Defining Gender In Sport

Given that the dreaded Olympics have once again cast their dark cloud over us, raining fire and nationalism as the rivers run red with the blood of those who blaspheme the sanctity of LOCOG, I thought the timing was right to have a bit of a discussion about the issue of how gender and sex are determined and defined in relation to sports, and the segregation of athletes into female or male competitions. [Read more…]


There is a lot of me that genuinely cherishes who and what I am.

Often I find myself drawn back to the same, basic, long since tiresome and boring question… would I trade my life for a different one? Am I happy with the life I’ve been given? Am I okay with having been trans? Is that something I’d exchange for getting to have had the life of a cis woman?

The question is boring, yeah. It must have been asked uncountable times by now, even in this precise iteration, but beyond that, it’s a question that we all ask ourselves, over and over again, of the circumstances that have shaped who we are. We all have our burdens, or aspects of our histories that have shaped us in more obvious ways than others, and we all come back to the idea of whether this is something we’re simply living with and accepting because we have no choice, or something that we accept on a deeper level, something we can learn to love, all its hurt included. Probably because in so doing we can learn to love ourselves, the way genuine love embraces imperfection, understands it as inseparable from whatever makes someone… them. [Read more…]

Kind Of A Drag

Several weeks ago I became a bit mixed up in what had a lot of potential to become a hugely embarrassing misstep on the part of CFI Ontario in their efforts to present a queer-friendly image through participation in Toronto’s pride parade. As has been written about elsewhere, such as by Zinnia Jones, CFI Ontario had the plan of marching in drag as participants in the parade.

The initial proposal for this plan explicitly, and quite insultingly, presented the idea as being supportive of the trans community, an act of solidarity against transphobia, by asking cisgender CFI members and volunteers to “step outside their comfort zones”. After the initial wave of outrage reached CFI Ontario, their first response was to simply remove any reference to trans advocacy from their proposal, which had the unfortunate effect of suggesting the trans-positive message was never really genuine in the first place, and had simply been tacked on for the sake of publicity after the fact of someone, somewhere deciding that dressing up in drag would be fun. They also issued a rather patronizing notpology in which a whole lot of cissplaining was offered to teach us trans people what drag is really all about and how we ought to feel about it.

After a lot of discussion, however, an altogether positive result was reached in which the plan was scrapped and some much more genuine apologies were offered. Although clearly a great deal of work still needs to be done in terms of hetero/cis allies being more prepared to talk and, more importantly, listen to the queer communities on whose behalf they position themselves speaking and acting, it’s a nice change of pace to have been involved in actions that ultimately prevented something hurtful and insulting from occurring, rather than having to explain these things in the wake of their consequences, with the much more abstracted goal of someone maybe learning something from it, or perhaps achieving another millimeter of collective movement in what one hopes is the right direction.

However, this does end up illuminating some icky creepy things crawling around in the blind spots many cis people have in regards to what drag is, what it isn’t, and how it does and does not relate to the broader range of transgender identities. Even drag’s inclusion under the concept of transgenderism is not something I, personally, feel completely comfortable with, but do have to reluctantly accept in order for my current working definition to be consistent. At least it’s necessary in order to avoid  some really thorny territory about what is or isn’t not a significant variance from expectations about gender.

(I do kinda feel like revising my working definition, though) [Read more…]

Fourth Wave: Part Five

Recently, I was reading a little post over on Lousy Canuck in which Jason referred to the Fourth Wave concept. He made the assertion that, in his perspective, Fourth Wave is where we, as feminists, now are. Something about this didn’t sit well with me at all.

I don’t claim the right to define what feminism, or trans-feminism, or fourth-wave, or anything, is “supposed” to mean to anyone else. Even whatever ideas I myself present are no longer my own the second I click the publish button. At that point, those ideas belong to whomever may find them, to interpret in whatever ways they find useful. It’s only in allowing things that kind of breathing room to be interpreted and reinterpreted, collectively or individually, that they have the power to move conversations forward, or create new meaningful conversations. However, I feel like the idea of fourth wave as “where we are now”, and the way that feels not-quite-right to me, itself offers an opening for important conversations.

Fourth wave is, for me and for many of my colleagues, very fundamentally a work-in-progress. Something we’re trying to arrive at. It’s also, almost by definition, not where we, as vague or precise a “we” as you’d like, have just naturally ended up. The whole concept of a “fourth wave” is necessitated precisely because feminism has hit certain very difficult, very stubborn stumbling blocks. It’s necessitated because we’re not moving past certain things simply as part of the natural evolution of feminism thought. It’s necessitated because we need to make a very decisive and intentional split with certain concepts that are holding feminism back. If fourth wave were simply where feminism arrived of its own accord, there would be no real need for any such concept or action in the first place. [Read more…]

Trigger Warning

A couple days ago I was mindlessly killing some time and unboredifying myself by clicking the random button at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. After awhile of this, a certain comic pulled up. The caption read “Who says money can’t buy happiness?” and, in the panel, an enthusiastic, smiling man was handing a syringe over to another man, raising his fists in joy, while saying “here’s your heroin!”.

