Thursday, May 24, 2012

On Jenna Talackova and "Double Dipping"

Barbara Kay over at the National Post is busy ranting about how there's something wrong with Jenna Talackova participating in a trans-oriented beauty pageant in 2010 and then Miss Universe in 2012.

Ms. Kay is arguing that there is a degree of inconsistency to Ms. Talackova's behaviour in this regard.  How can you claim to be "just a woman", and at the same time participate in an event focused on transgender women?  
Is Ms Talackova a woman or a transsexual? Are they one and the same thing? Because if they are one and the same, then how is it that Ms Talackova did not see a conflict of interest in taking part as well in The Miss International Queen pageant in Thailand before she took part in Miss Universe Canada?
The problem with this kind of reasoning is that it is a false dichotomy.  In order for Ms. Kay's dichotomy to hold together, it would require Jenna to not just ignore her past, but to actively deny it.

For example, I am a woman.  Make no mistake about it - I have been a woman for quite a while now, and I'm perfectly comfortable with that.  At the same time, I am a woman with a transsexual history.  In other words, when I was born, I was assigned a male gender role based on some dangly bits that the doctor could see.  I do not deny this, nor do I deny the reality of my transition.  Were I to attempt to do so, I would basically walk right back into the emotionally confining closet that was part of my pre-transition past - a place that was very unhealthy for me to live in.

I see it as a matter of Ms. Kay not fully understanding how being trans can affect a person's life and personal narrative.  To deny the reality of your past is guaranteed to be destructive, and there is so much work that goes on in transition that is very constructive that it would be ridiculous to entirely deny your past experiences simply to make Ms. Kay's assumptions about post-transition women hold together.

As an example, for the most part, I live and work with what I call "an open secret".  I don't talk about the fact of my trans history with anyone who isn't in my inner circle for a lot of good reasons.  That said, if someone were to ask me about it, I certainly do not deny my past either.  In fact, I  try my level best to be honest and open about it.  

One of the reasons I do not deny my past is because in matters of public policy (which is really what Ms. Kay is trying to influence), it is very easy for decisions to be made that directly affect others who are in the midst of their own journeys towards their correct gender.  One example of this would be the recent changes to airline boarding rules which could create all sorts of havoc for someone who is trans and needs to travel for any reason.  In these situations, it is perfectly appropriate for me to speak out not just as a woman, but also as a person who has been in the very situation that would be affected.  

To do less, in my opinion, would be to do an injustice to the rest of the transsexuals who live in our society and do not feel free to speak out for fear of repercussions.

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