Category Archives: Gender issues

What Makes a Woman? – Transwering the Question

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece taking a critical about Caitlyn Jenner and the transgender movement. The article does make some good points on gender essentialism in the current hype on Jenner. However, it is much more significant for what it leaves unsaid, and for how it misses the forest of cis people framing the discussion for the tree that is Caitlyn Jenner.

Now, before I answer the article itself, I have a point to make: The whole “Caitlyn Jenner” media circus is NOT something that says much (or even anything) about trans communities and trans activism. At this point, all I see is the media overhyping over one privileged trans woman. Trans people, in general, seem to be relatively apprehensive of what’s going on. We have no control over that media hype and where it will be going. There are big concerns about how representative this experience is and of how it will benefit us to have a rich, old, white trans woman act as our spokesperson. We shall see.

Also, some quick comments: The article varies between using Caitlyn real name and her dead name, and frequently misgenders her. Don’t do that. Also, the thing about chromosomes producing penises and vaginas in some systematic way is only partly true, insofar as some of those penises and vaginas are not the result of anything chromosomal, but of doctors who practice surgeries on newborn intersex children without consent. Finally, the article seemed fairly dismissive of the experience of trans men. I apologize if the lack of attention trans men get in the article, combined my own bias as a trans woman, transfers to my answer. I tried to avoided that, but I can’t promise I succeeded.

So first, yes, I’ll say right out of the gate that what Jenner says is essentialist. No question here. As the article observes, she resorts heavily to the wrong body narrative, one which is very appreciated by cis people as a way of describing trans experiences, but far from consensual in trans communities.

However, most women’s understanding of their womanhood is essentialist too, and linked to their body, and especially their external sex organs. Indeed, woman = vagina and man = penis is basically legally enforced in most places, and only partly corrected years after the fact for some trans people when they get genital surgeries (very few countries allow legal sex change without surgeries). I don’t know that reducing women to their vagina is so much more progressive.

In truth, the reason the “female brain in a male body” and “wrong body” narratives exists is that they’re accessible and understandable to cis people, and it is so because it caters to cis people’s essentialism, unlike other trans narratives. When we say we don’t fit in boxes, people say that 99 % of the people are men or women and we should accept that and dismiss us as gender revolutionary. When we say we’re on a path of self-discovery, people tell us it’s cute, but that it’s not really serious enough for the structural changes we want. When we say that we’re not sure our birth-assigned gender is right, but we really prefer being referred to as a woman, we told that we should wait a bit until we’re really sure. When we say we prefer dresses to pants, we’re told we’re just cross-dressers really. When we say that our transition has anything to do with sexuality, well then it must be a fetish. When we say gender as a system sucks, but we’d be happier to wade through it in this other position, we’re told it’s too extreme and that we shouldn’t be so political. And so on.

But when we say we’re born in the wrong body and we’ll commit suicide if we don’t get genital surgery or some such, everyone understands and throws at us the hormones we want.

Media example: Miley Cyrus recently stated that they[1] identified as genderqueer. No one cared, even though doing this whole media circus on Miley Cyrus, if they consented, would have actually been innovative. (Contrary to what journalists say sometimes, trans women’s personal and intimate experiences are absurdly over-reported. Their struggles in a misogynistic and transphobic world, meh, not really.)

Oh, and for the record, who decides to validate these narratives or not? Not trans people. Cis people. Doctors who deny services to people who are not trans enough for them. Journalists who frame all stories on trans people as a journey for genital surgery. Parents. Friends. Coworkers. Feminists. Civil servants. Bank officials. Everyone who listens and reacts to our stories, and dismisses them if they’re not satisfied that we’re trans enough.

It’s a real problem. Google “transnormativity” if you want. Here’s my take on that by the way. Here is what I think of the wrong body narrative, while I’m at it.

No story will work as well as a full-blown “wrong body” narrative. Even though it’s a lie. Even though it’s a bad way to describe part of an experience. Even though it’s essentialist.

With all this baggage, no wonder some people, like Caitlyn Jenner, use it to describe what they live through.

Why do you blame trans people for saying essentialist things when people marginalize us when we don’t?

Why don’t you blame all these cis people for only understanding essentialism?

