Yesterday, the House of Commons passed a very important bill. The Transgender Equal Rights Bill — officially: Bill C-279. An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression) – is not just important, it’s really fucking important.
You can read the full bill here. As you can see, this one page bill is really short and simple. All it does is add four simple words to two paragraphs of the Canadian Human Rights Act and two paragraphs of the Criminal Code. But these four simple words — gender identity, gender expression, — will have a major impact on hundreds of thousands of Canadians.
Last night, when I read the news on CBC, I cried.
For far too long, transgender individuals in Canada would have to go through a very long and emotionally painful process if their human rights were being infringed upon. Every single time, a Supreme Court judge, or the Human Rights Tribunal would have to interpret the intent of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
There had to tests and measures, and a bunch of other things that should never have been questioned. But they were. Because, there are some people who, unless something is explicitly stated, will find a loophole to discriminate. They will do so in such a way that keeps their toe just on the inside bounds of crossing the line into hate speech, which is illegal in Canada and not protected under our free speech laws.
Now, there is no question. It is implicit. You cannot discriminate against me because I am a trans man.
But why did Canada need this bill? Why does a country where only 14% of people think same-sex marriage should be illegal, and 59% of Canadians believe that homosexuality is not a choice, need a bill that spells out transgender rights?
Simply stated: Transgender individuals are among the most marginalized, face one of the highest levels of discrimination in the country, and are the victims of a high level of hate crimes. A large number of Canadians may be okay with the gays, but they are not okay with the transgender.
We face a high level of discrimination even from within the LGBT community.
We face a high level of discrimination from certain corners of feminism, most notably Second Wave Feminists who love to tell me that I am a misogynist and am giving into male patriarchy.
We face very well-meaning people using the terms sex and gender as if they were interchangeable. They think that using the term “same-gender marriage” is being politically correct. (I’m having a same-gender marriage, but to many, it looks like an opposite-sex “normal” relationship. Same-sex != same-gender.)
We have trans men who get ruthlessly bullied and beaten by women, and trans women who get ruthlessly beat and raped by men.
We have employers telling employees that they must dress like their assigned sex at birth when in the workplace, if they get hired at all. Don’t even get me started about schools and other organizations that have activities and programs based on sex.
We are told that being transgender is a choice, that we’ve brought the ridicule upon ourselves, and that gender is not about who you perceive you are. You are the genitals between your legs. To think anything else means your are a freak.
There are people who feel it is their right to discriminate against transgender people.
There are people who think transgender people are nothing but a bunch of paedophiles looking to go into bathrooms and peep at young children and/or expose themselves to young children.
There are people who think that being transgender is an issue to do with sexual orientation, and a private bedroom matter, so what does it matter?
There are well-meaning Canadians who do not think discrimination against transgender people happens.
And I could continue. This is a very complicated issue. Just like sexual orientation is not always binary, just like sex is not always binary, gender is also not always binary. It is a complicated issue, with complicated answers.
It would be great to live in a world where people didn’t look at you and make assumption based on your physical body, and just treated each other as human. But, we don’t live in that world. We live in a world where, depending on our culture, we have all sorts of expectations about things relating to our assigned sex. These expectations not only vary depending on country, but they also vary depending on region. Growing up as a female in British Columbia means I had extremely different experiences than a female who grew up in Alberta. Growing up mostly in the Cowichan Valley, I had extremely different experiences than a female who grew up in the Okanagan.
But we don’t. Both well-meaning and not well-meaning individuals do things that are harmful to transgender individuals. Many transgender don’t say anything about it out of fear. Out of the LGBT crowd, the T are the most ignored and face the most discrimination.
There isn’t a single day that I do not face some form of discrimination because I am a trans man. Before I came out to the world, very rarely did I face any sort of discrimination as a woman. It is one of the privileges of growing up female in British Columbia.
I could address each individual point, and articulate how exactly this bill will help to combat the daily struggles of transgender individuals in Canada. Instead, I just want to tackle one very basic point about why this bill is necessary. It is because of this following paragraph found at the end of the CBC article:
While some MPs argued that the [transgender] were already protected on the basis of sex and disability, the tribunal said it would be better to have explicit protection so that the question is not perpetually challenged.
- Sex and gender are not interchangeable. Protecting someone on the basis of sex (physical) does not protect them on the basis of gender (how they identify).
- Being transgender is not a disability, as it is no longer considered a mental illness.
Until every one understand the basic distinctions between sex and gender, and understand that being transgender is not a choice or disability, until everyone treats everyone like human beings, this is needed. Until people understand that, just like homosexual people didn’t wake up one day and decide they are attracted to the same sex, transgender people didn’t just wake up one day and decide, “Man, I feel like a wo/man!” this is needed.
And guess what? This isn’t just a bill to protect transgender people. This is also a bill that protects cisgender individuals as well.
This bill may just be the first step in our society becoming completely blind to gender, and stop judging people based on their physical appearances. This bill may just be the first step that stops men, both cis and trans, for being teased for liking “girl things,” and stops people from being shocked when women, both cis and trans, show an interest in “boy things.”
It will take awhile, but it is a step.
And that is just one of many reasons why Canada need the transgender rights bill.