Backpacking in Algonquin

What we tell other people

We're at the Biodome in Montreal, and The Small Person and I head to the bathroom. The Small Person refuses to come into the men's with me, insisting he is a girl. I decide it's fine for him to go into the women's, although I'm not prepared to go in with him. He goes in, and I sit down on a bench outside. Not two minutes later a woman sticks her head out to ask me if The Small Person is a girl or a boy. I respond she's a girl, and the woman goes back in, and even helps the small person wash her hands. In that bathroom, I stand up for the small person and whatever her chosen identity might be.

We're at the border, in the car, and the Homeland Security Officer asks me to lower the back seat window so he can see our small. "What's your name?" asks the dude in the uniform, and our small person answers "Julia Kerparsnip". "Julia Kerparsnip" is not the name on the small person's passport, and so, after we have cleared this all up, and we are across the border and away, we have a conversation about how there are some places that we just have to be whatever it says on our I.D. It feels like such a trans conversation, but not one I had expected to have before The Small Person was four.

We're visiting with Great-grandmother R in Baltimore. It's lunch time, and The Small is entertaining most of the residents. One person, across the table is delighted with her, and keeps complimenting us on what a "great little girl" we have. We thank her. The aid argues with her that The Small is a boy and then turns to us to support her argument. She is not pleased that we will not back her up on whether our small is a girl or a boy. Really, everyone is delighted, why does she care to disrupt the delight with this?

We emerge from a bathroom stall in a men's room in a gas station in rural South Carolina. The Small and I have been in the stall for a long time, and have been chatting. Part way through, Papa came in to see if we are okay (we were). When we emerge, I help The Small wash his hands. A total stranger claps me on the back and tells me what a great big brother I am for being so patient with my little brother and helping him out. The small clarifies that he does not have a brother. The dude claps me on the back, and says "well uncle then, you're doing a great thing." I don't correct him, and we head out to the car swiftly to avoid further conversation with him.

Names and genders, genders and names, bathrooms and borders. Apparently we are all playing. Certainly we are all learning the rules, whether we like them or not, and figuring out which ones we need to play along with, which ones we can bend, and which ones we can break.
Backpacking in Algonquin

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive"

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

Becoming a parent is for me an exercise in compassion for my parents. As a child I failed to understand how constant children are. I failed to understand how much my parents might have their own interests and desires. They were my parents, and I understood them in relation to me, not in relation to their own needs and desires. Parenting is increasing my appreciation of my own parents.

I'm a parent of a queer and trans variety, and I spend considerable time thinking about parenting. Perhaps, more honestly, I spend considerable time engaging in acts of parenting, and sometimes, if I am up early, or if the small person actually consented to sleep, or if I am driving, I think about parenting: how to do it, what it means, how not to do it, how to do it better, what I am teaching through my parenting. I am imperfect in my parenting, and I try to remember that the goal is not just to "do the best I can" but to be "good enough" for the particular small person I am parenting.

So, having a small window of time when I am neither in school, nor working for one, otherwise know as the winter holiday, I have embarked upon reading about other queer parents, as seen through the eyes of their children. Between Toronto and Montreal I read Fairyland, by Alysia Abbott, leaving Montreal, I started Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter by Alison Wearing, and arriving in New York I saw Fun Home the musical, based on the book by Alison Bechdel. There are literally thousands of miles still to go on our vacation - feel free to leave suggestions of what else I should be reading.

I'm struck by the similarities - both Alisons search for clues in their childhood memories that their fathers were gay. Wearing writes that her father loved making pastry at home, was an intellectual, and sang songs from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas on the street. By this assessment, my father is also gay. Bechdel too describes her father's intellectual bend, a love of opera, and in his case, an intense interest in home restoration. Alysia Abbot and Alison Bechdel are both writing about deceased fathers, which I think gives them a certain amount of license - each of them are now the sole owners of their stories, while Alison Wearing is writing about her father who is still very much alive - although that alone can not account for how poorly crafted Confessions is in comparison to the others. Both Abbot and Bechdel write about their relationships, they use like "we" and "us". Wearing mostly writes about herself, her's is a book about "I" in which her father makes very brief cameos.

To add a final similarity, they are all, roughly speaking contemporaries, and my contemporaries. It makes me wonder if my interest in all three is about my age and life stage, of if there is a broader cultural force at work.

Fun Home was deeply satisfying. My queer self grew up with Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel's comic that ran from 1987 to 2008. By the time I came out, anywhere, it already was. It modeled a world I wanted, centred around friendships, chosen family and a bookstore, it included people of a wide variety of sexual orientations, queers choosing to raise kids, trans people, and all manner of geeks with glasses. Some times I was Mo. Some times I wanted to date her. Some of the women I dated were very Mo-like. With Fun Home, Bechdel turns inwards, and writes explicitly about her own childhood, her closet gay or bisexual dad, her figuring out her own queerness, her mother performing theatre, and the funeral home in which they all live. I loved Fun Home as a book. I also love Fun Home the musical. It's clever, and beautiful, and hard. Seeing medium Alison sing about her first relationship with a woman "I'm changing my major to Joan" is delightful, and yes, pretty much exactly how I remember the heady early days of discovering sex and love. Seeing small Alison sing about seeing a butch delivery person and recognizing both something is desirable, and something that she wants to be, was a relief. When the world is so full of messages that children should romanticize heterosexuality, it feels emancipatory that a small person can sing on stage about something outside of heterosexuality. It's been extended again (for the fifth time) and I understand why. Go see it. It was what I needed in so many ways.

Fairyland is engrossing. While Alysia Abbott does not identify as queer, of gay, she grew-up culturally queer. For her, Fairyland was a magical time in San Francisco, before AIDS, when her childhood was full of happy men. It's a difficult read, in that she writes about hard experiences, including her father's struggles with addiction, and her being left to fend for herself far too often and far too young, but she writes about them beautifully. She acknowledges that her dad was struggling to meet his own needs, as well as hers, and their relationship feels complex and loving. It captures her experiences, and a particular point in time beautifully. It was a pleasure to read.

Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter is an overwritten insult. Clearly someone told Wearing that good writing uses lots of adjectives, and she took that to heart, adding adjectives in all manner of places, whether they are needed or not. It would be far more honest to call her book "Confessions of the child of divorced mother" - her mother being far more present both in her childhood and the book than her father, although "Confessions of a Narcissist" or "A Childhood of Unexamined Privilege" would also work. Wearing opts for a homophobic title, complete with a glib paragraph claiming that she doesn't mean fairy in a homophobic way so it's all fine. Except that her book is full of her own homophobia, and as a person who is not "a fairy" nor a part of fairy culture, it's not her's to use. If you feel compelled to read any of this book, the section titled "How He Saw It" is the one to read - Alison's father is by far the superior writer.

