Trans feminism and the law

Florence Ashley opens this essay by distinguishing between the “rule of law” and the “rule of man,” describing the latter as a widely undesirable state of governing (or lack thereof) while the former is supposed to be a steady and reliable foundation of order:

The rule of law is a lot like gender. The analogy is puzzling, at first glance. Coming from a trans experience, the parallels are much more visible to me: “Then an analysis can focus not on what the rule of law is, or what it should be, but on what it does, what it accomplishes, what it produces. Indeed, if the only thing we know for sure about the rule of law is what any of these many state actors say it is in any particular instance, the rule of law will turn out to be as messy and diffuse a concept as the state[2].” This passage is perfectly intelligible, and yet every reference to the rule of law in the passage was a replacement of the term “sex”. Both the rule of law and gender, in legal contexts, are normative notions which seek to define the proper relationship between citizens and between citizens and the state. Whereas the supported relationship is a cisheteronormative[3] one with regards to gender, the rule of law promotes a law-abiding relationship between citizens and state. In the negative chasm of each conception, we find transgender people and emancipatory actors. Gender as a state construct makes trans lives either impossible or difficult, whereas the rule of law makes emancipatory lives either impossible or difficult. That trans lives are often led as emancipatory lives attests to importance of transfeminist analyses of the rule of law. The analogy is also interesting insofar as the enforcement of gender as a legal-administrative category to the disadvantage of trans people is frequently defended by appeal to the rule of law.

However, Ashley argues that it’s a false distinction: Man must apply the law, and discretionary power brings us back to square one.

The notion of the rule of law implies that we are ruled by law. However much a truism as this sentence may be, it is not a trivial point. There must be a meaningful way in which laws, rather than people, are what rule our lives[4]. For some rule of law theorists, the enforcement of laws satisfies the rule of law if it is exercised by those in power in their role as agents of the law, in a good faith belief that the law mandates them to exercise their powers in that manner[5].

Inherent in this notion is that being ruled by law is possible. We have room to doubt this assertion on two grounds. First, discretionary power is distributed widely and unevenly. Too many people have too much discretionary power for us to realistically ensure that they always act in accordance to such a good faith belief. Second, good faith beliefs cannot be so detached from the agents which hold them that their imposition can be reasonably interpreted as a rule by law rather than by men.

Ashley then examines what it means for the agents of law to import their own experience of the world into legal constructs, and relates that to the current state of struggle for trans folk. I thoroughly recommend it.

-Shiv

 

 

Canadian exceptionalism

Exceptionalism has typically been used in the past to describe the mentality that justifies the United States’ many many contradictions–the USA can do something because it’s “different” but when another country does the same it’s suddenly bad. This contradiction can be found in, for example, someone who supports the actions of the United States but condemns the actions of Israel: Israel’s colonization of the West Bank is horrific, but also par for the course in terms of colonization, something which can be extensively described in American history.

Anthony Morgan coined the term “racial exceptionalism” to describe a similar occurrence in Canada, where our self-perception of being “nice” is used to avoid frank conversations about racism. The situation in Flint is horrible, see, but the fact that we have piped poison water into Indigenous reserves is different because mumble mumble something mumble we’re nice.

Melayna Williams has a more comprehensive review of racial commentary in Canada:

It’s difficult to determine what qualifies as “nice.” The words “nice” and “kind” are often used interchangeably. When Canadians are characterized as nice, it has more to do with being polite. And 66 per cent of Canadians believe we’re as nice as the world thinks we are, according to a survey conducted as part of   The Canada Project Survey, in partnership with Abacus Data. But this Canadian niceness is worth a closer look, particularly because “nice” is how the world often defines us and how Canadians define themselves. Yet it’s used to erase and undercut many things that aren’t so nice.

