Monday, December 28, 2015

#Thisisme: The Preamble

Everyday in January a confession. #Thisisme is my month-long commitment to a share myself wholly and honestly. I will offer 31 personal, political, sexual, existential, and cultural disclosures from my life so far.



After my body is gone, words will be the truth of me. By coming out to the world 31 different ways, many of those words will be my own.

My candor will have consequences. #Thisisme should lead me closer to the right people and cast distance where it ought to fall. I may preclude job opportunities or strain relations, but perhaps the only way to succeed is to destroy all of the other options.


Radical authenticity is the purest form of activism. #Thisisme is my way of rejecting shame, stigma, and symbolic violence. I want to live in a world where uniqueness is a treasure, not a liability. I've made peace with the best and worst parts of myself, and I'm choosing to define my success in terms of experiential wealth and radical authenticity.



Follow along for a salacious, thoughtful, and entertaining month of oversharing! I'll be double posting on Medium and http://www.mylifeinletters.ca.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Response: Gender & Census 2016

Devyn Stackhouse:

Thank you for your email of November 30, 2015, in which you suggest ways to identify non-binary and indigenous genders in the Census of Population questionnaires to reflect the diversity of gender in Canada.

After extensive consultations, the questions for the 2016 Census Program have been finalized and the questionnaires are printed. Information regarding the gender/sex of the respondent will be collected according to two categories: male and female. We encourage transgender people to indicate the gender/sex (either male or female) with which they most identify. However, I understand that as a non-binary transgender individual, you cannot accurately select one category or the other.

I would therefore recommend that when completing your census questionnaire, you leave this question blank and indicate in the comments section at the end of the questionnaire the reasons for which you find the current construction of the question inadequate. That will provide valuable and accurate information for this segment of the population.

For the 2021 Census of Population Program, Statistics Canada will again be conducting public consultations and testing of the gender/sex question. This will afford us the opportunity to gather information on our users and uses of Census data and evaluate if there are new ways to collect data on gender/sex for respondents who do not identify themselves with the current response options.

Thank you again for writing to express your ideas and concerns.

Please accept my best wishes.


Yours sincerely,




Connie Graziadei


Assistant Chief Statistician/Statisticienne en chef adjointe
Census, Operations and Communications Field/
Secteur du recensement, des opérations et des communications
Statistics Canada / Statistique Canada



_______________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for your response. I am, however, greatly disappointed that I will yet again be forced to lie or omit my gender on the census.

As a academic and queer community member, I assure you if your "extensive" consultation was adequate the problems of measuring gender as a binary would have been raised. Reasonably, you would have consulted a leading organization on gender diversity (perhaps the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity) about measuring gender in a non-binary way.

I hope you understand that I can't be happy with "you might count in 2021". The lack of concern for gender diversity in the census represents an administration of exclusion in a country that aspires to pluralism.

Please learn from and fix this failure.



Disappointed,


D$$


PS: You misidentified my gender in your email as "transgender non-binary". This is incorrect. I do not identify as trans; I am not transitioning. I'm just non-binary.

If a person gender self-identifies in their communication with you, you are expected, as a senior public servant, to respect and accommodate them.

Gender training is something that may benefit you and your co-workers substantially.


Monday, November 30, 2015

RE: Gender & Census 2016

Dear Wayne Smith, Chief Statistician, Statistics Canada,
Ministers Navdeep Bains, Kristy Duncan

CC: Catherine McKenna, MP Ottawa Centre

As your government resurrects mandatory participation in the long form census, I implore your departments to correct the measure of gender in Canadian census data. Traditional census questions have required participants to identify as male or female with the goal of generating data that is generalizable rather than accurate. The official account of Canada's population precludes the possibility for Canadians of non-binary and indigenous genders to be counted equally among our peers.


While tending to the shortcomings of censuses past, your government has a duty to correct the methods that articulate Canada as a country of only men and women. Male/female gender measurement erases my own non-binary existence from the official report of Canada's population.

To reflect the real diversity of gender in Canada, the census needs to accomplish two tasks: 1) cleaving physical sex designations from social gender identities and 2) implementing methods that allow for the infinite possibility of gender identities.

Sex exists as a spectrum with human bodies of all possibilities located on a continuum between idealized male and female bodies. Intersex bodies are naturally born between these bodily ideals and transsexual bodies autonomously choose to undergo physical transformations to move their bodies along the spectrum of sex. Unlike sex, gender is not a single spectrum from masculine to feminine. Social gender is located on an unlimited set of spectra specific to cultural and historical settings. Violent colonialism destroyed indigenous gender diversity globally and installed an observably false binary model of gender as a public fact.


Census authors can address this ongoing erasure by thinking about gender like religion. Gender and religious identities are social in nature; you can have one, or more, or none; you can change how you identify needing no permission; you can be as private or as public as you like with either, and there are no limits to the potential of new religions or genders forming. On the Canadian census, you can write in Jedi as your religion and be counted officially, and thousands do

To facilitate adequate opportunity for gender self-determination in census methods, the questions of sex and gender need to break out of binary mentality. Five options are required to reflect the diversity of sexed bodies in Canada: male, female, intersex, FTM (female to male transsexual), and MTF (male to female transsexual). Gender, like religion, must be asked as a fill-in-the-blank. The addition of an "other" or "gender diverse" option makes no attempt to reconcile that Canada's genocide against our indigenous peoples includes the public administration of binary gender.