And from here, now, as a parent, what would I write about my childhood relationships with my parents?  Earlier this spring, I read Andrew Solomon's Far From The Tree which talks about what happens when children become part of a horizontal culture to which the parents do not belong. He began the research behind the book spurred on by his experience as a gay son of straight parents, thinking about their differences and distance. He expanded this to other identities. It helps me think about how my queerness, my Jewishness, my vegetarianism all brought me into cultures that are foreign to my parents, and gives me a greater willingness and ability to contemplate what these cultural differences meant and mean in our relationships.

I parent. I hope to be good enough to the small person I care for. I wonder how he will tell this story.
Backpacking in Algonquin

Only Cisgender Children Go Through Puberty: The Invisibility of Gender Independent and Trans Youth

So in my spare time (you know, outside of work, and parenting and going to grad school) I agreed to give a short talk for Queer Ontario, for their Greg Pavelick Memorial Public Forum in Education. Since then a number of people have asked me to share my talk. Here it is:

Only Cisgender Children Go Through Puberty: The Invisibility of Gender Independent and Trans Youth In the Health and Physical Education Curriculum

Background on the Curriculum
Currently, Ontario has the dubious honour of having the oldest sexual health curriculum in Canada. In Ontario we are still using an elementary curriculum from 1998, and a high school one from1999/2000. I’m only going to address the elementary (K-8) curriculum here.

Many people in Ontario remember that in 2010, an updated elementary curriculum was released, received significant negative media attention from a small number of groups on the Christian right, and was then withdrawn. While the vocal critics claimed the curriculum had been sprung on them without consultation, it was in fact the result of a two-year process of gathering evidence and best practices. Consultations had been conducted with “thousands of experts, parents, and for the first time, students themselves. In addition, the original version of the 2010 Health &Physical Education curriculum has the support of many different religious groups, administrators, principals, public health professionals and parent groups.”[1] One of the biggest frustrations is that in Ontario we know what an update could look like – but we don’t have the update. It’s like the once and future curriculum. In some ways this is great as we can point to a possible update, and in other ways it is terribly limiting – it’s hard to call for inclusion of things that were not included in 2010. And while 2010 is a significant improvement over what we have now, we need better still.

The 1998 Curriculum
Returning to the one we have, the overview of Growth and development in the 1998 curriculum states that:

Growth and development education is more than simply teaching young people about the anatomy and physiology of reproduction. For example, growth and development education focuses on an understanding of sexuality in its broadest context – sexual development, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, abstinence, body image, and gender roles. Acquiring information and skills and developing attitudes, beliefs, and values related to identity and relationships are lifelong processes.[2]

Which sounds expansive, but the challenge with the curriculum is sometimes less about what it says than what it does not say. Many of the curriculum expectations are vague and leave the interpretation to individual teachers. And while it’s appropriate to give room for a teacher to use their professional judgment, the vagueness of what is said is well beyond “leaving room for professional judgment”. In addition, a study released this year by People for Education found that across the province, only 45% of elementary schools have a Health and Physical Education specialist  (someone with specific training) – so in the majority of schools, there is a vague curriculum being taught by someone who is not a specialist in this subject area. Additionally:

  • particularly in issues of sexual health, individual teachers may fear parental criticism if they don’t have clear direction and be more conservative in their teaching.


  • 10% of LGBTQ students who responded to the Every classroom in Every School study reported hearing homophobic comments from their teachers daily or weekly.


  • 70.4% of all respondents reported hearing homophobic comments from peers daily.


  • and 22.5% of trans respondents reported hearing transphobic or gender policing comments from school staff sometimes or frequently.

Comparing to what might have been, 2010:
Measuring the number of times different words appear in both the 1998 and 2010 curriculum turned out to be a surprisingly effective way to give an overview of what is and is not talked about.

1998 Curriculum 2010 Curriculum
“homophobia” 0 1
“gender identity” 0 18
“transgender” 0 1
“vagina” 0 11
“penis” 0 5
“same-sex” 4 7
“relationship” 9 102

Please note that while “same-sex” appears 4 times in the 1998 curriculum, every time it is in reference to same-sex education, and how you might want to use that for aspects of human development. At no time in 1998 does it refer to same-sex relationships.

After the preamble, the word “relationship” appears only 9 times in the 1998 document.  The next time we read the word relationships is in the grade four expectations:

  • identify the characteristics of healthy relationships (e.g., showing consideration of others’ feelings by avoiding negative communication);

  • identify the challenges (e.g., conflicting opinions) and responsibilities in their relationships with family and friends;

Interestingly, the students who identified challenges in their relationships with family and friends in grade four, are not expected to develop strategies to address these challenges, until the following year, when the grade 5 curriculum states that students should be able to:

  • identify strategies to deal positively with stress and pressures that result from relationships with family and friends;

In contrast, in the 2010 curriculum, the word “relationship” is used 102 times, and is first mentioned in the curriculum section in grade one, where students are asked to “demonstrate the caring behaviors that are found in healthy relationships.”

Considering all this, what’s remarkable to me is that a 2011 study of students found that only “45% of students did not feel that sex education classes adequately addressed topics of a sexual nature that they had or expected to encounter”[3]

Certainly, in my experience of working with high school students, I have yet to meet a high school student who would tell me that their elementary experience of health education was adequate. Most have described it to me as being just the biology related to reproduction.

But you said you were going to talk about gender independent children and trans youth!

So, the current curriculum is failing to meet the needs of Ontario students. OPHEA, the largest Provincial Subject Associations for Health and Physical Education knows this and is publicly calling on the government to address the “urgent need” for an update before fall 2013.

45% of students were willing to tell People for Education that they know the current curriculum is inadequate. In the same study, “students report that their sexual health education doesn’t focus strongly enough on building skills related to different types of relationships for all students, personal experiences, positive sexual health and sexual emotions.” This matches the conversations I have had with students.

So, if the curriculum is failing all students, and students and teachers know this, why talk about the gender independent and trans ones? Simply because we matter too, and because we attend Ontario schools.

While there is no population data about how many gender independent and trans students there might be in Ontario, in the US, in GLSEN’s Playgrounds and Prejudice Study, 8% of grade 3-6 students reported that they “do not conform to traditional gender norms”. So for 8% of elementary students, this is about them. For a greater number of students, it’s about someone in their extended family, or a friend. For all the rest, this is going to help prepare them for the rest of their lives, for the trans and gender independent people they will meet. Including trans and gender independent people benefits those who feel seen and affirmed by such inclusion, but it also benefits those who learn more about the diversity of humans.

