an article by Jen Richards
I came out as trans two years ago today. In that time I’ve been
blessed to engage with hundreds of trans people around the world.
For years before I came out I struggled with whether or not I was
transgender. I didn’t see myself reflected in any of the online
communities I found, in the depictions I could find in media, or the few
meetings or clubs I attended in quiet terror. So I assumed I wasn’t
trans myself. It was only after I launched We Happy Trans that I began hearing a broader range of stories.
A lot of my work since has been motivated a single desire: that no
one else misses the opportunity to live their truth simply because they
didn’t see anyone like them.
To that end, this is a sample of the kinds of trans people I’ve
personally met, talked to, learned from, heard about through mutual
friends, or seen in the last two years. It is not intended to
be comprehensive or definitive, but rather a glimpse from one specific
person’s experience, over a relatively brief period of time, and in
utterly random order. I gladly welcome further input in comments &
Note: For the purpose of this piece, I am assuming the validity any
person’s self-identification as trans. Where words like “pass” or any
adjectives are used, it’s because the people mentioned described
themselves as such. None of these descriptions are value-laden, but
rather intended to show diversity of experiences. While nothing is
graphically described, there are many words or experiences mentioned
that some may consider triggering.
Thank you all for being you. I am endlessly inspired.
Trans women who are over six feet tall and still rock high heels.
Tiny ones next to whom I feel like a beast. Some who wish they were
taller, some incredibly anxious about their stature and who
instinctively shrink their bodies. Tall trans men. Short trans men.
Trans men so masculine that I don’t even notice their height. Trans
man/woman couples so comfortable with their inversion of ‘normal’ height
differences that the idea of normal becomes laughably absurd.
People who don’t identify as men or women, or who identify as both,
or third sex, or as nonbinary or genderqueer or genderfluid or some
combination of these. Some who see various stages of gender expression
and identity as stops towards a final destination, others who
comfortably live outside of any binary structure. I know people whose
assigned gender is totally unknown to me or others, and others who claim
trans status even though they may not pursue any kind of medical
intervention or even adopt an obviously gendered presentation. Intersex
people who consider themselves trans and those that see their issues and
identities as unrelated.
Trans men and women who have taken hormones since they were children
or teenagers, those who have never taken hormones, and among both groups
both people who are correctly gendered and those who aren’t. People
terrified of self-medicating, those who have only ever self-medicated.
Some who immediately found informed consent clinics or whose insurance
plans covered everything they wanted, and many more who fought the
systems or worked around it. One trans woman who reduced her hormones
because she didn’t want to become too “passable”. People who are casual
and inconsistent with their hormones, others who get anxious if they
miss a single dose. Trans people who lie to doctors, or ignore their
advice, who over medicate and hurt themselves, or who find a better and
more appropriate regiment than a doctor could prescribe, who stock up
hormones to give to their friends in need, who experiment on themselves
and share their knowledge with the community.
Trans women who love their cocks and have no desire for surgery, some
who have always hated them, and every shade of horror, acceptance and
enjoyment between. Some who have mutilated their own, through creative
and dangerous ways, some successfully, some with painful consequences.
Women who have their testicles removed, but do not want further surgery,
and some who do that first and save up vaginoplasty later. One who
medically transitioned, with hormones and surgeries, but remained their
assigned gender in public. Trans men who pack and those that don’t.
Trans men that bind and those that don’t. Trans men who sometimes pack
or bind and other times don’t, or do or don’t at different times in
their transition. Men who want phalloplasty, men who don’t. Trans men
who love being penetrated and trans men who don’t ever want to be
touched there. Many men and women whose feelings towards their genitals
evolve over time.
Trans women who naturally grow breasts as big as a C-cup, those who
never get bigger than an A. Women that get breast augmentation as soon
as they can, and those who never do. Those that love their breasts,
those that wish they had waited, or seen a different surgeon, or had
gotten smaller or bigger implants. Trans women who have lost nipple
sensitivity due to surgery, some who care and some who don’t. Trans
women who can orgasm through having the nipples touched. Trans men who
have their breasts removed and those that don’t or can’t, some that want
it done and some that don’t, or don’t care, those who proudly display
their scars and those that hide them.
Trans women who pump their bodies with silicone, some who love it,
some who do it safely, some who later regret it, some who suffer, some
whom are taken advantage of. Women who go abroad for surgeries, some who
prefer to stay in the states, and people in both groups happy and
unhappy with the results they get and the care they receive.
Trans women who have FFS, trans women that want it, trans women that
want it but will never be able to afford it or are too scared to get it.
Trans women that want it even though no one else thinks they need it.
Those who have a little work done, those who become addicted and return
again and again for more and more work. Trans women who become fixated
on a single feature, whether it’s their foreheads or their nose or their
cheeks or eyebrows or lips or jawlines or chins or any combination. One
trans woman who is saving up to have her feet shortened.
Trans women who go through laser hair removal for their beards, or
electrolysis, or both, or who simply master the art of a close shave, or
who never had much facial hair, or who who don’t care if they have a
little shadow. Trans men who rock bushy thick beards or light mustaches.
Some who never really get much facial hair, and of them some that care
and some that don’t.
I’ve been with femme and butch trans lesbians, trans fairies and
faggots and dykes, and totally straight hetero-normative trans people.
Trans people who see their sexuality and gender expression as totally
separate and those for whom they are tied together in an ever evolving
Trans people who make several attempts at transition, who go back and
forth, some due to their own changing sense of self or comfort, and
others because of external pressure or stress. Trans people who present
as male or female depending on their mood. Those that see themselves as
cross-dressers or butch dykes first and later realize they’re trans,
others who try hormones and then realize it’s not for them. Trans people
with total and unwavering conviction of their gender identity, and
those who struggle with their identity even long into their transition.
Trans men and women who only hang out with other trans people, or
refuse to be seen with any other trans people. Trans people who work
tirelessly to support others no matter their background or identity.
Trans women who talk about sisterhood and community but overtly or
quietly exclude anyone who doesn’t fit their conception of properly
trans. Trans men who become misogynistic. Trans people who lift others
up, and trans people who instinctively tear others down.
I’ve seen racism in the trans community. Too much racism. From those
who openly resent the success of black trans women or the centering of
conversations around trans people of color, to others who give lip
service to prioritizing the needs of people of color but do little to
nothing to change their own behavior, share their own space, or cede
their own power.