Your offices have the authority to make the 2016 census a real reflection of diversity in Canada. I demand that all forthcoming censuses to reject binary gender and facilitate gender self-determination.

In 2016, count me in. Sincerely,



D$$

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Moving Beyond Gender Parity

Editorial published in the October 28th Telegraph Journal. (Their spacing)


I'm thrilled more women than ever have secured seats in the House of Commons and that Prime Minister-designate Trudeau plans to appoint a cabinet half staffed by women. While these events are historic markers for women's advancement, they have come to pass at the expense of gender diversity in Canada.

Feminism gets pigeonholed as a movement for women's advancement, rather than an inclusive movement toward gender justice.

Victories in women's advancement often erase and exclude non-binary and indigenous genders by carving ideas about gender parity into political discourse.

Gender parity is misguidedly presented as gender equality, as if there were only two genders. Binary gender is not reality, and gender parity is not equality.

In several electoral models, usually forms of proportional representation, gender quotas subvert democracy so that the result of an election is more ideologically palatable to those in power.

Descriptive politics are a metric, not a goal. Comparing the appearance of a parliament to the appearance of the electorate offers a glimpse into overarching social relations, but Members of Parliament are not elected for their appearances.

Politicians are elected for their experience, ideas, personalities, talents, and community roots. Gender quotas ignore the real political work that needs to be done removing barriers from participation in formal politics and substitute women's advancement  for gender justice.

Instead of advocating gender parity, advocate gender pluralism. All genders deserve equal opportunity to participate authentically in public life.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Full text: Sex reassignment needs broader focus.

Letter to the editor published in the Telegraph Journal (paywall) September 29, 2015. (Titled by TJ)

_________________________________________________________________________________

Trans rights advocates in New Brunswick have been demanding that sex-reassignment surgeries be included in the province's schedule of publicly funded medical services. If you've paid close attention, you will have noticed a dramatic shift in how this demand has been articulated. Motivated by failure and inclusivity for non-binary and indigenous genders, trans rights advocates have shifted from the perspective that access to SRS is an equality claim to a harm reduction argument. 


The harm reduction argument for funding SRS is a refined logic that embraces the fluid reality of gender. Harm reduction also acknowledges that the negative impacts of gender non-conformity are unequally distributed along a socio-economic gradient. 


The Caitlyn Jenners of the world do not need public funds to mitigate their hardships; thus, income testing is a necessary component of a public SRS funding model.

Creating a dedicated budget line for needs-based SRS funding is not, however, the best policy response to reduce harm. This approach would be specific to a point that creates inequalities in access to health services. The complication is that body dysphoria isn't usually treated with surgery, except in the case of gender dysphoria.

Body dysphoria is a psychological pain resulting from deep discontent with one's body. Origins of body dysphoria are unlimited and specific to each individual. If non-essential surgery can appease body dysphoria caused by gender, why shouldn't it for disability or disfigurement? I refuse to argue whether a burn victim's body dysphoria is less worthy of compassionate non-essential surgery than a trans person's.

The prudent way to address the demands of trans rights advocates is allocating a budget for compassionate non-essential surgery. The administrators of this fund would assess impact and ability to pay of applicants seeking surgical remedies for all types of body dysphoria.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Full text: Libraries for a Smarter Economy

Appears in September 22, 2015 editions of both the Sussex Herald and King's County Record.

     
          _________________________________________________________________________________

Today’s libraries are more than books. They lend tools, kitchen equipment, green screens, recording studios, professional creative software, and technical production spaces. This new wave of libraries articulates how libraries were never about books; they were about sharing. The sharing economy reduces consumer waste and removes barriers from tools and technologies that create culture and prosperity.


Tool lending can be a meaningful part of resuscitating the cultural value of trades, saving on energy costs, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Inefficient heating and cooling of Canadian buildings results in significant economic and environmental costs. Tool libraries provide the physical tools and skills necessary to make DIY energy-saving projects common practice.

Incorporating garden tools and kitchen equipment into libraries helps connect people to their food. This relationship is untended by many in Canada, where 37% of adults measure as overweight and 25% as obese. Fast and cheap foods are rarely nutritionally dense, so making gardening and home cooking accessible and culturally relevant is a meaningful way to address root causes of our obesity crisis.

As automation forebodes the elimination of low skill labour, creative and service sectors gain importance economically. Libraries can stimulate competitive creative economies in both rural and urban communities. Communalizing means of cultural, digital, and physical production allows communities to realize the full potential of their members.


Modernized libraries can also tap into the corporate sharing economy to guarantee their financial sustainability. Shared office spaces are an urban trend that allow businesses and self-employed individuals to save on rent and network with cognate enterprises. Combining profitable shared office spaces with libraries would benefit the tenants by placing them in proximity to creative and technical lending services. The arrangement serves the public by using membership and rental fees to maintain the library's services.