What might inclusion look like?
The Supreme Court Decision in Chamberlain v. Surrey District School Board No. 36 clearly stated that it is the work of education to prepare children to live in a world greater and more diverse than their homes. It reinforced that tolerance is always age appropriate. It specifically talked about the existence of gay and lesbian people and that it was appropriate to teach kindergarten students that gay and lesbian people exist and are deserving of dignity and respect. It is, by extension, always age appropriate to teach that gender can be understood and expressed in many ways, and that all people, of all gender identities and gender expressions deserve respect and dignity.

Additionally, since 2012, gender identity and gender expression are explicitly included as protected grounds in the human rights code. As I like to remind people, the human rights code supersedes the education act, so there are now explicit protections for diverse gender identities and gender expressions in schools. Let’s have a Health and Human Development that reflects that.

  1. Acknowledge we exist - all of us, including LGBTT2IQQA people.


  1. Acknowledge we have existed and continue to exist, here and now, in history, and across cultures.


  1. Acknowledge that we are all deserving of respect and dignity, and that diversity is normal. Being less common does not make someone abnormal.


  1. Teach that sex does not define gender. Teach that everyone has a sex, a gender identity, a gender expression and a sexual orientation, and that there are multiple possibilities for each. In age appropriate language for young children, that might mean teaching “there are no rules for who is a boy or girl, or both, or neither”, and “there are no rules for what a boy, or girl, or someone who is both, or someone who is neither, can do or be.”


  1. Teach that development of one’s gender identity is a life long process, beginning at birth. Teach that while one’s gender identity can change over time, those changes come from inside and can not be externally imposed.


  1. Teach that building health relationships is everyone’s business, no matter what their sex or gender. This is true not just for big R romantic relationships, but all manner of relationships.


  1. Don’t address students as boys and girls – that greeting tells some of us we do not matter. Don’t talk about body parts as “girl parts” and “boy parts”, use specific and accurate terms.


  1. Teach that everyone has the right to feel good in their body, and control who, if anyone, touches them. Teach children to talk about their bodies proudly, and with confidence.


  1. Challenge and address gender stereotypes. Phrases like “the weaker sex,” are slurs that only serve to teach girls and boys how they are expected to behave.


  1. Let femininity be fabulous. Don’t mock boys by calling them girls, and don’t let others do this. Celebrate femininity.


  1. Let masculinity be tender. Teach that there are many ways to be a man, and that not all of them are masculine. Teach that strength does not come from scaring or defeating others.


  1. While we are talking about physical education, make sure that everyone has access to safe change rooms. Make sure that students understand that policing other people’s gender is not appropriate. Make sure there are single-user accessible spaces for people to change.


So, how do we do this? How do we help build and implement a better Health and Physical Education curriculum in Ontario?

The easy answer is do something – because many of us have been doing nothing. We need to be loud and clear that what currently exists is not enough, and not meeting the needs of students. We need to be loud and clear that we are ready for more. When it is released, and vocal parties are loud in denouncing it, we need to be vocal in support – particularly those of us who are parents. We need to connect with others calling for more and better – like OPHEA and support their efforts. We need to target the Ministry of Education, not individual teachers or schools, because the change that is needed needs to be Ministry lead. And we need to stay rooted in the research that tells us that knowing about human bodies and human relationships allows children to better understand themselves, advocate for themselves, report abuse if they experience it, be more accepting of others, and make better choices.



Since the event in September, OPHEA has launched a crowd funding campaign to have an updated curriculum launched. You can contribute here. You can read more about their advocacy here.




[1] OPHEA Sexual Health Education in Schools Across Canada document (p.5.)
[2] The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8 Health and Physical Education.
Ministry of Education and Training. 1998. p.10.
[3]Ontario Student Trustees Association/People for Education. (2011). OSTA-AECO 2011 Student & Parent Survey Analysis & Results. Retrieved from www.peopleforeducation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/OSTA-P4EStudent-Parent-Survey-Final-Report.pdf
Backpacking in Algonquin

One's Entire Life on the Internet

Sometime last week The Teenager were having dinner. As part of my work, I'm creating activities about Cyber Bullying and recruited some real world help from The Teenager.

She said, that the big rule for her, is "Don't say anything on line that you would not say to the person's face in real life." She applied this to mean and to snarky comments, but also to Facebook status memes that attempt to pressure people into commenting on your status and then to post it as their status.

She said, "Imagine you are at a party, and someone walks up to you and says: "Hi - friendships are very important to me, I always love and honour my friends because they are the most important people in the world. If you really love your friends, give me a hug and turn around and say this to everyone else too." - it sounds like emotional blackmail, like they are needy and controlling, and you probably would not want to be friends with them." I too hate these memes, and suddenly liked the idea of imagining you were saying your Facebook status out loud at a party. Of course, you have to think about who is at your party - I keep my Facebook profile wide open, and so I know everyone, including my parents, other relatives, co-workers and young people - it's kind of like a wedding there, complete with wedding crashers. I didn't have an open bar at my wedding, and we did not let just anyone have the mike - similarly, not everyone can post to my Facebook wall. Sure, anyone can see anything, but I want to be able to control the content.

The teenager also has some strong feelings about the "never post pictures"  advice and the "imagine what your future employer will think" advice that many adults dole out to teens about how to behave on-line. She went on to say that she had lived her whole life on the internet - she got a Facebook account when she was 13 and that employers are going to have to recognize that people who were on line at 13 will exhibit some jeuvenile behaviour. She's right. We expect juvenile behavour from young people, and we need to recognize that learning how to behave and have relationships (all kinds) on-line is an extension of learning those skills in real life. We expect that young people are learning, and we allow them some latitude. I think there are some things to avoid, and I have occasionally let her know if there is something that I am concerned about. She also said that anyone her age should have their Facebook locked down tight, so they can control who sees what. For me there is a balance between letting young people make their own mistakes and learn from them, and being available to help them do the learning and resolving part. Tight security controls, with some trusted adults in the mix.

I got stuck on the line that "she had lived her whole life on line".

I argued that actually she had not lived her whole life on line - but The Small Person has. The Small Person was expected on line, here, on this blog, and on Facebook; mine, my partner's and those of other significant people in the Small Person's life. We posted pictures of The Small Person when he was all fresh and new. We continue to write about him and talk about him. He continues to come with us to conferences, where he wants to introduce himself to people and delights in making new friends. Last night he played "chairing the meeting" at home, which should tell you a bit about his world. He began by announcing the agenda. He tried to not end the meeting as a tactic of stalling bed time. I do think about The Small Person reading all these things we have written about him. I think about his future friends, and their parents, and others reading it, and I work hard to make sure what I write is always kind about all the people he knows now and will in the future.

