| “Don’t get arrested”

The perils of police interaction when you’re trans

I was at Choose Life’s event two weeks ago. But I don’t want to write about “Echoes of the Holocaust” or Choose Life or abortion. Instead, I want to write about a text message my girlfriend sent me during the protest.

It read, “Don’t get arrested.”

Now, I wasn’t doing anything that would call for my arrest – I wasn’t even protesting. And the text message, knowing my girlfriend, was probably a joke. However, I hadn’t fully considered the implications of what would happen if I got arrested at this point in my life.

First, I’m not a Canadian citizen; I’m not even a permanent resident. I’m an American citizen on a study permit. This puts me in a rather precarious position, since the Canadian government can deport me if I violate the terms of my study permit. That would mean leaving McGill, having to explain my situation to another university, and finding it difficult, if not impossible, to enter – let alone live in or immigrate to – Canada for the foreseeable future.

Second, I’m a trans person. This is, astoundingly, even more significant than my nationality.

As a trans person who has not changed any legal documents, any interaction I have with the state involves denial of my identity. The state doesn’t recognize the name I’ve chosen for myself and use in daily life; it doesn’t recognize any sex or gender for me other than the one I was assigned at birth.

If I attempt to identify myself with my chosen name or gender, not only will the state refuse to recognize me, but it may accuse me of fraud – of lying about who I am. The irony of this is painful. I’m being far more honest when I tell people to call me Quinn and not to treat me as though I were male. It’s when I attempt to pass myself off as a male or use my legal name that I engage in fraud.

The state, however, only cares about what the paperwork says, not what I say.

Interactions with the police in particular can lead to problems for trans people. If I don’t represent myself the way they want me to, I face hostility. And because the state doesn’t recognize my gender, if it placed me in a segregated prison, I would be in a men’s prison, against not only my own self-identity but also my own safety.

This is particularly true because I’m a trans person in a physical transition. This means that my body, regardless of how I present myself using social behaviours, is somewhere “in between” sex expectations. Society already devalues the bodies of trans people by practically condoning systemic physical violence against us – I don’t even want to contemplate what that means in jail.

When I realized all of this at “Echoes of the Holocaust,” I immediately became quite edgy, since I knew the police would come. I already don’t trust the police. I know the role that law enforcement has played in the institutionalized oppression of a variety of communities, based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, or a variety of other factors. I know how much power the police force has, which they could use to detain, assault, or even kill me. I know how dangerous having the police turn against me could be.

However, this was the first time I felt all this actually sink in. And, to be quite honest, I’m still terrified when I think about this.

Quinn Albaugh will be writing about trans people, legal documents, prisons, and police in the coming weeks – stay tuned! Write them at binaryforcomputers@mcgilldaily.com.