Let's invest in New Brunswick's libraries for a smarter economy.
_________________________________________________________________________________
Check out some great library innovations in Canada
Ottawa's Imagine Space
Vancouver's Inspiration Lab
Toronto's Makerspace
Tool Libraries in Halifax, Toronto (3), Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal, Cornwall, Hamilton, London,


Friday, September 4, 2015

Coming out as Bipartisan.

ABC? Not this time.

The Liberal party is living through an identity crisis. Trudeau has articulated the Liberals as a a second conservative party in Canada. Poverty is missing in their platform and talking points; their tax plan won't help you unless you're making ~45 grand a year; they want to ship Canadian jobs out of the country via raw bitumen export from the tar sands, and most egregiously, they supported bill C-51, eroding Canadian civil liberties for optics that read as tough on crime and terrorism. Meanwhile, the personal characteristics of Liberal candidates range from legitimately progressive all the way to socially conservative. The Liberal party is held together by nothing more than a desire to win.


All voting is strategic.

I have my own vision for Canada, and I encourage you to dream yours too. The choice to vote at all is "strategic"; you have to believe that your vote makes society better in at least some small way to drag yourself to a voting booth. (It does; please vote.) We vote in a broken electoral model, so least-of-evils voting and vote splitting are unfortunate realities of Canadian politics, but votes do more than elect winners and shut out losers. Look at your ballot and ask how it can move Canada from where we are to where you think we should be. Beyond electoral units, votes start dialogue and measure satisfaction with status quo politics.

Surprise to no one, my dream for Canada is closer to Green than NDP policy, but neither are a perfect fit. Both parties have strong commitments to social and environmental justice, but I'm drawn to the sense of urgency Green policy enshrines.

Elizabeth May is championing a number of principled innovative policies like basic income, national pharmacare, and a staunch commitment to environmental stewardship. Every Green vote is a vote a more mainstream party didn't get. The bigger the threat of the Greens become, the more seriously their policy proposals have to be taken. Every Green vote makes Canadian politics Greener, with or without electing MPs.


Not all votes are cast equally.

In Canada, we elect parliamentarians, not parties. This system has two important implications for voting. Foremost, local candidates matter. Second, post-electoral cooperation is a reasonable demand on our MPs. The Greens have announced their willingness to support a governing party (read: the NDP) in a minority parliament under four conditions. This willingness to cooperate advances the narrative that voting Green is a legitimate strategy to oust Stephen Harper, at least in the context of the few ridings where the Greens are competitive.

Local candidates matter. I can't overstate this fact. There are NDP candidates who deserve Green votes. The Toronto ridings that pit star New Democrats against incumbent Liberals are the best example. Jennifer Hollett and Linda McQuaig are in tight races, and every Green vote in their ridings helps elect Liberals.

(Jennifer Hollett left and Linda McQuaig right)

New Brunswick's three urban ridings offer a diverse range of possibilities. Without hesitation, I support the NDP in Saint John-Rothesay, where AJ Griffin is polling above the incumbent Conservative, and Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, which looks to be a three-way dog fight. Fredericton is a bit of an anomaly. The election of David Coon, MLA for Fredericton South and Leader of Green Party of New Brunswick, and the exceptional candidacy of (Dr.) Mary-Lou Babineau mean the riding could be a four-way race, depending on who can mobilize voters most effectively. The prospect of an Atlantic Canadian Green MP is an opportunity I wouldn't pass up, if I could vote in Fredericton.

(David Coon and Mary-Lou Babineau)

To take a page from a favourite MP, Niki Ashton, Canada needs new politics. For me, new politics mean less Conservatives and Liberals and more New Democrats and Greens. New politics mean we reach consensus on the problems and priorities of the country, but respectfully disagree on the details of solving them.


"Respectfully" is italicized because the partisan attacks between the NDP & Greens on social media are petty and destructive. The real enemies of progressive policy are the parties who've had their turns governing and led us into recession, scandal, environmental degradation, and the erosion of public service and civil rights.

I've got two horses in this race.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Full Text: As Merger Looms, Consider This Pitch for Slate Elections

This post appears as letter to the editor in the August 25th edition of the King's County Record.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Sussex and Sussex Corner are moving toward what seems like an overdue conclusion of merger. A merger will forge a new political map and electoral model, so discussions on democratic renewal are more important now than ever.

The proposed council would consist of a Mayor and 7 councilors; the councilors, however, would not all be chosen by the same election. Sussex Corner and Sussex boundaries would persist as two separate wards with two representatives each on the new council. In addition, 3 councilors at large would be elected from the amalgamated Sussex.

This model seems like a good sell on the surface, but it's actually very flawed in trying to fairly represent citizens. The Town of Sussex has triple the population of Sussex Corner. Why would they have each two seats? Inherently, Sussex Corner councilors would be elected by fewer electors than their council peers, but would have the same voting authority. Because of over-representation of the wards, the proposed model would create three tiers of public legitimacy among elected representatives with equal authority.