I keep thinking about what does it mean to have lived your whole life on line?

I think about who has the power to curate his on-line image, how that is shifting, and how that will continue to shift. While I did not ask his baby-self for permission to take pictures, or to post them on-line, I always do now. There was an outfit he wore a week ago that I wanted a picture of, and he did not want photographed - and thus I have no evidence of it. I think about this as modeling consent. Sometimes he asks me to share a photograph, and whether he asked me to share, or I asked him and he said yes, I usually read him the comments. This feels like the work of media literacy - I can teach him that one should always ask before taking a photograph, and that if asked, it's okay to say no. I can teach him that one should ask before sharing a photograph, and that again, it's okay to say no. I can teach him choices about who an image is shared with - do we text it to one person? a small group? or post it on line? I can teach him that people will see things that are posted on line, and help him think about the implications of this. At three and a half the most advanced technology I could operate was my Fisher Price toy record player - he can use the ipad fairly independently. His experience of technology is and will always be different than mine, and yet my job is to best prepare him for his future in the unknown. As a parent, I hoping I'm not messing it up too badly.
Backpacking in Algonquin

Coming Out

A teacher I work with requested a short story, by a trans* person, about "coming out" to use with a group of LGBT high school students. I was not able to recommend one (this may well be because my memory is bad, if you have a suggestion, please leave it in the comments and apologies if I am overlooking your work). I can heartily recommend a number of YA novels by and about trans* people that address coming out, and there are some brilliant short stories by and about trans* people, that don't directly address coming out. So I wrote him something. I'm also sharing it here:

_______________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________

I’m reluctant to tell a coming out story, in part because which one would I choose? There are so many coming out moments. I’m also reluctant to tell a coming out story, because there is such a cultural fixation on stories of starting to transition. The media likes to focus on the big reveal, the moment of first coming out, “the shocker”, “the betrayal”. My life is not a day-time TV special episode. “Transition” is presented as full of drama, but focusing on the one moment hides that we are all still daily making decisions to come out, or not. They make transition into the biggest events of our lives, and while for some of us that might be true, for many of us, we would like it to be a non-event, a time that is past, and we would like people to pay attention to our accomplishments, our writing, our work, the way we support our friends, the way we create our families, the things we imbue with meaning. Many of us would also tell you that there is no single moment of transition – it’s a process, and it takes time.

The other thing is that there is no single story.

Some of us never get to come out. Some of us are outed long before we know words like “trans” or “gender” and well before we can put them together as something we might be. Some of us come out on our own terms as part of a transition, and stay out for the rest of our lives. Some of us come out as part of a transition process - become who we know ourselves to be, and stop talking about our past. Some of us find that we have to come out, all the time, to everyone, as we carefully explain that neither “he” nor “she” is accurate, and that “they” or “ze” or no pronoun at all would be better. There are perhaps more ways to be out than there are to be trans, and there are many, many ways to be trans.

In 1973 coming out gay or lesbian stopped also meaning you were coming out as mentally ill. Coming out as trans has just maybe stopped meaning coming out as mentally ill. The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual V (basically a catalogue of mental illnesses) was released in May of this year and no longer considers all of us to have Gender Identity Disorder. It replaced that with Gender Dysphoria. It’s not clear how well that’s understood. I know an awful lot of trans* people who would say it’s not their gender, but their body they feel disphoric about.

For some of us, who were told we were girls, as children we were seen as strong girls, and good feminists. We were seen as athletic, resisting sexism and perhaps, as tomboys. We might have even been encouraged in that identity until we hit puberty. Then we were encouraged to learn about make-up, “act more lady-like” or “put a sexy wiggle in our walk”. As our bodies betrayed us with breasts, and periods and hips, our families betrayed us with skirts and bras.

For some of us, who were told we were boys, the kindest thing we were called as children was “sensitive”. We were told not to pick up the toys we most wanted, not to wear shiny, beautiful, or colourful things, not to swish, not to dance, not to be friends with the other children most like us, not to like pink, not to wear jewellery, not to be. We were punished.

For some of us, we were allowed to be who we are. Some of us had support at school but not at home. Some of us had support at home, but not at school. Some of us had some family who celebrated us, and others who stopped talking to us. Some of us told our family and were celebrated, but seldom encouraged. Everyone of us has a different story.

Some of us saved coming out until after high school. Some of us waited until we were away from the people we had grown up with, until we were not living in the same house as our parents and guardians, until we were somewhere we could try out a different name, a different pronoun, different hair or clothing away from people full of memories of us being someone else. Some of us selected a university program not for the courses or programs, but for the health plan. Would hormones be covered? Would electrolysis? Would any surgery?

When someone comes out as gay, all it needs is words. You can fill in the Canada Census form the next day reporting that you are in a same-sex relationship and they will take your word on it. When you come out as trans, the government wants other people to confirm this for them. You need a doctor’s letter to change any ID – you don’t get to come out to the government and say “actually I am a __________” you have to come out to your doctor, and then they have to out you to the government. Your self knowledge is less important than their assessment. Other people will demand to know “if you take hormones” and “if you have had the surgery” again, as if these medical procedures are more important that your self knowledge. Let me be clear, your self knowledge is the most important thing. You are your own expert, and the person who knows you best, governments, doctors and other strangers be damned.

Some of us come out and want to make changes right away – but nothing is fast, and nothing is free. Clothes cost money, and while a hair cut is quick, growing it long can take forever. If we want hormones, we need a doctor’s approval, and that might take weeks, or months, or over a year of visits, showing up in the doctor’s office, and coming out time and time again. We may need to find a new doctor, we may find after several visits that the doctor we have been seeing will never write us a script anyway. And when we start hormones, the changes we want, those too will be slow. With hormones and time, transguys will find themselves having the option to come out to friends who ask about our colds, worried that we sound hoarse. Transwomen weigh who they can come out to safely, who will respect their privacy, who will welcome them to womanhood, and who will be clouded by prejudice. Coming out can feel dangerous, and we might worry about losing friends, losing family, losing access to the bathroom, the swimming pool, the knitting circle, our sports teams, our place of worship, our jobs, any promotions, our lovers, our children. We all know too many stories of people who came out, or were outed and were met with violence, and we fear that too.