Trans women who proudly tag everything “girlslikeus” and others who
refuse to use it at all. Trans people who find community on Twitter or
whose only connection to others is through Tumblr. Trans men who
document their transition with monthly regularity on YouTube, trans
women who post timelines of their changing appearance, and trans people
who remove all evidence of their previous name and likeness from all
Trans people who hate cis people, trans people who don’t even know
what “cis” means, and trans people who couldn’t give a hoot about cis
people one way or another. Trans people who don’t want to be with other
trans people and those that only hang around with others like them.
People who embrace the term “tranny” fully, some who only use it among
other trans people, some who feel panic at the very mention of it. Trans
women in sex work who are resigned to being labeled as “shemale” and
those actively fighting for change in the industry.
I’ve known tops, bottoms, and switches, kinky trans people and
vanilla ones. Trans women who never use their cocks in sex, others that
love using it. Trans people who don’t have sex at all. Some whose sex
drives increase with hormones, others whose decreases. Trans women that
were never attracted to men before but then find themselves aroused by
men after. Some of those who then identify as straight, and some that
later come to prefer women. Others that were never attracted to men and
experience no change with transition. Trans women who have never been
with a woman, cis or trans, and shudder at at the thought. Trans men who
still date lesbians, gay trans men, bi trans men, and trans men whose
sexuality evolves. Trans women who once saw themselves as gay men, or
drag queens, and still feel at home among gay men. Trans women who date
gay men. Trans women who only date other trans women, or only trans
people, and those who avoid all relationships with trans people. Trans
people whose spouses stay with them through transition, and others whose
relationships don’t survive the change. I’ve seen trans men date each
other, trans women couples, trans man/woman couples, and pretty much
every conceivable combination in poly groupings.
Women who were assigned male at birth but don’t consider themselves
trans, or who consider themselves women with a trans history, or who
think of themselves as having a medical condition that is corrected by
surgery. Trans people who consider transgender a mental condition, or a
biological one, or spiritual, or don’t care. Some who genuinely think it
makes them better than cis people, some who have internalized a lot of
shame and are filled with self-hatred. Many who finds themselves always
moving through various shades of acceptance and struggle.
Trans women who played with dolls and wanted their hair long as kids.
Trans women who played with guns and played football and eschewed
feminine things. Trans men who embraced girlhood, others who fought it.
Trans men who have a profoundly new and different love affair with
femininity, make up, long hair, and dresses as trans men than they ever
did before, and trans women who find comfort or power with masculinity
once they’re affirmed as women. Trans men and women who showed clear
signs of their true gender at an early age, those who felt it but kept
it well hidden, those who weren’t conscious of their desire to
transition until later in life. People who transitioned early because
they had nothing to lose or no one to answer to, and people who never
transition because they feel they have too much to lose or others who
are dependent on them. Trans people who look to the world as
astonishingly courageous, others who describe themselves as cowards.
Trans people who used to play sports or work out or act or sing or
travel and then stop during or after transition, some who never give up
such activities, some who return to such activities later. Trans women
who used to be drag queens or show girls or participated in pageants or
balls, some of whom found themselves there, some of whom still perform.
Trans women whose first exposure to their own possibility was through
pornography or who hired trans sex workers to talk to or learn from or
just be near. I know many trans women who are or have engaged in sex
work, and a few trans men, from street work to high-end escorting, from
camming to pornography. Some have few other choices, some can do it as
they please and on their own terms, some who love their work and some
who hate it.
Some who need it to survive, and many who do it to fund
their transition, some who hit their goal and get out, some who never
leave. Some who were lured by false promises, some who later regretted
what they did. There are trans people who are proud of their sex work,
and others who are ashamed, some who are out and advocate for others,
some who are terrified of being discovered. Some who do it for money,
some who do it out of anger and resentment, some who do it for the
affirmation, or some combination of all three.
Trans people who live “stealth”, or “deep stealth”, or semi-stealth,
or openly, or who think the whole idea of stealth ridiculous. Those who
are open to those who ask but don’t proactively disclose, some for
safety reasons, some out of fear, some because they simply don’t think
it’s anyone’s business. Trans people who embrace a trans identity and
take steps to make sure they remain visibly trans.
Trans people who
embrace their identity because they’re consistently seen as trans, or as
the gender they were assigned as. Some who are pained by this, deeply,
some who are not. Trans people who desperately want to pass. Others who
challenge, play with, or subvert the whole notion of passing.
Trans people who gave up, who chose to end their life rather than go
on without being able to live honestly, or who didn’t want to bear the
brutality of a world that hated them. Trans people who grew up with the
support of family and those who were shunned, abandoned, abused, or
hated by theirs.
Trans people who lost friends, close and best and old
friends, those who gained new friends, or became closer with existing
ones. Trans men who were pushed out of their communities when they
transitioned, trans women who lost their circles of support when they
disclosed. Trans people who were fired when they transitioned or
disclosed, or were quietly pushed out, or who couldn’t get hired because
they were trans. I’ve known moms who became dads, and dads who become
moms, and dads who stay “dad” even after transition.
I’ve known many trans people who have survived childhood abuse, with
various degrees of coping. Many of my trans friends, both men and women,
have been raped, before and after transition, by strangers, lovers, and
people in authority. I’ve seen both trans men and women accused of rape
or assault, sometimes by other trans people. Many more of my trans
friends have been assaulted, especially trans women, and usually because
they are trans or in some way appear gender non-conforming.
I’ve met trans bullies, assholes, and idiots, intensely selfish and
narcissistic trans people. Trans people who think the mere fact that
they’re trans means that their voice or issues should be valued above
others. Trans women who aggressively claim a lesbian identity and become
predatory towards other women, cis and trans. There are trans people
with every possible mental illness. There are differently abled trans
people. I’ve met deaf and blind trans people, trans people with chronic
pain, or who are living with or are survivors of cancer. I know trans
people with HIV. There are trans people in our community with PTSD, who
lash out and hurt others. And there are other trans people who use any
or all of the above to shun others, and others for whom this all leads
to profound compassion and empathy.
I’ve known trans Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and
Buddhists and Pagans and atheists and occultists. Trans people who see
their transition as a fundamentally spiritual experience, and others who
have no interest in spirituality. Religious and trans people who talk
about their beliefs, and others who keep it private. Trans people with
and without tattoos and piercings and body mods. Trans people who drink,
who drink too much, who could use a drink right now, who are recovering
alcoholics, who smoke pot, who smoke too much pot, who are addicted to
pills, or cocaine, or meth, or heroin, some who are in recovery, some
who will be, some who have overdosed, and some who will if they don’t
make a change.
Trans people who became nicer or more stable after coming out or
transitioning or taking hormones, and those who were further
destabilized. Those that hoped transition would fix their issues, some
for whom it did, and some who found new issues to confront.