Instead of a ward model, we should be considering a slate election model like Montreal and Vancouver use. With a slate model, mutually-endorsing groups of candidates run together on a shared set of values and policy goals. Slate affiliations are indicated on an otherwise unchanged ballot. Slate elections try to steer municipal politics from popularity contests toward robust exchanges of approach to solving real community problems and creating thriving spaces to live, work, and create.

With the brokering of a merger, Sussex and Sussex Corner have an opportunity to make a really smart change in the way politics are done. Slate elections are a no cost added strategy to buck the slow death of the status quo and set a renewed Sussex apart as an innovative rural community.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Rewording "The Queer Community"

I've already made this point in a letter to the Canadian Press Association, but it's Pride in Ottawa, Moncton, and Saint John this weekend, so I feel the point should be driven home a bit harder. We need to be pluralizing "queer communities".


The choice of using "community" versus "communities" is a political choice, whether intentional or not. These word choices present two incompatible politico-linguistic goals directly competing for the 'proper' way to describe queer people in a group setting.

Singular "community" represents a facade of solidarity and common struggle. The singular word choice is used to invoke rights claims and identity politics. While strategically useful, this language is inaccurate and inadequate.

By feigning politicized sameness over an infinitely diverse group of people, difference is erased and hegemonic narratives are elevated as representative. Consider the common criticisms of Pride celebrations being oriented toward white middle-class gay men.

Intersectional theory teaches us that all social contexts (race, religion, nationality, ability, class, etc...) subjectify individuals in a simultaneous and interrelated way. No single social description has authority to define a person or group of people.


The singular queer community has tenuous cohesion at best. Major cleaves are obvious considering gender diverse, religious, and politically partisan queers. The oversimplification of a singular queer community also tends to exclude straight queers who are proud members of kink, drag, arts, and activist communities. Straight queers practice the verb queer; they take it upon themselves to queer the spaces and cultures they exist within by actively challenging norms of heterosexuality and gender conformity.

It's time for queer communities to start defining themselves by consensual membership, rather than assumed sameness. My chosen community is so much smaller than mainstream queer activism would have you believe, and that's the way I like it. I don't want to be lumped in with people who share nothing other than queerness; Caitlyn Jenner, John Baird, and Dan Savage are not members of my community. Artistic and activist tendencies define my community far more than gender and sexual identities.

The struggles of queer people are complicated by the every other social factor of our lives. Rather than ignoring and erasing difference, we need to recognize celebrate it, and we can start by actively pluralizing "queer communities".

Monday, July 20, 2015

Calling Out Queer Fascism

Glasgow's Free Pride committee has pissed a lot of people off by playing preachy politics with the drag community. The alternative pride festival banned drag performances on the pretext that such performances mock and marginalize trans and gender non-conforming people. They are now considering modifying that ban, so that only trans and non-binary drag performers be considered. To all of this noise, I have this to say:


In enacting their drag ban, organizers directed their saltiest vitriol towards bio/faux drag performers. I advocate the use of bio-drag as terminology for women who perform as drag queens and men who perform as drag kings, acknowledging that all genders are performed and all genders are political. To assert that that one performance of drag is "faux" based on the contents of the performer's underwear misrepresents the social performative nature of gender.


Free Pride Glasgow's ban on drag performance is queer fascism disguised as queer liberation. This ban is censorship justified by a tragic misconception gender and drag performance art. Free Pride Glasgow's actions are an example of gender policing based on essentialism, a theoretical perspective that submits to stereotypes and refuses the human body's potential to perform an unlimited range of social identities.

Drag performance art exists to destroy the gender essentialist paradigm and illustrate the true performative and fluid nature of gender. By definition, drag is transgressive and activist, regardless of the sex of the body performing it. Drag performance is a hybrid of costume, theatre, and makeup arts; banning drag performances from a queer pride festival is censorship of an artistic political protest.


I am not saying that there are not problems with specific drag performers, events, and TV shows, or that members of the drag community are not guilty of (re)creating oppressions. I personally find it troublesome that space for non-binary/androgynous drag performance is insufficiently administered by the organizers of the vast majority of drag productions.

The answer is tearing binary ideas of gender out of drag productions, not banning them. Define your drag production as a celebration of genderfucking performance, not cross-dressing performances as if there were only two genders. Swap winner's titles of Mr. & Ms. Pride for best performer(s). Discuss and respect new language that describes the performance of non-binary/androgynous drag. (I personally dig the sound of drag regent; slash, I'm totally going to perform as a drag regent now that I've had this thought!)

Censorship and essentialism enact oppression by limiting the possibilities of human existence as per hegemonic ideals. Free Pride Glasgow cannot appropriate oppressive tools and expect that their use of them can create anything other than more oppression. Queer liberation acknowledges the interconnections of all social struggle; queer liberation is liberation for all.


Enacting queer liberation hinges on the verb form of queer. Anybody that queers their space and culture is working toward queer liberation. The verb queer eschews the notion of "allies" and invokes a politic of solidarity; wherein, people accept their responsibility to build a better world and offer accountability for the ideas and actions they put into the world.

Drag performance art is the epitome of queer as a verb. Invoking misconceived stereotypes to deter people from the act of queering is a shameful affront to progress, and I sincerely hope Free Pride Glasgow reconsiders their approach.

