Monday, January 9, 2012

Trans woman turned away from YWCA

The Sudbury YWCA is facing a human rights complaint after turning away a transgender woman who needed a place to sleep after having problems with her partner (CBC's coverage of the story here - I can't seem to find any coverage in the local papers).

The executive director of the YWCA said that trans women are not allowed to stay at the women's shelter but they are directed to another safe space. Apparently, they do not do a very good job of it though, because the woman in question ended up spending the night at a downtown park.

Before turning her away, they subjected her to a series of questions about her genitals... whether she was pre or post-op, whether she urinated sitting down or standing up... questions that would never be tolerated if they were asked of a cis-woman.

I am not a trans person, and therefore am not really able to understand what she was going through, but I also cannot understand the position of turning away someone who needs these services just because the presence of a penis tells society that her own personal experiences of gender are not real (or something to that effect). I don't get it. And I don't think I want to understand that line of thinking, either.

It seems to me that people who don't conform to the gender binary should be allowed to decide whether a man's shelter or a women's shelter is a safer space for them (especially in the absence of non-gender specific spaces) and I am guessing for a trans woman, the safest place is probably a shelter for women.. please correct me if I'm wrong. And as someone who has spent time in a shelter for battered women, I don't think I would have felt in the least bit threatened by her presence.

Yet another example of how transphobia is still considered to be acceptable...


  1. "And as someone who has spent time in a shelter for battered women, I don't think I would have felt in the least bit threatened by her presence."

    What about the concerns of those women who have cultural/religious sensitivities regarding contact with the so-called opposite sex? I once read an article (can't find it now) that mentioned a trans woman in a shelter giving a massage to a Muslim woman, who was later upset to find out that the other woman was born biologically male. That story gave me mixed feelings on the issue.

  2. I have taken the day to think about it, and part of me wants to share your opinion, but I kind of don't. I feel as though trans women are women and shouldn't count as men for religious reasons. Now, I say this as someone who does not participate in any kind of religion, so it might be insensitive, it might not... I'm not sure. However, I do feel that it is insensitive to the experiences of trans women (and a form of institutionalized transphobia) to treat them as anything other than female, even for religious purposes.

  3. ashy,

    I think it's a good idea to operate under the assumption that we need to be respectful of cultural and religious differences and sensitivities, but in the case you described I don't know if that alone can produce a meaningful answer. It seems to me that we have two juxtaposed ideas butting heads, and neither of which could win out over the other on the basis of tolerance alone. We can't tolerate both the Muslim ciswoman's wish to be in a space that allows only those women who meet reactionary, essentialist, and ultimately cissupremacist ideas of gender as well as the transwoman's wish to be granted access to women's spaces (a right she should have, in my opinion, as a woman) simultaneously.

  4. I don't participate in any religion either and I usually have little sympathy for religious concerns, least of all when they conflict with LGBT acceptance. However, in the case I described, with issues of consent and being touched, especially in a shelter meant to be a refuge from's tricky, to put it lightly.

    I'm glad to hear that you took time to think about it, Ms. Marx. I think it's important to anticipate and acknowledge these issues in the fight for greater acceptance. We can't pretend that the opposing attitudes are black and white, as the other side is wont to do. You and arteadri both seem to agree that gender equality is more important than religious/cultural differences and sensitivities--an opinion that I respect and is actually supported by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms--and I believe this needs to be stated openly.

  5. ashy,

    I think we need to also state openly the material context of a shelter that is a "refuge of abuse". If this is the case, then we need to also be able to recognize that transwomen, like ciswomen, are also targets of abuse and the transwomen that apply to these sites are because, like those women who might be offended by their presence are also seeking shelter from abuse.

    While I understand that issues of consent and being touched by someone an abused women might problematically assume is a man turns into an issue that we need to recognize, recognizing it does not mean that we accept a scenario where abused and victimized transwomen are denied essential services.

    And yes, I think it is important to state that the human need for stability, for an end to abuse whether you be a cis or transwoman, should outweigh religious discomfort. (There are fundamentalist christians who think that queer women shouldn't be allowed in the same shelters as straight women, but I think we can all agree that sexual apartheid based on religious conservatism, after all, is irrational.) Besides, your anecdote does not logically result in the either/or situation you suggest: simply because a ciswoman is uncomfortable that she was given a massage by a transwoman due to religious concerns does not mean that the latter should be excluded from women's shelters.

    Why assume this bifurcation? (And why assume that other ciswomen who are religiously offended by queer ciswomen won't also kick up a fuss that they were massaged by someone who someone who "might be attracted to them" [I have heard of these stories, touted so often by the religious right].) If we must respect religious notions of gender, then isn't it also possible to have rules where women aren't allowed to give massages to other women? Sounds ludicrous, I know, but far less ludicrous then telling a victim of abuse, simply because she's a transwomen, that she should be revictimized because she might offend some other victims.

  6. People can keep updated on this human rights CASE at the blog.