human rights

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: V is for “valuable ally”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

V is for “valuable ally”

Somehow it seems like the only time cis people really talk about how valuable they are as allies as when y’all are threatening to stop. As in, “Why are you trans people so rude? You’re going to lose valuable allies that way.”

The thing about this phrase is it seems to misunderstand what allyship is in the first place, and what makes an ally valuable.

So first things first: simply believing that trans people have the same right that cis people have to go through life as the gender they identify as does not an ally make. All that qualifies you as is “not a virulent transphobe”.

Allyship isn’t about your personal beliefs, it’s about actually fighting alongside us and taking actions to make trans people’s lives better now and in the future. This can be something as simple as calling out people who say transphobic things, or doing work to educate your fellow cis people on trans issues (thus taking the burden of education off our shoulders), but it has to be something you’re actually *doing*.

Second, if your allyship (or, as is often the case, your “allyship” in the form of believing that trans people are worthy of dignity and respect) can be lost because a trans person (or even more than one trans person!) was mean to you one time, let me tell you: your allyship ain’t worth shit.

All people are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of how they treat you. If trans people’s basic human rights are being offered to us at the cost of us being nice to cis people all the time, then what you’re talking about isn’t even equal rights in the first place. What you’re talking about is extending trans people the privilege of being treated as well cis people, as long as we behave correctly.

Cis people don’t have to deal with any of that shit, and neither should trans people.

Real talk: if you were actually a valuable ally, you wouldn’t be wasting your time telling us how to act, or making sure we know how valuable you are. You’d be doing the work, and your actions would speak for you.

Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

Changing my name at work, Part 2: The Union

So, after work tried to pull their weird appeal-to-authority intimidation tactic to make me put up and shut up on being continually birthnamed, it was clear I couldn’t make any more head-way on my own. I needed backup!

So, this is also the point in the story where I have to acknowledge how incredibly fortunate and privileged I am in a couple of ways, which were what made this entire process doable for me:

  1. I am working in a unionized environment. As a contract worker, I am not actually a union member, and I am not protected by provisions in the collective bargaining agreement. But, the one thing the union can do for me is represent me on human rights issues. Which brings me to my second source of privilege.
  2. I live in Ontario. And the Ontario Human Rights Code contains provisions protecting folk from discrimination based on gender identity and expression. It’s actually even better than that, though.

    The OHRC actually explicitly defines “trans or transgender” as umbrella terms that “includes but is not limited to people who identify as transgender, trans woman (male-to-female), trans man (female-to-male), transsexual, cross-dresser, gender non-conforming, gender variant or gender queer.” The section on gender expression explicitly notes that “A person’s chosen name and pronoun are also common ways of expressing gender.” And finally, we learn that “Discrimination happens when a person experiences negative treatment or impact, intentional or not, because of their gender identity or gender expression.”

    It’s an obvious slam dunk, is what I’m saying.

So, after receiving the final “this issue is now closed” denial from the CEO, I fired off an email to my union representative, with a brief summary of the situation, plus the entire email thread up to the point.

And let me tell you, this person is pretty much my hero now. You don’t even know.

Less than half an hour after I got in touch (at approximately 6:30 on a Tuesday, for the record), he responded. The response started “Thank you for getting in touch with me Kasey”, which in and of itself was an incredible relief after the way my work had been persisting in responding to my emails by calling me by my birthname, even while I signed mine off as Kasey.

He immediately explained the situation regarding the limitations of what the union could help me with, but said this definitely sounded like a human rights issue. He also asked for clarification about the dysphoria I had referenced in my emails both to him and to the employer, and asked whether I had a medical diagnosis.

I confirmed that I was talking about gender-related dysphoria, and told him I am a transgender person of the genderqueer variety. I explained that I don’t have any related medical diagnosis because I don’t consider my gender to be a disorder, and have no interest in having it diagnosed as such.

He responded, *apologized for his ignorance* (which I found inexpressibly charming?), and asked if he could forward me emails to CUPE National. I agreed.

Within two hours, (again, well after office hours on a Tuesday!) the union had agreed to back me on the case.

So, under my union rep’s advice, I made an appointment a few days later to speak to the HR person about their decision in the matter of my name. He went to the meeting with me, and it was honestly awesome.

We walked into the room, and as I was sitting down the HR person, looked at me union rep and said “I wasn’t informed you would be here.”

Union Rep: “Well, you shouldn’t be surprised. We have a human rights issue here”

HR person, taken aback now: “…I’ll inform [the CEO].”

At this point, the union rep stood up and walked out, so I went with him. In the hallway outside, he said we should give the employer three days to respond, and after that we would file the official grievance if necessary, but that he expected they would just capitulate.

He also thanked me for being brave enough to do this. I just about could have cried.

This was Thursday the 25th. Three business days passed without any word. At the end of Tuesday the 30th, I got in touch with the union rep to ask what the next steps. The following day was Canada Day, so nothing was going to happen then, but he said that if we heard nothing from the employer (or if we heard another no) on Thursday, he would file the grievance.

They got in touch with him on Thursday to set up a meeting for me, him, the HR person, and the CEO on Friday morning. They did not contact me at all, and I only heard about it on Thursday from my union rep. The meeting was during my regularly scheduled shift, though, so it was no trouble for me to be there.

Read on to part 3: the meeting!

Marriage: it’s not really a ‘right’

Let’s be very clear up front: I do absolutely support the fight for same-sex marriage. Given that marriage is a valuable set of privileges that a government is in the business of offering to its citizens, it is absolutely necessary that those privileges be equally available to all citizens. What I’m not always clear on is *why* the government is in the business of granting marriages and the accompanying privileges and status that are part and parcel with a marriage license, or whether it should necessarily be a thing at all.

What really bothers me is the way that things like marriage, in the context of LGB politics, are talked about as “rights”. I honestly don’t think that marriage is a right. I don’t think that governments are obligated to recognize marriage at all, and I wouldn’t necessarily be against the abolition of the civil institution of marriage altogether (I’m not really for the abolition of marriage either; I’m somewhat of a marriage agnostic in many ways, though I also acknowledge that I have taken advantage of the institutions privileges and its availability to me). The actual right that we should be talking about when we discuss same-sex marriage or whatever other government-granted privileges from which LGB people are discriminatorily excluded is simply the right to equal treatment. People don’t have a right to have a government that grants marriages, to them or to anyone, but if a government is granting marriages, then everyone should have the equal right to attain that privilege.

So, as long as governments continue to issue marriage licenses, I am absolutely in favour of those licenses being available to all forms of (consenting adult) couples, regardless of the relative sexes of those involved, and I believe that LGB people have an absolute right to be included in that institution as long as it exists. But I still don’t think that marriage, in and of itself, is a right.