As for the “brain” thing specifically, this position is argued for and defended strongly by an entire field of scientific enquiry trying to show that women and men have different brains, and that trans women have brains that resemble those of cis women (same thing with trans men’s and cis men’s brains). When the article creates an opposition between a male researcher blamed for sexism and a trans woman acclaimed for the same assertion, it is a false one. The truth is, there are quite a few scientists who put forth the idea that men and women have different brains. They do not get fired or criticized, far from it. They get published. They get funded. This kind of research is alive and well, and one important part of it is research on trans people. In the past twenty years, there have been dozens of research papers arguing that the brains of trans women are, as Jenner said, more female than they are male. The hubris of scientist here is such that a study argued, last year, that there is an “observable and measurable biological basis of gender identity”, a difference that would be explained by hormonal differences in utero[2]. This research is, of course, very flawed, and many trans people are critical of the results on theoretical, ethical and methodological grounds.

But the point is: this research is made mostly by cis men for other cis men to read and debate, just like the research on trying to find differences between men and women.

Why do you blame a trans woman for repeating what cis men in positions of authority tell her?

Why don’t you give voice to trans people who are critical of this kind of research on trans people? They exist. They are numerous. And they agree with you on saying that there is no such thing as a female brain.

Sure, Jenner’s understanding of her femininity may be crude. It may be essentialist. It may sit on knowledge that is flawed and sexist. Sure. But who makes this research saying women and men have different brains and that trans women’s brain resemble cis women’s brains? Cis people. Who set gatekeeping criteria on access to hormones and surgery legitimizing some experiences while forcing others into marginalization? Cis people. Who writes the articles on Jenner’s transition? Cis people. Who invalidates all trans experiences that do not rely on essentialism? Cis people. What we see in the media hype over Jenner is not the feminist failings of the trans movement, it is a case study of how cis people frame our discussion on gender.

This article also forgets something very important: Trans activists ARE on the frontlines of the feminist movement. The reason trans men are asking for more inclusive language in reproductive rights activism is not just because they want to be PC and trans men can technically bear children – it’s because they DO bear children, they DO get pregnant, and they DO need access to abortion, and they DO fight for access to service, alongside cis women. And, most importantly, it’s because cissexism IS a barrier to access to reproductive health services.

We are there with cis feminists in the fights you find important (trans women also hit the glass ceiling, as I mentioned, but we also believe in making more things gender-neutral), and our own fights are things that radical cis feminists seemingly forgot that they could do. You know, that “dismantling the patriarchy and abolishing gender” objective that you have? Well, whereas quite a few cis feminists say this as a sort of mantra and follow up with no specific action that could “abolish gender” except applying intellectual critique on diverse objects, trans activism strives for systemic changes that would weaken the gender system, like removing the obligation for children to be assigned a legal gender or removing gender segregation in bathrooms, based as it is on rape culture and heterosexism. Funny you didn’t think about that.

In fact, here in Quebec, as we asked for the very moderate demand of facilitating access to legal gender change, where were the cis feminists? Yes, some were in the background, in feminist organisations that champion trans rights and put forward our voices, but most were nowhere to be seen, and a few were fighting against us and, in effect, for the patriarchy.

Your truth is not Jenner’s truth, but to be honest, neither is it the truth of most trans women, who rarely get the luxury of being on the covers of magazine just like that. Do you want our truths? You should. Because they include suffering through business meetings with men talking to our breasts. They include discovering that our male work partners’ check are larger than ours. Misogyny is a thing trans women also experience.

We also fear rape. We also fear to be attacked at night. Only for us, we have to fear not only the misogyny, but also the transphobia. And really, the misogyny hurts, but the transphobia, it kills you. Literally. Every year, hundreds of trans women get murdered, most of them trans women of colour. So yeah, I am afraid at night as well. Very afraid. Always afraid.

Now, your truth also includes bodily experiences. Obviously, trans women don’t live the same (though some of those are relatable to some of our truths – surprise periods on the subway remind me of beard covering makeup going away in the rain and revealing your shadow, or of tucking failing while you wear a tight dress, things that are not only embarrassing, but actually dangerous, because they expose us to violence). But is that really the fundamental and defining experience of womanhood? I don’t see how turning us into walking uteruses is any less essentialist that the “female brain” or the “wrong body” nonsense.

