Friday, July 24, 2009

A Moving Response to Trans Women Exclusion


(Not so) Feel-Good of the Day: First Women-Run Pharmacy in North America Excludes Trans Women

Sadly, most of the time pharmacists are mentioned on Feministing it's regarding "conscience clause" folks - anti-choice pharmacists (and their buddy Bush) who believe it's their "religious or moral" right to refuse to sell contraception to women even though it's, you know, their job and all. So it was really refreshing to find a group of pharmacists who actually give a hoot about women's health. (Until we found out they exclude trans women - update below.)

Today, Vancouver Women's Health Collective have opened Lu's: A Pharmacy for Women.This will be the first women-run and women-only pharmacy in North America. VWHC's executive director, Caryn Duncan, said:

"Women felt, 'I want a woman pharmacist. I want to know that when I walk in the door, I'm going to be getting sound women-centred care from a pharmacist. I can talk to her about emergency contraception or a vaginal infection, something that is very personal and intimate.'"

UPDATE: A reader alerted us to Bilerico's findings that the pharmacy specifically excludes trans women. Commenter Lau actually interviewed VWHC about this, who said that the policy existed because trans folks' health is different and there is already a heath center for trans people in Vancouver (which is supposed to make it all okay). Sounds damn weak to me. If their lack of expertise in trans folks' health is really a concern, why not bring in someone who can assist them? As Mercedes on Bilerico said:

For those who don't know Vancouver, that part of West Hastings is near the rough part of town, the skid row. There are other pharmacies present, all cold environments, heavy glass between caregiver and client, patrons subject to suspicion just for entering the doors. In this area, yes, trans sex workers and the poor of our community could probably use some respectful and reliable advice without hostility and prejudice. Unfortunately, Lu's is not there to give it -- Lu's has chosen to be selective in how it defines women.
The following letter was submitted anonymously to the Par-L feminist discussion listserve. I (Annie) got permission to post it here on Yonilicious and on where the issue is currently being discussed:

Response to Vancouver Women’s Health Collective Transgender policy
When I first read the news, about ten days ago, of the Health Collective's gratuitous bigotry, my mind teemed with things I might say in a letter to "the editor" -- many different editors, perhaps. But in the end, I wrote nothing. This was because the news upset me so much that I finally had to push it away from me, and not engage with it.

Luckily, I don't need the services of that pharmacy. But the inescapable fact of some women's hatred toward the transgendered cuts deeply into my heart. I have just recently been trying to come to terms with the probability that I will never meet a partner in this city. It is depressing. And it may even cause me to move away.

For better or worse, I self-identify primarily as a woman and a lesbian -- not as a trannie. Transsexualism is a part of oneself. My being a woman is all of me. Unfortunately, amongst many lesbians in my age bracket, it is an article of faith that I am anything but a woman. And they would no sooner partner with me than with a space alien.

It is not this way in San Francisco, which makes it all the more shocking for me, now that I am here. Actually, SF was not always like that. In the early 90s, I found exclusion everywhere. In fact, I was one of many trannies who decided to speak up and fight back.

My part in the agitation was minor, but dedicated. We "liberated" many women-only venues and organizations, by attending and participating. I would phone ahead to such places, and ask their policy, which would force them to state one. They almost always gave in to letting us attend, which then resulted in minds broadening. As we aliens mixed with the women, the fearsome mystique wore away. And much was written in the press, on all sides, and much else was done.

Amazingly, by 1995, the battle was essentially won. I could hardly believe it. The tide turned, publicly and visibly and explicitly. And the change of attitude was real, deep, and permanent. From that time on, I lived my life as a woman in SF's lesbian community, and didn't have to think much about it any more. Until I came here, and in my first week was turned away from a lesbian coffee group. What a slap in the face!

My late partner, Bobbie, was a stone butch -- the stoniest -- or by her own description, a bulldyke. She had, in the seventies and eighties, been hounded by women for being a butch, which was "aping the patriarchy", so she had no love for gender norms amongst lesbians. She knew me for who I am, and never for one moment had any hesitation in seeing me as her wife.

After her death, I had a few other less serious relationships, and my gender was never a question. I never imagined when I came here that I was stepping back forty years. I feel un-seen and stigmatised. I am without hope for finding a companion. I don’t know what to do.

I think it must also be noted that the reason there is a sizeable number of trans-women sex workers is that trans-women are so often social outcasts, who must turn to sex work for a living.
Certainly this was true of the trans sex workers I met in San Francisco (and I met quite a few over the years). In SF, the vast majority of them were from immigrant families, non-English-speaking, and had been expelled from their families for the sin of being trans. Since such immigrants usually are at the bottom of the barrel anyway, the social space for these trannies was almost non-existant. Add to that the fact that the pressures upon a young gender-variant person can often lead them to leave school, get into drugs and alcohol, and have terrible psychological problems . . . all of which can lead to sex work. So I would say that the DTES trans-women sex workers are there because of their gender issues.

A side-light: In my new “social work” role, one of my clients is a trans-woman who lived in the DTES for about fifteen years. While she has many issues, she never turned to any substance abuse, nor to sex work. So it doesn't quite follow, as night after day, that a disadvantaged trans-woman will be a sex-worker.

Finally, while many lesbian feminists support trans women and trans issues; I guess what I want, personally, is not just political support, nor "acceptance" nor "tolerance." I want to be seen as a variant-type of woman, a sliver of the whole, and not a separate category. And that can only come from the real sentiments in people's hearts. Remember the old saw in reference to "coloured people" -- "Sure, they can move in next door. But I don't want my daughter to marry one." Likewise, I don't want to be okay as long as I stay next door. I want to be someone who a lesbian (or her daughter) might marry.

I regard myself as being similar to an immigrant -- I immigrated into women's society. This makes me a woman with a different origin -- similar to a person with a different accent, or skin colour. When immigrants come to Canada, we do not (theoretically, anyway) refuse to call them Canadians. What if we said, "Okay, you can stay here, but we'll keep you separate and won't like you." I am a woman who got here, into the life of women, by a different route than most. That does not make me less of a woman.

So you see -- back to the Women's Health Collective and all that -- when this issue came up, I became so emotional that I finally could not trust myself to judge what would be a good letter to write. I alternate between wanting to weep and wanting to kill them. I believe the idea that someone else can define me is a form of violence. Their action seems like a point-scoring move, a nasty little twist of the knife -- because they can -- engineered by some mean and sour-spirited women.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How sad that no-one responded to this; and in particular that none of the cis-feminists who say they believe in trans-inclusion responded.

LGB (T) always last, always an afterthought.