There are trans men who feel a strong sense of belonging to women’s
communities and groups, some who recognize the tensions there and
navigate it successfully, some who are rude and demanding and see no
issue. Trans men who struggle for years with learned and internalized
hatred of men, some who find those thoughts justified when they have
access to men’s spaces, and some who find instead brotherhood and
goodness. Trans men who mourn the loss of lesbian community, some who
never lose it, some who come to look down on women. Those who recognize
the privileges granted them as men, others whose socialization as women
subverts this privilege.
Trans women with long, thick luxurious hair, some with weaves, some
with extensions, some who color their hair, some who suffer intense
anxiety around their hair or hairlines, those who will never allow
themselves to be seen without a wig on, others who don’t care about hair
at all. Trans men who go bald and love it, others who begin Propecia or
Finasteride along with T so that they can keep their hair.
Trans men with deep booming voices, others who still get called
“ma’am” on the phone. Trans women whose voices never change, trans women
whose voices were always read as female, trans women who work hard to
change their voices, some successfully and some not.
In my community there are fabulous trans women and dashing trans men
and swoon inducing genderqueer people. There are those who had a sense
of style before transition and carried it over, and those who found
their confidence and look once they settled into their public identity.
There are trans dorks and geeks and those who can’t accessorize or tie a
windsor knot or rock high heels to save their life. I’ve known trans
people who always look perfectly put together and those who confess
themselves lucky if their socks match. Trans women who wear gorgeous
lingerie, trans men in perfectly tailored suits, and both in sweats with
their hair undone. Those seemingly born to makeup, who could contour a
potato into perfect shape, who could do a perfect winged eyeliner while
riding a bus, and those who never wear makeup, and every stop in
Trans people with PhD’s, with MA’s, with BA’s, with no college, and
high school dropouts, and among each group both brilliant people and the
seeming clueless. People who thrive in academic environments but can’t
relate to people outside of them; others who adapt to any crowd. I’ve
met many socially awkward trans people, and some of the most charming
and gregarious people I’ve ever met are trans. Liberals, Radicals,
Libertarians, Republicans, Democrats, Marxists, Capitalists, Anarchists,
and the politically ignorant or apathetic are all represented in the
trans community. There are unemployed trans people, and trans people in
service work and trans bosses and secretaries and doctors and cooks and
lawyers and entrepreneurs and programmers and politicians and baristas.
Whether they know it or not, nearly everyone in this world has at some
point interacted with a trans person.
I’ve known trans people who knew or claimed their rightful gender
from an early age, and others who didn’t realize it until much later.
Some who showed signs, some who didn’t. I’ve met many people who don’t
realize they’re trans, or don’t transition, until they are in their 50′s
or 60′s or even 70′s. Trans people who don’t take a single step until
they have enough money saved to have every surgery the want, and others
who begin their journey with absolutely no gender affirming resources.
I’ve encountered trans people from Mexico, India, Thailand, the
Philippines, Iraq, France, England, Ireland, Wales, Turkey, Poland,
Germany, South Africa, Japan, and Uganda. Some doing work in their own
countries, others who came to the U.S. to escape persecution or because
of the resources here. Trans people who have helped me realize how much
of what I’m writing here is dependent upon a particular Western, modern
perspective on gender.
I’ve known some who are ashamed to be trans, and many more who are
proud of their identity. Sometimes the same person at different times of
the day. I’ve met trans people with whom I have nothing in common
except that we’re both trans, and I have trans friends whom I would love
just as dearly even if they weren’t trans.
I’ve seen incomprehensible strength and resilience and brilliance and
creativity among trans people. I’ve heard endless heartbreaking and
heartwarming stories. I’ve held crying trans people in my arms, and I
have myself been held while sobbing. I’ve laughed so hard with my trans
friends that I couldn’t breathe. I’ve been with trans people and totally
forgotten that any of us are trans, and I’ve stood in a room with
hundreds of trans people and felt incomparable pride and hope. I am
destroyed and resurrected daily by all that I witness.
In two years I’ve met an incredible number of trans people.
What I’ve never met is a single trans person who was more or less trans than any other.
There is no right way to be trans.
There is no wrong way to be trans.
Do you. Do it well.
Author / Source: Jen Richards
Sunday, 21 September 2014
Recently I spent several days in a public internet group for "gender critical" people, after a few intersex friends voiced some positive things about this line of thinking. As an intersex individual who gender transitioned from the sex he was assigned at birth, I was puzzled and concerned by this development. I'd read in trans writing that "gender critical" feminists were actively transphobic--yet here were some intersex advocates excited by what they were saying. So I wanted to go have a look for myself. Were "gender critical" feminists in fact good allies for the intersex community? What would it mean for trans communities if this were so?
Intersex People Critique the Insistence that Sex is a Binary
Simply on the face of it, from an intersex perspective the phrase "gender critical" sounds appealing. Advocates for the intersex community are extremely critical of the way sex and gender are understood and enforced in contemporary Western socieities. We live with a social ideology of binary sex which conflicts with the biological reality that sex is a spectrum, and many people are born with bodies that lie between the male and female ideals described in textbooks. The textbooks say "men have XY chromosomes and women have XX," but there are XX men and XY women, and people with many other sex genotypes (XXY, Xo, and XX/XY mosaics to name just some). Textbooks proclaim "men have a penis and scrotum, while women have a clitoris, labia and vagina," but many people are born with an intermediate phalloclitoris and labioscrotum. Children are born with a phallus and a uterus, with vulvas but internal testes, with intermediate ovotestes, with external testes but no penis, and with other variant genital configurations.
Sex is a spectrum of variations, in humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. But societies cut that spectrum up into socially-recognized sexes, just as they slice the color spectrum up into named colors. Cultures in different global locations and different historical periods have sliced the sex spectrum up in contrasting ways, just as they've named differing numbers of colors when looking at the rainbow. While other social sex systems recognize three, four, or five sexes, contemporary Western societies generally only recognize two: male and female. And people are deeply invested in the ideology that there are just two sexes--it's been embedded in religion ("Male and female created He them"); it's graven into our birth certificates and a thousand other forms of ID listing "M" or "F"; it shapes our built environment with bathrooms and locker rooms and the like divided by binary gender; and it underlies our understanding of sexuality, family, and intimacy. So when, inevitably, intersex children are born, it's treated as a crisis.