See, there is a major contradiction: when trans women say that hormones and surgeries are part of their own, personal path to womanhood, it’s insulting to women who are somehow reduced to their collective breasts and vaginas. But when someone organizes an event called “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas”, which effectively reduces a thousand women to their vagina, that’s perfectly okay?

(Sidenote: As it was an event on reproductive rights, I agree that in this case, it was appropriate, specifically because reproduction is indeed about body parts, not womanhood. But I digress.)

It is weird that the article criticizes the first, which is really nothing more than a statement by trans women about their own body and their own experience, and defends the second, which is applied to a collectivity of people.

This would help resolve the apparent paradox the article puts forward: trans activists want self-determination. On the one hand, self-determination mean that you have the greatest authority, so people are welcome to describe themselves as men, women, neither, both or something else. On the other hand, it also means that no one should define someone else’s experience, and so we don’t like it when cis people slab collective labels on us without consent.

To conclude, I would like to say that yes, we hear some problematic things in the trans communities from time to time. But you cis people should have plenty enough of privileged people to put in their place for essentialism already without making a marginalized group your priority. As it happens, all the valid criticism I saw in the article (“wrong body narrative is essentialist”, “research on female/male brains is flaw and sexist”, “is it really right for trans men to be in women’s colleges?”, and so on) are things we already discuss in trans communities. We’re already taking care of that, and of much more too.

I recommend that instead of unleashing all the conventional hostile arguments (because there was not a word of originality in that article, all of these arguments, trans communities have been addressing them for years as transphobic feminists lob them at us), you listen to our voices and let us debate these problems amongst us.

[I’ll put links when I get the time. In the meanwhile, if you think some voices from trans communities are particularly important on one point or another, don’t hesitate to share them in the comments 🙂 ]

[1] I do not know whether they’ve provided prefered pronouns, so I’ll play it safe and use “they”

[2] Kranz et al. (2014), White Matter Microstructure in Transsexuals and Controls Investigated by Diffusion Tensor Imaging. The Journal of Neuroscience 34(46), p. 15474

Modalités de service pour éduquer les persones cis

Salut!

Si vous lisez ce texte, vous êtes probablement une personne cis qui débat d’enjeux trans avec moi en ligne.

J’apprécie votre intérêt pour le sujet. Cependant, ce n’est pas seulement à propos de vous. Ceci est ma façon de dire que je quitterai le débat en vous invitant à réfléchir aux points suivants.

  1. Je désire réellement et sincèrement des changements sociaux, et je comprends que l’éducation de personnes comme vous en fait partie. Même que c’est quelque chose que j’adore faire. Cependant, vous n’êtes pas seul à devoir être éduqué, et vous n’êtes pas le seul besoin pressant des communautés trans — en fait, nous sommes débordés de besoins pressants.
  2. Éduquer des gens, c’est du travail. Les personnes trans sont forcées de faire ce travail en tout temps, mais elles ne devraient pas avoir à le faire. En réalité, les personnes trans doivent prendre la place des écoles, du système de santé, des organismes communautaires et des institutions qui décident que les enjeux trans ne méritent pas d’être discutés et qui ne créent pas des conditions pour que le travail d’éducation des personnes trans soit durable.
  3. Les débats en ligne, notamment sur Facebook, brûlent du temps, donc ils peuvent nuire au vrai travail de changement social que je fais. Je ne peux pas non plus les mettre à mon horaire, donc ils m’empêchent parfois de faire d’autres choses importantes. Je préfère nettement parler de ces choses-là en personne. C’est une limite que j’établis.
  4. Vos arguments ne sont pas novateurs. Nous les connaissons très bien. Ce n’est pas parce qu’ils vous paraissent originaux que les personnes trans, dont moi, ne les avons pas déjà réfutés plusieurs fois.
  5. Lisez la documentation que j’aurais presque assurément fourni. Cliquez sur les liens. Regardez les vidéos. Faites ce travail. Ce ne sera pas plus long que d’obtenir l’information de moi, mais au moins, je pourrai faire quelque chose d’autre.
  6. En tant qu’activiste trans basée à Montréal, au Canada, je suis disponible pour donner des ateliers, des conférences ou des formations sur les réalités trans. J’ai seulement besoin que vous vous occupiez de la logistique. C’est une offre sérieuse.