Courtney Conquers, a rad bio-queen and one of my best friends, and I at Ottawa's Glow Fair 2015.
(We both have Master's degrees in Gender Studies.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Full text: Sussex Can't Afford Intolerance

Here't the text of my editorial as it appeared in the July 14th edition of the King's County Record.
_________________________________________________________________________________

Most recent population data shows that New Brunswick is the fastest shrinking province in Canada.

Compound this fact with the province’s increasing urbanization, and uncertainty forebodes Sussex’ future. Economic geography cannot be ignored if Sussex is to stand the test of time.

Two indisputable facts from economic geography need to underscore Sussex’ approach to social planning. First, indefinite existence is the primary goal of all politics. Second, people, not money, are the basis of economies. The movement of people is of particular interest to planning efforts. We must concern ourselves with how Sussex can retain and recruit citizens that will sustain a healthy community for the foreseeable future. To address this concern, we must consider the area’s specific push and pull factors, which encourage departure from and immigration to the community respectively.

Unfortunately, intolerance is an easily observable push factor in Sussex. Since the 1990’s release of Richard Florida’s paradigm-shifting Cities and the Creative Class, diversity has been understood as an indicator of economic strength. Heeding this wisdom, municipal, provincial, and federal laws have been rewritten to encourage the free expression of difference and diversity, but Sussex has been slow to meaningfully adopt this cultural shift. Sussex is place where the discouragement of difference and diversity is too common.

By no means is Reverend Phillip Hutchings unique in his behaviour - his antics serve as the perfect case study to illustrate the impact of extreme opinion on a community. Hutchings gained national attention for posting misogynist musings about breasties, selfies that prominently feature women’s beasts, on Facebook. Most recently, Hutchings audaciously took to Facebook the day of Toronto’s Annual Pride Parade to celebrate the conversion of a queer congregation member, who through religious practice found their way to heterosexuality. When Sussex’s presence in mainstream and social media articulates the town as unwelcoming to women and queer people, diversity and difference are actively discouraged. This representation of the area acts as a push factor for our youth and as a barrier for those considering moving here.

The phenomenon of brain drain plagues the entire province, but rural areas are the hardest hit. Our best home-grown talent flows west for the white collar jobs in Ontario and Quebec and skilled labour positions in Alberta. Our youth grow wings instead of roots, while intolerance salts our earth.

This trend must not go unchallenged. While we can’t manipulate job prospects to prevent or reverse brain drain, we can create a more inclusive culture in Sussex. If Sussex is to survive, we need to take meaningful steps to make the community more inclusive of diversity and difference. Among these steps: reconsidering how intolerant leadership is supported and celebrated, making time for teaching and learning about diversity in the community, not just in schools, breaking the stigma of mental illness and addiction, and embracing a live and let live ethos. Maritimers are recognized nationally for our kindness, and it’s time that we embrace that label of kindness as a political mandate to build a more inclusive Sussex.
_________________________________________________________________________________

Just in case you're curious about newspaper editing, here's the original text submission. Only one paragraph really got edited. The edits seem to have made the highlighted paragraph both more and less incendiary. My zinger "Sussex' most famous purveyor of intolerance" got deleted, but the editors went ahead and rewrote Hutching's intolerant behaviour as "extreme opinion". The article wasn't about extreme opinion; it was about intolerance. For the record, I hold several (arguably) extreme opinions, they just aren't problematic. (Ex. free university, legalization of all recreational drugs, abolition of public institutions of binary gender)
_________________________________________________________________________________

Most recent population data shows that New Brunswick is the fastest shrinking province in Canada. Compound this fact with the province’s increasing urbanization, and uncertainty forebodes Sussex’ future. Economic geography cannot be ignored if Sussex is to stand the test of time.

Two indisputable facts from economic geography need to underscore Sussex’ approach to social planning. First, indefinite existence is the primary goal of all politics. Second, people, not money, are the basis of economies. The movement of people is of particular interest to planning efforts. We must concern ourselves with how Sussex can retain and recruit citizens that will sustain a healthy community for the foreseeable future. To address this concern, we must consider the area’s specific push and pull factors, which encourage departure from and immigration to the community respectively.

Unfortunately, intolerance is an easily observable push factor in Sussex. Since the 1990’s release of Richard Florida’s paradigm-shifting Cities and the Creative Class, diversity has been understood as an indicator of economic strength. Heeding this wisdom, municipal, provincial, and federal laws have been rewritten to encourage the free expression of difference and diversity, but Sussex has been slow to meaningfully adopt this cultural shift. Sussex is place where the discouragement of difference and diversity is too common.

By no means is Reverend Phillip Hutchings unique in his behaviour but as Sussex’s most famous purveyor of intolerance, his antics serve as the perfect case study to illustrate intolerance as a push factor. Hutchings gained national attention for posting misogynist musings about breasties, selfies that prominently feature women’s beasts, on Facebook. Most recently, Hutchings audaciously took to Facebook the day of Toronto’s Annual Pride Parade to celebrate the conversion of a queer congregation member, who through religious practice found their way to heterosexuality.