It's hard, growing up intersex in a society that enforces a sex binary, medically, socially and legally. We are subjected as children to surgeries meant to "normalize" our bodies, with lifelong ramifications that can be quite negative (loss of genital sensation, loss of fertility, loss of a source of natural sex hormones, and sometimes assignment to a sex with which we do not grow up to identify). Often we are not told the truths about our own intersex status. Our bodies are treated as shameful, and we are taught to keep our variations secret, closeted. We may find it hard to form relationships, being told both that our "conditions" will drive people away and must be hidden, but also that if we do not disclose them to sexual partners we are deceitful. If our variance isn't discovered until adulthood, we may find ourselves losing relationships, reputations, even careers, and forced to have hormonal and surgical medical interventions (as a condition, for example, of participating in sports).
Intersex advocates want this to change. We want the natural sex spectrum to be acknowledged, and our bodies accepted. We want to put an end to genital surgeries forced on unconsenting children. We want our gender identities to be respected without our having to alter our bodies medically unless we so desire. We want to remove gender markers from birth certificates, since that requirement is used as an excuse by doctors to force rushed sex assignment decisions on parents of intersex children. We want children to be told the truths about their bodies matter-of-factly, for doctors to stop treating us like fascinating "cases" to poke and prod, and for society to stop treating us as freaks. We want intersex children to grow up with self-respect, and with the autonomy to express their own gender identities and make their own decisions about what medical interventions, if any, will be made into their bodies.
Intersex people are very critical of the binary sex and gender ideologies of our society, and how they are implemented institutionally. Therefore, a group that says they critique gender from a feminist perspective certainly sounds like it would make a reasonable ally.
Intersex People and "Gender Critical" Politics
The intersex friends of mine who mentioned being drawn to "gender critical feminism" were particularly attracted by the fact that these feminists were critical of the term "cis gender." Intersex people are often uncomfortable with the application of the terms "cis" and "trans" to intersex experience. The terms apply very poorly because they presume that physical sex is binary (even if allowing that gender identities may be nonbinary). For example, if a person is born genitally intermediate, is surgically assigned female in infancy, and grows up to identify as a woman, is she "trans gender" because she was surgically altered to become female, or "cis gender" because she identifies with the sex she was assigned at birth? Either term winds up misrepresenting something about her experience. (I've suggested the alternative term "ipso gender" for intersex people who identify with the binary gender they were assigned at birth, because I think it vital that we have a term for people who identify with their birth-assigned sex, rather than leaving them unmarked as "normal." The problem as I see it is not the term "cis gender," but the fact that the cis/trans binary erases intersex experience, and at least one additional term must be added to address this problem.) In any case, gender critical feminists reject the term cis gender, and this has appeal for intersex people frustrated with binary cis/trans terminology applying so poorly to them.
Another reason some intersex friends of mine may have been drawn to gender critical writing is that In recent months, there have been a series of "mainstream" articles and online posts in which these positions have been sympathetically expressed. For example, one article mentioned by an intersex friend critiqued the term "cis privilege" by caricaturing it as meaning "having a female body is a privilege." Clearly this is false: because of patriarchy, female bodies are sexualized, framed as weak, and subjected to surveillance. Lots of nonintersex cis women dislike getting periods or feeling constantly at risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Having a female body is not a privilege--but it is also not how trans advocates define cis privilege at all. Trans people actually define cis privilege as "the benefits one derives from being seen as a 'real' and 'natural' member of one's identified sex" (lack of public scrutiny of one's primary and secondary sex characteristics, being able to use a public bathroom with relative ease, having ID that matches one's identity, etc.). Nor do trans people deny, as the linked article claims, that cis people also suffer from gender policing. Someone who identifies as a woman yet who is very butch in her gender expression can suffer from bathroom panic, and a male-identified person who is quite feminine may well face a great deal of street harassment. That is why trans advocates regularly fight for laws banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression. But if you read the article mentioned by my intersex friend and took it at face value, as they apparently did--why, the arguments of trans women sound regressive and ludicrous and enforcing of binary gender stereotypes. Trans women are telling other women their privilege is to enjoy being pretty and silent and submissive and having lots of babies, says the author! If that were true, transfeminists really would be revealed to be patriarchal oppressors in disguise. Only. . . it's not true. It's a false characterization on par with saying that "feminists are man-haters."
Another factor attracting intersex people to "gender critical" arguments is that they put the idea of accepting the natural body front and center. Instead of rejecting one's body as defective, embrace it! This exhortation has enormous appeal to intersex advocates whose central concern is stopping the imposition of "normalizing" genital surgery on intersex infants. If only parents, upon the birth of a child with intermediate genitalia, would look on them, not with dismay, but with the same tender appreciation that parents feel when seeing tiny little sex-typical penises and vulvas on their newborns! If only female-assigned intersex tweens weren't told they would have to have a vagina constructed soon, because otherwise they would never be able to have sexual relationships. If only so many American children born today and given an "M" on their birth certificates weren't given genital surgery for hypospadias, sometimes just because the urethra opens low on the penile head instead of the tip. Shouldn't the person possessing genitals be the one to decide if the risk of loss of sensation in their genitalia is worth the presumed benefit of those genitals looking somewhat more like the idealized binary?
Now, as a practical matter, it turns out that intersex advocates and gender critical feminists have very different end positions on medical interventions into the sexed body. Intersex advocates believe that no intervention should be forced--but also that once an intersex person is old enough to give full informed consent, that hormonal, surgical, or others interventions should be performed if that's what the individual truly wants. Any many, many intersex people do choose interventions of their own free will. Sure, an intersex person who has vaginal agenesis may have no desire whatsoever to have her pelvis dissected and a neovagina constructed from a section of cheek or intestines or labia. There are so many ways to enjoy sexual relations other than vaginal penetration. But many do want a vagina, to support female identities if they so identify, or because of the great social value placed on penetrative vaginal sex, or in the case of those with a substantial uterus and with ovaries, because they could become pregnant through sexual intercourse. Intersex people often seek hormone replacement therapy to masculinize or feminize their bodies, or surgeries to move their urethras to allow neater or standing urination, or any of a wide number of other interventions. And intersex advocates support all of these choices. We just wish them to be free choices, not forced by doctors or parents or social shaming.
Gender-critical feminists, on the other hand, turn out to hold a very different position: that all interventions into the sexed body are mutilations, not just those imposed without consent. Just as it is a mutilation to surgically alter the innocent bodies of intersex babies, they say, it is a pointless self-mutilation for an adult to choose to have their sexed body medically altered, because sex cannot be changed. Chromosomes can't be altered. A vaginoplasty cannot produce a real vagina, nor a phalloplasty a real penis, they say, and all interventions into the sexed body are motivated by patriarchy and thus counter to the interests of women. The only healthy and feminist response to unhappiness with one's body presented is to learn to accept it as it is. For intersex people, this just replaces the rigid regime of forcing medical interventions with a rigid regime of withholding them. Switching one constraint on intersex people for another isn't the motivation for this gender critical position--I don't know if they are even aware that intersex people desire some medical interventions. The main purpose of their argument that one must accept the natural body is to tell trans people that they must give up on the "delusion" that one can be born with a penis but really be a woman, or born with a vagina but really be a man, or born a human being and really be a member of some alternative sex.
