Last week, the Conservative Party of Canada's Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Keith Ashfield, improvised some lines in an otherwise scripted event staged to cheerlead the 2013 federal budget. At the Morena family home in Fredericton, he complimented eldest daughter Grace, observing that she is "a great cook" who will one day "make a wonderful wife for somebody."
The indignant response suggests that the Minister's title, which rendered in French includes the term pêches, ought now be revised to péché -- if you follow my meaning. At present more noticed for his transgression (péché) than for his work among the fisheries (pêches), he stands accused of sexism. No wonder so many politicians keep to the focus group tested, neatly bulleted, sleep-inducing script.
No one, so far as I know, mentioned Mr. Ashfield's "no" vote last week for Bill C-279, an NDP amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination. The bill passed, despite much Conservative opposition -- some of it, as in the case of Rob Anders, rather demented opposition.
The lunatic fringe caucus, of which Anders is a member in good standing, had long ago taken to calling C-279 and its precursors "the bathroom bill." Unable to separate the real-world effort of gender recognition and rights from the gay rapists of their febrile imaginations, the more militant opponents of the transgendered spread a film of disgrace even where it perhaps doesn't belong. It's getting tougher, this being-a-Conservative stuff.
Why do I mention Ashfield's C-279 "No" vote? Not to claim his opposition was of the Neanderthal variety. It happens that I've no idea if Ashfield is a sexist so-and-so. But I do know as certain that the world into which he was born is not the world in which we live today.
For some it's not the least bit difficult to leap from the 1950s mental atmosphere of great-wives-in-the-making into the 21st century, where men are men only until a personal decision to the contrary. Hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery and all manner of medical miracle and social progress have changed everything, where gender is concerned.
Again, the purpose here is not to ridicule or to judge Keith Ashfield. My purpose is to observe that there is a universe of easy assumption packed into that little phrase, "You'll make a wonderful wife for somebody." For example, Ashfield's casual comment assumes, at the very least, that:
One can deduce from the above the vast distance travelled in the past half-century. In my own lifetime we have gone from an era in which your biological nature at birth was a destiny of a kind to an era in which an uncomplicated, if lengthy, procedure may make a woman of a man, and vice versa. Furthermore it happens that marriage is an avoidable arrangement, but that in any case men may marry men and women, women. On every front and in every respect, sex and gender are in transition, and so be it.
There is a temperament which for whatever reasons has a built-in resistance to change, and which will therefore cling to ideas even in those cases where they are objectively outmoded. The usual term for this temperament is "conservative," but it is not the case that all conservatives nor all conservatisms may be reduced simply to reactionism and obstinacy.
In most instances, commonplace human traits like habitualism, inertia and laziness can be pressed into an accounting of anachronism. This leaves for consideration the important distinction between those who fail to keep up with the times as against those who wish to prevent the times from ever changing in the first place.
It is much easier, because it is a matter of habit, to say "Someday you'll make a great wife" than it is to parse in one's mind the potential, offense-giving assumptions, thereby to come up with something better. And it is almost certainly the case that to be a good wife is the chief aspiration of at least some women, a fact which will provide refuge to the careless and reactionary alike.
The rub is that this is likely to be less so as time advances, and that the full range of human aspirations and of the human condition is being realized as we blast down the walls which until now have contained us. The times are indeed changing. Fall behind at your own risk.
The Brazilian supermodel was discovered by Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci when <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/lea-givenchys-transgender-star-brazilian-supermodel-undergoing-sex/story?id=11269995#.TsV9BGVPlcg" target="_hplink">he hired her as his personal assistant</a>. Soon after she became his muse and her modeling career began. She has been featured in high-profile fashion magazines like "Vogue Paris," "Hercules," "Interview," "Love," and "Cover."
Silveira is the lead singer of the band The Cliks. The Cliks made history as <a href="http://www.phinli.com/Talent/Profile/lucas-silveira" target="_hplink">the first band with an openly trans male leader</a> signed by a major record label, Tommy Boy Entertainment's imprint Silver Label. In 2009 he made history again as the f<a href="http://www.chartattack.com/news/78485/avril-lavigne-lights-tegan-and-sara-cliks-franz-ferdinand-sloan-win-in-15th-annual-year-e" target="_hplink">irst transman to be voted Canada's Sexiest Man</a> by readers of Canadian music magazine <em>Chart Attack</em>.