Projet de loi 20 et procréation médicalement assistée pour les personnes trans

Le projet de loi 20, dont on entend surtout parler pour les mesures qu’il contient à propos des médecins en parallèle de la réforme du système de santé (exemple, autre exemple, encore un exemple, en voulez-vous d’autres?) contient aussi des mesures importantes pour restreindre l’accès au programme de procréation médicalement assistée (j’en ai glissé un mot dans un autre article). Comme pas mal toutes les mesures d’austérité, celle-ci touchera plus lourdement les personnes les plus marginalisées, et notamment les personnes trans.

Avant d’entrer dans les détails du projet de loi, un rappel : Les personnes trans subissent toujours des stérilisations forcées au Québec. L’article 71 du Code civil oblige demande que nous subissions des « modifications structurales des organes sexuels », c’est-à-dire, en pratiques, des chirurgies causant la stérilisation, comme obligation pour obtenir une reconnaissance légale de nos identités. Même si certaines personnes trans voudraient subir ces interventions quand même, il est impossible de parler de consentement éclairé lorsqu’on doit choisir entre les chirurgies et la marginalisation qui découle de la possession de documents ne concordant pas avec l’identité. Et bien que le projet de loi 35 promette une éventuelle fin de ces mesures discriminatoires, non seulement on ne fait que commencer le processus vers sa mise en application, mais en plus, ça ne changera rien aux personnes qui sont déjà passées par là. Quand le discours central sur l’infertilité la présente comme une maladie, ce n’est vrai que pour des couples cis et hétéro : pour les couples avec au moins une personne trans, c’est la conséquence d’une politique gouvernementale de discrimination.

Si le projet de loi 20 est adopté, les possibilités pour les personnes trans de fonder des familles seront doublement limitées : en même temps que le Directeur de l’état civil continuera d’imposer des stérilisations forcées, les personnes trans auront beaucoup plus d’obstacles à franchir si elles veulent utiliser la procréation médicalement assistée pour avoir des enfants malgré tout. Combinés, l’article 71 du Code civil et le projet de loi 20 consolident l’idée un brin eugéniste que les personnes trans ne devraient pas avoir d’enfants ni en élever.

Maintenant, les mesures du projet de loi.

Évaluation psychosociale : Maintenant on pourra (ou devra, ça dépend) exiger aux couples ayant recours à la procréation médicalement assistée de se soumettre à une évaluation psychosociale si a) il y a besoin d’un don ou b) si le médecin est d’humeur à en demander une. Or, ces deux critères s’appliquent tout particulièrement aux personnes trans : a) étant donné les stérilisations forcées, les couples avec une personne trans auront souvent besoin d’un donneur, et b) le système de santé, dont les médecins, a une petite tendance à la transphobie, d’autant plus que le gouvernement trouve ça totalement correct de dire qu’on ne devrait pas avoir d’enfant — il exige des stérilisations, après tout.

Et qu’est-ce qui va arriver dans une évaluation psychosociale? De la discrimination injustifiée. L’idée que les personnes trans sont une mauvaise influence sur les enfants, elle existe déjà. Celle qu’on ne devrait pas avoir d’enfants aussi, elle est même dans le Code civil.

Congélation du sperme : Sous le projet de loi 20, les femmes trans qui voudraient congeler leur sperme devront le faire à leurs frais, point. Ce service ne sera remboursé que pour les personnes ayant le cancer. Apparemment, le cancer, c’est légitime comme raison de vouloir garder sa fertilité, c’est médical, mais les stérilisations qui sont exigées par l’État québécois, ah non, alors là c’est notre faute, c’est volontaire ou quelque chose comme ça.

***

Le pire, avec ce projet de loi, c’est que le condensé de cissexisme qu’il contient est probablement totalement involontaire. En effet, personne ne parle des personnes trans — pas le ministre Barette, pas les médecins, pas l’Association des couples infertiles du Québec, personne. Même Judith Lussier, que j’adore, n’en glisse pas mot dans son article sur la PMA. Même dans les communautés trans, c’est relativement loin dans nos priorités (ce qui est compréhensible, on a d’autres chats à fouetter avec le projet de règlement sur le changement de mention de sexe).