It was, to put it mildly, a little bit triggering. [Read more…]

The Exceptionalization Of CeCe McDonald

Until recently, my feelings about CeCe McDonald, the young trans woman of colour who was violently attacked in Minnesota by a group of men (at least one of whom was a neo-nazi) shouting racist and transphobic slurs, charged with murder for defending herself, and ultimately convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 4 years in a men’s prison, had been primarily governed merely by sympathy and empathy (albeit very strong). I absolutely respected her reaction to the attack, the refusal to submit to being a victim. But truthfully, those kinds of situations occur very quickly, are not really governed by coordinated thought, and none of us really know how we’ll react until we’re actually living it. Also, I would understand, and refuse to judge, any trans woman who had the opposite response, such as surrendering to the attack. We are presented very frequently with representations of ourselves as victims, to such an extent that we often end up thinking of it as basically an inevitability… to such an extent that should we be attacked, our response could very easily and understandably be simply resignation and the desire to get it over with. Trans women of colour in particular live under the burden of the victim-narrative, being hardly represented or reflected in our culture at all outside of that status.

I sympathize and empathize with CeCe. I feel very genuine sadness and anger in regards to what happened to her. But recent statements from her to her supporters have allowed my feelings to grow from simply understanding the tragedy of her circumstances, and feeling an emotional connection to them, to deep admiration. CeCe isn’t simply a victim of shitty circumstances and a broken, racist, cissexist culture and legal system. She’s more than that. CeCe is a badass, and far more intelligent, selfless and politically savvy than the blogosphere really gave her credit for.

Personally, I feel the need to accept accountability for how my own fucked-up racial biases played into the distorted narrative we built around her. In retrospect, I can’t help but feel saddened and a bit disgusted by how few of CeCe’s own words and perspectives were included in the discourse surrounding her. The same old awful stories play out over and over again, even where we most ought to know better. [Read more…]

Fourth Wave: Part Four

One of the most lovely aspects of the internet, one of those that has most consistently lived up to the somewhat utopian visions the medium’s emergence promised, has been its capacity to offer a highly democratic, highly populist form of media, information exchange, communication and community.

In a recent “tranchat” (a twitter-based discussion that occurs each Sunday), the topic came up of the tension in feminism between theory or academia, and “real life” issues, everyday praxis, the street level experiences that feminism suggests the capacity to speak to, of, about. It occurred to me, though, that this tension seems much less prevalent and noticeable concerning trans-feminism. Trans-feminism has, thus far, not been a product of academia, nor is it even really practiced there… at least not in any form even remotely resembling the trans-feminism which I’m involved in and accustomed to. Trans voices are not exactly welcomed and embraced within academia, and the experiences of trans people in that milieu, students and faculty alike, are markedly different than those expressing or embodying other queer identities (totes not in a good way, either). Rather than us being the speakers in academia, we are the objects of study. Rather than theorists, we’re something the theorists struggle to explain.

Like other activist movements built from minorities (or ideological minorities) that had previously been scattered, isolated from one another in circumstantial diaspora, with very little access to information, community, publication, media, connection or infrastructure with which to organize, trans-feminism has been overwhelmingly a product of the internet. The internet in general has had an immense influence on trans people and our capacity to even exist, turning what had once been something often impossibly remote and difficult to understand, with intense limitations on who could or could not access the resources to make into a reality, into something that is far far more of a genuine, tangible possibility for those who need it. But beyond simply making our lives so much more livable, and our needs so much more attainable, and our identities and experiences so much more comprehensible, it is has also given us the capacity to find one another, communicate, and organize.

This was the spirit and media in which trans-feminism was born… isolated individuals who had been intensely marginalized from the dominant media and narratives reaching out to one another through the means that were available. It has not been something handed down from “community leaders” to “the people”, but instead something that emerged collectively. In this sense, it feels like those theory / praxis, academia / “real life” tensions aren’t as important for us. Or at least, that we have the opportunity to avoid them becoming important or meaningful. If we do this right, those tensions shouldn’t have to exist, shouldn’t have to feel at all relevant or worth talking about. If we do this right, we will always be a discourse that emerged from and between the people it speaks of, not ever having to position academics, theorists, experts or leaders to speak on our behalf. It’s a pretty awesome thing. [Read more…]

Signifying Gender

Language has for a long time been one of my big passionate interests. In addition to simply feeling an intuitive draw to it, intellectually, it also strikes me as one of, if not the, most distinct feature of human beings. It and semiotic systems in general, anyway. Lots of animals can use tools, but only human beings can pass that knowledge and innovation along, and build upon it across generations, such that we don’t need to quite literally reinvent the wheel every time we wish to roll something. Lots of animals have societies, but only human beings can record and share those social structures, adapt them into and through signs and messages and rituals and myths, build them into a culture.

Language and semiotics are, perhaps, what makes us human.

I’m drawn to it, to learning about it, to thinking about it. I love its hidden structures. I love its relativity. How much it means despite being so arbitrary and nonsensical in what is “really” there (squiggles and tongues and teeth and pixels and paper). I love its fluidity. I love its breadth. I love how it is both social and yet intrinsic, both structured and emergent, both arbitrary and indispensable, both mutable and inevitable. And in all those contradictions and paradoxes of language, I never really feel lost. It always ultimately makes sense to me. The contradictions always balance out. [Read more…]

East Hastings: A Love Story

The first thing I’d notice, the first thing signaling arrival in the stretch of Hastings street between Abbott and Main that comprised the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, was always the smell. It usually was a vague combination of industrial cleaning products, cheap native cigarettes, urine and stale, dirty clothing. Or maybe (aside from the unmistakable urine) that’s just what my brain associated from the collage of sensory information that made that part of the city so distinct from the rest.

The second distinction that becomes clear is the people. It’s not a categorical thing, like you would expect. Not as much about style of dress, or age, or racial demographics, or the various details of presentation that signify class or occupation, though all those things are certainly present in the information once you get past the immediate sense of difference. It’s mostly about movement. [Read more…]