Gender-critical feminists, it turns out, have one central obsession, and that is with rejecting trans people, or more accurately, with rejecting trans women. In other words, they are TERFs.
Gender Crits, Radfems and TERFs, Oh My
Most trans folks are familiar with the label "TERF," standing for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. This is the term used in most writing by trans people to refer to feminists who oppose the acceptance of trans women in feminist organizations, women-only "safe spaces," and female facilities, and who fight against regulations, laws or policies that would protect trans people from discrimination. The designation "trans-exlusionary radical feminist" was created by other radical feminists who are not transphobic, and who were upset that the name "radfem" was becoming associated in the public mind with bigotry against trans people.
Few people actively call themselves TERFs--transphobic feminists generally portray the name "TERF" as a slur. I used to have the impression that most called themselves radfems, and were older second-wave feminists, who came of age in the era of lesbian separatism and who thought of themselves as "womyn-born-womyn." I thought of them as people whose transphobic framing of feminist politics was frozen in their youths, destined to fade into irrelevancy as the rest of the world moved on. But instead there's been an upswing in their movement, probably as backlash to the fact that trans people have become more visible and, while still lagging far behind the rights being secured based on sexual orientation, some protections for people based on gender identity and expression have been won.
Now, the group in which I sojourned called itself a gender-critical discussion group. It had rules prohibiting personal attacks and requiring respectful listening, which sounded heartening. Nothing in its mission statement said anything about excluding people, it was open to all, and on its face, there was not a thing about it that seemed bigoted. I could certainly understand why a random intersex person coming across the group would be curious. I myself hoped that the "gender crits" would be different from transphobic radfems, and that their criticisms would be helpful to intersex people. But that's not what happened, and a couple of days spent reading and attempting to have conversations left me feeling depressed and sullied. The gender crits turned out to be TERFs by another name: feminist transphobes. There were a few positive moments, but they were vastly outweighed by slogging through a lot of LOLing about how stupid a person must be to think they can call themselves female when they were born with a penis.
What I think it is important for trans advocates to point out to intersex people is that trans-exclusionary radical feminists believe that sex is a natural binary, innate and immutable: men have penises, women have vaginas and uteri. The TERFs note that gender is a relationship of power, and frame this in an embodied way through binary sex: men seek to control women's uteri, reproductive capacities, and thus lives. The ultimate expression of patriarchy in this framework is the use of the penis to rape. As a result, "gender critical feminists" make the strong claim that anyone who denies that sex is a binary and that genitals determine gender is ignoring the terrorizing of "natal" women by rapists. ("Natal" is their alternative to "cis" to refer to a person who was born with the sex organs expected for someone of their gender.) This gender-critical feminist claim puts intersex people in a very bad place, positioned as supporters of rape if we argue that sex is not a natural binary.
Showing that TERF Positions are Not Good for the Intersex Community
Intersex advocates are interested in criticizing binary sex ideology--that's what makes the term "gender critical" sound appealing. But that's not what these transphobic feminists mean by it at all. As they use it, the phrase "gender critical" denotes being critical of (or more bluntly, rejecting) the concept of gender identity--most especially the fundamental precept of trans gender advocacy, which is that when gender identity and legal sex conflict, this provides pragmatic and ethical justification for a change of legal sex. But intersex people don't reject the concept of gender identity at all. Most intersex people in the contemporary West have a clear gender identity, often as women or men, or sometimes as genderqueer or as as identifying with the term intersex as a third gender category, and want their gender identities to be respected. Intersex advocates believe it is of paramount importance to center a child's gender identity in any decisions made about altering an intersex child's body, and have been famously fighting the legal case for M.C., a child who identifies as a boy, but whose doctors assigned him female based on their treatment protocols. The "gender critical" feminists' core belief--that gender identity is a myth or delusion that society should ignore rather than validate--would undermine M.C.'s case. Transgender people need to point this out to retain intersex individuals as allies--and make trans support for children like M.C. clear by supporting the rights of children and adults to refuse imposed medical transition procedures, not just to request desired ones.
Another thing that may initially draw intersex people to TERFs is that they actively deny that they are transphobic, presenting themselves as reasonable women who are victims of slander. They often say they have compassion for "men under the delusion that they are women," which they present as equivalent to believing one is really a horse or a space alien. They only wish, they say, to help trans people improve their mental health and come to accept their bodies. Accepting one's body means accepting that one cannot call oneself a woman while having a penis. But participating in discussions with gender crits, it quickly becomes apparent that they are indeed transphobic--and apparently obsessed with penises. They talk about them constantly, and presume that all trans women have them (because they say even a trans women who has genital reconstructive surgery now simply possesses an "inverted penis"). And penises are always presented as dangerous--"natal girls" might see them in locker rooms and be traumatized, trans-protective laws would mean no woman could ever be sure the person in the next stall didn't have a penis, and thus pose a threat to her. This obsession with other people's genitals and validation of the idea that people should be upset by those with the "wrong ones" runs completely counter to the interests of intersex people. It's the very same binary sex essentialism and acceptance of gender policing that the medical profession uses to justify intersex genital reconstructive surgery. It is the logic used by doctors when they amputate or "reduce" the intermediate phalloclitorises of children they've assigned female: unless they do so, the child's body will inspire shock and repulsion. In painting trans women's bodies as deceptive, dangerous and disgusting, transphobic feminists paint those born sex variant with the same brush.
TERFs are not just binary sex essentialists, however, dividing the world into oppressors and oppressed through reference to binary genitals. They also have a theory of gender socialization. Their vision of gender socialization is bleak: boys are socialized to dominate, control, and rape women; girls are socialized to submit to this and embrace their oppressors and call this "femininity." Clearly this is bad, and feminism is a movement of "natal" women that teaches women to recognize and resist this programming. Men, however, are presented as inevitably and eternally shaped by their socialization into patriarchy, as it advantages them. Trans women are asserted to be men, and while they may claim they do not enjoy being treated as men, this is said just to illustrate their blindness to their own privilege. Trans women are inevitably socialized to try to control "natal" women, as evidenced by their belief they should be able to force "natal" women into "supporting their gender delusion" and treating them as sisters. Again, this rejection of gender identity conflicts with the interests of intersex people. It also paints a simplistic and binary picture of gender socialization, a process which is in fact quite variable and complex, shaped by one's gender identity and one's many social locations. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge the intersectional nature of marginalization and privilege, and speak not just of patriarchy but of kyriarchy, taking into account race, age, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, and other dimensions along which power is distributed. And one of these dimensions for nonintersex people is the axis of cis privilege and trans marginalization. Trans women--particularly those who are poor, of color, and/or have a disability--suffer huge levels of social stigma, violence, employment discrimination, etc.
