Dismembered, burned, stabbed — these are some of the ways that trans and gender-nonconforming people have been murdered.
And every Nov. 20 in many countries around the world, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), commemorates individuals who have lost their lives because of such anti-transgender violence. This day of tribute was created 16 years ago after the murder of a woman in Massachusetts.
While we know that violence against trans people is widespread, what we don’t know are the exact figures. In many countries, information on murdered trans people is simply not tracked. But the Trans Murder Monitoring project (TMM), created in 2009, is making an effort to shed light on those numbers. Its researchers scour the web and rely on reports from organizations and activists worldwide.
From October 2013 to September 2014, TMM added 226 names to the list of murdered trans and gender-nonconforming people worldwide.
Here in Quebec, while the threat of violence against trans people might be lower than in many places around the world, discrimination remains a problem.
“When you’re visibly trans, you never just go to the grocery store; you never just go to school; you never just go to the theatre. You go facing the potential for snarky comments, discrimination or violence. You prepare your survival backpack every day,” says Gabrielle Bouchard, peer support and trans advocacy coordinator at theCentre for Gender Advocacy in Montreal.
Bouchard says the anti-trans climate in Quebec is insidious rather than overt. “When we’re talking about TDoR here, we’re talking about structural discrimination. You don’t need to physically hurt someone to kill them,” says Bouchard. “We don’t always see bruises and blood. And because we don’t see that, it doesn’t count.”
The structural discrimination the centre is fighting against includes certain articles in the Civil Code pertaining to gender identification. For example, Article 71 in the Civil Code stipulates that in order to alter their gender marker on legal documents, trans people must have undergone “medical treatments and surgical operations” which structurally modify “the sexual organs.” Other conditions include being at least 18 years old and Canadian citizenship.
Last summer, 21-year-old Kyle Doucette went to the office of the Directeur de l’état civil in Montreal to submit a request to have his gender marker officially changed from “F” to “M.” It was a pivotal moment for the first-year nursing student.
“I had a letter from my GP saying that I had undergone hormone therapy and a double mastectomy,” says Doucette. Additionally, he had a letter from his psychologist who corroborated the hormone therapy and also stated that Doucette has gender dysphoria — a strong feeling that he is not the gender he was assigned at birth.
Doucette was extremely anxious about going to the Directeur de l’état civil office.
“The woman pushed my letters away and said that I needed a six-page report and all the surgeries. I didn’t know what (reports) she was referring to and didn’t want to ask any more questions because she was so rude.”
So Doucette contacted Bouchard, who explained what documents he needed.
A week later, Doucette returned to the État civil office, paperwork in hand. Doucette says the man who served him was very “welcoming.” He filled out forms to proceed with the gender marker change and name change. Doucette also paid the $130 fee.
Two weeks after that second visit, Doucette received a letter from the Directeur de l’état civil: his request for a gender marker change had been declined. When he called to inquire the reason for the rejection, he was told he needed a “full hysterectomy.”
You should be able to point yourself out to people and not them pointing you out. Your sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression — that belongs to you. -Kyle Doucette
While surgery is not legally required for him to change his name to Kyle, it is a requirement for his gender marker to be changed from “F” to “M.” For now, Doucette does not want the surgery.
Furthermore, he needed a letter from his surgeon attesting that Doucette met the conditions of Article 71. Since his sexual organs had not been altered, the surgeon refused. Doucette was devastated. The province’s refusal to change Doucette’s gender marker is causing contradiction and confusion in both his professional and personal life.
For instance, Kyle has not renewed his passport because of the gender marker and name issue. He could change his name legally, but then would have the awkward situation of male presentation, male name and female gender marker.
The nursing program he is enrolled in involves hospital training, so he had to file an application with the Quebec Order of Nurses for a work permit. Applicants must fill in their gender and legal name. For Doucette, this meant an “F” and a female first name.
“This still causes me a lot of stress, because in school I’m registered as Kyle, but the hospital will get my application with a female name and gender marker,” says Doucette. “My teachers would have to ‘out’ me (to the employer).