The son of Cher and Sonny Bono, Chaz publicly revealed <a href="http://www.tvguide.com/News/Chastity-Bono-Gender-1006849.aspx" target="_hplink">he was transitioning in 2009</a> and since then has been one of the most visible members of the trans community. In May he published his memoir, "Transition: The Story Of How I Became A Man," and this fall he was a contestant on "Dancing With The Stars" and was named one of <em>Out</em> magazine's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/08/chaz-bono-shows-off-his-stubble-in-out_n_1082303.html" target="_hplink">100 LGBT people of the year.</a>
Richards is an ophthalmologist, author, and former professional tennis player. After transitioning in 1975, she <a href="http://www.tennispanorama.com/archives/9472" target="_hplink">was banned from playing in the U.S. Open</a> by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) because only biological women were allowed to participate in the tournament. Richards fought the ban and a 1977 New York Supreme Court decision ruled in her favor. She continued to play until 1981. This fall <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/renee-richards-film_n_854578.html" target="_hplink">a documentary about Richards's life</a>, "Renée," was released.
King was the first (and, thus far, only) <a href="https://www.facebook.com/isisking" target="_hplink">trans model to be featured</a> on the reality fashion competition "America's Next Top Model." She was seen on both the 11th and 17th "cycles" of the show.
In 2008 Thomas Beatie became famous when he revealed that he was pregnant with his first child. Soon after Beatie and his wife, Nancy, made headlines and he became known as "the pregnant man." The couple now has three children, all carried by Thomas, and he recently revealed that he is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/31/pregnant-man-thomas-beati_n_1067326.html" target="_hplink">considering undergoing a hysterectomy.</a>
Dr. Marci Bowers is a <a href="http://marcibowers.com/" target="_hplink">pioneer in the field of transgender transitional surgery</a> and is the first known trans woman to perform these types of procedures.. After practicing in Trinidad, Colo., which is known as the "sex change capital of the world" due to the high number of surgeries performed there, she moved her practice to San Mateo, California, in December 2010.
Cayne made history when she accepted a role on "Dirty Sexy Money" and became the first transgender actress to play a recurring transgender character in prime time. She's also appeared on "Nip/Tuck," "RuPaul's Drag Race," and "Necessary Roughness."
In 2006 Iwamoto was <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,229937,00.html#ixzz1eCixXAuI" target="_hplink">elected to a position on Hawaii's state Board of Education</a> and became (at the time) the highest-elected transgender official in the United States. She <a href="http://hawaii.gov/elections/results/2010/general/files/histatewide.pdf" target="_hplink">ran for re-election in 2010</a> and won.
Kye Allums is the <a href="http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2011/10/lgbt-history-month-kye-allums-first-openly-transgender-athlete/" target="_hplink">first openly transgender athlete to play NCAA Division I</a> college basketball. He was a shooting guard on the George Washington University women's basketball team until this year when he decided to no longer play. Allums is now busy speaking about his life around the country.
A veteran of the 1969 Stonewall uprising (some claim she threw the first heel), Rivera fought for the rights of all queer people, not just those who fit into more homonormative molds. Described by Riki Wilchins as "<a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2002-02-26/news/a-woman-for-her-time/" target="_hplink">the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement</a>," Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR, "a radical group that did everything from marching to setting up crash pads as an alternative to the streets," among other activist roles. Today <a href="http://srlp.org/" target="_hplink">The Sylvia Rivera Law Project,</a> which works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression regardless of income or race, and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/SYLVIAS-PLACE/156906310002" target="_hplink">Sylvia's Place</a>, a NYC emergency homeless shelter for LGBT youth, both exist to honor Rivera's life and work.