En vérité, le projet de loi 20 a été rédigé dans l’omission quasi-totale des conséquences sur les personnes trans et des façons dont elles seront touchées. Le rapport du commissaire à la santé et au bien-être, Robert Salois, une brique de près de 400 pages déposée en juin 2014, ne parle de personnes trans qu’une fois, dans l’annexe XIV, p. 349, dans un scénario « intentionnellement complexe afin de stimuler la réflexion ». Le scénario, le cas d’un homme trans voulant conserver ses ovaires ou les transférer dans l’utérus de sa copine dans le cadre d’une fécondation in vitro, démontre une connaissance médiocre des vécus trans : en particulier, des hommes trans sans hormones et avec des ovaires fonctionnels qui ont obtenu un changement de mention de sexe, ça ne court pas les rues, pas si le Directeur de l’état civil a un mot à dire là-dessus. Mais bon, ça ne change pas grand chose, le ministre Barette n’a pas particulièrement retenu les recommandations du rapport de toute façon.

En bref

Le projet de loi 20, en 3 phrases :
1) Il a été rédigé sans tenir compte des réalités trans et des stérilisations forcées imposées par l’État québécois.
2) Il impose une évaluation psychosociale aux couples avec une personne trans, ce qui les expose à des refus fondés sur la transphobie.
3) Il retire l’accès gratuit à la préservation du sperme pour les femmes trans.

What Happens Now? Leelah’s Legacy

You may have heard of Leelah Alcorn, a trans girl who committed suicide last December. Her suicide note and her story touched everyone who read it as a tale of suffering and injustice, as it traveled everywhere in the media, including social media. In a few weeks, she’s become an important (yet posthumous) trans rights icon.

Now, I have a confidence to make: I didn’t really give much attention to Leelah’s story at first. I only read more when I saw that it really caught on. Yeah, I skimmed an article on or about the day the news started to be shared around my network, but I didn’t give it much attention. I was sad to read it, to be sure. It is a sad story. A tragic, horrible one, full of suffering. However, it didn’t hit me that hard. It wasn’t news to me. I didn’t learn a new way or a new experience of being trans, but rather one particularly deadly combination of sufferings I knew already.

I knew that trans people commit suicide at an absurd rate: between 40 % and 50 % of trans people have attempted suicide (I did), according to many studies. I knew that many Christians (though not all) resisted strongly to accept trans people as who they are. I knew that parents would prevent their children to transition. I knew that many trans youth strongly desired blockers and/or hormones before puberty hit, because its effects are hard or impossible to reverse (and that many trans adults such as I regret not having said blockers in their own youth, even though the focus on passing is something of a problem as well). I knew that many people were forced unwillingly into detrimental psychological treatment as an obstacle to transition (I was, though less violently than she).

Although it was a new and original story in its details, I knew much of it already, because it’s made of various bits of all our stories. They are all very different and personal, yet often share some traits. Many of these traits are in her story, but many more are not. And we’ve been telling these stories forever between ourselves and to the world.

We’ve been proposing solutions, in fact, to prevent them from happening again. We’re trying our best to implement them, but people, groups and governments everywhere have been preventing us to do so. They have been causing many a Leelah Alcorn while nobody listened to us.

Why didn’t all of you listen before she died?

Will you listen now?

I have a challenge to all of you people: From now on, share our words when we’re alive. Don’t wait until we’re dead. If you thought Leelah’s story was important, it must be because you think that trans people should not die, right? That our situation is unfair? If you think that, don’t you think something should be done?

Here’s how.

If you’re a journalist and wrote an article on Leelah, go on and do that again. Write on the struggles of our communities and activists. Follow trans issues all year long, even when no one victim strikes the public eye (especially since there is something racist in how this public eye registers trans experiences). We know her story and many more, and these stories are the reason we’re asking for specific changes. And after all, she willed all she had to us, trans activists as a whole, so that we would “fix society”. If she matters to you, listen to us from now on.

If you’re an ally and shared Leelah-related articles or commented on them with sympathy, do the same when the aforementioned journalists and others talk about our continuing fights. Because safe access to hormones, budget for community support, and education on trans issues, well… these things that Leelah needed and asked for, we’re asking them all the time, and oh do we need them. If you’re sympathetic to her, you should support us as well when we keep saying what we always have, and when we ask for support.

And if you’re some kind of official in a school, in government, in the health system, anywhere, think about us when you make up your policies. Know that if you don’t allow people to use their preferred names, if you cut funding to community organisms for trans people, if you don’t provide access to trans health services like hormones, you continue creating new Leelahs every day.