Before I identified as a man, I identified as “other”. I came out in a cartoon I drew for my campus’ newspaper. In the cartoon, I described how when my sister and I were small, we use to play “fat or pregnant” looking at people on the street and trying to guess[1] if the people we saw were fat, or pregnant. In the next panel I described how eventually the game became “male or female” and how we would then try to guess who was a man and who was a woman[2]. In the last panel I described how I now play “male or female” with myself, and how I no longer see these as a binary. I was not thinking about the cartoon on a Friday afternoon when my parents came to pick me up from school. My parents arrived early, and my dad picked up all the campus newspapers and read them while he waited for me to come out from class. When I got to their car, my mum greeted me with “You were a normal child you know.” My mum felt that me coming out was an indictment of her parenting, and cried. The car ride was uncomfortable and my dad was silent for a long while. Finally, he said “I think nationality is stupid, but I was born in Britain, and now I’m Canadian, it’s kind of the same thing isn’t it.” I nodded. That felt close enough to true.

But all those are pre-transition or early-transition “coming out” stories. If transition is what we want, ideally we go on to have long lives on the other side of our transitions. Post-transition, our histories never go away, our pasts never truly disappear, and being trans presents a life time of coming out possibilities. It’s the moment, years ago, working retail at Mountain Equipment Co-op, when Paul Abel came in and looked at me – “Hey,” he said “Hey, you went to O.T didn’t you? I use to run cross country with your sister.” Paul Abel use to run cross country with me, but seeing me, the male me, he’s rewritten his memories, and I have become my own brother. I have to choose, do I come out, or do I help him find the item he is looking for? How much of  conversation do I want to have with him about who I was, and who I am, in public for $12.50 an hour?

Some of us have to come out in medical settings. Some of us have legal names that are not our real names. Our real names are the ones we choose, the ones that belong to us, the ones we feel good about, our real names are welcome in our ears. In waiting rooms reception staff call out our legal names, and everyone else who has nothing to do but wait looks around to see who Philip might be, as Sophia walks up to the desk. You can bet they listen in as she explains, again, that Sophia is her name. They keep listening as the receptionist asks, “If you are Sophia, why did you give me Philip’s health card – we have to see your health card.”

Many of us have had experiences of showing up in emergency rooms with urgent conditions, and being asked about our gender or our sex before getting treated “as it is just so fascinating” and “we don’t get many transsexuals here”. I know transmen who have had to come out to explain what might be causing their abdominal pain, or to request a pap test. I know a transwoman whose wife was going through fertility treatments, using the transwoman’s sperm, and every time she went to the fertility clinic she had to come out as trans, again, to access her own sperm. I know another transwoman, who does not want to come out, whose husband desperately wants children. She is struggling to explain why she is infertile.

As the world becomes more interested in security and I.D. if we have not changed, or are not able to change our documents, we have to come out in more and more places. It’s the big official locations like international borders, immigration and police checks, and airport security, and the small ones, like trying to get a library card for the first time, or rent a DVD. It’s being pulled over for speeding with an extra level of fear. It’s choosing to come out on a resume and be “the trans candidate” or not and having a much shorter employment history. Some of us have been able to change some of our I.D. but not all of it, leaving us vulnerable to charges of fraud, coming out won’t help you now.

Post-transition, some of us never want to come out again. We are “just men” or “just women” and our history is none of your business. We may choose only to come out in intimate relationships, and for some of us, not even then. Our trans* experience has no power to harm you or change your sexual orientation, and our choice to keep it confidential is the one that feels truest to us. Stop judging. This is not about you.

So. If coming out is so challenging, so frequent, and so unpleasant, why do some of us choose it? Because we exist. Because we are worthwhile. Because we want to be able to talk about our whole lives and our whole selves. Because we have enough safety or privilege that we are able to do so. Because our history is important. Because we want you to know we exist. Because we are storytellers. Because we want to change the world. Because we want to find others like us. Because there are experiences and insights, that only we have, and we want to be able to share them. Because we want to be able to tell you to your face that our trans* experience has no power to harm you or change your sexual orientation, and our choice to be out is the one that feels truest to us. Again, stop judging. This too is not about you.





[1] Don’t do this. It is a terrible idea. Judging other people’s bodies is never a good plan. We were very young at the time and did not know better. I regret this now.
[2] This is also a terrible idea. See above about judging other people’s bodies. Now I have a firm policy of not making assumptions – most of the time we don’t actually need to know, and on the occasions we do, politely and discretely asking is usually the best way to go.
Backpacking in Algonquin

Be careful what you wish for: snapshots from Toronto Pride, inspired by Pride 2013

::glitter in my eyes::

At the end of the parade route this year, marshals sent the vehicles off in one direction, and the marchers off in another. I went with the marchers, having been told I could join back in with the vehicle “just around the corner”. “Just around the corner” turned out to be several blocks further away than I had expected, and I had a powerdrill and a take-down job to do, so I moved the fence apart, thrust my bicycle through and followed.
“Hey!”, a fairly large cop yelled, “That fence is there to keep people out!”
“But I need to get in” I shouted, and kept going. The cop fumbled for a minute, looking at the still open gap in the fence, and then me, and then he went to the fence. Better to close it now, and have it be just me in the wrong place, than to go after me and have a stream of people.

What’s pride without a little police defiance?

I first marched in the parade in the 90s – at the time I did not write down the year because it did not seem important – now I wish I had. We called it a march then, not a parade, and there was nothing separating the crowds on the street from the crowds on the side walk. I had not planned on marching, but it looked like more fun than watching, so after kissing a marcher, I jumped in, and we marched south together. Yonge St. was a tunnel of love, cheering screaming people on all sides, all the way to College where our people delivered us into the latex gloved hands of the police.

There was a wall of cops blocking the street, like on our own we might not remember to turn left (we’re fucking queer, we have to turn left) and they all wore latex gloves. Those gloves made us all poz. I did not feel served or protected. Not then, and not now. At the same time, gloves. We were working hard to make gloves sexy, to see them as hot, to practice thrusting and loving with them on. We all knew what to do with a dental dam, although no one bothered, but gloves, gloves were for fucking, and then these gloves were there in fear and in judgement. Fuck them. We got close to them, blew them kisses as they awkwardly stood there, and then we turned left, back to the party, back amongst ourselves, back to drinking and dancing and looking for places to fuck. Cops taught me that to be queer was to be diseased, not human enough to touch, and I’ve not forgotten, nor forgiven them either. I also know that this is not a lesson that they stopped teaching in the 90s – now they just like to do it in smaller sessions, tutoring people privately, more violence, fewer witnesses.

Now the cops are in the damn parade.

This year an OPP officer tried to give my three-year-old an OPP crest temporary tattoo. He returned it to her saying “I’m not old enough to get a tattoo yet.” The people who donned gloves to avoid the danger of my skin want to brand the skin of my child. Not on my watch. The police don’t remember, in the way they institutionally and conveniently forget so many violences they have committed. Wearing a rainbow lei over the uniform today will not mean transpeople get appropriate treatment this afternoon, let alone any other day. The “Pride in Corrections” bus left me cold – I note they rented a coach for the day as presumably they know that those fucking paddy wagons become ovens in this heat. Their own tools, not good enough for them. Just for us.

