What happened when I got kicked out of a trans support group for refusing to disclose medical details about myself
It was Thuesday may 12th of the year 2015.
There were six of us, trans people, friends coming from an online community that had offshot from another one. The reason for this is important, because there has been a few occurrences of harassment, unapologetic racism, misogyny, victim blaming and other unsavory acts best left unmentioned. We deserved better, we thought, we deserved respect. So we formed our own community, with a dedicated team of moderators. We formed close ties together, and friendships, new and old, were formed, fastened and fortified.
Some of us had seen it firsthand, others were relayed accounts. We knew there was a particular trans support group that had been publicly active promoting trans people rights. However, it was problematic because it only promoted the rights of a fraction of the trans community, only spoke about one among the myriad experiences that members of the community had, namely, the specific experience of «being born in the wrong body, experiencing dysphoria», «being born a boy/girl and changing into a woman/man as an adult via a genital reassignment surgery», a transition process that had a beginning, a middle and an end, and happened only once in a lifetime. In other words, the one, mainstream trans narrative that cis culture had come to understand as the trans experience. The notion that this experience is the only trans experience that matters is called transmedicalism.
Now, I won’t extend myself for very long on that topic, but to say that this is one among many of the experiences of being trans. Some of us are are not overly disfond of their bodies – they think there is too much or not enough fat here or not enough or too much muscles there, they see hair in places where they rather not have it, or hair not growing in places they’d rather have hairy, feelings that many cis people can attest they have felt and isn’t different enough from normal body-image issues to warrant the name «gender dysphoria». In fact, I’d even say that those are normal body-image issues – that it’s part of the process of developing a healthy relationship with our bodies, while «gender dysphoria» should be reserved for a pathological, unhealthy or destructive mind-body relationship – in that sense, far from all trans people have gender dysphoria. Some trans people can’t say that their transition has had a clear beginning and don’t see why it needs to have a clear end at any point in time. Some are said to be «fluid» and, among them, some will transition many times and often. Some are neither a man nor a woman.
The topic is currently a hot, contentious legal issue in Québec for the trans communities right now, because the legislation had recently been changed to accommodate one part of transmedicalism – mandatory sexual reassignment surgery – to another, the doctrine that transition happens only once, has a beginning, a middle and an end – the law even states that a transition should last exactly two years and be accompanied by a medical professional.
Anyway, this trans group, so I heard, had publicly made a few transmedicalist claims in public. I had personally heard their president make such claims on Radio-Canada’s radio, but I had also seen her say very progressive things to the minister of Justice during the last parliamentary commission about this new law.
So it was that my opinion was that she hadn’t had the chance to see many trans people with a background and an experience much different from her own. I can’t vouch for the people who came with me, But I know for a fact that we all had different experiences, and I, for one, had the intention of going to a meeting and enrich our local support group with our own experiences. I reasoned that, by spending time with us, and us just by being there, and adding our voice to theirs, and theirs to ours, we could reach a chorus of sort, and, with the political and mediatic standing of this particular group, include new narratives in the mainstream dialogue.
Turns out I would be disappointed. My presentation, which consisted only of saying «My name is Annaelle, and my pronoun is “they”» raised eyebrows enough. I thought it encouraging at the time, because I thought it meant I was making them think.
Then something happened that gave me pause.
– How are you? Said the group’s founder.
– Actually, not very good. Said a watery-eyed member.
– But you are better than you were ?
– Hum… I don’t know, … maybe?
– Well, don’t you worry, once you [do X], you’ll get better
– If you say so.
I glanced at the sobbing member and I couldn’t help but think that they had something important to say, but wasn’t feeling safe enough to share it by then. Well what I’m certain of is that if they had a need to share something, it wasn’t a safe place to do so. I said nothing at the time.
Then the main topic came. Names.
«Names are important because we must chose them very carefully. It must have a special significance. After all, we can change our name only once. Of course it’s possible to try different names, but it’s only when we change it legally that the change is real, and that can be done only once». Said the group’s president.
A valid sentiment, and a most worthy thing to share as a personal experience. But when it is framed as an universal truth like this, when it is assumed that every trans person share this experience, then we have a problem. As a matter of fact, I didn’t share this experience, and I had recently changed my name. The notion that this change wasn’t true, wasn’t authentic, was deeply offensive to me. Maybe it was the reason why I decided to speak.
So my turn came, and I said this :
« My name is Annaelle. I changed my name a few weeks ago, and it does bear a special significance to me. It is made from the name of Saint Anne, mother of Mary mother of Jesus, and patron saint of Québec, but with a “aelle” at the end to make it sound elven and melodious to the ear. I like to like the sound it makes when people call me by name.
Like it was the case with my previous name, that I don’t care to share. However, I will say that my old name was also pleasing to hear, and it was named after the patron saint of children and sex workers, and children and sex workers are a marginalized group, the rights of whom I will always advocate for. It also meant «Victory of the people», which is a badass name to have in a protest.
In a way, changing my name was a sacrifice, because I traded a name I liked for a name I loved. I claimed Annaelle as my own because I wanted it. Because I allowed myself the right to choose my own name. It is my true name. My true name for how long? I don’t know, and I don’t care. Maybe for today, two days, two weeks or two years. The name I’ll have after that will also be my true name. Every name I have at some point is my true name at that point in time. I am the only one allowed to decide which name is my true name, and if the government disagrees with that, if the government wants to take this right away from me, they can eat shit.»
This speech, it was in direct contradiction with the president’s opening statement. But it was on topic and, more importantly, authentic. I tore my insides out of my gut and put them bloodied on the table for all to see : «this is who I am, and, even if I’m different, I will not be ashamed».
« I’m not comfortable. Is anyone else uncomfortable? We are not a bunch of revolutionaries, here, Annaelle.
– Well, I am a revolutionary, it’s part of who I am, but I don’t expect you to be one. But it’s a part of me, it’s a part of my story. I’m sorry if it makes anyone uncomfortable, and I am willing to tone it down.
– Tell me, are you being followed by a psychotherapist?
– Are you being followed by a psychotherapist? It’s a requirement to be among us.
– At any rate, I don’t care to talk about a therapist that I may or may not have, I don’t feel like sharing this particular information today, at this table.
– Then, I will ask you to leave.
– If it’s what this group want, then I agree to leave. I glanced at the members present.
– There is no need to ask the group. I am its president, I can ask you to leave on its behalf. Please, leave.»
Then I left, and I was followed by three great friends, and another one stayed, alone, to advocate on my behalf.
It has been said that I went there with the intention to cause trouble. This baseless accusation wounds me. I went to join my voice to the support group. To become a part of it. I acknowledge that I knew in advance that I wouldn’t fit in, but I honestly believed that I would be welcome, and why wouldn’t I? I’m a trans person like them, and my voice matters.
While I can admit that my speech was carefully crafted to disagree in every way with the president, I did so because I intended to enrich the group with a different perspective. Like a different tone of voice in a chorus. I fully intended to change the culture of the group – to make it into something opened to a larger variety of trans experiences.
They have the right to not want it. And I can admit that.
However, it was no reason to humiliate me before the whole group. To coerce me into sharing intimate details that I didn’t care to. They could have chosen to speak to me in private. They chose to shame me publicly. This choice isn’t trivial.
It is true that I am not a person who is afraid of disagreeing with people. But I will not allow it to be said that I went there to be disruptive. I went there to start a dialogue.
I am not sorry to be who I am. I am not sorry to have shared my story when I was invited to do so.
I am not sorry to have attempted to make our trans communities better.
I am only sorry to have failed.
But I vow to try again – in other ways.