Women who are neither intersex nor trans gender need to acknowledge that while they are marginalized as women, they are privileged as cis people. But if trans communities want intersex people to be their allies in getting others to acknowledge this, then they have to take some steps as well. The first step for trans organizers is to recognize and affirm that intersex people don't have cis privilege in the same way nonintersex people do. An intersex ipso gender person shares some privileges with a nonintersex cis person--having thier birth certificate and other ID matching their identified sex, for example. But an ipso gender intersex person is marginalized in other ways like a nonintersex trans person, such as by having the veracity of their gender identity called into question by others due to what is deemed a mismatch with some of their sex characteristics. Furthermore, I hope that nonintersex trans people will acknowledge that they enjoy privileges which intersex people lack, especially that of not facing one or many unconsented-to medical interventions into their bodies, perhaps destroying the very sexed aspects of their bodies with which they matured to identify.
A final core factor in "gender critical" ideology is that while it grows frothy in its fears about trans women, it is weirdly quiet on the topic of other trans people. Trans men are presented by TERFs as just sad: women who don't understand that it's ok to be a butch woman or a lesbian, victims of Stockholm syndrome identifying with their oppressor. There's some anger about butch women "abandoning" the women's community to chase fantasies of joining the oppressor camp, but the basic attitude is that "women who are deluded into thinking they are men" should be pitied and exhorted to return to the fold. Genderqueer people are presented as quite silly, confusing the admirable androgyny to which we all should aspire with a mythic new gender identity. They're presented as dupes of the "genderist trend," obsessed with something that doesn't exist. In this, gender-crits are little different from society as a whole: much more transmisogynist than generically transphobic, paying much less attention to trans men and people with nonbinary gender identities than to the big bugaboo, trans women.
There's a parallel thing that happens with respect to intersex people. Intersex people who identify as women get fetishized and scrutinized, and may in fact be misperceived as (nonintersex) trans women. On the other hand, those raised as men are mostly invisible to society--in fact, many people believe the old saw that "all intersex people are assigned female at birth." In fact, at least 1 in 125 children assigned male at birth is diagnosed as having hypospadiacal DSD (disorder or difference of sex development). But doctors carefully avoid the term "intersex" in describing most of them--calling them just "boys with hypospadias"--and very, very few men with hypospadias come forth to claim their intersex status. Fragile masculinity in our society discourages men from doing anything that makes them appear less than fully masculine in society's eyes. As a result, most, though not all, of the interesx individuals assigned male at birth who come out to claim their intersex status are those who have nothing to lose thereby, as they identify as women or with a nonbinary gender.
And those intersex children assigned male at birth who mature to identify as female face huge levels of scrutiny. Sadly, this is one of the things that my attract intersex people to "gender critical" rhetoric. That's because transphobic feminists claim that trans women are using the intersex community to try to force others to treat them with pity. They claim that it's not intersex people, but trans women who are always going on about intersex issues in public discourse on sex and gender. And they claim that most people presenting themselves as intersex are really trans women pretenting to intersex status. Unfortunately, when they hear this, a lot of intersex people nod their heads angrily.
I really have to say, as an intersex person, that TERFs did not make up the issue of trans gender intersex wannabes being a problem. I have spent many years in support groups and networks for intersex people, and they are often inundated by people either speculating that they are intersex, or flat-out asserting it, wanting to know how to access gender transition services. Now, there are a number of perfectly understandable reasons why people may believe they may be intersex, although this is not the case. There's so little information given to people about intersexuality in the course of education about biology and sex. And the idea that physical sex traits determine gender identity is widely held. So, if a person does not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth, they are likely to be prompted to wonder if their reproductive organs or genes have caused them to trans-idenify. And there's so little understanding even of what sex-typical genitals are "supposed" to look like or do that people can misinterpret quite typical characteristics as strange. A person with a typical phallus may see a line on the underside and think it must be proof of childhood surgery, when all people have a perineal raphe, which extends up the underside of the typical penis. You'd be surprised how many people have asked me if the fact that their clitoris gets erect when they are aroused is proof that they are intersex. Similarly, a lot of people seem to be unaware that it's totally typical for women to find some darker hairs on their upper lips, or some whiskers spouting on their chins.
I see no problem with people who are questioning or exploring their gender identities to have questions about how typical or atypical they are in their bodily sex characteristics--though it can be frustrating to try to run an online intersex support board and have people posing questions like these overrunning them. But what is really damaging to the intersex community is when nonintersex people wishing to gender transition decide they are intersex, while knowing nothing about actual intersex bodies--and then run around telling eveyone they meet strange stories about what being intersex means. I've encountered dozens of such people, and some of the stories they tell are frankly bizarre. Often these stories involve being born with two sets of genitals and reproductive organs, one male-typical and one female-typical, and one of these sets somehow being removed. (One person said his mother forced him to take birth control pills as a child, which caused him to absorb his penis into his abdomen, leaving just a set of female genitals behind. Another told me his uncle had hated his atypical genitals, so had ripped off his testicles and cut a hole for him to menstruate through, and now he just looked like a normal girl. A third told me she had a penis and scrotum in front, but a clitoris and uterus attached to her rectum, and regularly menstruated rectally. And several have told me that they were born with a uterus that doctors removed when they impregnated themselves.) These are not plausible stories because intersex people are born, not with two sets of sex organs, but with one intermediate or mixed set. And a person cannot impregnate themself, even in the extraordinarily rare situation where a person has both an ovary and a testis and a small vagina and uterus and a small phallus, because a sex hormone balance that allows producing viable sperm will not support a menstrual cycle, and one that will support a menstrual cycle will not support spermatogenesis.