We have always been talking. We have often told stories like hers, we gave solutions to stop them from occurring, but you didn’t listen. Like many before and many since, Leelah died mostly because of this: you didn’t listen. Now, please do listen. Always. Change must happen. Help us fix society. Please.

Easier Legal Sex Change Procedures: Quick Rebuttals

Quebec recently published what might become the new legal gender change criteria, and these are highly problematic — and controversial — as they would introduce a new 2 year-long real-life experience as a prerequisite for legal sex change, to replace the now-inadmissible surgical criteria. Trans communities were incensed, as it just moves the problem around.

We ask for legal sex change procedures with no prerequisites, only a sworn declaration, a bit like what’s being done in Argentina. But some people don’t get that, and believe that changing legal gender should be a huge ordeal. However, since there aren’t any solid arguments for this, people will bring up various weak objections, which I will answer here.

Note that this is applicable to Quebec. Some of what I say will apply differently elsewhere.

If we don’t put limits, people will start change their identity every other week!

Unless other changes occur, each request will take about half a year of processing and cost a minimum of 134 $, independently from the critiera. That doesn’t count the effort (and potentially, the cost) of changing your name and sex marker anywhere else (on your ID, bank account, and so on). It is virtually impossible to change these more than two times in a year, and prohibitively expensive to do so anyway, so actual gender fluid people will probably stick to the strategies they have at the moment to deal with gender markers.

I don’t know why anyone else would do that and why, and I don’t see why a major advance for trans rights should be blocked to prevent a hypothetical situation that, honestly, will affect no one (at 134 $ a shot, it certainly pays for the administrative procedure itself).

Easier procedures will help criminals who want to hide from the police!

First, you have to swear on the declaration you send to the civil status director. Making a false declaration is perjury. It’s a criminal offense in itself. It’s illegal, just like many other ways one might try to forge a new identity, such as creating false ID or stealing someone else’s identity. It’s just less subtle, as you’d leave a huge paper trail in government records. So yeah, it’s already the case that they don’t have the right to abuse the procedure.

And even admitting that it would be easier than other ways of disappearing (and I would disagree on that), do you really think that someone who would want to keep a low profile would benefit from having non-matching gendered ID? I mean, trans people, especially trans sex workers, have enormous difficulties when they meet the police because of their ID and trans status. So if they do that, they’d better actually transition as well, which only trans people will probably do.

Bottom line is: If a suspected criminal goes through the legal sex change procedure, it’s probably because they are also trans. Trans people are not saints, they’re normal people, so it happens.

What if people change their minds? What if they didn’t think through their decision?

These sorts of objections assume that transitions are done on a whim, and that people might do things like ask for a legal sex change without understanding what it means. It’s fairly patronizing.

First, if someone really changed their mind the day after sending the form, or some weeks or months later, they can certainly warn the civil status director’s people of this and ask them to stop evaluating their case, or to reject it. So in practice, because bureaucracy is so slow, we have a waiting period of a few months before anything important happens. In truth, most people who are just plain not sure what they want will also wait until they are, if only because it costs 134 $.

Second, most trans people who will seek a legal sex change will do so because they want to have ID that matches their identity, i.e. because they are full-time, or working on it, or planning to transition in the immediate future. A trans person who has specific reasons to wait before transitionning will probably start the procedure so as to coincide with their transition — because as a trans woman presenting as a man, for instance, having female ID would create similar dangerous situations as having male ID while presenting as a woman.

When people ask for a new sex marker, it’s because they need it. They know what they are doing.

And if someone does change their mind after going through legal transition (I won’t deny it: yes, it happens, though it’s fairly rare, but no, it’s not necessarily because they took a bad or premature decision), well you just respect their new choice and grant them another legal sex change to help them live in their chosen identity. Why the fuss about making the procedure one time only? It’s just bits of paper and plastic.

Sapiosexuality and Heterosexism

Sapiosexual is a new, up-and-coming word describing attraction to intelligence, or to intelligent people. Although, by itself, it is somewhat problematic, it is a great tool against heterosexism.

(Unless otherwise noted, for the purpose of this article, words describing sexual attraction will assume a concording romantic and sensual attraction.)