Niceness has historically been utilized to undercut progress toward dismantling systemic oppression. In a piece published earlier this year entitled “You Can’t Kill Racism with Kindness,” Lindsay King-Miller wrote: “I can think you’re an asshole and still fight for your rights. You can find me unbearable and still fight for mine. And when we simplify oppression into mere unkindness, we provide cover for friendly people who support oppressive policies.” In Canada, this is all compounded by the fact that nuanced and accurate conversations on race remain rare. Here, niceness and politeness are utilized to shut down race discourse and create what Anthony Morgan calls Canadian “racial exceptionalism”—the falsehood that positions Canadians as too nice to take racist actions and to talk about racism itself. “Having avoided the depth and scope of American Jim Crow, we imagine ourselves innocent,” wrote Rosemary Westwood in a 2016 piece that asked “Is Canada too Polite to Talk About Racism?”

The problem is that there’s a wealth of evidence that racism can actually look like it’s nice. Characterizing racism as mean and blatant is misguided and inaccurate. It also means there’s no accountability for subtle, harmful behaviour that is indeed racist.  What Christy DeGallerie aptly describes as “nice racism”—subtle “microagressions” and friendly forms of discrimination—can easily describe what Black Canadians tolerate dressed up with the veneer of niceness. Among these “nice” actions: Being asked where you are from, being told you’re intelligent for a Black person or offhand comments about a hair style. They all serve to center whiteness and frame a racialized identity as different. Blackness (and by default Black experience and Black thought) remains characterized as irrational, angry and misguided, while whiteness remains juxtaposed as rational, calm and intelligent.

Read more here. And never let a Canadian tell you they’re too nice to be racist.

-Shiv

Jordan Peterson, Jack off of all trades, Master of none

I don’t envy proponents of genetically modified organisms, as a technology. On the one hand they have to grapple with heinously unethical corporate greed as large businesses try to patent something that doesn’t always follow the logic of possession; on the other they have to deal with scientifically illiterate antis who conflate corporate ownership and the actual research.

Like many topics, it’s something you ought to sit down with for a while and get acquainted with the issues. A lot of wires are crossed in this conversation, so doing your homework is a prerequisite for not looking like an asshole.

That, of course, will never deter Jordan B. Peterson.

[Read more…]

It’s that bad

Intelligence agencies are (unsurprisingly) cagey about their activities. Every time we get a chance to peek under the mask, we learn more about how bad it is. The Liberals, who inherited Conservative policy that characterizes environmentalists and indigenous activists (there is plenty of overlap) as a domestic terrorist threat, have done little more than spew hot air, keeping the worst of the human rights violations from Conservative policy.

This is what that looks like.

The records detailing monitoring of individual activists and leaders speak to a larger pattern of surveillance against non-violent dissent, Indigenous-led social movements and their allies. As APTN reported in relation to the documents referring to Thomas-Muller, RCMP records also listed a number of groups as “involved persons,” including “the Defenders of the Land, Direct Action in Canada for Climate Justice, Ontario Public Interest Research Group, Ruckus Society, Global Justice Ecology Project, Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance, Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, the Indigenous Action Movement and the Wet’suwet’en Direct Action Camp.” In 2014, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed complaints against both the RCMP and CSIS, alleging unlawful surveillance against opponents of Northern Gateway that included many of the same organizations. While the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP launched an independent investigation, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) (the body responsible for CSIS oversight) instead held a series of secret hearings. They issued a decision in 2015, but barred the BCCLA from speaking about the outcome. The BCCLA has since applied for judicial review of this decision.

Just last month, documents obtained by VICE News demonstrate that the RCMP surveilled Indigenous activists who constructed a Tipi on Parliament Hill as part of Idle No More’s Unsettling Canada 150, a campaign coinciding with 150 years since Canadian confederation. Idle No More has come under government scrutiny on other occasions: in 2015 documents obtained by APTN confirmed that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND, now INAC) shared information about peaceful protests led by the group with Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and passed on information about meetings between government and First Nations leaders to the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and others.

Read more here.

-Shiv

I know those cognitive shortcuts, too

It’s clockwork at this point: No argument, no matter how meticulously evidenced or delicately constructed, will ever be engaged with as long as it implicates people as participants in a harmful system. Instead a variety of shortcuts are employed to avoid confrontations of complicity. One of the more routine ones I receive is the presumption of “insanity”–that none of my conclusions need be examined or grappled with because I’m “crazy”–and it’s a familiar one Sherronda Brown receives too.

