Transgender Issues

Internationally accepted symbols for male and female togetherHow to Respect a Transgender Person

Trans Alliance Society’s working definition of “Trans”

Trans refers to anyone who has a gender identity, may it be the medical or psychological model, that is different than their birth sex, and/or expresses their gender in ways that contravene societal expectations of the range of possibilities for men and women.

This may include people who self-identify as transgender, intersex, Two Spirit, crossdressers, transsexuals, bi-gender, pan-gender, genderqueer, androgynous, third gender, female and male impersonators, and drag kings/queens, as well as people whose perceived gender or anatomic sex may conflict with their gender expression (such as masculine-appearing women and feminine-appearing men)

Information... Tips… Guidelines...

When meeting a transgender person for the first time you may have concerns about how to act or what to say to ensure you do not offend or hurt a trans person’s feelings. Asking the trans person directly is always respectful.

  • Refer to the person using their pronoun—that is—a transwoman should be referred to as ‘she’ or ‘her’ and a transman should be referred to as ‘he’ or ‘him’

  • If you are unsure of the pronoun, ask. Most transgender people will be glad you cared enough to ask them.

  • Not all transgender people get a sex change (SRS, or sexual reassignment surgery), so don’t automatically think that is the plan.

  • If you slip up early on and say ‘she’ or ‘he’ when you meant the other, don’t apologize too much, just follow the mistake with the right term and continue what you were saying.

  • Do not call a non-transgender person a ‘real’ woman/man.  This infers that transmen and transwomen are not ‘real’ men or women.  A transman is no less a real man and a transwoman is no less a real woman; the difference is that their body does not match their gender

  • Do not ask about peoples’ genitals and how they have sex.  It is not appropriate, in the same way that asking any person how they have sex is not appropriate.

  • A common misperception is that transsexuality or transgenderedness is a ‘choice’.  The only ‘choice’ transpeople often feel they have is to ignore their true gender identity and be miserable, or accept it and make any changes that feel necessary to live a happier life.

  • Learn more about transgendered people.  A good resource is the Trans Alliance Society of BC.

If a transperson comes out to you...

  • Thank them.  It is very hard to come out to people as transgender. They trust and/or respect you very much to have come out to you.  Thank them for trusting you.

  • Respect their gender identity. Think of them as the gender they refer to themselves as and refer to them with their chosen name and gender pronoun (regardless of their physical appearance) from now on.  (Unless they are not out, or tell you otherwise. Ask to be sure if or when there are times it is not okay.)

  • Watch your past tense.  When talking of the past don’t use phrases like ‘when you were a previous gender’ because to them they have always been the gender they have come out to you as, but had to hide it.  A good alternative is to say ‘before you came out as current gender…” Ask the person in private how they would like you to refer to periods of time before they transitioned - a transgender person may want it talked about in a specific way.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask. If you have a question that isn’t too personal (based upon what type of person they are and the relationship you share), ask them.  They will be happy to answer most questions, and glad you are taking an interest in their life.

  • Respect their need for privacy. Do not out them.  Telling people you are transgender is a very difficult decision, not made lightly.  “Outing” them without their permission is a betrayal of trust and could possibly cost you your relationship with them.  It may also put them at risk, depending on the situation, of losing a lot—or even being harmed.  They will tell who they want, if or when they are ready.

  • Recognize the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation.  Do not assume that their gender has anything to do with who they are attracted to.

Internationally accepted symbols for male and female togetherThis symbol links the internationally accepted symbols for male and female together with a new entity, which is a combination of the two, and which we call transgender.  The symbol includes everyone, excluding none. The circle is a symbol of wholeness, and represents the wholeness of a society which includes the transgender.

Adapted by the Positive Space Alliance based on an article which appeared in the Fall edition of Mens Briefs, a quarterly magazine published by Aids Vancouver Island’s Men’s

Living in Gender's Grey Zones: One Trans Man's Choices

Gender Outlaw

Stefan de Villiers

Let’s start with the facts: I was born on South African soil and have lived in both Canada and South Africa. My father, now deceased, was a psychiatrist and a devout Christian, my mother a librarian. My family was privileged, upper middle class. I left South Africa when I was 18 to study English and French literature in Canada.

At 24, I decided to begin hormone treatment to live publicly as a man. My family took the news hard. Two years later my father died and I was accused of killing him. Every day I ask myself if it’s been worth it. And every day the answer remains the same. Yes. Absolutely, yes.

That may seem surprising. It may sound crazy. But for me it was a question of life or death.

I knew I couldn’t go on living the life of a woman. I hated the way men looked at me. Hated the makeup, the dresses. Hated the bodily changes that puberty brought. I was frightened of the other boys, how they grew bigger, their voices breaking, while my body remained puny, my voice high-pitched.

When my period came, I sunk into a depression so deep I shut myself in my room, lay in bed when I wasn’t at school. Later, I started cutting my wrists, not to kill myself, but to punish my body, the freakish flesh-trap that prevented me from being who I felt myself to be.

When I look into the mirror these days I see a relatively good-looking guy, blue eyes, a goatee, short brown hair. When I strip away the clothes, the picture changes slightly: On my chest, two small breasts, and lower down, well, you figure it out.

