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Anger as a Tool for Trans Resistance 

Transphobia can exist in subtle forms, but let’s call it by its name

When I complained to a McGill staff member about the prevalence of deadnaming and misgendering from online systems, they replied that this wasn’t malicious, and this knowledge could help me reframe the issue. At a surface level, deadnaming is an inconvenience, but the reveal of a previous name – and sometimes, the reveal of being trans – is often deeply personal. As of now, our only recourse is to memorize which displays are safe and to avoid using the uPrint system, logging into Minerva,  opening the Quizzes tab on myCourses, or booking accommodations through the Student Accessibility & Achievement portal. This mental effort is not solved by reminding ourselves, “I’m sure the IT department doesn’t hate me.” The personal feelings of IT staff are irrelevant to the issue at hand. 

These problems are a known issue, and an active effort is being put into resolving it. However, the barriers to transness at McGill are far-reaching. Students with a preferred name were originally unable to vote in the by-election for VP Finance, a flaw only discovered by the voters themselves. Transitioning patients at the Wellness Hub frequently have to repeat blood tests because a measurement of hormone levels that don’t match assigned sex was left out. My main gripe is that instead of proposing solutions, most of the time when I mention an issue, attention is redirected to diluting my (trans) anger.  Improving the gender-identity equity practices at McGill becomes the responsibility of trans people, and are not adopted as projects unless there are complaints; and yet, the complaints that drive progress are frequently rebuked.   

I’ve heard vague complaints about the stereotypical entitled, new-generation transgender that expects absurd accommodations and is unappreciative of how good they have it. As the administrative coordinator of Queer McGill, most of my interactions with trans people are the opposite. I’ve seen many people disclose malicious deadnaming and misgendering before adding the caveat, “but it’s harder for old people to get right.” Especially when coming from high schools that were rampant with homophobic jokes and non-existent infrastructure for trans students, the expectations of most trans McGillians are on the floor. They don’t need to be. The Charter of Student Rights at McGill prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex or gender. There is no reason to accept misgendering from people in positions of power, limited access to bathrooms, and logistical nightmares when using a preferred name. 

The expectations of trans students can seem especially privileged considering the violent history of transness in prior decades. I’ve met few trans people of the older generation. One of the oldest trans people I know, I met at the Ottawa Trans Library. She told us that she had been attacked and beaten on that street a few decades earlier. It makes me feel conflicted, agonizing over discrimination much less violent than assault. But the idea that life for queer people is easy now is a myth. Statistics Canada recorded 155 police-reported hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation in 2014, and 491 in 2022. These numbers come with caveats, the most obvious being that the crimes reported by police are not necessarily reflective of the crimes that happen. Regardless, the threat of physical violence is not over. Although hate-crimes and microaggressions are worlds apart in terms of severity, they belong to the same system of discrimination. I find it infuriating that I am constantly reminded of the undoubted “good intentions” of perpetrators of discrimination when 49 percent of those surveyed by spark*insights say that teachers should be forced to tell parents if a student under 16 wants to change their name or pronouns in school. Good intentions cannot be presumed. 

On September 19, SSMU released a pretty typical statement in support of the September 20 counter-protest. They briefly summarized the protest and counter-protest, said “[t]he SSMU strongly supports the work of queer and trans activists,” and encouraged people to show up at Roddick Gates. At the next Legislative Council session, two of the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) representatives complained about the wording of the statement and said that not enough consultation had gone into it. They further elaborated at a SUS Council meeting that the statement might be “biased” and that “no external bodies were consulted.” Organizations like SSMU regularly adopt statements, this one being a natural application of its Trans Advocacy Plan. And considering that several queer groups on campus were consulted in the creation of the statement, it’s unclear who else they expected SSMU to hear from, save the 1 Million March organizers. 

The two SUS representatives said that they fully agreed with the content of the SSMU statement. I imagine they don’t see themselves as transphobic, and I would be surprised if they harboured conscious intolerance. On the other hand, I am not better off forgiving. Their actions still give permission to the more blatanly transphobic to further hatred. It still normalizes  doubt that a pro-trans statement is appropriate. It still makes my life, and the life of other trans students, more difficult.  Transphobia is pervasive, feeding off a fear of “wokeness,” and channelling discomfort with gender non-conformity into conservative rhetoric. I live in anticipation of backlash that I am not allowed to complain about since the perpetrators self-identify as allies. Even my best-faith interpretation is that the SUS representatives thought the counterprotest was a convenient issue to practice politics on – that trans students are an easy target. It is imperative to brand ourselves as a difficult and strong target – as a demographic that will not easily be oppressed. 

Queer McGill is often invited to table at McGill events that cater to incoming students, and while this image that McGill projects of an accepting culture is not backed by financial support or any real influence, I wonder if soon McGill won’t want queer groups represented at all in its public relations because of the increasing polarization of our existence. When I point out a barrier to transition at McGill and am redirected to reflect on the intentions of those behind it, the focus is shifted from solving the issue to solving the problem of my anger. It’s a strategy designed to neutralize my motivation to push for change. I’m expected to spend much more time thinking about how these people feel than they would ever think of me. 

We need to be angry as transphobic talking points enter the mainstream, because our reactions will determine whether individuals with veiled transphobia feel entitled to discriminate. For the Legislative Council to treat the support of transness as something controversial undoes years of attempted acceptance by trans student activists. It must be unequivocally denounced, regardless of the internal thoughts of the perpetrators. My proposal to the trans community is that we refuse to water down our anger. Anger is a powerful tool; it helps me continue to bother McGill staff until solving the issue causes less trouble for them than my hounding. Anger validates my right to exist as a trans student at McGill. Anger motivates me to advocate for a university where the barriers to transition don’t exist, rather than a world where people have good intentions.