Pro­test­ers dis­rupt trans­pho­bic talk

Mcgill pro­fes­sor Dou­glas Far­row re­peat­edly mis­gen­ders trans women

The McGill Daily - - News - Saima De­sai The Mcgill Daily

Con­tent warn­ing: trans­pho­bia

On Thurs­day Fe­bru­ary 2, the New­man Catholic Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of Mcgill (NCSS) or­ga­nized a panel at the New­man Cen­tre on the topic of “Gen­der Main­stream­ing and Trans­gen­der” – which fea­tured two cis­gen­der pan­elists speak­ing on the topic of Catholic faith and trans­gen­der is­sues.

Ap­prox­i­mately thirty ac­tivists, many of whom iden­tify as trans and are mem­bers of ei­ther Queer Mcgill, QPIRG Mcgill, and/or the Union for Gen­der Em­pow­er­ment (UGE), protested the event, hold­ing signs that read “Re­spect ex­is­tence or ex­pect re­sis­tance” and “We’re here, we’re queer,” and chal­leng­ing the speak­ers dur­ing their pre­sen­ta­tions.

The two pan­el­lists were Dou­glas Far­row, a pro­fes­sor of chris­tian thought at Mcgill and the cur­rent Kennedy Smith Chair in Catholic Stud­ies, and Moira Mcqueen, a pro­fes­sor of moral the­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of St. Michael’s Col­lege in the Univer­sity of Toronto.

Mcqueen has pre­vi­ously re­ferred to gen­der dys­pho­ria as a “con­di­tion” – a term no longer used, due to its in­sin­u­a­tion of trans iden­tity be­ing a men­tal or phys­i­cal ill­ness – and has ar­gued against the use of pre-pu­berty hor­mone block­ers for trans­gen­der youth.

Far­row penned an es­say de­nounc­ing Canada’s Bill C-389, which made crimes com­mit­ted against peo­ple based on their gen­der iden­tity a hate crime. In it, he wrote that “gen­der iden­tity and gen­der ex­pres­sion are not ac­tu­ally pos­i­tive or con­struc­tive ad­di­tions to the pro­hib­ited grounds of dis­crim­i­na­tion. Rather, they con­sti­tute a de­lib­er­ate at­tack on one of the ex­ist­ing grounds: sex.”

Prior to the event, many com­mu­nity mem­bers had voiced their dis­com­fort on the event’s Face­book page: “Can you please ex­plain why you’re host­ing an event about transness fea­tur­ing two non-trans, and ac­tu­ally highly trans­pho­bic, speak­ers? And lit­er­ally no trans rep­re­sen­ta­tion?” asked Lu­cie Lastinger, a U2 Women’s Stud­ies and An­thro­pol­ogy stu­dent and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for Gen­der Em­pow­er­ment.

“The kind of ide­ol­ogy em­bod­ied by this event’s speak­ers re­jects the lived ex­pe­ri­ences of trans peo­ple, and en­acts vi­o­lence against trans com­mu­ni­ties by pro­duc­ing and re­in­forc­ing a cul­ture that views trans peo­ple as med­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal anom­alies, in­stead of real peo­ple,” wrote Ben­jamin Old­ham, a U2 Lin­guis­tics stu­dent. “This kind of hate­ful ide­ol­ogy has no place on Mcgill’s cam­pus.”

After con­cerns voiced on the event’s Face­book page, Raphaële Frigon, the outreach co­or­di­na­tor at QPIRG-MCGILL, Michelle Li, a stu­dent from Queer Mcgill, and Lastinger met with the ex­ec­u­tives of the NCSS in the morn­ing be­fore the event.

Though the NCSS was un­able to can­cel the event, they changed the for­mat of the event to in­clude time for ques­tions from the au­di­ence, and later chose to dis­so­ci­ate them­selves from the event.

Far­row be­gan his pre­sen­ta­tion with a quote from the writer G.K. Ch­ester­ton: “For the next great heresy is go­ing to be an at­tack on moral­ity – and es­pe­cially on sex­ual moral­ity.” He then be­gan to de­scribe the case of Eva Tia­mat Me­dusa, a trans­gen­der woman, at which point Lastinger asked, “so why are you us­ing ‘he’ pro­nouns?”

When Far­row re­peat­edly re­fused to an­swer the ques­tion, mul­ti­ple pro­test­ers con­tin­ued to re­quest that Far­row use the cor­rect gen­der pro­nouns, at which point Mcqueen joined what had quickly es­ca­lated into an ar­gu­ment, say­ing that “there’s no such thing as the wrong pro­nouns.” When the pro­test­ers ex­pressed dis­sent at this state­ment, Mcqueen replied “Well, how many pro­nouns are there on Face­book, to cover ev­ery­thing?”

“You don’t have the vo­cab­u­lary to talk about trans peo­ple, and you’re act­ing like an ex­pert,” said Frigon.

One mem­ber of the au­di­ence asked Far­row, “would you please just use ‘they’ in or­der to keep them [the pro­test­ers] quiet?” to which Mcqueen re­sponded “No, we don’t have to do any­thing.”

“You can ei­ther be silent, or you can leave,” said Far­row. When pro­test­ers con­tin­ued to ask ques­tions, Far­row re­torted, “Okay, so we will wait for the po­lice to ar­rive and es­cort you out.”

“Are you re­ally that afraid of di­a­logue? Are you afraid of trans women?” asked Frigon.

After about ten min­utes of heated de­bate, Far­row con­tin­ued his pre­sen­ta­tion, with the ac­tivists call­ing out “she” when Far­row re­peat­edly mis­gen­dered mul­ti­ple trans women as “he.”