When Sussex’ presence in mainstream and social media articulates the town as unwelcoming to women and queer people, diversity and difference are actively discouraged. This representation of the area acts as a push factor for our youth and as a barrier for those considering moving here.

The phenomenon of brain drain plagues the entire province, but rural areas are the hardest hit. Our best home-grown talent flows west for the white collar jobs in Ontario and Quebec and skilled labour positions in Alberta. Our youth grow wings instead of roots, while intolerance salts our earth.

This trend must not go unchallenged. While we can’t manipulate job prospects to prevent or reverse brain drain, we can create a more inclusive culture in Sussex. If Sussex is to survive, we need to take meaningful steps to make the community more inclusive of diversity and difference. Among these steps: reconsidering how intolerant leadership is supported and celebrated, making time for teaching and learning about diversity in the community, not just in schools, breaking the stigma of mental illness and addiction, and embracing a live and let live ethos. Maritimers are recognized nationally for our kindness, and it’s time that we embrace that label of kindness as a political mandate to build a more inclusive Sussex.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My 2nd bone to pick with Elizabeth May

Last week, Elizabeth May released the Green Party's environmental platform for October's election. A significant part of the platform was a carbon fee and dividend (CFAD) proposal lifted from their provincial Ontario counterpart's latest election campaign, much to my chagrin. CFAD puts a set price on carbon pollution and places the revenue in a dedicated account that is returned directly to households in the form of a carbon dividend cheque. CFAD would not affect other government programs or taxes. The details of the the Green CFAD proposal were not particularly popular in progressive circles; an editorial from the Vancouver Courier was quick to highlight some of the approach's weaknesses.


Here's where I'm at: yes, carbon fee; hells no, dividend.

Pigovian taxes work. Tax environmentally destructive practices in order to discourage them. 100% agree, but why on earth would the Canadian federal government inefficiently give carbon cheques back to the everyone 18 and over? Put the money in general revenue and offer quality public services. Recall that the Green Party supports the creation of a national basic income, which is in part justified by replacing inefficient OAS and EI administration with a Keynesian re-distributive $20 000 guaranteed income for all Canadians. CFAD seems disconnected to the overarching eco-social democratic ethos of the party, as led by Elizabeth May.

Beyond obvious inefficiency, I have four problems with CFAD.

1) Market-based solution for market-caused problem. 

Carbon cheques are justified by saying that they'll pad the impact of the inevitable rise in prices of carbon intensive goods and services. The point of a carbon fee is to discourage the consumption of these goods and services; it's counterproductive to mail out cheques that will only slow down much needed changes in destructive consumption patterns.

2) Over-simplified problem identification.

Managing the climate crisis will not occur in a vacuum. CFAD is not the 'silver bullet' policy to reverse/stall catastrophic climate change it's offered as in order to recruit broad political support. Given the Greens have no chance at forming government, all of their platform points need to be palatable as stand-alone policies. Enter problem: it takes an immense amount of privilege to advocate CFAD as a stand-alone policy. If you have the the time and mental capacity to debate the details of climate policy, you probably have safe drinking water and have eaten a couple good meals today. CFAD ignores the interconnections between colonialism, poverty, inequality, and climate crisis management. Check your privilege.

3) Inadequately re-distributive. 

Mental health, preventative health services like physiotherapy and massage, pharmacare, and public dental care are great initiatives that would create a more equal Canada. Go figure; they're expensive. I'd much rather fund these initiatives than receive carbon cheques via (e)mail.

4) Politically alienating.

Elizabeth May has led the Green Party from the left. This style of leadership is not consistent through Canadian Green history (ex. former leader Jim Harris, who endorsed John Tory for Toronto Mayor), but progressive leadership has undeniably seen the party rise to its highest level of success, and it's why I maintain party membership.

CFAD departs from the narrative of the Green Party being Canada's progressive party of principle. CFAD is a populist-libertarian policy designed to tweak, rather than replace Canadian neoliberalism. The policy says "we're going to put YOUR money back in YOUR pocket, so keep calm and carry on." This approach defies the styling of most party policy, which leans into social and economic justice. I'm not sure if CFAD is a calculated risk to recruit libertarian votes in British Colombia, where the party is competitive in several ridings, but I'm not alone in my disappointment in this departure from principled policy making.

No Canadian political party has an environmental plan without a glaring problem. The NDP are hawking a cap and trade model that would only work under perfect theoretical conditions; the Liberals support Keystone, and the Conservatives aren't even pretending to care. With the Greens regrettably advocating CFAD, there isn't even a clear a 'least of evils' winner on environmental policy.

Environmental policy highlights the shortcomings of partisan politics and the importance of public interest research. Best practices are rarely crystallized in party policy, and I hope that Canadians realize the importance of dedicating their activist and academic efforts to both formal and informal politics.

There is no planet B.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

RE: Reporting Gender & Sexuality

Dear Canadian Press,

I write to you today about the intersection of journalistic integrity, gender, and sexuality. Please understand this letter as a content suggestion for forthcoming editions of the Canadian Press Stylebook.


My analysis is informed by two critical perspectives. First, as a news consumer, I demand accurate and appropriate language from professional journalists. Second, as a feminist, I am concerned with the unjust power relations inattention to detail regarding the language used to describe gender and sexuality (re)produces.