………………

Again, some time in the 90s, I remember marching and shouting “Whose Pride? Our Pride!”. It might have been at the first Dyke March in 1996, it might have been somewhere else. We don’t shout that anymore, perhaps because we can not be heard over the roar of the giant speakers on the back of corporate floats. Perhaps because we are no longer sure whose Pride this is. Now I imagine that there must be a bidding war between the major banks to see who will have the honour of having the buffest pretty boys on their floats wearing tiny matching swimwear, just big enough to display the bank’s colours.

In 1995 I bought a house with my family. We were a triad, a man, a woman, and me. They were married, but with no official way to add me to the relationship, a mortgage felt as legal as we could get. The man had a broken credit history, so the woman and I were listed as the holders of the mortgage, which made us paper lesbians, even as we drafted an ownership agreement that made at least two of us look like bisexuals. The three of us did extensive research on mortgage rates, and financial policy. In the end we were offered mortgages by two credit unions, no banks being willing to lend money to a household of three queers. The idea that we were all moving from one one-and-a-half bedroom house to another we would own in common alarmed a number of the bankers we talked to.

We use to decry this kind of discrimination – we demanded our relationships be recognised, we demanded that we deserved access to services. And in a way that would have surprized me then, we’ve been listened to. And the same banks that did not want our pink mortgage now show up to Pride to woo our dollars. They make bank advertisements that show happy homo couples (always couples, still no triads) on their green furniture saving for vacations, opening joint checking accounts, and getting mortgages. We told them we existed, we told them they were missing out on our business, and they smelt money and started paying attention. In 2009, TD Bank became Pride Toronto’s “Premier Sponsor”, and promptly wanted to meet with the Executive Director of Pride specifically about who would be allowed to march in the parade. “Whose Pride?” - not our Pride anymore.

………………..

The straight guys with cameras have always been there in my memory. I remember at an early Pride, marching in a chest harness and cut-off shorts and having one of the tourists get too close. We turned on him. A growing group of us took pictures of him until he turned and left. But it feels more and more straight. More and more opposite-sex couples marching hand in hand, more overheard conversations between men about how many women they have hit on at the festival, this year a straight-identified trans dj cheerfully playing misogynist music. Facebook and Twitter stream with complaints of queer women about men with cameras, men demanding they smile, non-consensual touching. I know, not all the transpeople are LGBQ, and for those straight people this has always been their festival. This is not about them. I understand that for many straight people the idea of sexual freedom is appealing, but if it is not consensual it’s not sexual freedom - it’s just more misogyny, heterosexism and plain old sexism. It’s also assault. I want to say that it is getting less and less safe, but I also know that for some bodies Pride has never been safe – and I wonder, how many of us need to feel unsafe before we take action. I wonder whose bodies matter, and at the moment it feels like the straight ones, again, and still.

But the individual actions mirror some of the larger cultural flirting. We are like you, we are not like you. Notice us! Let us just do our thing. The relationships between queer cultures and trans cultures feels all in flux. If we are dancing no one is leading, and my toes just got stepped on again.
………………..

It’s six pm on the Sunday of Pride weekend, and I’m finally done working the festival. My husband still has two hours of hosting a stage to go, but we are getting close to both of us being through working. At eight we head over to the Wellesley stage, and skip the line to get in. He picked-up an extra three hours of stage hosting at the very last minute and part of his “Thank you for bailing out my sorry ass” package included VIP access to the main stages. We are up close to the stage, and there is comfortable furniture and snacks are served. Some of the people we know are here, and some of the people we know are still working, but there are an awful lot of people we don’t know. There are again pretty boys in matching linen pants posing with tourists, and bank executives, and other people who gave money to the festival. Some VIP status has been earned through service, but most has been bought with corporate dollars. We create our own VIP system, based on hours of volunteer community service and smuggle out our passes, hang them on other necks and smuggle people in. We are smuggling people from our community into our festival through the back door.

………………..

This morning, after Pride, still a little glittery, I’m revisiting the conversations I started at Pride in the 90s. Be careful what you wish for feels like my theme of the weekend, but it does not stop me from the business of wishing, or of wish fulfilment. But I am trying to think through my wishes, and all their implications, trying to remember that whole plans are needed, not just initial demands, always clear new wishes are needed.
Backpacking in Algonquin

For all those who do parenting work

I want to recognise people who do parenting work - whether or not they are afforded the title of parent. I want to thank the people who help us love and parent The Small Person, without deciding in a gendered way that some get honoured today, and some get honoured in May, and some don't get honoured at all. To all those who help us love and celebrate and care for the Small Person, thank you. I feel deeply honoured to have such a village and to be able to nestle the Small Person in our communities. Thank you.

When The Small Person arrived we were given a book called No Matter What by Debi Gliori - it's a beautiful story of Large and Small, and how Large will always love Small. It is refreshingly not a book about Mothers or Fathers, but a book about a child and an adult who loves and cares for the child. I think of it on days like Father(')s(') day. A day when the majority culture asks us to honour dads. I feel like my Facebook stream has been full of people talking about their dads: People who love and thank their dads, people who were harmed and hurt by their dads, people whose dads have died, people who are not quite dads, but are certainly not mums either,  queer and trans people whose dads rejected them, people who use to be dads, and who would very much like to be mums. Father(')s(') day is hard for many of us, no matter where you put the apostrophe.

All day I thought about the movement that calls on people not to identify as allies, but to recognize ally as a verb, and to shows allyship through actions. I feel similar about parenting. Parenting is in the doing, in the tending, in the loving, in the work. I don't believe that there are universal "mothering" tasks or universal "fathering" task, but I am sure children need love, and care, and all manner of other things. As with so many other things I want to be able to recognise the important stuff, the work, the relationships, without gender being front and centre.

A few weeks ago I received a request from a parent, neither a mum nor a dad who was trying to respond to an invitation to hir child's daycare's "Father's Day Picnic". The parent asked me for help in crafting an answer. I'm sharing this here to help encourage schools, day cares and children's programs to think about how they celebrate all children, and make sure all families feel recognised and celebrated.

Different parents and different schools are using different ways of making these days more inclusive of all families. I’m aware of people doing the following:


  • Knowing a child’s family structure and then sending “the appropriate” invitations. If a child has more than one mum or more than one dad, making sure they have enough craft supplies to make a gift for each of gifts are being made. Some LGB families will really like this, as it means two mums or two dads can be recognised. This still assumes that there are “mum”s and “dad”s in all children’s lives. Because some LGB people really struggle to be recognised as parents this can be really affirming.