In the early days of my transition (i.e. dressing and functioning publicly as a man) I had something to prove. I doused myself in Old Spice, compressed my chest so it looked flatter than flat, stuck a cybercock down my pants so people would see the bulge.

I think of this time as my second adolescence. I was trying on the identities available to me on TV, in magazines and at the movies. I was trying them on and they weren’t quite fitting.

I didn’t really know what a transsexual was until I got to university. When I first started reading about it, I felt the same kind of puzzlement I’d felt when I’d heard the term bisexual used for the first time. How could anyone be bisexual, I’d wondered, if you’re not supposed to have sex before marriage and divorce is a sin? I was still attending Sunday school at the time.

The concept of transsexualism caused a different dilemma for me: everybody knows men have penises and women have vaginas. That’s what makes men men and women women. Right? But suddenly I was finding literature that challenged my preconceptions.

Some babies don’t have penises even though their chromosomes are XY. Some women are born with no uterus and internal testes. Suddenly gender wasn’t such a clear-cut thing after all. And what I had between my legs didn’t have to define me.

I made a decision. Once the decision was made everything fell quickly into place. I cut my hair, visited a shrink who diagnosed me with Gender Identity Disorder (high intensity), was referred to an endocrinologist and off I went to the clinic with a testosterone prescription.

When I received my first shot I cried with relief. The cutting stopped, the suicidal thoughts evaporated. Finally, I told myself, I was going to be who I wanted to be. And who I wanted to be, who I felt myself to be on the inside, was a man.

With the help of hormones and sports bras I blend in perfectly. At least when I’m clothed. But, sooner or later, every transsexual is faced with the question of surgery.

I wouldn’t mind getting my breasts lopped off, if only so I can swim in a public swimming pool. I can’t help wondering, though, whether getting surgery isn’t just another way of falling back into somebody else’s notion of who I am or what I should look like. What if not being a woman doesn’t mean I have to be a flat-chested, penis-bearing man? What if I don’t want to deny my history, my body parts, my identity?

By virtue of being raised as a girl, maybe I have become something other than either man or woman. Maybe I’ve become a little bit of both.

Until that possibility is publicly recognized, I’m stuck with figuring out how to live in today’s bi-gendered society. One that doesn’t acknowledge shades of grey, even when those shades of grey have existed as long as humankind itself.

God made Eve out of Adam’s rib. Which means the first man contained within him woman. What if the first man of all was trans? Maybe those Sunday school lessons are starting to pay off after all.

Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Originally printed in Xtra West (April 26, 2007)

A Transgender Journey

Early in 2005, the Positive Space Campaign hosted “A Transgendered Journey” featuring a presentation by Bob Rutledge, a local educator on transgender issues, followed by a video about a University of Calgary professor and her transition from a man to a woman, while continuing to work at the University.

This is a huge and complicated topic, but our Off-Campus Resources will provide a good starting point for those who would like to find out more about the issues and difficulties facing transgendered people in Canada.

Bob also spoke to the issue of intersex people, those born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types. Physicians routinely make a decision at birth as to the “correct” gender of these persons and perform gender re-assignment surgery, rather than allowing the person to mature and make their own decision as to their correct gender. As the individual progresses through their life, and particularly when they reach puberty, many problems arise, both mentally and physically, causing these individuals to question the gender they have been assigned. In most cases they are not even aware that such a decision has been made for them.

For more information see Intersex Society of North America

Gender Inclusive Washrooms at VIU

What is a gender Inclusive washroom?

A gender inclusive washroom is one that can be used by a person of any gender or biological sex.  At VIU they are generally a single person facility which is not for the exclusive use of males or females.  Gender inclusive washrooms are of benefit to people who are transgender, to people who have a disability and are assisted by a person of another gender, a parent assisting a child of another gender and anyone who prefers a more private facility.

Why are gender inclusive washrooms an equity issue?

Under the VIU Human Rights Policy and the BC Human Rights Code the university has a responsibility to accommodate individual differences in employees and students that are related to human rights protected grounds, such as permanent or temporary disability, family status, and sex.  The duty to accommodate means that our facilities need to appropriately meet the needs of students and employees who have a disability, are transgender, or are accompanied by a child.   The development of gender inclusive washrooms is one of the ways we can meet that duty.

What is the symbol for a gender inclusive washroom?

Symbol for a gender inclusive washroom This is the symbol we are currently using, sometimes without the  Handicapped washroom symbol symbol if the washroom is not accessible.  The university recognizes that these symbols are not entirely appropriate, as the signs still gender the washrooms as for males and females, not recognizing that gender is not binary; nor do they specifically recognize users who identify as transgender or transsexual.  A more appropriate symbol is under development.

Where are gender inclusive washrooms located?

Nanaimo Campus

  • Building 459, second floor
  • Building 380, first floor  
  • Building 473, second floor
  • Building 356, first floor
  • Building 355, second floor
  • Building 310, first floor
  • Building 305, second floor
  • Building 255, first floor
  • Building 250, first floor
  • Building 200, third floor
  • Building 180, first floor
  • Building 100, first floor

See the Nanaimo campus map which identifies at a glance which buildings have gender inclusive washrooms.

Cowichan Campus

There are two washrooms on the first floor and one washroom on the second floor.

tiwšɛmawtxʷ Campus (Powell River)

  • Building 310, rooms 107B and 107C
  • Building 616, room 120A