I begin with the journalistic conflation of sex and gender. These words are not interchangeable, and their conflation is a regrettable source of inaccuracy and erasure in journalism. Gender is a social idea enacted through identity and expression. Sex is a physiological designation based on anatomic and genetic markers. Neither sex nor gender exist as binaries.


Sex exists on a single physiological spectrum between poles of male and female designations with an infinite combination of intersex possibilities between. Intersex bodies are both born and crafted. States administer the authoritative (re)classification of bodies as male or female following physical modification that conforms bodies to an arbitrary minimum threshold of compliance with social ideas of gender. Because sex markers are genetic as well as anatomic, a body can never completely transition from male to female or female to male, despite achieving legal designation affirming so.

Gender is a social context that propagates a set of socially and historically specific stereotypes. Gender expressions are the perceptions of bodies as gendered actors in an interconnected social world. Identities are personally determined social descriptions, which cannot be imposed by an onlooker. Gender identities, unlike sex, do not exist in a single spectrum from masculine to feminine. Conceiving gender as a single spectrum (re)colonizes bodies as per Eurocentric knowledge. Gender identity is a personally defined social characteristic that describes a person as situated on one or more points on any infinite number of culturally specific gender spectra each with an infinite number of possibilities along it's own spectrum. Self-determination is the only legitimate means to identify gender; identities require consent.


Too often male and female are described as genders; when in fact, they are sex designations. This inaccuracy is regularly imposed on the animal kingdom; journalists misreport animals by gender rather than sex. My cat, Onyx, is female, not feminine. Ethical journalism requires the mindful distinction between the use of sex and gender in reporting.

Ethical journalism also requires creating opportunity for interview participants to identify outside of binary gender. Journalists should begin their interviews with two questions: 1) How would you like to be gender identified in the article? 2) What is your preferred pronoun?

In exceptional circumstances where gender-identifying questions are unable to be asked or answered, gender expression can be ethically reported, if relevant to the story. Gender expression can be reported as per the dominant masculine-feminine spectrum of gender. How people are perceived in this context is an observation that a journalist can ethically report without committing an erasure.

Another source of erasure of occurs when journalists report gender and sexual diversity in groups. Diversity is under/misrepresented by a slew of acronyms each limiting the infinite range of human gender and sexual identities (LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTTTPIAGQQ, etc.). Queer/trans* (or queer and trans*) fails as as appropriate descriptor because it allows for an infinite array of sexualities under the umbrella term "queer", but represents all of gender diversity under the politically loaded and limited term "trans*".

Trans* inadequately creates space for the self-determination of non-binary and indigenous-identified genders. Decolonizing journalism means creating a set of practices that work toward inter-epistemological pluralism; wherein, competing knowledge systems should be equally entitled to fair reporting. If this goal is to be met, the the political language choice of trans* needs to be understood as a narrative that oversimplifies gender as a combination of two inadequate Western ideas: a single masculine-feminine spectrum and trans-essentialism, the idea that the world exists as men and women and, regardless of the body you were born into, you have the right to be either.


"Queer and gender diverse" followed by a plural noun (students, activists, communities, etc.) is the most accurate language choice to describe the phenomenon of gender and sexual diversity in a group setting.

Lastly, I draw attention the misnomer of referring to a singular community characterized by gender and sexual diversity. Writers and reporters should pluralize queer and gender diverse *communities* so that language that more accurately reflects heterogeneity and the intersections of other social factors with gender and sexuality (religion, race, nationality, indigeneity, etc.).

It is a journalists job to report with accuracy and integrity; thus, the erasure and oppression of gender and sexual diversity is incompatible with professional journalism. I hope you understand my concern and include a section on reporting gender and sexual diversity in the next versions of the Canadian Press Stylebook.


Sincerely,




D$$

Friday, May 22, 2015

RE: Gender Diversity & Health

Dear Victor Boudreau, New Brunswick Minister of Health,
CC: UBU NB - Transgender Action & Support Community

I am still waiting for a response to my last communication with you regarding the inadequate provisions of STI testing services in the province. While I anxiously await your action on that critical file, I raise another concern that has been brought to my attention. I have learned that New Brunswick Transgender Health Network is soon scheduled to have an in-person meeting with you, and I wish to add my voice to this conversation. I hope that you heed my recommendations as a New Brunswicker with a Master of Arts in Gender Studies who openly identifies as non-binary.

I have studied and argued public intersections with gender, sex, and sexuality extensively in personal and academic contexts. Through rigorous research and reflection, I have accepted that Canadian provincial governments do not have a legal duty to fund sex-reassignment surgeries (SRS). Arguments to the contrary conflate sex (a physiological designation) and gender (a social identity/expression) and invoke a trans-essentialist logic that asserts that there are only men and women, and citizens have the right to be either, regardless of the bodies they were born into. This logic is reductive and problematic; it erases the possibility of non-binary and indigenous gender identities and subjects healthy intersex babies to unnecessary and risky surgeries.