  • Using inclusive language for both the Fathers’ Day and Mother’s Day events (“celebrating care givers”, “celebrating all families”, “celebrating parents”). Celebrate both, on both days, making both non-gender specific.


  • Expanding both Mothers’ and Fathers’ days as gendered days, but more inclusively “celebrating moms, aunts, grandmothers and all the caring women in a child’s life” or “celebrating dads, uncles, grandfathers and all the caring men in a child’s life”.


  • Having the children create un-branded gifts for their caregivers for both days. The Small Person's  first day care did this, and we received painted bird houses that say things like “Happy Day” or “Happy June 8".


  • Picking a date between Mothers’ and Fathers’ day and creating an event then. This could mean children brainstorm all the words they use for the people they live with who love them. This can be a powerful way of learning how different families name parenting roles, and who is significant to a child. The Small Person's first day care also did this. Our Small Person apparently had the longest list in the class, and made a great many cards.


  • Recognise neither.  This makes these days like many other days, ones you can choose to celebrate at home, or not, it means there is no special pressure on families in the school/centre/group.


  • Add in a celebration of Family Equality Day / Family Visibility Day (http://www.internationalfamilyequalityday.org)


Many places are receptive to the idea that these days can be hard for many children. It’s often helpful to remind a school that some children have had a parent die, or may be estranged from one or more of their parents. Some families never get recognised by these days (foster families, families where people other than parents are raising children) and that recognising Mothers’ and Fathers’ day can be traumatic for some children and erasing of some families. My tactic here is to remind the institution that you are not just in this for your family, but also for a wider number of people. They need to think about not just how they can make your family welcome (although they should) but also about how they help families learn about each other and celebrate all families.
                             
I don't think there is a single right answer. I don't think celebrating Mother's and Father's days in unexamined ways is appropriate, but I do think there is room to think about what will best meet the needs of the children and families involved.




Yesterday people also shared these with me, as further ways to re-think these days:
How two different men, both of whom are sperm donors think about their roles and fathers day.

How a family of two mums and two kids challenges how the school one of the children attends deals with father's day.
Backpacking in Algonquin

Princesses can break gender stereotypes

When I dropped The Small Person off at school the other morning there were already three children in princess dresses playing in a castle they had built out of giant bricks. The Small Person did a basic inspection of what was happening; in the pop-up tent, what was going on with the world map puzzle, and decided that the castle was where it was at. He clambered in.

"Hey!" said the Lead Princess, "We're playing a princess game, and if you want to play you have to be a princess too."

"Okay." said The Small Person, and he promptly went over to the dress-up rack and selected a small suit jacket. He put it on and came over to ask me to help him with the buttons. I helped and he went back to the castle.

I don't remember exactly what the Lead Princess said, but  it was clear that in her estimation, what The Small Person was wearing was not sufficiently princessy enough. She told the small person that he needed to put on a dress. All the classic ball gowns were already in use, so she suggested the cheongsam. The Small Person came back over to me. "I picked the wrong thing." He said somewhat mournfully. "Would you help me put this on?" he asked, passing me the cheongsam. I did.

The Small Person in the cheongsam went back over to the castle and joined in with the other three princesses. Peace reigned in the realm.

I went off to work thinking:
1) I'm glad that who got to be a princess was not defined by a child's genitals. The Lead Princess' initial invitation was that, a genuine invitation.

2) This is obviously a somewhat regular occurrence. The Small Person was totally fine with the idea of putting on a dress, and none of his classmates saw this as notable in anyway. I'm glad that at this daycare who gets to wear a dress is not defined by a child's genitals.

3) The Lead Princess, a child who identifies as a girl, felt quite comfortable asserting her royal authority - the game did not need to change because a boy had arrived, and The Small Person did not challenge that. I was glad that everyone was comfortable with a girl being in charge.

4) My child listened to and cooperated with others!

All of that was great. I could have left it there and celebrated both the daycare and the children there, saving my worries for something else. As a professional overthinker of gender though, I was concerned about the idea that princesses have to wear dresses. To be clear, the problem is not femininity - the problem is that femininity is compulsory for princesses. If my Small Person felt like a princess in his suit jacket, I want him to be a princess in a suit jacket - right along with the princesses in the dresses. I wondered if there were some princess books I could share with the school that would model different ways of being princesses.

Truth be told, I'm not a fan of princesses - kings, queens and princes either. Monarchies are really not my cup of tea. I've never been a fan of hereditary authority, wealth being concentrated, "divine right", state control and all that. I also strive for language that is gender inclusive, and the words we have for royalty fail. I find myself torn between wanting picture books with titles like "Peasant Uprising" or "Creating a Socialist Utopia" you know, in a non-didactic kind of way, and wanting to challenge princess stereotypes.

In my book collection I pulled out the following, all of which I like, and all of which challenge the idea that all princesses must be hyper feminine:

Dangerously Ever After,
The Princess Knight,
The Paperbag Princess,
The Red Wolf,
Princess Max,

That seemed like a short list, so I hopped over to the very fabulous A Mighty Girl to check out their princess offerings.

Please leave in the comments both suggestions of books you like that challenge the notion that "all princesses must be hyper feminine" and that challenge monarchies.

A little later I realized that both I and the Lead Princess were focusing on appearances. The princesses in their ball gowns had built the damn castle. They were not helpless, and there was no compulsory heterosexuality - nobody was waiting on some prince on a white charger. They were not confined by stereotypes of a princess is - it just looked that way os you only focused on their clothing, and perhaps I as an adult needed to worry less about what they were wearing and pay more attention to what they were doing. Ultimately, that's the lesson I want to both deliver and embody - words and actions matter far more than appearances, and girls are far more than their clothing. Thanks kids.


Music to accompany this post - Meg Braun's Tomboy Princess.
Backpacking in Algonquin

Perhaps Sunday was not a reconnaissance mission

Last Tuesday evening, Stanley told me he wanted a haircut. Stanley has never had a haircut, and his beautiful long blond hair falls in gorgeous ringlets, which I was washing at the time. Stanley has always hated having his hair washed, and I though perhaps he was requesting a haircut as a way to avoid future hair washing. Anyway, it was after eight and we were well into the going-to-bed routine, so there was no haircutting on Tuesday night. I said yes, but not now.

On Thursday evening, as I snuggled him in bed, post stories, he again told me he wanted a haircut. Again I said he could get one if he wanted one, but that it was not going to happen tonight (it being after 9:30 by this point). We will not be getting haircuts as a way to prolong bedtime.

