In June of this year in Ontario, the amendment to our Human Rights Code to add "gender identity" and "gender expression," was widely celebrated as a milestone that would hopefully move on up federally and finally enshrine the same rights for trans people that everyone else (in theory) already is entitled to. This was largely thanks to the tireless work of MPP Cheri DiNovo and many community activists and organizations.
Rob Anders, MP for Calgary West, is currently objecting to Bill C279, that would make similar amendments federally to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code. He claims that "the bill's goal is to give transgendered men access to women's washrooms. He says it's the duty of the House of Commons to protect children from any exposure or harm that will come from giving men this kind of access." His petition against the bill claims that it is "also known as the Bathroom Bill" -- the "also known" likely being limited to no one but Anders himself.
I imagine most Canadians will easily see through the vilification tactic where an entire group of minorities are ridiculously assigned moral corruption/inherent evil as justification for discrimination against them. Remember Rick Santorum's 2003 comparison of homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia? This isn't new, but it remains just as disgusting and incredibly harmful, whether his petition gains any traction or not.
I cannot speak for the experience of trans people living in Canada or elsewhere as a cisgender woman, but I can briefly touch on what the term "cis" means, why we need to talk about it, and why those of us who don't live as trans need to speak up in support of those who do.
Identifying as cisgender means that I am comfortable in the body which I was assigned at birth and the gender identity which I am presumed to have. I was born in a female body and assigned a girl/woman gender in which I'm comfortable and still live in.
This also means that I am not a target for transphobia and am exempt from a range of social barriers, discrimination and violence that trans people face all the time.
As a cisgender person when I use the bathroom -- since we're on the subject -- I can:
· Use public restrooms without fear of verbal abuse, physical intimidation, or arrest ;
· Use public facilities such as gym locker rooms and store changing rooms without stares, fear, or anxiety;
· Use a bathroom facility when I need to and not have to hold off for hours on end, risking urinary or bladder problems because of fear and anxiety;
· Not have strangers insist that I'm in the wrong place or try to explain my bodily functions to me.
Please take a few moments to go through the rest of this list of 30+ examples of cisgender privilege that a couple of the above examples were taken from.
After the loss of Kyle Scanlon, an exceptional community leader in Toronto, David Demchuck wrote:
"An October 2010 U.S. study by the National Centre for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, surveying more than 6,000 people who identified as transgender and gender non-conforming, found that a staggering 41 per cent reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6 per cent of the general population. Because of intense and pervasive societal pressures like stigma, prejudice, and discrimination, people from marginalized communities run a higher risk of experiencing depression at some point in their lives. Financial constraints, racial and cultural factors, limited access to resources, and a lack of nuanced understanding from helping professionals exacerbate the challenges that those in marginalized communities with mental-health issues may face."
Trans people face enormous systemic and institutionalized violence. Trans people are regularly harassed in their day-to-day lives, disproportionately adversely affected by law enforcement and prison institutions, and according to GLADD, 45 per cent of 2011 hate crimes in the U.S. were murders of trans women. As of the writing of this article, CeCe McDonald is still in prison for self-defense against hate-motivated violence, as a woman who experienced what many trans women do: discrimination, harsher treatment from law enforcement and the justice system, and jail time when others may not.
Contrary to Anders' feeble attempts to narrow the discussion, bill C279 is about much more than "bathroom privileges." Moreover, using that kind of transphobic, intentionally myopic language reduces people to body parts.
C279 is about filling the gaps in legislation that was designed in intent to prevent discrimination, but currently remains dangerously incomplete. According to a report cited by the Trans Lobby Group, "to leave the law as it stands would fail to acknowledge the situation of transgendered individuals and allow the issues to remain invisible."
In addition to supporting C279 by contacting your local MP, we can all think and talk about making cisgender and cisgender privilege more identifiable and what that means -- in the interest of not perpetuating cis as a default standard of normality, with everything 'else' othered and aside.
Also, the International Transgender Day of Remembrance is coming up the third week of November to honour and remember all those who have been lost to transphobic hate and violence. We can find out where events are happening our area, and support the work of local organizations that raise awareness, increase access to services, and are working towards eliminating violence against trans people and transphobia.
For more information:
Bill C-279 Fact Sheet from the Trans Lobby Group
Amended Trans Bill trans bill headed to Justice Committee in Xtra - Sept.19, 2012
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated Rob Anders was an MP for Central Edmonton.
Follow Colleen Westendorf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Westendork