The first topic of conversation we will discuss is Extra-Community Challenges. Here the research team (specifically the Advisory Panel and myself) coded challenges trans community members described when accessing the community from an outsider’s perspective. Included also were difficulties between trans and cisgender societies. The subthemes in this group centred on the following topics:
- Inclusivity in LGBT+ Subcultures
- Inaccessible Knowledge
- Inaccessible Needs and Services
- Inaccessible Community
- Oppression and Discrimination
- Safety Concerns
Below I give more details about each subtheme, in the order they were just listed. For each subtheme I have given a definition and description, as well as direct quotes from participants to bring these meanings to life. Because this e-book is written for the trans community, I have included a reflection box for every subtheme here. This pattern for presenting subthemes will be repeated throughout the book. My hope is that the dialogues started in this study can be carried forward and evolved in ways that suit each trans person and community’s needs. The reflection boxes can be used as a point of departure for these dialogues, if needed.
The time has come for me to get off this soapbox (goodbye soapbox). Here’s what other trans people’s voices are like!
The inclusion of trans people within queer communities can vary.
Group members reported that whether or not larger LGBT+ cultures (see Definitions) would honour the inclusion of the “T” for trans varied greatly across groups. Focus group members from both cities described times they had felt rejected by larger queer communities. Some also noted recent improvements in queer relations (see also Positive and Improving Relations, Chapter 5). Said one Calgarian:
“Depending on what group you access you’ll get a very different reaction to trans status.”
Participants in the Calgary and Edmonton groups relayed both the expectation that larger queer spaces should be inclusive of trans people as well as the expectation of oppression in these spaces (see also Social Discourses, Chapter 8). For example, one Calgary member told another:
“For something that you said. . . of how the online [LGBT+ community] is. . . willingly diverse. I find that. . . most LGBT-whatever communities are. . . the exact opposite.”
What do you feel?
What was your gut reaction to the idea that some LGBT+ communities are more inclusive than others? Why do you think you had this reaction?
Research and knowledge about trans issues can be inaccurate, irrelevant, surface-level, or inaccessible. It may not be made for trans consumption, but for cis consumption.
Group members noted that the inaccessibility of trans knowledge made it difficult for trans people, allies, and professionals to find information and resources they might need. They explained that the inaccessibility of knowledge for professionals meant that providers were often misinformed and unable to meet trans needs. A repeated mantra in both groups was that there were no locally relevant guidelines for trans care. For example, one Edmontonian said of trans information:
“A lot of it is American, which is frustrating to me.”
Participants also voiced the concern that the information they did find was often inaccurate. Members in both groups voiced similar concerns. Some group members said that information they found about trans issues was outdated as well.
One concern that arose in both groups was that the most easily available information is often made for cisgender consumption. The media, for example, often caters to a cis audience, and does not provide the level of depth community members said they crave. One member noted that even local trans-focused research projects he’d seen in Calgary don’t give back to trans communities. He stressed the importance of beneficence.
“I’m very excited [this research is] going to come back to community. Because that’s always my biggest challenge with them is like ‘But I can use those stats!’”
An Edmonton participant also brought up the problem that information might not tailored for lay consumption.
“Basically, a lot of the information that I’ve read a long time ago was like up here [hand above head], and so dry. . . that for the average human being probably very hard to comprehend.”
The content of knowledge participants said they wanted available was: A depth of information about trans experience, safe trans community wisdom and advice, guidance for navigating trans femininity in a patriarchal world, knowledge about transitioning at different life stages, and information that would help trans people and allies justify trans needs and existence.
What knowledge do you seek?
If you could pull a self-help book off the shelf that was written specifically with you in mind, what would the chapter headings be? How successful have you been in finding this knowledge when you needed it?
Trans people face social and systemic barriers to accessing basic needs and services.
At the larger systems level, both groups brought up the importance of having enforced general human rights and policies. The most prevalent concerns at a more local level were barriers to fast and cost-sensitive social and health services. The Edmonton group examined at length the lack of surgery aftercare in Edmonton for sex reassignment surgery. Other voiced shortcomings were in the realm of government service wait times (for things like name changes and documentation), diverse clothing options, gender transition-related health services, and relevant trans-affirmative education.
Many people discussed concerns that general health and mental health care service providers often lack know-how for working with trans people. This tied into the subtheme of Inaccessible Knowledge because participants noted they’d encountered unregulated and inconsistent preparation and practice across social and healthcare services. One Edmonton participant listed these needs on her survey, stressing accessibility for those in the community “making or earning less [money].” She also wrote an opinion stated by group members in both cities that “studies for trans by trans” were important additions to professional literature and education.
Even where services were available, participants noted they seemed overloaded and sparse (see also Needs Outstrip Resources, Chapter 6). During a group discussion about the inadequacy of health services in Edmonton, one participant said:
“We’ve got to convince somebody who’s teaching our future doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, whoever what they need to learn so that they can accommodate us.”
The perfect professional.
What expertise would your perfect mental health care provider possess?
The trans community can be difficult to find or access.
Many group members described a certain level of secrecy under which both the Edmonton and Calgary communities might operate at times. The trans word used in both groups for when people and communities are undetectable to larger society was “stealth.” Being stealth, they said, was both protective of and detrimental to trans communities and people. For one thing, stealth made it difficult to find and meet trans people. Two Edmonton members recounted the focus on secrecy in trans communities several years ago and how it was especially difficult to advertise trans supports and find trans masculine people. This legacy seemed to still affect them today.