In my own experience, trans people of all genders present as intersex wannabes and tell strange stories about their bodies, trying to gain support from others to secure binary gender transition services or to validate their genderqueer identity. A particular focus on trans women as intersex wannabes probably just reflects transmisogyny on the part of TERFs and, sadly, some intersex people. Hopefully this phenomenon will fade away as transition services become easier to access, but today it's still a big problem for the intersex community, because these wannabes spread disinformation, sometimes setting themselves up as "intersex authorities" to people around them. Some of this disinformation can be actively dangerous, and none of it helps demythologize intersex reality in the general populace. Unfortunately, the substantial frustration in the intersex community about trans gender wannabes plays a large part in making transphobic feminist rhetoric sound attractive to intersex people. If the trans community wants intersex people to ally with it, it is very important that trans people educate themselves on what intersexuality actually means, and call out other trans people they hear telling impossible stories of having had two sets of genitals in childhood, or having impregnated themselves.
It's not just a problem that some trans people tell bizarre stories of impossible intersex bodies. Trans people are going to continue to alienate intersex people if they continue to assert the more abstract claim that the entire trans community has the right to call itself intersex, because trans people have an intersex brain, or the brain of one binary sex in the body of the other. This claim deeply alienates intersex people for two reasons. First, the impulse to appropriate the term intersex is based on the presumption that it is better to be deemed an intersex person than a trans person. This indicates a profound ignorance of all the the pain and marginalization intersex people face--in other words, it illustrates nonintersex privilege. And secondly, the people who make this "intersex brain" case generally go on to assert that they deserve free gender transition services, because intersex people get those services for free as children, as society understands in their case that this is medically necessary. This claim presents the central problem against which intersex advocates struggle--forced genital surgery performed on unconsenting children--as both necessary and good. Arguments in favor of forced sex assignment surgery on intersex infants (or adult intersex athletes, or any other group of intersex people) are so maddening to intersex advocates that they can drive people into the arms of TERFs.
Steps Trans People Can Take to Support Intersex People and Keep Them as Allies
1. First and foremost, since TERFs believe that the "natural" sexed body should be accepted rather than medically altered, many commenters in the "gender critical" discussion group I visited were opposed to performing genital surgery on intersex infants, seeing it as a mutilation. This aligns with the central focus of intersex advocacy: stopping the imposition of genital surgery onto unconsenting intersex infants. Trans advocates tend to describe hormone therapy or genital reconstructive surgery only in positive terms. When someone presents a surgery as mutilating, trans advocates may immediately attack them as transphobic. This is very alienating to intersex people, and it is time for a more sophisticated approach. What trans people need to do is shift from arguing that hormonal treatment and genital surgery are lifesaving wonders that are never misapplied, to talking about a fight only for positive interventions into bodily sex, and never for negative ones. What distinguishes good from bad medical interventions into the sexed body are autonomy and full informed consent. Centering full informed consent will allow trans people both to counter transphobes and support intersex allies. When a transphobic critic claims that "confused girls are amputating their breasts," for example, the reply can be, "Chest reconstructive surgery is supported by the American Medical Association as a treatment for gender dysphoria. Those trans gender individuals who receive it are not confused, but have undergone careful counseling and have given their full informed consent. As trans people, we believe very strongly that interventions into the sexed body should only be performed with the full informed consent of the individual involved. For example, we oppose genital surgery when it is imposed on intersex infants, who cannot agree or disagree to it."
2. In addition to becoming more vocal critics of intersex infant genital surgery, trans people can show that "gender critical" feminists make bad bedfellows for the intersex community by focusing attention on TERF insistence that sex is a binary. In the discussion group I visited, the fact that people are born sexually intermediate was somehow said not to undermine the "natural" sex binary because intersexuality was presented as a disorder, and, I was informed, "you can't take a disorder and call it a sex." Group members believed intersex infants must be permanently assigned to a binary sex. They dismissed the alternatives advocated by intersex people (removing sex-markers from birth certificates generally, or making a provisional sex marker listed at birth easily amendable to "M," "F," or a nonbinary alternative, once an individual matures to be able to express their identity and give full informed consent). Removing binary sex markers from IDs, or at least expanding the gender options and making them easy for an individual to change, are also goals of the trans community. Trans advocacy about gender markers on identity documents is widespread, but rarely if ever addresses the central intersex concern about such markers: that requiring a permanent gender marker on the birth certificate leads to hasty binary sex assignments for intersex children. Making this issue a regular part of all trans advocacy about gender markers, and offering to work in partnership with intersex groups on it, would be a good way to strengthen trans/intersex community ties.
3. While it was agreed in discussion in the gender crit group I visited that doctors shouldn't perform cosmetic genital surgery on intersex babies, I was told that they should examine the infants and assign them to the correct binary sex based on capacity to reproduce in the "very rare" situations in which that would be possible without surgery, and otherwise on genes. This was an odd rule, not comporting with the treatment protocols imposed by doctors, and would lead to results that the discussants seemed unaware would counter their own precepts. For example, people with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS), born with typical vulvae and developing female secondary sex characteristics at puberty if unaltered by gonadectomy, would be understood as permanently and naturally male, being infertile and having XY chromosomes. Yet CAIS is often not diagnosed until late childhood or puberty, so either CAIS teens would be forced into gender transitions--a process the "gender crits" frame as impossible--or the TERFs would have to accept XY women. Trans advocates can point out that TERFs propose schemes for assigning intersex children to a permanent binary sex that are even more problematic than those applied by doctors today. Demonstrating that the trans community has considered the outcomes of different sex-assignment schemes, and understand why both the standard medical protocol and the TERF alternative are harmful to intersex children, will prove that trans folks are doing the real work of being allies to intersex people.
4. Since the central point of "gender critical" feminism is that gender identity is a sort of delusion or myth, the idea that families and society should allow a child to mature to assert their own gender identity (male, female, or something else) is basically incomprehensible to transphobic feminists. This is an important issue to focus on for trans advocates seeking to cement allyship with intersex groups. Intersex advocates urge, in addition to leaving intersex children's bodies intact, assigning them a provisional binary gender marker to deal with institutional forms and spaces requiring one, but following the child's lead, and supporting them in whatever gender identity they grow to have. This is a model trans advocates can certainly support, while TERFs view it as "genderist" lunacy, and that's an excellent fact to point to in showing who the real allies of intersex people are.
5. We've discussed how transphobic feminists try to draw intersex people to them by framing trans people as appropriating intersex issues. Trans advocates can turn this claim on its head by showing that "gender critical feminists" are appropriating intersex issues to try to advance their transphobic goals. The main situation in which intersex concerns were treated as relevant in the group I joined was in the context of discussions of trans-identified children. (A particularly overwrought conversation in the group discussed an article which bore the blaring title "Toddler Aged 3 Assessed for Sex Change at London Clinic," which actually just reported that a 3-year-old was assessed for gender identity issues, not that the child was offered any sort of hormonal or surgical treatment.) A claim made in the discussions of trans-identified children was that for parents to "indulge" this "fantasy" by bringing them to a clinic to be diagnosed, changing the pronoun they used to refer to the child, and/or having the gender marker on their ID changed was analogous to forcing genital surgery on intersex children, and thus a human rights violation that should be banned. I don't see an analogy at all, but rather an inversion: forced genital surgery performed on infants violates their autonomy, while validating a child in their gender identity supports the child's autonomy. I see TERFs appropriating intersex concerns about unconsented-to genital surgery to bash at children who assert a trans identity. And pointing this out is another way to convince intersex people that the trans community is their true ally, and transphobes poor allies indeed.