When I wrote “The Racist Roots of Gynecology and What Black Women Birthed” for Wear Your Voice Magazine, I was called a liar. My credibility and intelligence were challenged by white readers who refused to believe the facts that I laid out about disparities in pain management and anti-Blackness medicine.

“Sims never gave [anesthesia] to the enslaved women in his care. It is recorded that he subscribed to the belief that Black people did not have the same capacity to feel pain as white people, a belief that many people in the medical field unfortunately still hold. Physicians continually offer less pain relief and fewer management resources to their Black patients, even to children, due to this accepted myth.”

I spent an entire weekend reading through texts like Trial and Error: J. Marion Sims and the Birth of Modern Gynecology in the American South, “Toward an Understanding of the ‘Medical Plantation’ as a Cultural Location of Disability,” and A Calculus of Suffering: Pain, Professionalism, and Anesthesia in Nineteenth-Century America. I even read Sims’ own account of his life, work, and ideology in his autobiography.

I provided evidence and sources. Still, the legitimacy of my work was questioned, because so many white people refuse to admit that the insidiousness of racism and anti-Blackness reaches as far and as wide as it does, and that it harms us in the many horrific ways that Black people and non-Black people of color know all too well.

White supremacy’s modus operandi is not only to deny the validity of clear evidence set before it, but it is also to alter narratives in its own favor, something that we have witnessed Trump and his supporters do time and time again. It’s something that we have seen history textbooks perpetrate, claiming that the enslaved Africans of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade were nothing more than immigrants and that Canada’s First Nations peoples agreed to move out of their own lands to make room for European settlers.

It’s lazy thinking, and it’s fucking ubiquitous.

Read more by Brown here.

-Shiv

Man, I just cannot imagine why anyone would want to exclude cops from Pride

It’s almost like their reputation precedes them or something. Oh, right, the reputation comes from the mouths of undesirables, so it goes unremarked.

CW: Abuse, sexual assault, misogyny.

A female sergeant with nearly 20 years on the force is coming forward with claims of sexual harassment and discrimination within the Toronto Police Service, allegations detailed in a recent complaint filed to the Human Rights Tribunal on Ontario.

Sgt. Jessica McInnis, a 43-year-old officer who has earned accolades since joining the Toronto Police Service in 1998, alleges she was subjected to a “steady barrage of unsolicited sexist, sexual, harassing and obscene messages” by Det. Mark Morris, her former police partner and co-leader of their Criminal Investigations Bureau (CIB) team, at downtown’s 14 Division.

The CIB tackles a range of crimes within the division, including thefts and suspicious deaths.

“I hope you don’t call the (Special Investigations Unit) on my (sic) when we do the nasty,” Morris texted her on Nov. 27, 2015 according to the claim, a message sent after Morris caught wind that the SIU, Ontario’s police watchdog, was probing sexual assault allegations against a colleague.

“Remember if I slapped that ass it’s not a sexual assault if I say nice game. That’s what we do in sports,” he added, according to the claim.

Sounds like the sort of person I’d trust with my safety. You?

-Shiv

Crazy trans woman syndrome

Content Warning: Sexual assault, reclamation of anti-trans slurs.

The cool kids invite you to sit at the table. They give you a little introductory tour to the halls. They tell you which day on the cafeteria schedule serves the best food. They tell you the right words to flatter your teacher. They look out for you, and they do it by steering you clear of the “crazies.” Until you’re one of the crazies, I guess.

She and I both, as professionals in the community, are well aware of the fine line we have to walk in order to be taken seriously in the queer/trans community. We not only have to look a certain way (both in terms of passing and in terms of conforming to queer normative acceptable standards of appearance), we also have to make sure not to rock the boat too much. We have to appear as sane and calm as possible, no matter the circumstances. If we show too much emotion at any time (read: any inconvenient emotion), we get hit with a double-whammy of misogyny and transphobia, quickly written off as hysterical “crazy trans women.” Accuse the wrong person of something, anyone too close to queer-home, and that’s the end of our credibility and the revoking of our entrance passes to Queerlandia.

