Issue: 2016-06-23, PHOTO: Rick Massie
The trans person interviewed says washrooms may seem like a little thing, but having a gender neutral place is, in fact, a big deal for him
Identifying as a transgender person in any community presents risks and challenges, which is partly why the transgender man interviewed for this article chose to remain anonymous.
He lives and works as a man, and is only open about being transgender with a few people because, he says, prejudice against transgender people is real.
“I feel male,” he says. “Being treated differently by those who know (that I am trans) diminishes the experience of being who I am.”
In the past he was open about being transgender, but when working in the Canadian public service down south he was surprised to find that while most of his clients were accepting of his gender identity, his colleagues were not.
One person who was an inspiration to him throughout that experience and who continues to inspire him is Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian peacekeeper who was stationed in Rwanda when the civil war escalated into genocide.
“He wasn’t afraid to expose Canada’s lack of action in the face of injustice,” he says.
He also really admires two transgender Yukoners – Shaun LaDue and Chase Blodgett – who are actively standing up for transgender rights. He says he respects how they are “not afraid to be in the limelight.”
Publicly advocating for transgender rights is something he says takes courage, partly because of the risks it poses. In addition to exposing themselves to potential prejudice, people run the risk of unintentionally becoming a voice for the transgender community. This a problem because it’s a community as diverse as any other. One person choosing to be open about their identity cannot, and probably doesn’t want to, speak for all trans people everywhere.
He experienced this firsthand. At a previous job outside of the territory, the day after he came out as transgender at work he was asked to be a union representative. He was outed to the whole group at the next large union meeting.
This was a breach of privacy, and it made him feel exposed to risks. In Canada and the United States transgender people experience a high rate of violence and discrimination for their gender identity – this extends to workplace discrimination, physical violence and verbal harassment, among other problems.
Avoiding these kinds of assaults and discriminations is a big part of why he chooses to not to publicly disclose he is trans. Threats to safety are also why it’s so important for people to publicly demand rights for trans people.
“It takes brave people to be icebreakers – to clear the passage for future generations [so they can] be who they are without reservation,” he says.
Though he has experienced many barriers to living his life safely and without prejudice, many of the policies responsible for this across Canada have been changing rapidly.
An example is the surgery he says he felt “coerced” into having. Previously, in order to change a gender on identification like birth certificates or passports, a sex change operation was required. He was living in Ontario at the time. One week after his hysterectomy, that province changed the laws so that the surgery was no longer required for gender identification.
Now trans people living in Ontario, B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia require a letter from a physician or psychologist verifying the change in gender, in order to change official documents.
Surgery is required in the Yukon to change the gender on a birth certificate, but trans people are able to change the gender on their driver’s licence by providing a form signed by a health practitioner.
He considers the required hysterectomy to have been “essentially forced sterilization.” He says he always wanted to have children. He says sex reassignment surgery is an individual preference.
As it is for more Yukoners, a major challenge for trans people living here is isolation. He hasn’t found a doctor here who has trans-specific medical training. In addition, he would like to see the Yukon adopt the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standard of Care – a guideline for health professionals that advocates for well-rounded and accessible physical and mental healthcare for transgender people.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t address getting those services outside of the Yukon and have them covered by health care,” he says.
Despite these limitations, there is also movement to help the Yukon catch up. He is impressed by the “All Genders” sign on the public bathroom in the Yukon Human Rights Commission, and the two “Gender Neutral” bathrooms lined with cubicles at the Yukon College.
Bathrooms may seem like a small part of life, but it’s a big issue for transgender people.
“Not feeling safe in basic activities – swimming, sports – shouldn’t be a barrier for people on the spectrum of gender, or at any point during transition,” he says.
Support for transgender people in Whitehorse can be found at All-Genders Yukon, a group for people exploring their gender identity. The location, dates, and times of meetings are released only to participants. The group can be reached at AllGendersYukon@hotmail.com.
Yukon College also has a variety of resources for the Whitehorse transgender community, including the Yukon College LGBTQ club, which is a support and social group open to both students and non-students, with monthly meetings, theme nights, and roundtable discussions. It can be reached by contacting Gloria Johnston by email at email@example.com.
The Yukon College also has a counsellor on staff, Angela Neufeld, who is available to students and has experience in transgender therapy. She can be reached at 867-668-8854.