Book launch: Soar, Adam, Soar.
The launch of Soar, Adam, Soar, Rick Prashaw’s book about his young trans man son, was held February 7, 2019 at the Canadian Museum of Nature. The mood that pervaded the room that evening was positivity. This was due both to Rick himself, a man who exudes warmth and wears his compassion on his sleeve, and his son Adam, who in his short life brought together a number of diverse communities.
The MC for the evening was Rita Celli from CBC Radio One who related how she came to know Rick through his act of generosity when they both lived in Sudbury. Besides readings from the book, there were moving speeches from Joel Frappier, Adam’s boss at Gourmet Cuisine and the caterer at the museum’s Nature Cafe, and Tina Proulx, co-chair of the Ottawa branch of the Gift of Life Network. (It was mentioned, and worth repeating, that of the 170 communities surveyed in Ontario, Ottawa ranks 118 in organ donation registration. We can do better than that! See links below.)
When Rick signed my copy of the book, he also wrote wrote, “Human rights for all”. That message also spoke to the feeling in the room that evening.
It was a wonderful event. What I know of Adam, I think he would have been pleased.
Review of Soar, Adam, Soar to follow.
A few weeks ago I was browsing around a well known Canadian clothing store looking for winter essentials like gloves and socks when I stumbled upon a fabulous winter hat. It was a warm, pink coral toque with a furry pom pom. My heart skipped a beat when I saw it. I went to the nearest mirror, put it on my head and giggled. It was adorable! More worrisome, I thought I looked good in it. So of course I had to put it back.
I was standing there looking at it wondering why I had returned it to the shelf. True, it cost more than I usually pay for these items, but was that the reason? No, of course not. I was putting it back because it was so deliciously feminine that I felt compelled to censor myself. Somewhere in the back of my mind I saw that finger wagging at me telling me I was being too much of a princess.
I started thinking about the ways in which trans women’s lives have always been regulated and what if any effect it’s had on the way we express ourselves. During the early 1990s when many of my friends were trying to transition, the gatekeepers were always defining the sort of woman we should be. If we weren’t that kind of woman, then we couldn’t possibly be a woman at all.
One of the things the gatekeepers were always on the lookout for were princess like qualities. Too much princess meant you had to be a transvestite, and that meant no hormones for you sister! Of course, we figured all this out and presented to them the woman they expected. So evolved this ridiculous back and forth game in which the gatekeepers’ primary motivation was preserving the gender binary and their specific version of womanhood and our primary motivation was to play along to get what we wanted. It was a genuinely stupid process that not only completely ignored trans women’s experiences but also, because it demanded we adhere to a certain model of woman, denied the existence of diversity in cisgender women.
But then cisgender women’s lives have always been regulated too. We are shocked by the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia where men decide every aspect of their lives, but we forget that only a hundred years ago it was considered bold for a woman to ride a subway in Canada without male accompaniment. In such a repressive environment, women will censor themselves rather than stand out and be pilloried.
It took a long time to free ourselves from the strictures imposed upon us by the gatekeepers, but in other ways, trans women’s lives, like those of cisgender women, are still regulated. I was reminded of this while reading Vivek Shraya’s I’m Afraid of Men. At one point she writes, “In the morning, as I get ready for work, I avoid choosing clothes or accessories that will highlight my femininity and draw unwanted attention.” Ah, women’s eternal dilemma. But was this me too? Was this why I had returned the hat back to its shelf?
It didn’t stay there long. I went back to the mirror to have another look, and a few minutes later I walked out of the store with my hat on my head and smile on my face. I’m not censoring myself anymore.
Later that week I was in my neighbourhood drugstore checking out the makeup when the woman beside me looked at me and said, “You know, that hat looks good on you.” I couldn’t believe it. I thanked her and told her I almost didn’t buy it.
“Oh,” she replied. “That would have been a shame.”
Chalk one up for being true to yourself.
