Opening Doors for Trans Women


“Our gender (as transgender and transsexual people) is … invalidated, insulted, and hated. We are denied personhood because our gender is not heteronormative enough: Proper men do not want to become women, and proper women do not become men….”  writes Lisa, of Questioning Transphobia.  

Lisa’s words well describe the discrimination that many trans women face: the message that they’re not "right" in a fundamental way, or so says mainstream society. When it comes to women-specific services, the discrimination against trans women can be particularly pronounced, and many trans women are left without services because they aren’t "women enough."

There’s a history of struggle when it comes to including all women in women-focussed services, and the feminist movement overall. It’s not just trans issues- race, class, sexual identity and ability have also been conflicts in determining what the issues are for "all" women. (There are many debates on this, but for a piece on the intersection of race, class, sexuality and trans issues, check out this one on conflict at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival). The issue that’s brought up in relation to including trans women is the idea that trans women were brought up as males, and theoretically carry a world view of male privilege. The ringing question is, how can trans women understand what it’s like to deal with the oppression of being a girl/ woman when they were brought up as males? It’s an argument that has been used to bar trans women from events and services.

Vancouverite Kimberly Nixon famously took on the issue when she challenged the Rape Relief Collective’s refusal to allow her to become a counsellor because they felt she didn’t have the necessary life experience. She took her Human Rights complaint  all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. She eventually lost, but did contribute to the awareness of trans issues among women’s groups and services across the country, creating a lot of discussion about discrimination and inclusion.

Ongoing and ever present discrimination can contribute to risk behaviours when it comes to HIV and other STIs.  Not only do people eschew safer sex, making themselves vulnerable to infection, they also turn to alcohol and drugs as a coping strategy. HIV+ Janice Rodriguez writes candidly about discrimination, violence, and fleeing to the streets after too much brutality at home.

While trans women face daily discrimination, there is cause for some triumph in the form of two new resources in the Lower Mainland. The first is particularly sweet: Lu’s Pharmacy for Women has now opened its doors a little wider to include trans women. When Lu’s opened last summer, they wouldn’t serve trans women. There was reaction to this locally, and in web communities all over the world. The Vancouver Women’s Health Collective recently confirmed that Lu’s has changed this policy. We’re very happy to hear it. 

Additional good news in the community is that Vision Quest Recovery Society will be operating Hart House, a recovery centre for trans women. Amidst the growing chaos resulting from budget cuts to many organizations, it’s great to hear of something going in the right direction. 

Positive Women’s Network is trans-inclusive- all positive women are welcome here. We’re glad to have additional resources in the community and hope this is another step in breaking down barriers that exist for trans women. 

– Janet


This blog represents the ideas of individual writers, and does not necessarily reflect any formal stance taken by Positive Women’s Network.