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I am a transman: An accessible introduction to trans* identities

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A couple of years ago I spent my summer vacation from university back home in Vancouver working at the same pizza place I worked in high school. A work friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go see a few films at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival with him, one of which included an accessible documentary called Diagnosing Difference made by Annalise Ophelian. Diagnosing Difference focuses on Gender Identity Disorder (GID) as a central point to address many trans* issues, including access to health care and services, legal issues, and common misconceptions.

Before seeing the film, my friend, although gay, had almost no knowledge of trans* people -- this is the major issue that I struggle with. The issue of people having little to no knowledge about what trans* means, who we are or our needs. In my experience the little knowledge that most people have is informed by the media, where trannys and transvestites are often used as a comedic tool. This misinformed knowledge makes it difficult for others and myself to reveal our identity to friends, family and community.

I am not a butch lesbian, but rather, I am a transman.

Why I wait until I know I have a safe and understanding place to openly be myself with others is because I don't want to open what I perceive to be a can of worms. These worms are in the form of questions, others' questions, their questions. "So ... you feel like you're a man trapped in a woman's body? Do you have a penis or a vagina?" Although these seem like very simple questions, the answers are often very complicated and difficult to explain. These questions are often then followed by awkward interactions, outright rejection and denial, or an argument.

Needless to say I wasn't "out" to my co-workers.

After the film I felt my friend had gained enough knowledge and understanding about trans* issues that I could "come out" to him, and so I did. At that point I realized that education is the key to creating safer spaces, and that everybody needed to see the film Diagnosing Difference.

This fall I decided to organize a film screening and panel discussion at Cinecenta, University of Victoria's on-campus movie theatre, for November 17th, to work in tandem with Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on November 20th. During the panel discussion, which consisted of four community members from Victoria, the panellists discussed and elaborated on what was addressed in the film, particularly GID, the formal diagnosis as a mental disorder for trans* people, and the pathologizing of trans* people in the medical community, which creates a vicious and systemic transphobia that informs what trans* health care looks like.

"Our treatment by the medical systems will improve when transgender is studied as another group of people to be accepted and learned about and not pathologized," said Danna Waldman, a musician and trans* activist.

Liam "Captain" Snowdon, a sexologist and queer workshop facilitator, stated he outright "resent[s] the whole medicalization/pathologizing of gender variant people[s'] lives" as he addressed the problem of how, in the current medical system, "it is virtually impossible to be completely honest with someone who has the power over your future gender survival, the power to say yes or no to you being able to express who you really are."

The ability for doctors to deny trans* people of services induces a very real fear in many trans* people when seeking care. "Trans people in the medical system need to be given more authority over their gender identity and desired treatment" said Erik Bowden, a carpenter apprentice and social justice organizer. "A trans person should always have the highest authority of their own gender identity."

Proper education about trans* people is also a big issue, where there is a "lack of actual medical knowledge of transition, partly due to lack of training and information available to health care professionals" said Jess Latty, an electronics engineer and queer community DJ.

"When I went to my doctor and told her I wanted to increase the dosage [of hormones] she said 'sure, how much? You're such an interesting experiment!,'" Latty said, adding, "that's funny ... but not really."

Waldman added to this by noting that people should be graduating from medical school already having knowledge. This is the reason why we specifically targeted advertising for the event to psychology, biology, and nursing classes at the University of Victoria.

Every single panellist also talked about the importance of community. Latty said we need to "support the creation of trans women-centred spaces and events" within the queer community, and Waldman spoke to the need for "[t]ransfolk to support transfolk, regardless of age or race or income." Snowdon spoke to how "[w]ith all the ups and downs of being in this body at a time of great misunderstanding and prejudice about trans people, I would not change my journey for anything. I am surrounded by the most creative, inspiring, world-changing people every day because of being queer and trans, even those friends who decided that this world was a bit too much for them -- the most amazing souls."

The most amazing thing about the night for me was the turnout. What started out as a slightly pessimistic endeavour to educate people in a world I saw as full of ignorance and violence, ended in a sliver of hope as I looked around a theatre full of almost 300 people.

Yes, Trans Day of Remembrance is a reminder that violence against trans* people is very much a reality, and we are often not safe in public spaces because of widespread transphobia and ignorance. However, the turnout of the event showed me that there are so many who are actively part of the growing number of people who are educated about trans* issues or seeking education and creating safer spaces for trans* people in their respective communities, that support and understanding are among those future realities as well.


Trans* is an umbrella term which covers a variety of gender-varient identities, including, but not limited to, transgender, transexual, genderqueer, third gender, and two-spirited.

Confused? A good place to start learning about "what is trans?" is transwhat.org.

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