What groups are you currently involved in?
Well, right now, unfortunately, TCSA is almost exclusively my life. This job is very demanding, but previously I’ve worked with things like Transmission, which is a trans organizing committee in Peterborough, the Centre for Gender and Social Justice, and the Trent Queer Collective. I’ve also been involved in the Cooperative Housing Project and in anti-poverty organizing in Peterborough.
What have been the benefits of working with those groups, especially surrounding things such as gender issues?
I’ve seen about a thousand different people talk about the same things, the same phenomena that we’re all witnessing, which is oppression, and each one has communicated in a different way. So, the advantage I’ve personally got from it is to have heard a lot of brilliant people from a lot of varying and different parts of our community talk about the things we all have in common. That’s kind of been really beautiful because so often we’re talking to each other in the same language, but when you really reach out, you hear people talk about their experiences in their own language, which brings about new insight and new things to share.
So, individual experiences that are also part of a whole?
We all experience marginalization, but how we talk about it, who we talk about it with, what parts we emphasize differs. Like, if you get a bunch of women in the room talking about experiences of sexism you get a particular language, but when you get a group of Indigenous women together they talk about a similar form of misogyny and sexism, but they talk about different experiences and use different analogies. It’s beautiful to hear the different stories and experiences that make up the tapestry that we have built.
Have there been any disadvantages with working in this field?
Particularly in Peterborough, I would say baggage. Everyone knows everyone, and sometimes people will read your history and let that history stay with you. We all change, but some people hold against us what we said or who we were so long ago. We’ve all made stupid mistakes—that shouldn’t haunt us for years.
Do you have any ideas of how to better that experience?
Just trying to let other people tell their own stories rather than trying to tell their stories for them.
Do you think increased communication and awareness helps with that?
I would say it’s part of it, but if we’re not speaking the same language it doesn’t matter how much we’re talking to one another. If people are on inherently different levels with what they want and what they’re hoping to see you can communicate all you want but you might not get there.
Who are some of the people in Peterborough that you think are raising awareness and doing work for women’s rights?
There’s a lot of amazing people in Peterborough doing a lot of groundbreaking work that’s not necessarily being talked about or being done elsewhere. For example, the organizers of the trans conference that happened in Peterborough a few weeks ago.
Is there anyone in particular that you think is performing an exceptional role in this area?
Well, I think that feeding someone for free is a pretty radical thing to do in a world where food is usually associated with a cost, so I would say the organizers of Food Not Bombs in Peterborough are performing an important role. I would say it’s feminist organizing within an anti-patriarchy context.
I guess it would depend on how you define feminism. For me, feminism is about making things more equal, which comes with dealing with oppression and inequality on all different levels.
Yes, and that’s the thing about challenging marginalization based on gender. Sometimes it’s rooted in things like anti-racist organizing and anti-capitalism organizing. With Food Not Bombs, working so hard to feed so many people is what I consider a radical thing to do.
You’re very involved with issues that affect students at Trent. What do you think the experience has been for minorities? Do you see the usage of stereotypes or do you think the campus has been accepting of people’s differences?
It’s interesting. We have a very high percentage of trans people, for example, at Trent, comparatively speaking. I’m not sure why. Other than that Trent had this reputation in the 1990s of “you either leave here as a communist or a lesbian,” which may have sounded pretty good for trans people. However, I don’t think we should interpret a strong numerical presence as a strong community for trans people. There’s still a lot of trans-misogyny and transphobia happening in this community. There are a lot of institutional barriers at Trent that need to be overcome.
My experience with counseling at Trent has usually began with the councilor asking, “What is trans?” which is frustrating because so much of being transgender is tied into educating other people, even when those people are supposed to be mentoring you. Also, things like having your legal name recognized. When I first came to Trent, I had to launch a human rights complaint against the university, which I was able to drop because the university admitted they were wrong, but I still had to go through some loopholes to get my professors to call me by my legal name. Something as simple as having people recognize your legal name is a privilege that can be difficult for trans people to obtain.
So, October is Women’s History Month. What do you think is the importance of this month?