“When government and. . . well-intentioned support groups get out there, a lot of times they can’t engage in community because. . . those of us in the trans community are used to keeping it on the down low.”
Calgary group members described their available trans groups as closed off, sparse, and difficult to find. Edmonton group members noted that their community seemed to be moving away from a focus on being stealth, though one Edmonton participant still described it as a “ghost” community. Elaborating on this descriptor, they said:
“I know it’s there, I know it exists. . . But I don’t always see it.”
Participants indicated that overcoming community inaccessibility sometimes meant overcoming Mental Health as a Barrier and relying on Individual Strengths (see Chapters 6 and 7, respectively). Practical concerns like scheduling could also make accessing community hard. Both groups discussed how online mediums were used to mitigate the inaccessibility of trans communities, but said that offline interaction was still important and a challenge. For example, one Calgary member said:
“I found the online community fairly easily. . . But then I found finding the face-to-face community has been a lot more difficult.”
Even within the group conversations above, there were differing opinions about to what degree stealth was desirable. What would you consider a synonym for stealth? What does this say about your understanding of this idea?
Trans people face erasure, stereotypes, assumptions, or misconceptions about their identities. This oppression is enacted through sex/genital essentialism, gender policing, exclusion, rejection, or fetishization. This oppression is centred in transphobia and cisnormativity.
“We have society that is cisnormative. Where being transgender means you have to have a lot of money, a lot of connections, knowing where to look, and a certain mindset to be able to accept yourself.” – Calgary participant
Members in both the Edmonton and Calgary focus groups described several ways in which they experience and see trans people as misunderstood and mistreated in larger cisgender society. As alluded to above, participants in both groups pointed to financial and social barriers to equity. Calgary members detailed the ways in which implicit prejudice could block trans people from their basic needs, such as employment.
Participants also told stories demonstrating a systemic lack of support for people wanting to transition or access social and health services. For example, many people indicated they had encountered professionals uneducated in trans issues, which presented a barrier to healthcare for them (see also Inaccessible Knowledge above).
One Calgary participant also described how after coming out as trans, “you drop your social standing.” At the interpersonal level, trans people said they had encountered discrimination and oppression in both larger cisgender society and queer communities (see Inclusivity in LGBT+ Cultures). For example, one Edmonton participant told this story:
“I went from having a large support system in the gay community and in the drag community. And then when I transitioned I lost everybody.”
People in both the Calgary and Edmonton groups described instances where cisgender people felt entitled to ask trans people intrusive personal questions or impose their own understanding of trans experience on a trans person (see also Social Discourses, Chapter 8). Some participants described feeling pressured to not be trans or to pass as cisgender. A few described how some instances of oppression and discrimination were more easily identifiable than others. One Edmonton participant gave the analogy that navigating cisgender society to access trans-inclusive safe spaces was like “crawl[ing] through the lion’s den.” Another described her daily commute to and from work.
“I get the stares, the giggles, the laughs. . . The comments. And it’s an every. Day. Occurence. Even if someone doesn’t say anything. . . People just will continuously stare at you.”
As participants described it, oppression and discrimination played a large part in the mental health and minority stress issues posing as internal challenges to trans communities today. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, it frequently coded alongside Safety Concerns in this study (see below). Figure 9.1 in Chapter 9 gives a visual of how oppression and discrimination relates to challenges the trans community faces.
Write the ending.
As a trans person, I resonate with many of the stories I hear from other trans people in my work. But what makes our stories unique is how we experience and tell them. If you could fill in the blanks below, what would the following story be for you? Maybe this story outline doesn’t work for you. What would your story be instead?
This is a story about _____. It started with _____, and ended with _____. What got me through the middle was _____. This is a story about _____, but it could also be a story about _____.
Trans people fear threats to their physical, social, and mental safety in cisgender society.
Safety was explicitly brought up a few times in both groups as of special concern to trans people. Group members noted that the prevalence of inadequate social and health services put trans peoples’ mental and physical health at risk. The following conversation from the Edmonton focus group highlights how safety concerns relate to Extracommunity and Intracommunity Challenges:
Participant 1: “[What] works for the Americans. . . doesn’t work for me, and that’s not gonna apply here. So what actually applies in Alberta and not anywhere else? So I mean, being, having the resources and educating the medical profession for one, because some of them have not a frickin inkling of what it’s like to be trans and what the transition actually is.”
Participant 2: “To tell you the truth that is dangerous.”
Participant 1: “It is dangerous, and on top of it we’re already at a high risk of depression.”
Participant 2: “Because there are women who self-medicate. I don’t know what trans men do.”
Participants also noted they had concerns about emotional and physical vulnerability when accessing public spaces outside of what they deemed a safe space. Threats could be to comfort, privacy, emotional wellness, and physical security. These concerns related to the subtheme of Oppression and Discrimination. One Calgary member noted the impact of reflecting on Trans Day of Remembrance, where the names of trans people known to be homicide victims are read each year.
“I don’t feel 100% safe from the time I walk out my door.”
What are your signs of safety?
Consider your own sense of safety in your daily life. What indicates to you that a person or place is safe?