Transgender Day of Remembrance Open Letter to the Rabbis and Jewish Congregations in Ottawa, Ontario

November 15, 2015
3 Kislev 5776

Dear Colleagues,

On Friday November 20th people around the world mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance. November 20th, the anniversary of the 1998 murder of Rita Hester in Allston, MA. The first Transgender Day of Remembrance was held on November 20, 1999. We remember all those who were killed because of anti-transgender prejudice or hatred. This day is marked in secular and faith communities. On this day we also remember those transgender people who have taken their own lives, in part because of the struggles and violence faced daily by transgender people.

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Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue: Dvar on Shoftim 5775

In my Dvar, or teaching, for this year’s Interfaith Pride Shabbat I look at the commandment to pursue justice and the questions and challenges it raises for those of us in LGBTTQ* / Queer spaces.

This week’s parshat, or Torah reading, Shoftim, is the 48th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the fifth in the book of Deuteronomy. It constitutes Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9. Overall this parshat talks about justice and what to do when people break the law, the establishment of cities of refuge, what sort of witnesses are acceptable, how many witnesses, and, perhaps most importantly, the command to pursue justice. “Justice, justice you shall pursue”, (Deut 16:20). But what does this mean, particularly for those of us who fall under the LGBT / Queer umbrellas? Justice can take many forms, and often justice does not result in equality or equity. I am going to look at a few aspects of justice that are discussed in this parshat. Who is eligible to not participate in the army when going to battle, cities of refuge, bearing false witness, and to judge fairly and not take bribes.

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Shhhh, it’s a Secret! How we don’t talk about surgery.

Surgery, more specifically, gender confirmation surgeries, is often the elephant in the room when it comes to talking about trans experiences and stories. We talk about access to the various types of surgeries trans people may or may not have. We talk about why it is important, and the myths about it. Yet because of the sexualization of trans bodies, especially trans women’s bodies, discussion of the lived experience of those who have surgery tends to be put to the side and not often discussed in public forums. Media and many people often thinks it’s okay to ask trans people about what surgeries they may or may not have had, usually in a way that identifies and objectifies the trans person based on what is presumed to be between their legs. This video with Janet Mock turns it around and she asks the same questions of a woman who is not trans. We are also facing proposed legislation in a number of jurisdictions that would define which washrooms we can use based on what is current genitalia, or even worse in some cases, what genitalia we were born with. Therefore, most do not discuss surgery except in broad terms that tend to leave out the stories and lived experience. We self censor in order to, in my opinion, avoid the disrespectful, objectifying, and all too often hateful articles, coverage, and comments. A major drawback to this is that it can, and does, put up barriers to healthy conversation and education. If one considers that there are barriers to healthy conversation and education a question that immediately comes to mind is, “What does healthy conversation and education look like?

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Balak, Balaam, Blessings, Curses, and Authority

This week in the annual cycle of Torah readings Jews are reading parsha Balak. The first part of the parsha tells the story of Balak who feels threatened by the Israelites and thus seeks out Balaam to curse them. This does not, however, go according to his plan. Balaam does not immediately go with them, but instead tells Balak’s messengers to wait overnight so he can sleep on it. Balaam is told by God not to curse the Hebrews, indeed, he is told not to go with the initial group of Moabites. Eventually he does go, but is stopped by an angel he can’t see, but his donkey can. His donkey shows some sense and doesn’t try to pass the sword wielding angel on the road. Balaam gets a bit annoyed with his donkey after the donkey stops and lies down with Balaam still on it. Further, when Balaam threatens the donkey the angel appears before Balaam and tells him again not to curse the Israelites, but instead to “say nothing except what I tell you.”(Num 22:35) Balaam continues on his way and meets Balak. Three times he is called on to curse the Israelites and three times he blesses them. Balak gets more and more irate about it.

What images and ideas does this story bring to mind today, in 2015, the week after the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of marriage equality making same gender marriages legal across the United States? As more and more jurisdictions are recognizing not only the rights of those who are gay and lesbian, but also protecting rights on the basis of gender identity and expression? For religious conservatives this is a tragedy. For those of us who fall under the wide LGBTTQIA+ umbrella they are victories. As I read the chapter in Torah Queeries on this parsha I was struck by the relationship between authority and power that the author talks about.

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Happy Canada Day from the Canadian Senate

Happy Canada Day from the Canadian Senate! Unless you’re a trans person, or someone who faces discrimination because of your gender identity. In that case, have a disappointing Canada Day. With the Senate taking their summer recess bill C-279 will be left to die on the order paper without being passed into law. The bill passed third reading in the House of Commons on March 20, 2013 and received first reading in the Senate on the next day. Second reading and referral to committee took place on May 29, 2013. Two years and one month later it was still languishing in the committee stage waiting for amendments proposed by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to be voted on and their report received.(LEGISinfo 41st Parliament 2nd Session Bill C 279) It is important to note that any bill passed by the Commons and later amended in the Senate then has to go back to the Commons for the amendments to be voted on. We can dissect what happened to the bill the Senate in many ways, instead I will look forward and discuss where we go from here.

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Please Continue to Hold, Your Medical Transition is Important to Us

Since my post on Wednesday, June 24, Please Hold, Your Medical Transition is Important to Us, the Globe and Mail has reported that “Ontario to expand access to publicly insured sex reassignment surgery” The article has very few details as to a timeline and what the new regulations will say. The article also states that “[t]he government is not planning a formal announcement” about the changes. The article also points out that there will be a review of the regulations in order to find “the best way to increase access beyond CAMH.” To my mind this raises more questions than it answers. What will the new regulations look like? How well will they follow the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC)? Another question that notably was not answered was the question of WHEN the new regulations will be put in place. What is the consultation process that will take place with regard to this increase in access? 

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Please Hold, Your Medical Transition Is Important to Us.

With the increasing visibility of trans people in the media recently there has been a renewed focus on the status of health care for those seeking a medical transition in Ontario. Specifically, the focus is on the process one has to go through in Ontario to access the various surgeries that one may need when medically transitioning. Under the current benefits schedule requires one to be assessed and gain the approval from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Adult Gender Identity Clinic in Toronto. There are no other providers in the province who are allowed to perform this assessment and make the appropriate referrals and funding requests. What does this mean for trans people? A very long wait for needed surgeries. What does this wait look like, and how long is it really?

This is the process in Ontario:

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Responding to Apparent Abuse in A Public Place

This afternoon as I was walking in The Glebe with my housemate we witnessed what was, apparently, a young man being verbally and physically abusive towards a young female. My estimate at initial look was late teens or early twenties. Both of us stopped and observed what was going on. Being familiar with the stats of how often people respond me instinct was to respond and intervene. At the same time I was aware that as a trans woman I would also be placing myself in a vulnerable position. Further, my housemate has a disability and walks with a crutch, also a vulnerable position. There were two other people present, one of whom seemed to be about to intervene and one was about to call 911.

While observing the two young people were moving away and were half way down the block, but it seemed that the abusive behaviour was escalating. I was not able to run after them, slippery sidewalks and a knee that has arthritis in it does not make for safe running on ice. My response was one of decisive action using one tool at my disposal that tends to work well, my voice. I projected at full volume and dropped my register a bit saying, “Hey you, stop right now!” At that point the male did stop his abusive behaviour and turned towards me. At first I wondered if he was going to come after me. What transpired was not quite what I expected.

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