I’m Afraid of Men, by Vivek Shraya
There’s not a lot that is new in this short book with the provocative title. Women have been recording stupid and harassing male behaviour for eons. In this perhaps unique moment in history, however, when there exists the possibility that we might finally be able to put a stop to it, in the West at least, the perspective of a trans woman who has experienced misogyny in its many forms undoubtedly adds a little more to the conversation.
The book begins with a sentence that explains the title: “I’m afraid of men because it was men who taught me fear.” The introductory chapter that follows then demonstrates how this “fear governs many of the choices I make, from the beginning of my day to the end.”
I’m Afraid of Men is a mostly autobiographical piece that begins with experiences from her childhood as a brown skinned boy with troubling feminine tendencies to her time spent as a gay male and finally to her life as a trans woman. This shifting perspective allows Shraya to demonstrate how misogyny plays out in different ways. Many of the traumas are relatively mild and will be familiar to most trans women, but it is the accumulation of these traumas that serves to beat us down and make us fearful. They remind us that male violence is always there, lurking in the background and, if we let it, governing our behaviour.
Shraya pulls the book together at the end into a broader critique of the restrictive notions of gender and the dominant male culture. In this section, she admits she’s afraid of women too, “afraid of women who’ve either emboldened or defended the men who have harmed me, or have watched in silence…of women who have internalized their experiences of misogyny so deeply that they make me their punching bag. I’m afraid of the women who, like men, reject my pronouns and refuse to see my femininity, or who comment on or criticize my appearance, down to the chipped nail polish, to reiterate that I am not one of them.”
Vivek Shraya is a talented woman. In addition to being an author, she is a creative writing professor, a musician, and has produced short films and photography exhibitions. She also has an imprint with Arsenal Pulp Press called VS. Books. You can expect to hear much more from Vivek Shraya in the future.
Book launch: Gender: Your Guide
On the evening of December 5th, with wet snow falling outside, about 25 diverse people snuggled into a room at the 25ONE Community working space on Bank Street for the book launch of Gender: Your Guide, by Dr. Lee Airton.
It was an interesting evening. Dr. Airton is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University. Gender: Your Guide is a natural extension of their teaching, research and advocacy work in encouraging individuals and institutions to be open to gender and sexual diversity. In their opening remarks, Dr. Airton said this book is for now, this historical moment when there is an increased awareness that gender is everywhere. They noted that ten years ago people were asking why we have to make accommodations for gender, while now the discussion is how do we do this? Welcome progress. The book is a “primer on what to know, what to say, and what to do in the new gender culture.”
Dr. Airton read four passages that provided some insight into what the book is about. Among them was their own tale as a child needing – not wanting but needing – a pair of Doc Martin shoes. It was an interesting personal illustration of how kids navigate their experience of gender. Equally interesting was their sister’s encounter with infertility and how something like not having a baby by her late 30s set her outside a “normal” gender category.
A question and answer discussion followed, with an informal book signing afterwards. Gender: Your Guide is currently available only in hard cover, but a paperback edition is expected. The event was a collaborative presentation of Octopus Books, Simon & Schuster Canada and the Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity.
Dr. Airton’s gender pronoun web sites are No Big Deal, a campaign fostering the use of correct pronouns (https://www.nbdcampaign.ca/) and TIMP, They Is My Pronoun: http://theyismypronoun.com/ Their personal site is at https://www.leeairton.com/
Going back to go forward
In the print edition of Triple Echo, I frequently wrote more personal items than I have heretofore done online. I’m not sure whether reflecting on my own life is of any value to anyone else, but I was compelled to write the following piece when looking back on the interesting year I’ve had.
This past year I have spent a surprising amount of time conversing with my 22 year old self.
I was 22 in 1977. It was a bad time to be trans and a bad time to be me. I was out of university and I knew what was supposed to happen next: a career and a wife. But that idyll seemed very unlikely for me. I was a closeted 6’3″ trans woman who saw no future for herself. In between bouts of excessive drinking, I thought my best chance at life was self employment. Perhaps there I might carve out an independent space so I could breathe a little. It wasn’t a bad idea, but my hopelessness stifled my motivation and I could never turn it into a credible plan. What I did instead was barely survive on a succession of suffocating government jobs.