Far­row’s pre­sen­ta­tion fo­cused on how what he called “gen­der ide­ol­ogy” – ac­knowl­edg­ing gen­der and sex as sep­a­rate – which has made its way into ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems and hu­man rights leg­is­la­tion. “This is the ‘self-in­dul­gent mad­ness’ of which Ch­ester­ton spoke,” he said. “It seems to me that we have seen a pro­found at­tack on ob­jec­tive value in the time in which we live.”

His pre­sen­ta­tion con­cluded with four points: “gen­der ide­ol­ogy alien­ates us from our body; gen­der ide­ol­ogy alien­ates us from our nat­u­ral com­mu­ni­ties; gen­der ide­ol­ogy makes all iden­tity a le­gal fic­tion; and gen­der ide­ol­ogy sub­jects us to tyranny,” to which many au­di­ence mem­bers ex­pressed loud op­po­si­tion.

Mcqueen’s pre­sen­ta­tion, which fol­lowed, fo­cused on Catholic schools’ “deal­ing” with trans­gen­der stu­dents. “Many psy­chi­a­trists call the ‘trans idea’ a delu­sion,” she said. “A fix­a­tion in our mind that doesn’t change is a delu­sion.”

In re­sponse to ob­jec­tion from the crowd, she coun­tered “don’t mis­take ‘delu­sion’ as a pe­jo­ra­tive term; it’s a psy­chi­atric def­i­ni­tion.”

The Mer­riam-web­ster dic­tio­nary’s def­i­ni­tion of “delu­sion” is “the act of trick­ing or de­ceiv­ing some­one. When used in the con­text of psy­chi­a­try, it is “a per­sis­tent false psy­chotic be­lief re­gard­ing the self or per­sons or ob­jects out­side the self that is main­tained de­spite in­dis­putable ev­i­dence to the con­trary” – both of which are pe­jo­ra­tive, and nei­ther of which is ac­cu­rate to de­scribe trans peo­ple.

Mcqueen spoke about re­sponses to trans mi­nors, ex­press­ing re­sis­tance to­wards or out­right re­ject­ing the use of pu­berty block­ers or gen­der-af­fir­ma­tion surgery, say­ing that “the surgery is in­ef­fec­tual in the sense that what’s cre­ated does not work re­pro­duc­tively,” to which pro­test­ers ob­jected that gen­i­tals’ sole pur­pose is not re­pro­duc­tion. In­stead, she ad­vo­cated for the use of “psy­chother­apy as a treat­ment for trans iden­tity.” One ac­tivist re­torted, “If you’re talk­ing about con­ver­sion ther­apy, that’s a form of abuse.”

Dur­ing the half-hour re­served for ques­tions, many ac­tivists ob­jected to the poor scholarship of Far­row and Mcqueen, counter-ref­er­enc­ing stud­ies that sup­ported the use of pu­berty block­ers for trans­gen­der youth, and which showed that trans­gen­der chil­dren sup­ported in their iden­ti­ties show pos­i­tive men­tal health.

Far­row was asked about Jor­dan Peter­son, the no­to­ri­ously trans­pho­bic Univer­sity of Toronto pro­fes­sor who re­fuses to use gen­der-neu­tral pro­nouns be­cause he be­lieves there is “no ev­i­dence” that non-bi­nary peo­ple ex­ist.

He re­sponded: “I ref­er­ence Peter­son’s prin­ci­pled – as I see it, and as he sees it – re­fusal to be told how he must speak the lan­guage, and I sup­port him en­tirely in that. The in­sis­tence that I speak a cer­tain kind of lan­guage is an in­sis­tence that I adopt the ide­ol­ogy that gov­erns that lan­guage, and I sim­ply – like him – would refuse to do that.”

The event ended with the ac­tivists thank­ing the NCSS for de­cid­ing to dis­so­ci­ate from the event.

“I can­not con­done their re­fusal to ac­qui­esce to re­ally ba­sic and sim­ple re­quests, such as hon­our­ing some­one’s pro­nouns and not mis­gen­der­ing peo­ple – it’s just a mat­ter of hu­man de­cency,” a mem­ber of the protest, who wished to re­main anony­mous, told The Daily after the event.

“Ob­vi­ously, they were not lis­ten­ing to the trans mem­bers of the au­di­ence, which leads me to be­lieve that they don’t lis­ten to trans peo­ple in gen­eral.”

“While I re­spect the pur­pose of this event, and their pre­sent­ing an al­ter­na­tive per­spec­tive – with which I’m fa­mil­iar, hav­ing been raised Catholic and also be­ing trans – I, how­ever, can­not con­done bad scholarship in the pre­sen­ta­tions,” he said. “Sev­eral times Wikipedia was cited as a source which, as we all know from high school, is not ac­cept­able.”

“In an ideal world the event would have been can­celled,” Lastinger told The Daily, speak­ing to the fact that the NCSS did not stop the event from oc­cur­ring. “Trans peo­ple shouldn’t be forced to en­gage in this di­a­logue; they shouldn’t be forced to come to this event and fight for ba­sic re­spect.”

The NCSS ex­ec­u­tive has asked the UGE, Queer Mcgill, and QPIRGMcgill to col­lab­o­rate on an event, to take place in March, fea­tur­ing a panel of trans peo­ple talk­ing about their ex­pe­ri­ences with Catholi­cism.

“Are you re­ally that afraid of di­a­logue? Are you afraid of trans women?” —Raphaël Frigon Outreach Co­or­di­na­tor QPIRG-MCGILL

“If you’re talk­ing about con­ver­sion ther­apy, that’s a form of abuse.” —Ac­tivist at event

“I can­not con­done their re­fusal to ac­qui­esce to re­ally ba­sic and sim­ple re­quests, such as hon­our­ing some­one’s prou­nouns.” —Anony­mous

Saima De­sai | The Mcgill Daily

The panel at the New­man Cen­ter.

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