“You should be able to point yourself out to people and not them pointing you out. Your sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression — that belongs to you. I’m proud of my uniqueness, but I want to be the one saying it.”
Bouchard views this situation as part of the systemic injustice that trans people are regularly forced to endure: experiencing situations where they have no control over the public disclosure of their trans status, which can compromise personal safety and make them vulnerable to discrimination.
“(Discrimination) happens often when people are visibly trans,” Bouchard says. “People come to the centre and tell us they’ve been called ‘freak,’ ‘tranny,’ and that people point and laugh.”
For Doucette, the discrimination he has experienced demonstrates some Quebecers’ inability — or unwillingness — to understand and accept the nuances and variations of gender identity and gender expression.
While on a casual stroll in the Gaspé with his girlfriend recently, Doucette wore her scarf around his neck. The couple was shocked when three teens began yelling homophobic slurs.
“I was astonished by the comments. I was perceived as a man, but a gay man,” says Doucette. “I don’t follow rules of gender identity or gender expression. I don’t follow the typical male career or male societal rules. “Once you understand who you are and have the confidence to show it — that’s what society is scared of. I identify as trans; sometimes having masculine moments, but when I have feminine feelings, I’m not afraid to express them. People love to categorize. What scares society is the unwritten — the untagged box — that box is undetermined,” Doucette say
The Centre for Gender Advocacy filed a lawsuit against the provincial government last May. The Centre is challenging Articles 71, 72, 111, 115 and 116, stating that they violate both the provincial and federal Charter of Human Rights.
The articles in the 100s apply to intersex individuals. Intersex is a socially constructed category used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a chromosomal, reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For instance, babies born with ambiguous genitalia are assigned a gender by a physician. With parental consent, these babies will undergo surgery to their genitalia in order to fit into the gender binary of male or female.
Dr. Shuvo Ghosh, assistant professor of Pediatrics, Developmental-Behavioural Pediatrician at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, runs its gender variance program. He disagrees with the conditions set out for legal gender marker change and believes they negatively impact some individuals who face this.“As a physician, I know that there are intersex individuals who have had surgeries at a young age without any consent and who have been negatively impacted with depression or dissatisfaction about this fact,” Ghosh told the Montreal Gazette in an email.
He explained that among trans teens, clinical experience and emerging literature reveal that “not all trans patients wish to have surgery.”
“Moreover, they can have a medical condition, such as a coagulation disorder that could prevent them from undergoing a complex surgery. Not having the surgery does not change their inner gender identity.”
Ghosh said some teens as young as 15 or 16 display enough maturity to clearly present and live in their preferred gender and function socially without any issues. “However, full gender reassignment surgery is medically recommended after the age of 18 (often because of a desire to allow bodily growth to be completed at this age).”
Ghosh questions the validity of forcing a 16-year-old, who is completely functioning in their preferred gender, to change a gender marker only after 18, and only after surgery, which that teen may or may not desire.
On Nov. 27, one week after the Centre will mark TDoR, its representatives will be appearing before the Quebec Superior Court, as Quebec’s attorney-general has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
But Bouchards says she is confident that the centre will win its court case, thereby forcing the provincial government to enact changes that remove barriers for trans and intersex people in Quebec.
“There should be no medical requirements for gender marker change. This is a personal choice. We also need to stop making it legally mandatory for doctors to assign a gender at birth, this reinforces the medical practices of genital mutilation of intersex children,” Bouchard says.
“As for requiring Canadian citizenship — this speaks directly to TDoR. People come to Canada to escape their home country because of the threat of violence. What we’re doing with Article 71 is we’re exchanging a brutal physical death with a slow administrative one. Welcome to Canada, you’ll die slowly.”
To commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance, Queer Concordia is holding a candlelight event at 5 p.m. on Nov. 20 in Norman Bethune Square, on de Maisonneuve Blvd. at Guy St.