***

First, I do have some reservations with the word “sapiosexual”. Skip at will, but don’t despair: they may even make its strength.

The focus on “intelligence” in “sapiosexual” is problematic. Intelligence is hard to pinpoint. As an upper-middle-class White girl pursuing higher education, I’m fairly prone to qualifying “intelligence” as something that attracts me, because it’s a very valourized attribute in my universe of experiences. However, what I might call “intelligence” is not necessarily a fair assessment of anything, much less cognitive abilities. We attribute intelligence to people based on many discriminatory criteria that don’t actually mean anything. Someone’s accent, their clothes, their overall behaviour, their complexion, the degrees they have all an effect on whether or not we think someone is intelligent. So basically, what the word may imply is “I’m attracted to White people with conventional clothing and prestigious accents, and some other ill-defined traits”, or something of the sort.

And what happens if intelligence is multidimensional? Different aspects of what psychologists outline as “intelligence” are appreciated as such in the popular view (being great at math is more “intelligent” than being a creative painter, for instance), and some, such as emotional or social intelligence, are probably not what is implied in the word “sapiosexual”.

To go even deeper, what sorts of knowledges or abilities qualify as “intelligence” depends on classism, imperialism and ableism. The first two, because Western knowledges and abilities that are deemed useful to the capitalist system are highly valourized — and really, both form a system here. Ableism, because no matter how intelligent they are, people with disabilities tend to be viewed as unintelligent, and not only people with mental disabilities. And no, the positive judgement of Stephen Hawking is not an exception: the enormous public attention he gets as an important and brilliant astrophysicist (which, on all accounts, he totally is) seems at least partly informed by the “inspiration porn” model, judging from how important his disability is to depict him, which is wrong.

So now that I’ve offered my critiques of the word “sapiosexual”, now is why I think it’s a great move forward to say how great it actually is.

***

Almost all the other words we have to describe sexual attraction focus on gender — homo-/heterosexual as the relationship between one’s gender and the object of attraction, andro-/gynephilic as the object of attraction in a male/female binary, bi-/pansexual to describe possible attraction to anyone, no matter their gender, and so on. The only one that doesn’t, asexual, expresses lack of any attraction whatsoever, so yeah.

Sapiosexual goes beyond that. Its great originality is that it moves attraction from someone’s gender to someone’s qualities, to who they are. Yes, pan-/bisexual states that gender is a non-issue, but sapiosexual displaces the issue on the person’s qualities. And that’s major.

That’s why I say it’s a beautiful word. Because why should attraction be about gender only? Indeed, we are attracted to people for a host of reasons not really related to gender, such as attractiveness, common beliefs, or indeed intelligence. Even more, some our criteria are things someone must have for attraction to be possible, or at least sustained enough to create a bond. To take an obvious example, if someone is transphobic, it’s an instant deal breaker for me, and I will be completely incompatible with someone who requires any kind sexual intimacy as part of a relationship.

This idea that “sapiosexual” brings to the table may be used to complexify the other words we have. The kind of femininity desired for a gynephilic person can vary. Some people might want female genitals, because sex is important to them and that’s the part they like. Some people are rather attracted to a kind of gender expression or presentation. Some women might be attracted in women because of a common womanhood, whatever the body or expression. Some will want a combination of all these. And so on. All these possibilities are okay as individual experiences, though they might be problematic if any of them were to define gynephilia as a whole. By separating the attributes that constitute our attraction categories, we might better identify what they imply for us. At the same time, it shows that what “heterosexual” means is highly contingent not only on the person’s own gender, but on their understanding of what gender means in someone else.

Basically, the “man” in “I like men” is as problematic as the “intelligent” in “I like intelligent people”.

What if we created more words for attribute-led attraction, beyond intelligence? I don’t care if they are contingent and subjective categories — “being attracted to men” is as contingent as the others. Being sweet is important for you? What about suavosexual? You like taller or shorter people? You might want to identify as altosexual, or parvosexual. Yes, all these words (sweet, tall, short) are not absolutes, they’re depend on one’s conception of “sweetness” or height, and even one’s own height, and yes, some people will not regard “sweetness” or height as a criterion at all. But the trick here is: The same can be said of gender attraction.

