Tuesday, May 29, 2012

RE: The Quiet Truth From #GGI: Lower the Voting Age.

The Quebec student strike has made evident the underpinning crisis of intergenerational inequality that characterizes the contemporary Canadian economic paradigm. Concerning this tension, the media too often and largely inaccurately invokes ideas of entitlement. (Great response to said claims here.) To this I say: that by definition the nature of a right is such that no shame can be associated with its demands. If we are a society who values the equality of opportunity, we need to diligently re-orient our political and economic priorities toward a model of robust public service that is effectively matches talent to appropriate work. Quebec students have a reasonable request: to live in a society organized by merit rather than wealth, where talent is the only barrier to success.

Among the lessons we need to take from the so-called “Maple Spring” is that intergenerational inequality needs to be bridged as to craft a politic entrenched in respect and justice. One of the fundamental disconnects between youth and older generations are that there is no onus on the provincial governments to empower youth political participation.  

So long as youth are disenfranchised by their inability to vote, self-serving politics will continue to repress youth voter turnout and create campaigns that will be palatable to the largest voting blocks. Once majority is attained (or consent is manufactured if you prefer more jaded language) politicians get to tune out the public for 4 years and govern as they see fit.

There is a way out of the seemingly perpetual dance between ignorance and apathy. Much like the mantra of the striking students, accessible education is the answer. In fact, it’s why I believe that Quebec activism is more spirited and accepted than in the rest of Canada. That Quebec students are privy to CEGEP and lower university fees compared with other Canadian provinces; this has meant that a larger portion of their population has become capable of articulately engaging conversations of economic and social priority.

We have silenced the voices of millions of Canadians, and feigned ignorance of why youth don’t vote. If the voting age in Canada was lowered to 16 year of age, school-aged children would become a pocket of votes for prospective governing parties and candidates. New initiatives to engage youth in political conversations would penetrate school programming, and the general political knowledge of the population would greatly increase. Ideally, our nation should be producing, rather than just workers, high school graduates who are capable of critically evaluating public decisions.

Largely, activism is a project in consensus building. Habermas’ famous sociological inquiry into the public sphere noted that the public sphere was in perpetual flux balancing of the number or contributors to and the quality of public discourse.  This realization foregrounded the nefarious intent motivating voter suppression; the notion that power is better than justice plagues every inch of Canadian politics. No better example of this exists than the acceptance/encouragement of youth voter apathy.

Education in Quebec is more understood as a right than anywhere else in Canada. Students there are not burdened with tuition fees so high as to create the belief that the service they are buying is too valuable to boycott class in the name of equal opportunity.

I am truly inspired by what the Quebec student strike has accomplished. The Maple Spring is everything Occupy Wall Street wasn't. They have democratically elected (and effective) leadership, they have reasonable demands, and they have the moral high ground.

If the Canadian voting age was 16, the Maple Spring would have seeded outside Quebec much more effectively. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

RE: Sex, Gender, and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

Courtesy of a recent Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruling, trans persons in Ontario will soon be able to have the sex on their birth certificate without an irreversible “transsexual” surgery. Ten minutes after first reading and processing this news, I lost all faith in society. The means by which this "game changing" decision was made was by completely ignoring the wisdom sociologists and gender scholars have been writing for decades. The decision was a result of a complete conflation of sex and gender. The tribunal constructed a botched definition of discrimination founded on essentialist ideals of gender.

Sex is the physical presentation of your body as it functions in reproduction. In humans we have 3 sexes, male, female, and intersexed. Gender is a set of characteristics which are cultivated and repeated, often unknowingly, that mark a social identity. Sex is limited to 3 biological expressions; gender is unlimited in expressions. Masculinity and femininity have changed through culture, space, and time, while sex has remained static.

One of the principle arguments behind the ruling is that a transgendered person’s gender identity isn’t reflected by the sex on their birth certificate. Obviously, a baby doesn't have the cognitive power to claim a social identity, so one is imposed upon them according to their sex. The point of the sex on a birth certificate should not be to forge your social relations, but to give the government enough information to make sure Canadian society will reproduce itself.

I personally believe the ruling to be a step backward in the fight for equality. The male/female dichotomy was upheld at the expense of all those brave enough to resist it. The ruling normalizes that there are two socially acceptable gender identities and that you may identify as either, regardless of the body you were born into. The outcome insufficiently challenges that society is organized around flawed and unjust ideas of identity.

A gender (social) struggle doesn’t inherently reclassify the (biological) body you were born into. Transsexual surgery is an accurate name: a surgery that transitions a body to another sex. Additionally, surgically transitioned bodies are in fact intersexed at completion. Genetically, a post-op person’s DNA will still code for their birth sex; modern surgery can only create interesexed bodies that are more palatable to socially understood gender identities.

Accepting the shortcomings of conflating gender and sex, I propose a way forward. It’s time to release the terms male and female to the property of the social. Science needs new words to describe bodies that aren’t laden with ideas of social identity.

Sex, as a vital statistic, needs to be completely divorced from gender. I propose that medical and government documentation reclassify bodies as per their reproductive functions, and rename the 3 sexes as bearer, donor, and interesexed bodies. What is understood as female would become bearer to describe the child bearing capabilities of those bodies; meanwhile, the role as a genetic donor would be reflected on what is understood as the male body.

Intersex would remain as a body classification, but we as a society cannot police these bodies as we have in the past. If a baby is born intersexed, it should not be subjected to undue surgery and hormone therapy to fit into a gender idea they may grow up to reject. A body-positive approach would celebrate that intesexed bodies happen both naturally and surgically and hold the capacity to express any chosen gender.

If the letter options of B/D/I were presented on identification, medical professionals would have the information they needed about your sex to best proceed with any needed treatment, and gender expectations could finally be devolved to the level of personal choice. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruling will help a few Ontarians reconcile their gender struggles, but tweaking an oppressive regime is like oiling an enemy tank.

(Bisexual should actually be pansexual, but I didn't make this image)