On Sunday, after we had been bowling, he asked “After lunch, we could go and get my hair cut?” And I said yes. We talked about it. He wants his haircut so that it does not fall into his eyes all the time, and he seemed clear and sure. So after lunch, we went to a barbers’ shop. We talked about how a white, blue and red striped pole indicates a barbers’ shop and he spotted it from a block away. When we got there, we exchanged friendly greetings with the barbers and we looked through a big book of haircuts so he could pick out the one he wanted. He declared this was a “lovely book”, picked one, and while we waited, and he explored a barber’s chair. When it was his turn to get a haircut he decided “Not now” and we left. I’d felt brave going in, in a parent-doing-the-right-thing kind of a way, and I felt relieved going out. I'm trying to let go of the relief - it feels uncomfortably judgemental. As I write this, he still has his long beautiful hair, although I suspect he will choose a haircut sooner rather than later.

On Sunday I feel like we got the messages right. It’s his hair. He can decide what length or colour he wants his hair to be. I want to make sure that he is making this choice out of his own desires and not because someone else is pressuring him – including me. I love his long hair. I love how beautiful it is. I love that it has never been cut. I love that his hair muddies how people read his gender, and that that makes some things easier, even as it makes some things harder. I love it, but it is his hair, and he gets to choose. I did not say these things to him, because I don’t want my kid to feel coerced about his hair.

He’s going to get his haircut. He’s been quite clear that he wants it cut, and on Monday, as I drove him home from school he pointed at a hair salon and said “Abba, that’s a barber’s, can we go there tomorrow and get my hair cut?” The salon he was pointing at did not have a red and white and blue striped pole outside, and was a salon and not a barber’s shop. Perhaps Sunday was not a reconnaissance mission – perhaps I had picked the wrong type of hair cutting place. Perhaps he had said no to the barbers’ on Sunday because he does not want to get his hair cut at a barbers’ shop. It was another moment of recognising my girl-boy kid entering another set of binary gendered spaces. That I was going to have to talk about salons and barber shops and the meanings of both. When I say that I find the gender binary exhausting, this is exactly what I mean. We not only have to navigate his feelings and my feelings about his first haircut, we also have to navigate a whole new set of gendered spaces and other people’s gendered expectations. So, a salon then. A salon for a hair cut, coming soon to a kid near me. My job, I remind myself is to make sure he has choices. His job is to make them.

And for the record, his gender is going to continue to be muddy with or without long hair – these days he most often tells me he is a girl-boy. They had the dress-up clothes out at school this morning when I dropped him off, and by the time he waved goodbye to me from the window, he was wearing a purple princess gown and a sever pilot’s cap. His choices. My job is to make sure he has choices, his job is to make them. I got the choice about a haircut. I missed the choice about where to get it cut, but he's giving me another chance. Next time I'll do better, and I'm glad he feels he can tell me what he wants that better to look like.







Edited, "recognisance" was removed and replaced with "reconnaissance". It's less fun to say, but actually what I meant.
Backpacking in Algonquin

"they were not like me"

They did not say "Bleecker St." on the news yesterday, but the murder they described as being at "College and Sherbourne" was on Bleecker St. Where I live. Thursday night I was in bed when I heard the gun shots. I recognised the first one as a gun shot, but then there were so many loud bangs, in two clusters, that I un-recognised them. I decided they could not be gunshots, but must be someone lighting short strings of fireworks. I went to sleep. It turns out, I am not a ballistic expert, no matter how many crime shows I may have watched. I did not recognize the gun shots, and on a night when someone was gunned down and murdered less than a block from my home, we went to sleep with the front door unlocked.

In the last five months, three people have been murdered in unrelated incidents within a block. Geographically these murders have been in my neighbourhood and all within a block of my home. I looked at the Toronto Police Crime Statistics, to try to establish how many of the murders in the city in the last two years have been on my street, but I'm not able to make sense of them. I know that two people were stabbed to death here in 2012, and yet the crime statistics for the city show only one stabbing homocide for 2012. It does not make any sense that 200% of the cities homicides via stabbing happened on my street last year. It defies math and reason. The police claim that in 2012 and 2013 to date, there were 23 homocides in the city of Toronto. Using their numbers, 13% of the homocides in the city in the last 15 months have been within a block of my home. Except their count does not match mine - the numbers tell me I know my neighbourhood better than the cops.

Yesterday I got asked two questions by people who had heard the news but who do not live in our neighbourhood. The first was about safety, and whether or not we live in a "safe neighbourhood". The second was if we were thinking of moving. Reflecting on the first question, I think about who the neighbourhood is safe for. Reflecting on the second question I think about who has the means to move.

In the last five months, our neighbourhood has not been safe for Nighisti Semret, Glenton Gibson and Nisan Nirmalendran*. The song in my head is James Keelaghan's Kiri's Piano, and in particular the line "The crime that they were guilty of was that they were not like me". None of them were white. Two of them were immigrants. Two of them lived or had lived in social housing, and one of them had been homeless and stayed in shelters. In these ways, "they were not like me". And while I walk through the ally where Nighisti was stabbed, and have been in the building where Glenton was stabbed, and regularly post my mail in the lobby where Nisan was shot, I don't think I had ever seen any of them. This morning I wonder if this means I have never physically shared space with them, or whether it means I never made eye contact and said "hi". Nisan did not live in my neighbourhood, but Nighisti and Glenton did, and yet, I did not know them as my neighbours. It makes me wonder if we did in fact live in the same neighbourhood, or if we lived in seperate ones, layered on top of each other, their neighbourhood and my neighbourhood sharing a geography, but not community. I wonder, did I make the neighbourhood less safe for each of them?

I'm thinking about race and class, and gentrification, and perception of safety. I've never lived in social housing - my co-op, that sits between the Toronto Community Housing Corporation senior's residence where Nisan died and the TCHC building where Glenton was killed, was no longer a TCHC building when I moved in. Our co-op has been gentrified out of TCHC, and as a result we pay more, we organize to collectively care for the space and each other, and as residents we control the building. Our building is in general good repair, wins awards for our gardens, and the common areas appear cleaner. Our co-op is 35 years old, but I suddenly find myself wondering about how it was created, who lived here before it was a co-op and what the conversations were around it. I wonder who was displaced so that I could live here. Class, poverty, race, privillege, safety, are all a-jumble in my head. I'm thinking about responsibility, and belonging, and how we knit ourselves together. I am not thinking of moving, but I am thinking very much about who are my neighbours, and who I have not known are my neighbours. I'm thinking about what I do and can do to make the neighbourhood safe for all people, reguardless of how many identity markers we share.





*I am not putting a link for Nisan Nirmalendran, as at the moment the only links I can find are links to news stories that do not tell us anything about Nisan as a person, they only document his death in a lurid fashion.