This Friday, the Centretown location of Octopus Books is hosting a launch for a new book that collects the experiences of those who are at the forefront of efforts to improve the lives of trans and gender variant people in Canada.
Dr. Dan Irving, an associate professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Carleton University, co-edited Trans Activism in Canada along with Rupert Raj, a Toronto psychotherapist. Dr. Irving generously spoke to me for over an hour about the book and his own experiences with and views on trans activism in Canada.
When I wrote about Ottawa’s queer history for Apt613, I was hard-pressed to find much of any information about the role of trans people in the struggle for LGBT rights in Canada. Irving confirmed that trans activists did participate in some of the notable early queer civil rights protests in Canada, such as the 1971 march on Parliament Hill, which is commemorated in the mural at Bank and Gilmour (pictured above).
However, he also emphasized that activism consists of more than just marches, and that things like the informal social networks among trans people in the 1970s, who shared information, partied together, and supported one another, were themselves a critical form of activism in a time when trans people had few supports outside their own communities. Irving quotes contributor and Concordia professor Dr. Viviane Namaste in saying that “activism can be as simple as providing someone a hot meal”.
Many of the people who contributed to or are interviewed in Trans Activism in Canada are on the front lines of providing services to trans people. Psychologists, social workers, nurses, community-based researchers, and others share stories and insights. Irving contends that working towards broader social change is important, but can’t take the place of working to ensure that people’s basic needs are met on a day-to-day basis.
Trans Activism in Canada highlights stories like that of the High Risk Project Society in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, which not only advocated for legal protection for trans people, but also worked directly with street-involved trans women, helping them access HIV testing and other services.
Irving described how the cultural context of Canada makes trans activism here different from elsewhere. He pointed to the divide between anglophones and francophones as one factor that distinguishes activism in Canada. He also spoke about the role of two-spirit individuals: members of First Nations groups who are working to reclaim traditions of gender variance that were suppressed under European colonization, but are undergoing a resurgence.
Irving also mentioned that he thinks that there is important work to be done in expanding the way we think and talk about trans people and trans issues to include an analysis of immigration, decolonization, racialization, disability, and more. As an example of interesting and important work being done right now, he gave the example of the Compass program at the Griffin Centre in Toronto, which is a social group for LGBTQ youth labelled with intellectual disabilities, which allows them to explore and question their gender.
While Trans Activism in Canada was published through an academic press, its editors wanted it to be accessible to non-academic readers. The book aims to celebrate, without exoticizing or sensationalizing, the lives of trans people in Canada and those who care about them, in all their varied and complicated glory, and it looks like it will be a great read.
The book launch for Trans Activism in Canada will be held Friday, November 21st, 2014, at 6:00 PM, at Octopus Books Centretown (2nd Floor, 251 Bank St).