So: I followed a recent suggestion that "gender critical" politics might be useful to intersex people, and spent several days reading posts and participating in a group for "gender critical" partisans. What I found was something that left an awful taste in my mouth: a lot of transmisogyny, a denial of the lived reality of trans people of all genders, and an insistence on an immutable sex binarism that frames intersex people as disordered. I was told that most people who say they are intersex are trans pretenders, using a tiny minority to advance their nefarious goal of insisting that gender identity should be respected and genitals treated as nobody's business other than the person bearing them and their intimate partners. And I found the intersex community's concerns being co-opted to vilify parents who support their children in identifying with a gender other than that on their birth certificates.
Intersex people may be drawn to the intriguing moniker "gender critical," but I believe the trans advocates can and must demonstrate that these trans-exclusionary feminists make very poor allies for the intersex community. Trans people should commit to becoming better and more active allies for intersex folks in the future, and ensure that what seems a natural alliance between trans and intersex communities does not founder, but flourishes.
Author / Source: Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello at TransFusion
Saturday, 20 September 2014
What has to happen absolutely immediately is to stop the butchering of infants in order to make them 'normal' during barbaric 'normalization surgeries'. Primarily because it's been known since the 1960s that gender is in the brain and not in one's sex chromosomes or physical sex (else we'd not have transgenders). This makes the common practice of determining an infant or child's 'gender' through its sex chromosomes into pseudo-science at best and a gruesome violation of one's intrinsic human rights ('right to self-determination over one's body') at worst.
Read Full Article at Maya Posch
Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Melissa Hudson says 30 years of experience in the Toronto business world hasn't been enough to land her a job, despite numerous call-backs on her resume for first-round interviews.
Hudson's difficulties in finding work started after she transitioned from male to female and she blames discrimination for leaving her bankrupt, fighting to keep a roof over her head.
"After transitioning I can't get anyone to give me a second interview," she said. "I've even had interviewers make excuses of why they can't conduct the interview once I show up."
Hudson's last job in the corporate world was at a logistics firm in Mississauga, where she was a self-proclaimed "suit-and-tie" business professional. But she decided to live openly as a transgender woman two years ago.
Her challenges were exacerbated by a cycling accident that left her in the hospital for months and a hospital-acquired infection after gender-related surgery, she said.
Hudson left her job after the accident because of a "toxic work environment" but hasn't been able to find other employment.
"It would have been possible to get through it and get back to work if my gender hadn't been an issue with employers," she said.
Hudson said she isn't alone in her experience.
"I have friends who are very qualified business people who are now worried about paying their rent. It's unbelievable."
Because of the relatively small size of the transgender community and difficulty in reaching members, advocates say transgender employment data is hard to find. But a 2011 report from Trans PULSE — a community-based research project in Ontario — found that only 37 per cent of transgender participants were employed full-time, while 15 per cent were employed part-time. Twenty-five per cent were students, three per cent were retired and 20 per cent were unemployed.
The results were based on surveys of 433 trans people who lived, worked or received health care in Ontario.
Eighteen per cent said they had been turned down for a job because of their gender while 32 per cent said they were unsure if their gender influenced the hiring manager's decision. Thirteen per cent said they had been fired or constructively dismissed for being transgender.
"If you look at the numbers of transgender women who are unemployed, if you look at their credentials, background and business experiences, and that level of unemployment, there is systemic discrimination," Hudson said.
"I never in a million years thought this would happen in Canada," she said. "That's how clueless I was."
Trans PULSE researcher Greta Bauer, who is a professor in epidemiology and biostatistics at Western University, said the project showed the "substantial" underemployment and unemployment in the community.
"Despite being very well educated, we found that trans people have a median income of $15,000 a year," she said.
"It's surprising how often we hear from people that they were told bluntly, 'You won't fit in here."'
The job hunt can also be complicated by university transcripts or references that are under a different gender or name.
Twenty-seven per cent of respondents said there were instances when they weren't provided references because they were transgender.
"Very often trans folks have higher levels of education than the general population and yet higher levels of unemployment, which shouldn't co-relate," said Donna Turner, spokeswoman for Rainbow Health Ontario, an advocacy and research organization focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Turner said societal discrimination often filters into the business world.
"For a lot of people, the types of stories that we hear are that someone starts to transition in the workplace and then they get laid off for other reasons."
In 2012, Toby's Act made it illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace because of gender identity or gender expression, amending the Ontario Human Rights Code.
But despite provincial legal protections, Turner said transgender individuals are dissuaded from filing discrimination complaints because of the cost and time it takes for cases to be heard.
Hudson said there is also another reason why transgender women don't complain about negative experiences.
"It's complete and obvious discrimination, but it's very hard to prove."
Savannah Burton, 39, had a better experience in the workplace while transitioning because of union support but is considering other job options because of her interactions with the public.
After 13 years in Toronto's hotel industry, she is now pursing an acting career because she feels she is being judged on a daily basis by her customers.
"It really wears you down. You get uncomfortable, you get self-conscious," she said.
Nicole Nussbaum, a Legal Aid Ontario lawyer who identifies as transgender, said she has seen frequent cases of employment discrimination during her career, but there has been some progress.
"Several years ago, trans people were more invisible, the lives and experiences of trans people were more invisible," she said.
Nussbaum said gender-inclusive corporate policies are becoming more common — TD Bank Group for example has a best practices guideline for transitioning in the workplace.
It includes notes on day-to-day workplace issues such as washroom access and the appropriate use of gender pronouns, while also encouraging transitioning employees to seek out support from management.
Nussbaum added that there is a "reinforcing cycle" where employers who don't have inclusive policies are less likely to attract transgender applicants, or have an environment where transgender employees are comfortable being open about their gender.
Putting policies in place, she said, doesn't only protect transgender individuals, but enshrines the rights of others as well.
"Having an equitable workplace with respected human rights across the board encourages a more diverse workforce generally speaking," she said. "People who might be discriminated against on other grounds will feel like you are a good employer for them too."
Source: The Canadian Press