By Sadie McInnes
The word trans is used to describe, “Someone who presents, lives and/or identifies as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth” (O’Doherty 2016: n.p.). It is also an umbrella term for those who are not cis (a prefix or adjective that means “not trans,” derived from the Latin word meaning “on the same side”).
Trans includes people who are “transgender, trans(s)exual, non-binary, genderqueer, agender, bigender, genderfluid, intersex, and sometimes those who crossdress” (Ibid.). The experience of being trans is different for everyone; as O’Doherty (2016: n.p.) writes, “some people will want to undergo surgeries and changes to their appearance, others will not. It is important to respect and support the terms people use to describe themselves and the decisions they make for their own bodies.”
Indeed, it is important to recognize that people have the right to identify how they want, and have the right to have that respected, and to recognize that sex and gender are fluid and exist on a spectrum, rather than within a binary. Though sex has in some cases been referenced as something “real” or “fixed,” while gender has been seen as fluid, sex, too, is culturally-informed and imposed by the medical practice. No two people will have the exact same hormone levels, chromosomes, or external appearance. How we group people as “male,” “female,” or “intersex” is informed by social context as much as gender is. As Erin Houdini (2013: n.p.) writes, “If anything, one’s gender identity that arises from self-awareness and a lifetime of social development is far more “real” than any judgment based on what that person’s body was shaped like when they were an infant.”
Trans people, in particular trans women, and especially trans women of colour, are vulnerable to violence in Canadian society. Understanding this is an important part of understanding the lived realities of many trans people, the continued shortcomings of the Canadian government to protect trans populations, and also in understanding why taking steps to learn about appropriate language use and tools for trans allyship is not just needed for the sake of being “politically correct,” but is important as a tool for promoting safety and respect for a population too often denied these basic rights.
As an introduction, the following is a list of some Canadian-specific statistics on violence faced by trans folks:
* 45% of trans people have attempted suicide in Ontario, and 77% have seriously considered it (CMHA n.d.: n.p.).
* With strong family support, this figure above decreases by 93% (Bauer and Scheim 2015: 8).
* There are at least 2,115 reported killings of trans and gender diverse people in 65 countries worldwide between the 1st of January 2008 and the 30th of April 2016 (Transgender Europe 2016: n.p.).
* As of 2013, 71 killings of trans people had been reported in North America, two of which were reported in Canada and 69 of which were reported in the United States (Ibid. 2013: n.p.).
* In Ontario, 50% of trans people live off of less than $15,000 a year (Bauer and Scheim 2015: 6).
* Women’s shelters in many places across Canada can legally outright deny trans women help, and do. In some cases, shelters will deny help to trans women unless they can prove they have had genital surgery (Banks 2015: n.p.).
* 6% of participants in a survey on trans experiences in Ontario had been in prison or jail, and one-third reported experiencing violence due to their gender (above and beyond violence they may have encountered for other reasons) (Bauer and Scheim 2015: 4).
* Trans women largely go to prisons because of survival crimes like sex work and petty theft (Banks 2015: n.p.).
* In Ontario, 20% of trans people experience physical or sexual assault due to their identity, and 34% are subjected to verbal threats or harassment (Bauer and Scheim 2015: 4).
* Many do not report assaults to the police; in fact, 24% of trans Ontarians reported having been harassed by police (Ibid.).
* Trans people in both Canada and the US report high levels of violence, harassment, and discrimination when seeking stable housing, employment, health or social services (CMHA n.d.: n.p.).
* There are higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorders, suicidality, self-harm, and substance use among LGBTQ* people (Ibid.).
* LGBT people are at double the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than heterosexual people (Ibid.).
* LGBTQ youth face approximately 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than heterosexual peers, and trans youth and those who had experienced physical or sexual assault were found to be at greatest risk (Ibid.).
* Trans Ontarians nearly universally report that they have experienced some type of “everyday transphobia.” 96% had heard that trans people were not normal, 73% had been made fun of for being trans, and 78% reported their family had been hurt or embarrassed (Bauer and Scheim 2015: 3).
* 77% of trans people in Ontario worried about growing old as a trans person, and 67% feared they would die young (Ibid.).
* Among trans Ontarians, 13% had been fired for being trans (another 15% were fired, and believed it might be because they were trans). Because they were trans, 18% were turned down for a job; another 32% suspected this was why they were turned down. Additionally, 17% declined a job they had applied for and were actually offered, because of the lack of a trans-positive and safe work environment (Ibid.)
Given these unacceptable statistics, Canadian society and public policy has a long way to go to create inclusion for trans people.
Sadie McInnes was a summer intern at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba and is completing her undergraduate degree in Gender, Sexuality, Feminist and Social Justice Studies at McGill University.
Banks, Sophia. 2015. “Canada’s Failure to Protect Trans Women Should Be an Election Issue.” <huffingtonpost.ca/sophia-banks/trans-women-canada_b_8183692.html>.
Bauer, Greta and Ayden Scheim, for the Trans PULSE Project Team. 2015. “Transgender People in Ontario, Canada.” London, ON. pp. 3-8.
CMHA. N.d. “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Queer Identified People and Mental Health.” <ontario.cmha.ca/mental-health/lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-people-and-mental-health/>.
Houdini, Erin. 2013, “Erin’s Trans Glossary.” <erinhoudini.com/transgender-glossary-2013.pdf>.
O’Doherty, for SACOMSS. 2016. “Trans 101 Workshop.” Obtained through personal correspondence.
Transgender Europe. 2016. “International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia ( (IDAHOT) Press Release: Already 100 Reported Murders of Trans People in 2016.” <transrespect.org/en/idahot-2016-tmm-update/>.
—. 2013. “TMM 2013 Update.” <transrespect.org/en/tmm-2013-update/>.