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Trans*cending in/difference

in Turning the Tide by

Over the last year, visibility of trans* folk has exponentially grown. From the inclusion of protection from gender discrimination under the Human Rights Code of Newfoundland and Labrador to finding Laverne Cox on the front of Time magazine, trans* voices have never been so loud and listened to before. This new articulation of trans* narratives has led to internal friction within the larger LGBTQ community. The words ‘tranny’ and ‘she-mail’ were removed from the popular TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race after an outcry from transgender activists. Many supporters of the programme claimed the trans* movement was being overly sensitive and ignoring the use of the words in drag circles; allies of the removal pointed to the continued derogatory use of tranny toward those who express their gender in different ways.

However, the LGBTQ community was not always so divided. For many decades in the 20th century and previous, all those who had any deviation from gender and sexuality norms were lumped under the same group of derogatory slurs. Gay bars were also havens for transgender folk; the famous Stonewall Inn gave safety to transmen and transwomen alike.

Equal, but not the same

The last few decades have seen a focus on the improvement of gay rights, allowing homosexual couples the same access to legal frameworks and social services as heterosexual partners. Marriage has been a huge issue, one that we still see in contention south of the border and across the globe. To achieve parity, rhetoric has often concentrated on sameness, that is, love is love regardless of sexual orientation. Straight couples marry, have kids, care for each other in sickness and in health; gay couples marry, have kids, care for each other in sickness and in health. The only difference really is in the bedroom, and as Trudeau Sr. told us: the government has no place there.

The concentration on sameness between the straight and gay communities in terms of other lifestyle choices may be one of the factors leading to the divide between gay members of the LGBTQ community and trans* folk. Many gay narratives have steered away from the word ‘queer’, a contentious word embedded with a political stance that challenges the status quo. The normalization of homosexuality that has occurred over the last decade has allowed the idea that one can be ‘an average, regular person’ who just so happens to be attracted to the same sex.

Photo by Perin Squires.
Last year both the Pride and Trans Pride flags were raised during Pride Week in St. John’s for the first time. Photo by Perin Squires.

By no means am I lamenting the developments that have come from the gay rights movements. It is excellent that the pursuit of same-sex relationships no longer means hiding one’s lifestyle in fear of violence and everyone deserves to have equitable treatment before the law. Nevertheless, being able to see oneself as ‘normal’ is a privilege that a number of gay narratives have access to that trans* folk often do not.

As a newly visible group in mainstream media, trans* people now finally have a platform to address the issues that have long been ignored by their gay activist counterparts. However, though there is usually an appeal to the commonality of shared human experience and the need for equity across the board, the trans* narratives do not use the rhetoric of sameness to get their point across. In fact, it’s usually the opposite, with trans* folk highlighting the difficulties faced within healthcare, bathroom use, and gendered language specifically due to the differences of trans* identities from those who are cisgender (whose gender is aligned with what they were assigned at birth). Difference is still at the core of the trans* movement, and it is marked against the stories of both the gay and lesbian communities as well as those who do not identify under the LGBTQ spectrum.

Trans* people often do not have the option of living what we might call an ‘aesthetically normal’ life. In other words, because of the way trans* folk will dress, speak, alter their visual appearance, and move, we can’t just blend into the background even on days that we might like to. Some can indeed ‘pass’, as it’s called, but for those who can’t or do not want to, every day is an experience in difference. Thus, it can be very difficult to bridge the divide between gay identified people who distance themselves from anything seen as queer and trans* individuals who cannot help but to participate in queering the norms of gender and the expectations that follow.

Pride Week an opportunity

But the LGBTQ community still has a lot of work to do when it comes to mainstream society. Now is not the time to be internally divided. However, we do need ways of addressing both the similarities and differences that exist internally. Pride Week provides an excellent opportunity for us to do just that, in addition to connecting with those who do not identify under the GSA (gender and sexuality alternatives) umbrella. Our approach this year is two-fold: have trans* specific events where difference is emphasized and celebrated, and hold fun and educational spaces for those of all identities to share in the creation of a diverse community.

Four of eight members of the St. John’s Pride board identify under the trans* banner. It is one of the reasons that this year we are having the first ever Trans* Picnic at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 19 at Harbourside Park. This event, in addition to our trans* health portion of our Thursday Panel Day at MUN, will be an opportunity for those who are trans*, genderqueer, or genderquestioning to come together and spend time with those in St. John’s who may share similar stories and experiences. We will also be supporting trans* visibility by raising the trans* pink, white and blue flag at City Hall on Monday at noon and having speeches from our trans* board members at each of our three flag raising ceremonies.

Now is not the time to be internally divided. However, we do need ways of addressing both the similarities and differences that exist internally.

Our Pride Unconference at Eastern Edge (11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 16) will provide the space to talk casually with those of all backgrounds about anything gender or sexuality related. Previous Unconferences in St. John’s have brought about great discussions around polyamory, gender diversity, demystifying kink, sexuality community organizing (“herding cats”), consent, coming out after being raised in a Catholic family, and lots more. This is a place where challenging, creative and controversial questions are encouraged just as much as well prepared presentations.

Another new event this year is our alternative music and dance night, More Than Queens. Here we invite everyone of all stripes to try out genderbending and show off their results in our safer-space at Distortion at 11 p.m. on Friday, July 19. With performances from The Sauce, members of the Island Belles Burlesque troupe, and St. John’s Pride prize packs to be won, we hope that this event will help bridge the divide between those who love drag, who live their lives on the gender outskirts, or are just a bit curious to see how that fabulous shade of red lipstick would match their beard.

We on the Pride board believe that coming together as an LGBTQ community in celebration is an integral part of the pursuit of equal rights and respect. Check out stjohnspride.ca for a full schedule of events. See you there!

Taylor Stocks is a mainlander genderqueer kid who found a home amongst the trans* contingent of St. John’s and now sits as President of St. John’s Pride Inc. They are currently studying institutional design and democratic change for their Master’s degree at MUN. You may encounter their drag alter ego, Doctor Androbox, lurking on George St. after 5 a.m.


Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on TheIndependent.ca, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome thoughtful and articulate Letters to the Editor. You can email yours to: justin(at)theindependent(dot)ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.

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