It’s exhausting having to walk such a fine line. I’ve found that there are so many “danger zones” to watch out for. Trans women have to not only be queer-literate (knowing queer social justice language), we have to be exceptionally good at using it. Any minor slip of language or politics and we’re labeled “crazy trans women” by cis people while trans men nod knowingly in agreement – rarely standing up for us, and just as often perpetuating the ‘crazy trans woman’ stereotype themselves.

I became aware of this initially through cryptic warnings from an older queer trans woman friend of mine, years before I became involved in the queer community, but I didn’t realize the extent of it at first. That is, until I was invited to participate in it. When I first became involved heavily, I befriended two trans men whom I looked up to a great deal, and one of the first conversations we had in private was a gossip session in which they “warned” me about various trans women and got me to agree that they were “crazy.” I’ve found similar conversations throughout the community, often used in a way that it makes me wonder if what’s really happening is that they’re subconsciously testing my loyalty to the queer zeitgeist. Am I good tranny or a bad tranny? Am I willing to be part of their clique, giving them the ability to deflect any and all criticism of transmisogyny, or am I a “problem?”

Read more here.

-Shiv

Cissexist vocabulary

I have a very specific set of vocabulary I use when discussing gender variance and trans issues. Although it has tweaked and developed over time, I don’t always stop to explain my reasoning for why I use one particular term and not another. Florence Ashley reviews some of the vocabulary used commonly in the media, and explains why other terms are preferable.

Prioritisation of cisgender embodiment

Terms such as “biological woman”, “genetic woman”, “chromosomal woman”, “woman-born-woman”, “biological sex”, and “real woman” are common. This terminological family prioritises cisgender embodiment by associating gender to cisgender anatomy, erasing the possibility of transitude, or relegating it to anomalousness or liminality.

These terms — let us take the term “biological woman” as an example — insinuate that trans women are not biologically women. Cis women are designated as women in every aspect, whereas trans women are excluded from the category of “woman” in some aspects of their being. If cis women are biological, genetic, chromosomal, and born women, it must be that trans women are biological, genetic, chromosomal, or born men. Quite contrary to terms that are closer to trans realities, such as “assigned male at birth”.

By affirming the invariable character of gender and by privileging the experience of cis people, trans women are relegated to the background as quasi-women, sometimes-women. The lived experiences of trans women who have identified as such since childhood is ignored. An artificial and undue division between trans women and cis women is created, weaponising the body of trans women in a way that excludes them from sisterhood.

Read more here.

-Shiv

“Mandated free speech” was supposed to be a joke

The proponents of frozen peaches have seldom grappled with the irony of some of their proposed solutions, including a ban on no-platforming or refusing to invite someone to speak. By such a solution, the New York Times would need to be penalized for all the pitches I’ve sent them that they’ve never published. It’s completely ridiculous. It is entirely ordinary for those who run platforms to schedule those platforms to the specifications of their own programs.

I didn’t think anyone would be daft enough to attempt a no-platform ban, but I forget that I can count on Conservatives to pursue the worst ideas possible.

There is something exceedingly rum about this Government’s sudden conversion to the merits of free speech. Damascene, almost. Though others may have a different word for it: hypocrisy?

Still, if the Government is going to legislate, I hope politicians pay some attention to the ponderings of the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Committee is looking into the vexed topic of no-platforming in universities and, to my great surprise, I was recently invited to appear and give evidence.

It was a cheering experience. Absent were the soundbites of politicians in a hurry, like Conservative minister Jo Johnson. Instead, I found a willingness to listen and an appreciation that some things are complex. The idea that anyone was signed up to absolute free speech was, I argued, a myth. In fact almost everyone would like to ban someone or something, with right-wing banners well to the fore.

You don’t believe me? Just attend your local Armistice Day celebrations next November wearing a white poppy and count the purple faces! The fact that everyone is against absolute free speech, though, was a relatively easy point to make, given that I was appearing just one week after UK parliamentarians had advocated the ultimate no-platform of the Big Sleaze himself, President Trump.

Read more here. I look forward to seeing how this will supposedly work. Is everyone guaranteed the microphone as long as we ask for it? After all, every minute I go outside of a talk show is a minute I am being personally censored. Maybe I can make a living peddling conspiracy theories and suing every time I am denied a platform.

-Shiv