09/23/2015 12:42 EDT | Updated 09/23/2016 05:12 EDT

Canada's Failure to Protect Trans Women Should Be an Election Issue

The Canadian Press

Like most women in Canada, I feel issues that affect me are generally ignored by politicians, especially on a federal level. There was some buzz on September 21st over the #UpForDebate which was a panel featuring video clips from political party leaders and a panel of women discussing these clips about the neglected issues women in Canada face.

As a woman I should perhaps feel positive and hopeful with this progress, that finally these issues are being addressed at least in some capacity. As a trans woman I already know that issues affecting my unique needs and concerns will be ignored. I will once again feel that trans women don't matter in feminism.

I waited until it was over and asked around if trans women were mentioned and was met with a resounding no. I decided the next morning to watch and write an article about this erasure.

Within the first 10 minutes I was already cringing with MC Jess Beaulieu starting off by saying: "Who's on their period now?" [Audience cheers] "That's a lot of women synced up?" Followed up minutes later by Francine Pelletier's words: "It's the whole difference between having a period and not having a period." Which Jess Beaulieu quickly responded to by saying: "Glad you brought it back to periods"

So what's the problem here? Why I am focusing on these words? Why am I feeling hurt and erased? Because these words, these sayings, are cisnormative, because it others and erases trans women, trans men and all trans people. Because cisnormativity centres cis bodies and cis experiences as the default, as the norm. Trans women were not mentioned even once during the entire 90 minute panel. As a trans woman I am already feeling excluded with the words being said by the cis women on stage, I am finding them trans-antagonistic. I am feeling excluded from womanhood and sisterhood because I have never, and never will, have a period, have ovaries, be able to get pregnant -- also worth noting, some men do have ovaries and can get periods. So no, being a woman is not based on getting a period. I will however remain focused on trans women here.

Of course cis women should be able to talk about their periods. I am a feminist. I support that. I support women. I support challenging misogyny and the patriarchy. My point is that when phrases and words are used that further marginalize trans women we are not being feminist, we are not being intersectional, we are perpetuating the patriarchy when we exclude some women from womanhood because of the bodies we are born with. Womanhood cannot be defined and/or categorized based on who get periods. It was colonialist patriarchal men who decided that vagina equals women and penis equals men in the first place.

I was also a tad taken back with Elizabeth May and her following words: "What are the issues that appeal to the Alpha males? We still live in a patriarchal society. We still live in a society where men don't want to admit they're sexist, but there is pervasive sexism in our society," she said. "I have never worked in a workplace as male-dominated and testosterone-flooded as the House of Commons."

I was all good until May equated testosterone with men and male behaviour. I quite frankly expected better from a woman who claims to support trans rights and equality in Canada. Testosterone does not make one a man and estrogen does not make one a woman. Was I less of a woman when my body was using testosterone as its main hormone? Would Elizabeth May say I am not a woman if as a trans woman I decided to not take testosterone blockers and estrogen? Are trans women who don't medically transition men to her? Are men who don't take testosterone not men?

Hormones do not define ones gender nor does the anatomy of a person. Bill C279 in its original form stressed that. Bill C279 was a private members bill introduced by the NDP that was held up in the senate for years before being twisted and eventually squashed.

This brings me to Thomas Muclair and his promise to have 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men for the boards of directors of federal organizations. That sounds good right? Nope. Why? Because gender is not binary and more than two genders exist and a huge thing that a lot of cis people overlook is that we talk about people being only women or men we exclude many trans people. So again, another fail from a potential leader who supports trans rights but seems to forget what they are supporting and that Bill C279 seeks recognition for genders out of the women and men binary.

Justin Trudeau said some pretty horrible things as well about certain music genres and pornography being the cause of violence against women, but this has already been addressed and I want to focus on the erasure of trans women in this article. I will point out though that Justin Trudeau skipped all votes for Bill C279.

Today I had the opportunity to briefly speak with MPP Cheri DiNovo on her thoughts on Up For Debate and the erasure of trans women. She stressed the necessity to pass Bill C279 so that trans women are legally protected in Canada and the need to revoke C36, which endangers women who do sex work.

Canada not only fails to protect trans women, but it's polices harm trans women. Canada still locks up trans women with men in federal prisons. Ontario only stopped incarcerating trans women with men this year and it's a problem in all provinces and territories.

Trans women who largely go to prisons because of survival crimes like sex work and petty theft. Who are trying to survive in a country where 50 per cent of trans women live off of less than $15 000 a year. Where women's shelters in many places across Canada can legally outright deny trans women help, and do. Where women's shelters will deny help to trans women unless they can prove they have had genital surgery. Canada is country where 43 per cent of trans women will attempt suicide. Canada is failing trans women and not one leader even brought up trans women when discussing the needs and issues of women in Canada.


In Photos: Canada Election 2015