As a target of attraction, the gender categories that words like “homosexual” or “heterosexual” assume are hard to pinpoint — and that’s just what we had said about the “intelligence” category of “sapiosexual”. So why do we all use words such as “homosexual” or “heterosexual” as if they were stone-hard and necessary, so much that people who aren’t gay or straight must justify themselves with words, like bi- or pansexual, that really mean they don’t care? After all, we don’t need to say that we’re not sapiosexual. It’s just assumed until proven otherwise.

By displacing the focus from gender to attributes, we not only deproblematize same-sex attraction, but we challenge gender from being the sole signifier of sexual attraction. We fight both homophobia and biphobia.

And that’s why sapiosexual is a great, subversive word.

Safe, Accessible and Gender-Affirming Bathrooms Checklist

This is inspired by the trans activism I’m doing at the University of Montreal, a lot of which is centered around access to bathrooms for trans people. I am not, however, an expert on accessibility for people with mobility issues.

  1. Unless otherwise noted, bathrooms are not segregated. If you have no particular reason to assigned a space to men/women, then it’s open to all. This means that gender-neutral bathrooms are, in reality, just bathrooms, so you just have to say “Bathroom” or put a toilet sign on the door. Unless you are temporarily redesignating a segregated space into a gender-neutral one, there is not reason to call anything an “all-gender bathroom”. However, if not all your bathrooms are wheelchair-accessible, it’s probably useful to indicate which are and which are not.Gender-Neutral-Toilet-Sign-White-1000
  2. Everyone can access whatever space they prefer. Simple as that. No matter someone’s identity, where they choose to go is their choice. For instance, some trans women go to the men’s bathroom, because they’re not out yet; some will go to the women’s bathroom, because “that’s where I belong”; some will prefer a gender neutral. bathroom, as a result of past harassment in either space. But there are many other possibilities, especially in places that fail elsewhere in this list. For instance, men might want to access the women’s room if the men’s room doesn’t have a diaper changing table.
  3. All single-occupant bathrooms are gender-neutral. And wheelchair-accessible, incidentally. There is no reason to segregate single bathrooms.
  4. Offer a variety of multiple-stall spaces. Because everyone should have a space they feel right in. At the moment, gender-neutral spaces are the most needed, as there are generally few of them. However, some people do feel uncomfortable at the idea of multiple-stall gender-neutral bathrooms — and even though many issues are based in oppressive myths, I still think that even bigots should have the right to pee, so long as they let others do the same. Also, for some trans people such as I, using the segregated bathroom of their choice can be a gesture of affirmation. At least for now, I don’t advocate for gender-neutral bathrooms everywhere, but rather for some kind of parity in multiple-stall spaces — this way, people can choose, and gender-neutral spaces will not be overused and remain accessible to the people who need them (which might become an issue if only single-occupant bathrooms are gender-neutral). But I certainly won’t condemn those who want to go farther.
  5. In every space, at least one stall is wheelchair-accessible. Ditto for the space in general. And if there’s only one, I think shaming able-bodied people into using any of the 30 other stalls is totally legit.
  6. No third bathroom. Seriously. Creating a third bathroom marks the people who use it as “neither a man nor a woman”, and can create dangerous situations.
  7. Segregated spaces are next to each other. Because otherwise, it becomes a nightmare. Ideally, both segregated bathrooms should be wall to wall and separated by a partition wall, so they’ll be easier to adapt into gender-neutral ones, if the desire should arise to change them.
  8. Gender-neutral bathrooms are isolated from gendered spaces. Because a gender-neutral bathroom next to segregated bathrooms is not a gender-neutral bathroom, it’s a third bathroom. Unless you have reaaaally good reason — say, because an architect back in the days was a jerk to people with disabilities, and you’re adapting an old closet into a wheelchair-accessible bathroom. But really, see point 5, and the problem vanishes.
  9. All spaces are well advertised. Everyone should have no problem finding the space they want to use. This can include putting signs showing where the nearest segregated AND gender-neutral spaces are, having a clear policy that anyone can access or that is simple enough that people just get it, and having a webpage showing which bathrooms are gender-neutral/wheelchair-accessible and how to find them.
  10. Facilities are the same in all spaces. Men’s, women’s and non-segregated spaces should offer diaper-changing stations. The same applies to tampon disposal cans — some men have periods too. And so on.

If you disagree with my opinions or would like to add something, please comment! This is always a work in progress.