(Map of indigenous gender diversity around the world)


Canadian human rights laws infer the right to gender self-determination by prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and gender expression, but this inference does not prescribe that SRS provision become a mandatory component of Canadian public healthcare. Rather, these protections articulate the legal administration of two acceptable gendered existences is an injustice.

Gender justice is much more complicated than the incorporation of SRS into our public health provisions. Gender confirming healthcare should be offered to all citizens, administered as non-interference and support of gender self-determination throughout health services and administration. Gender can be administered as religion is. Religion is a personal decision; you may choose one or more or none. You can can change your Religion at any point, needing no permission from the state, and data on religion is collected via fill-in-the-blank, not a check box.


The province is not bound by duty to provide SRS funding, but your administration should be compelled to act by morality. The financial inaccessibility of SRS creates too many negative mental health implications for a responsible government do nothing. I reiterate that it is the duty of your administration to facilitate the right to gender self-determination across departments and create a social reality that makes experiences of gender non-conformity legitimate, rather than heretical.


I am asking for three concrete actions from your administration to enact gender justice. First, I propose that your administration to create a public fund available to low-income New Brunswickers diagnosed with gender dysphoria for the purpose of funding SRS procedures and medications. Second, I demand a provincial law banning 'gender corrective' surgery on intersex babies. Last, I implore the initiation of sweeping policy review across departments to examine administrative and linguistic barriers to gender self-determination.

New Brunswickers of all genders, sexes, and sexualities deserve equal enjoyment of this beautiful province, and you are in a position to facilitate a meaningful shift toward equality. I hope my recommendations resonate with you and that action is taken quickly.

Sincerely,



D$$

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I'm a Mother's Day Killjoy

This opinion should surprise no one who knows me or reads this blog. I'm all for replacing Mother's/Father's Days with one Parent's Day, and I'm about to tell you why!

1) Binary gender ideals are a lie. Even if it miffs you, please realize that an inclusive society needs to divorce itself from rewarding some gender identities over others. If religion and state should be separate, so should gender and state. I acknowledge Mother's Day is a private affair, not a public one, but democratic public institutions are where a Parent's Day would be created/legitimated.


2) It takes a village. I have a step-Mom who played a huge role in my life, and I have seen first hand how Mother's Day can be a little awkward. Think about the children with even more complex parental arrangements in communitarian settings, foster care, and multi-generational homes. 

3) Social expectations of motherhood shame childless women. Motherhood is put on a pedestal as the epitome of femininity and selflessness. It's not. Mother Theresa, Tyra Banks, and Oprah chose not to have children. Further, mothers are expected not only to love their children but to love motherhood. If women's autonomy is to actually be respected, we need to be able to talk about women who regret motherhood without stigmatizing their legitimate feelings and experiences.


4) Mother's Day is a Hallmark holiday. Consumer holidays don't improve relationships. Time is better than stuff, and mainstream media will berate you with suggestions to the contrary. I teased out my full thoughts on this matter in a December post on Post-Materialist Gifting.

Absolutely no shade to the matriarchs in my family and yours, but I would much rather celebrate a Parent's Day that celebrates all of the valuable influences children have growing up, without the baggage of gendered politics and consumerism.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

RE: Age Cap on Sexual Health Clinics

Dear Victor Boudreau, New Brunswick Minister of Health,
John McGarry, President and CEO, Horizon Health Network,
Jean Castonguay, Interim President and CEO, Vitalité Health Network


I write today angry and disappointed with the inaccessibility of STI testing services in the province of New Brunswick. Your administrative units are responsible for this failure to ensure public health, and it is your duty as the Health Ministry and network leadership to provide better sexual health services to New Brunswickers.

Compelling sexual health clinics to restrict their services to 14-19 year olds is an idiotic practice that disregards the social and economic benefits of STI prevention. In addition to restricting STI testing services to teens, the Health Ministry, Horizon, and Vitalité websites are both ineffective and inaccurate at providing information about how to get tested in the province. By a mile, AIDS NB has the most accessible information on testing in the province. Further, rural citizens are largely dissuaded from STI testing because services are concentrated in New Brunswick's cities. 


My own case of service denial cannot be that uncommon. I've recently returned to the province at 27 with no family doctor. I don't have a car, and I live in a Sussex, which has a sexual health clinic (for teens), but there is no reasonable way for me to get an STI test. I have no symptoms and have always practiced safer sex; if I did have symptoms, I could (would) go to the local emergency room and endure a resource intensive triage process before seeing a doctor. I just want to know my HIV/STI status like a responsible adult, but that's not an option.


New Brunswick's public approach to sex is one that leaves much to be desired. Archaic sex education and sparse provisions of STI testing and abortions paint a bleak picture for youth and young professionals. The poor quality of New Brunswicks' sexual health services factors into our economic duress in two additional ways beyond preventative health savings: as a push factor facilitating the the massive youth out-migration the province suffers and as a barrier for young professionals considering laying down roots in the picture province. If the New Brunswick can't even be a good place to have sex, why would someone choose to move or stay here?

With utmost urgency and sincerity, I implore you to remove the age restrictions and other community-identified barriers to sexual health services in the province.


Sincerely,


D$$