I think that history is important to guide the actions we make today. One thing about Women’s History Month is that we need to ask, “Whose history are we talking about?” We’re not talking about transwomen’s history month. It’s not everyone’s Women’s History Month.
Do you think that the genre of women’s history has tended to leave some women out?
Oh, it totally has but it doesn’t necessarily mean we reject the title, but instead we challenge the content. We can call it Women’s History Month, but it is important to acknowledge that racialized women are women, too, that transwomen are women, too. Women from poor backgrounds and indigenous women are women, too. We need to continue reflecting on and challenging the content and give women’s history a chance to grow.
Do you see a pattern of progress in regards to women’s history?
It’s been progressively getting better for some people, but it’s not progressively getting better for all people.
There’s still a lot of work to be done!
Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done. The question is are we doing that work? And I don’t think we’re doing that work in many cases. I think that there has been an inclusion of queer women in the talk about women’s history, but that a lot of that talk has been straight-washed.
Do you think that in order to avoid straight-washing that there needs to be more voices from queer women?
That is part of the solution, but it’s not just having more queer women. It’s also having more straight women recognizing their straight privilege. What I mean is that often, for example, the most powerful person to tell a white person about racism is another white person. And it’s the same with trans and queer issues. Too often we dismiss trans and racialized women as just being angry, but when you hear it from someone who reminds you of yourself, you’re more open to suggestions.
So, women can oppress other women, just as men have oppressed women?
Oh gosh, yes. Internalized oppression.
Do you think that there is a misconception amongst the status quo of women that all women have been included? That many women are not even aware that other women have been excluded?
Yes. Let’s take the “bathroom bill” that was discussed in Parliament. Many people thought, “Do trans people really need a particular bill to have access to a bathroom?” but it wasn’t about that. It was about recognizing hate crimes against transgendered people. Or the issue that there are hundreds of missing Indigenous women from the highway of tears, which a lot of people don’t even know about.
It’s interesting to me that queer women and Indigenous women have both often been excluded in regards to women’s rights, but that these two camps sometimes also judge one another. Do you see that?
Well, we have to recognize that these box definitions of women are not exclusive and that there can be overlap. I would say that the predominant stereotype of racialized folks is a homophobic stereotype, but it’s not true of all racialized people. It’s a stereotype people may adopt because it reinforces their sense of belonging to the mainstream community. Speaking from a personal experience, my father is Indigenous. I grew up on a reserve, but I am very white-washed. My father went to a residential school, and his Indigenous language was beaten out of him and he was forced to adopt Christianity, which included homophobia. When I came out to my family, it was hard for my father, but he wasn’t homophobic because he was Indigenous. He was that way because of the white people who beat homophobia and Christianity into him.
Do you think that personal stories like this are important to keep in mind when encountering homophobia from people of privilege, like rich white men? That their experience in society has taught them to be homophobic?
Homophobia, racism, and all that stuff is something we’ve learnt. It’s not something we’re inherently ingrained with. We need to create a society where we don’t teach homophobia or racism.
Do you think it’s the same with sexism?
Yes, I do not think there is any biological reason to believe that there is a difference between genders and the sexes that creates one to be more brilliant or less brilliant or stronger than the other.
Are there any historical figures that you admire that have done a lot of work for women’s rights?
Well, this isn’t an historical figure, but a landlord of mine taught me the idea that we’re here to be challenged and that we’re here to challenge what is right and wrong, and that was significant for me on a personal level. As for historical figures, I would say Marie Curie, who was a scientist in the 1930s and who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
Science was such a male-dominated field. I can see how she was significant.
Yes, and it’s awesome that she jumped into this field and was successful.
She challenged things on two fronts.
Yes, she challenged the male-dominance of the profession and then challenged things within the profession itself.
Do you think challenging male-dominance has been more difficult for women of minorities?
Yeah, because if you are trying to shake up the fields you are going to be met with resistance. There are so many people, in the sense of conservatism, that believe truth and tradition should not be challenged because tradition is right. To challenge the fact that you have a right to work in a particular field can be seen as challenging the field itsel