I received a text message yesterday morning, in which was asked to speak at a Vancouver Parks Board meeting during which a proposal had been tabled to begin a trans- and gender-variant-inclusion overhaul of their facilities, starting with a work group that was willing to keep advancing future proposals. I was immediately of the mind that I had no idea what I could even say, but as the day wore on, the words came to me. I typed them out as quickly as I could before grabbing my tablet computer with them opened on an internet browser and dashing out the door to the meeting.
Here is an important passage from the motion, concerning the mandate of that work group:
i. To provide a report to the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation detailing how Vancouver can be the world’s most inclusive jurisdiction for trans and gender-variant communities; and furthermore, to report back to the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation on all components outlined in article ii of this motion by April 1st, 2014. This report will be shared with the Vancouver School Board and Vancouver City Council for information.
ii. To provide specific recommendations to the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation detailing how the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation can provide greater inclusivity through:
a. Signage & Literature
b. Public Spaces (including washrooms and change-rooms)
c. Human Resource Training & Staff Policies
d. Programming (including “all-bodies” programming)
e. Collaborative Public & Community Partnerships
Nothing I could possibly say or paraphrase about what other people shared would suffice to express how profoundly needed this work group is, to the health and safety of a community of people who, historically, have been thrown under the bus while several other groups of people gain never-before-held civil rights. It is important to acknowledge that, just as there have always been people of every race/ethnicity, and just as there have always been people of every sexual orientation, all throughout history, there have also been gender-variant people (and even people who would be described anachronistically as transsexual) in every culture across the globe. Here is my contribution, as the 9th speaker of 16 in total:
First off, I want to acknowledge that we are gathering on the occupied traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples—the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish. I am a settler here, and my ancestry is a mix of Danish, English, Slavic Caucasian, and Jewish. I am not used to speaking in front of an audience of more than two people, so if I suddenly start to turn bright red, that’s why.
I am also here speaking as a trans and genderqueer person whose gender is read approximately six different ways at any given time. I was assigned to the female sex at birth, but I do not live day to day with a feminine gender expression, or even necessarily a consistent gender expression. In a public change room, on a bus, or in front of an audience of mixed company, I may be socially read as a different person from one person to the next. (I remember mentioning here that I have even been given double-takes in the ladies’ room during intermission at an elementary school play, but further to that, I feel I should mention that this was even prior to my use of testosterone). This happens to me often, and I have experienced a lot of stares, double-takes, and scowls when I use public change rooms as a result. Swimming pools are one of those places.
I am not here to speak just about my experiences. That doesn’t make them OK and I may not have come fully to terms with them yet, but I just try not to care. I can take it. I am fairly radical when it comes to my politics, and as a result, I am quite accustomed to being stared at, given a double-take, being scowled at, and even yelled at or threatened with violence. I am here to speak about the experiences of people who have a legitimately more difficult time because of their gender or even because of the shape of their body.
For instance, I asked one of my flatmates last summer if she would like to go with me to swim during the public swimming hours at Templeton pool, because we both had a parks board pass, and it was just a good day to go for a swim. We walked in together, and the clerk at the desk asked her if she would like to use the family change room. He asked this repeatedly of her until she pulled out her government issued photo identification to validate her completely reasonable request to use the women’s change room. She is legally female, and this was completely excessive. The staff training this motion proposes is actually exactly that necessary.
I asked another one of my flatmates later that summer if he would like to go with me to swim, but I waited this time until it was the all bodies swim event, because that particular interaction made me so totally uncomfortable attending public swimming hours that I never again used my parks board pass. He was assigned to the male sex at birth and lives happily day-to-day as a guy, but is stared at and scowled at in public because he’s just a big guy. But for once, he had a pleasant time at the pool at the all bodies event. The all bodies events are not only trans- and gender-variant-inclusive, but are literally for people of all bodies. I was particularly impressed to see that the motion proposes making the all bodies events a regular part of parks board events at swimming pools.
I also wanted to state that trans and gender-variant people such as myself are not the only people who are frustrated, alienated, or even threatened by facilities that offer only women’s and men’s change rooms and washrooms. I have several friends who are gender-normative for all intents and purposes, but who feel that these structures are nevertheless very alienating and hegemonic, and contribute in significant ways to the cultural brain-washing of children and young adults, who are led to believe that there are only two acceptable ways of being: male or female; man or woman. It doesn’t take an astrophysicist to correlate this legitimate concern with the prevalence of misunderstandings about trans and gender-variant people. I certainly have met several people who, until making my acquaintanceship, have managed to remain completely ignorant of even the existence of trans and gender-variant people until their own children were about to enter the adult world. It’s probably obvious by now that I am really happy to see the proposal of educational materials included in this motion.
Finally, I feel that these educational materials are really important in light of the existence of organizations like Real Women of Canada. Though I’m confident that they have nothing to do with Vancouver Parks Board or this proposal (just saying this part made me feel flustered), Real Women of Canada recently attempted to claim that all trans people are pedophiles and crossdressers preying upon children, to show opposition to Bill C-279. They had no evidence to offer because none exists. More education of the general public all across the country is needed to dispel this type of attitude, and Vancouver Parks Board would be making a huge mistake to deny its responsibilities to this call by turning down the proposal.
(It was at this time that I added very quickly that when I recently began volunteering in Stanley Park, I had to fill out a form on which I was prompted for my gender, and I asked the Vancouver Parks Board how I am supposed to pick one—though I did not state it as explicitly at the time, because my five minutes had run out, I am fully aware that this information is being sought in order to provide my physical description in the event someone needs to look for me, but how do I choose when I am viewed six different ways?) Thank you for listening.
I was asked a few moments later if I had returned to any of the Vancouver Parks Board facilities after the first event I described, before going to the all bodies swim in the second event I described. I stated that unless Stanley Park counts as one of those facilities, no, I did not return to any facility between these two events. I added that the woman to whom this first event happened in front of me did not deserve this treatment for any reason, and when I was at the pool that day, I received plenty of double-takes, stares, and scowls. I stated that I wasn’t asked to use the family change room and didn’t need to show my ID. But it was the idea that, had I come on a different day and engaged with a different person, I would have been the person being told to change in the family room, and that made me uncomfortable enough to not want to come back until the all bodies event. I also have continued to come back only during the all bodies events.
The commissioners at the meeting all expressed their individual experiences and reasons for supporting the motion before it went to a vote. One commissioner shared how she had been standing up against transphobic bigotry since she was a young adult in high school. Two others were moved by the narratives shared that evening, to imagine their children looking back in twenty years or so, on the current state of treatment of trans* and gender-variant people today. Another commissioner expressed how profoundly the stories shared in the meeting had revealed to him how privileged he is in terms of his gender-normativity. All were clearly very emotionally moved by everything they heard, and by realizing that they are being called to be leaders in advancing the civil rights of marginalized people.
The Vancouver Parks Board listened to a few more speakers before unanimously passing the proposal, an hour and a half past their maximum allowable time limit.