Dillon was the first person known to have transitioned both hormonally and surgically from female to male. A British writer, physician, philosopher, and Buddhist, Dillon penned several books including, "Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology" (1946), "Growing Up into Buddhism" (1960), "The Life of Milarepa" (1962), "Imji Getsul" (1962), and numerous articles. He was in love with another famous transgender person, Roberta Cowell, but she did not share his feelings. He died in India -- where he had moved to study, meditate, and wrote under the name Lobzang Jivaka -- just days after sending his memoir, "Out Of The Ordinary," to his literary agent.
Cowell is the first British trans woman to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. She transitioned in 1951. Prior to that, she was a Spitfire pilot during World War II and a race car driver. Cowell, who was friends with transgender man Michael Dillon, transitioned a year before celebrated American trans woman <a href="http://www.transgenderzone.com/features/ChristineJorgensen.htm" target="_hplink">Christine Jorgenson</a> underwent surgery in Denmark. You can <a href="http://www.changelingaspects.com/Life Stories/Roberta Cowells Story.htm" target="_hplink">read Cowell's autobiography here</a>.
Sanchez worked tirelessly in the LGBT community before he became the <a href="http://www.examiner.com/transgender-transsexual-issues-in-national/diego-sanchez-trans-man-on-capitol-hill-works-for-passage-of-inclusive-enda" target="_hplink">first trans person to hold a senior congressional staff position</a> on Capitol Hill. In December 2008 he began working for Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) tracking LGBT, healthcare, veterans, and labor issues.
The <a href="http://katebornstein.typepad.com/" target="_hplink">writer, playwright, and performance artist</a> is the author of several seminal tomes on gender theory including 1994's "Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us" and in 2006 she wrote "Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws." She is currently at work on a memoir.
The world's first female-to-male porn star, Angel also works as an advocate, educator, lecturer and writer. In 2007 <a href="http://buckangel.com/bio.html" target="_hplink">Angel won the Adult Video News Transsexual Performer of the Year</a> award and was written into Armistead Maupin's "Michael Tolliver Lives," one of the novels in the "Tales Of The City" series. He has spoken around country, including an appearance at Yale University in 2010.
In 2011 Grodzka became Poland's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/anna-grodzka-transgender-politician_n_1004840.html" target="_hplink">first openly transgender parliamentarian</a>. She is the third transgender MP in world history after the transsexual New Zealand MP Georgina Beyer, and the transgender Italian MP, Vladimir Luxuria, who has not had a legal sex change. Grodzka, who transitioned last year, secured a place in the Sejm, the nation's lower house of parliament. "Today, Poland is changing. I am the proof..." Grodzka said.
Tipton was a saxophone and piano player and bandleader popular during the 1940's and '50s. He eventually settled down in Spokane, Washington, got married, and adopted three sons. It wasn't until after his death from a <a href="http://news.stanford.edu/stanfordtoday/ed/9705/9705fea601.shtml" target="_hplink">hemorrhaging ulcer</a> that Tipton's birth gender was revealed to his sons and the rest of the world.
Rasmussen became the <a href="http://www.sturasmussen.com/realityCheck.htm" target="_hplink">first transgender mayor in the United States</a> when he was elected to the office in Silverton, Oregon, in November 2008. He writes on <a href="http://www.sturasmussen.com/realityCheck.htm" target="_hplink">his website</a>: <blockquote>"I just happen to be transgendered -- something I didn't even know the word for until I discovered it on the Internet. I've been a crossdresser or transvestite my whole life, only 'coming out' recently and thereby discovering that life goes on very nicely."</blockquote>
In 1976 <a href="http://www.lousullivansociety.org/about-lou-sullivan.html" target="_hplink">Lou G. Sullivan began applying for</a> sex-reassignment surgery, but was rejected because he identified as gay. At the time, "female-to-gay male transsexuality was not recognized by the medical/psychotherapeutic establishment as a legitimate form of gender dysphoria at that time." After mounting a successful campaign to get homosexuality removed from a list of objections which served to keep interested candidates from undergoing surgery, Sullivan finally obtained genital reconstruction surgery in 1986. That same year <a href="http://www.lousullivansociety.org/about-lou-sullivan.html" target="_hplink">he organized FTM</a>, "the first peer-support group devoted entirely to female-to-male [transsexual and transvestite] individuals."