voiced, demonstrated, recognized, and celebrated.
Another issue was that I felt pride was too much about celebration and not enough about education and awareness. While I respect that the gays want to celebrate all the obstacles they have overcome, the trans community is still fighting these battles.
Ultimately, the progress of mainstream society coming to a better understanding of trans issues stems mostly from the fact that trans activists have broken free from the LGB organizations. It is the separate trans movements, such as the trans pride marches in Toronto and Halifax, that have brought greater attention to trans issues.
At the same time, gay/lesbian organizations are starting to adopt trans issues as their own. And there now seems to be a challenge, as the trans community is now seeing the gay/lesbians throwing them under the bus, speaking and acting for us, rather than with us. Ironically, some gay activists have proven to be less of a trans ally as many straight people have.
I think another major factor in trans education and awareness has been a recent paradigm shift among main-stream media attention in terms of how they report trans stories. We are no longer seen as ‘the freak show’. We are now seeing positive stories about trans people that demonstrate that they are regular people who are just trying to live their lives. Also, sadly, we often learn about trans stories when ‘incidents’ occur, such as discrimination. Interestingly enough, the majority of discrimination stories about trans people, as reported in mainstream media, has been when government entities have discriminated. Whether it be denying someone health care, denying someone a change in identity documents, or denying someone access to an airplane, or the ultimate issue of the various arguments about adding gender identity and gender expression to the human rights acts all over the world.
JB: What you pointed out to me on the phone was interesting and touched on an assumption it seems a lot of people make: that not all transsexual people are gay, or lesbian, or may be gender neutral. Can you explain the difference between transgender and transsexual?
JM: My simple way of putting it: sex is between your legs, gender is between your ears, and sexual orientation is who you want to share your bed with!
Sex is commonly associated with primary sex glands and hormonal producing glands: penis, testicles, vagina, ovaries.
Gender, in my opinion, is much more fluid. This deals with a sliding scale of masculinity and femininity.
Sexual orientation is strictly about attraction to others, whether it be same sex, opposite sex, both sex, or all of the above!
Pansexual is a term we also don’t hear enough about. This is essentially someone who does not consider genitals as a factor in determining who or how they are attracted.
JB: What is the significance of the raising of the Trans flag this year at City Hall?
JM: The significance of raising a trans flag, along with a rainbow flag, is symbolic to me, in two ways: It recognizes that trans people have issues that are unique and distinct from gay and lesbians, yet it recognizes that we are still a community together in many ways as well. It’s recognition that we exist and that our issues are recognized.
JB: (On Tuesday) you announced your decision to run for municipal office. Why did you decide to run? And why it would be significant when a transsexual person is elected to public office in Canada for the first time, whether it is you or not. What are some of your goals/objectives, if you are elected to office?
JM: My blogpost answers the basics of these.
As far as significance, it would demonstrate a key milestone: that mainstream society has demonstrated that it recognizes and accepts that transsexualism is not a negative thing. It recognizes that transsexual people are indeed people, and are people who are capable of gaining trust and respect. They are people who are capable of being great leaders and spokespersons for society as a whole.
My trans medical history does not define me. I am a politician, a citizen, a marathon runner, an animal rights activist, etc., a policy analyst, a change management and business process adviser, etc.
JB: If this overlaps with the last question, no need to answer twice, but what are the major outstanding issues facing people who identify as LGBTQ or transsexual that you feel need to be addressed with immediacy and urgency?
JM: For trans specific issues, human rights is critical. While having government amend acts and codes might not necessarily guarantee that discrimination stops, it will send a strong message to society. Legislation changes have proven, over time, to change social and moral norms. Changing human rights to explicitly include trans people will mean a slow change to eliminating discrimination. This will lead to better access to health care, the ending of misdiagnosis of being mentally ill, it will lead to the end of underemployment, the end of having trouble finding places to rent, etc.
For LGBT as a whole, I think the key battle can be summed up by the need to continue to fight heteronormative and cisnormative attitudes. The world still assumes that there is a default way to be and that you are ‘deviant’ in a negative way if you don’t fit that framework. This needs to change.
There is also lots of fear still out there. Phobia to be precise (unfounded fear). There is also a major problem with bullying and harassment, both in terms of the youth world and the adult world.