A Tale of 2 Nations: Does the Prime Minister’s apology to LGBT people represent a true trend?

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

 

We had long desired to hear words like this.  For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at least, they seem demonstrably heart-felt, not just because he said them but because he also took action on behalf of LGBT peoples.  But it will take more than Trudeau to make real change happen in Canada. 

Consider the United States and its longstanding parallel actions with Canada.  The Obama Administration likewise put its best foot forward on behalf of transpeople in its second term.  But with the election of Donald Trump, Evangelical Dominionists have established a clear agenda to reverse all civil rights advances transpeople have secured and return to a policy of ostracism, extermination, and erasure.1

Could we find a similar pattern upcoming in Canada in which apologies and laws become reversed in a similar wave of conservatism?  We may.  The moment we savor now may fade in a reversal of policy in the name of religion much the same way as we found in the Evangelical ascendency in the United States.

 

TRUDEAU ADDRESSES THE POGROMS

Prime Minister Trudeau began his speech to the Canadian Parliament:

 

“One of the greatest choices a person can make in their life is the choice to serve their fellow citizens. Maybe it’s in government, in the military, or in a police force. In whatever capacity one serves, dedicating your life to making Canada—and indeed, the world—a better place is a calling of the highest order.

Now imagine, if you will, being told that the very country you would willingly lay down your life to defend doesn’t want you. Doesn’t accept you. Sees you as defective. Sees you as a threat to our national security. Not because you can’t do the job, or because you lack patriotism or courage—no, because of who you are as a person, and because of who your sexual partners are.

Now imagine, Mr. Speaker, being subjected to laws, policies, and hiring practices that label you as different—as “less than.”

Imagine having to fight for the basic rights that your peers enjoy, over and over again. And imagine being criminalized for being who you are.

This is the truth for many of the Canadians present in the gallery today, and those listening across the country.

This is the devastating story of people who were branded criminals by the government. People who lost their livelihoods, and in some cases, their lives.

These aren’t distant practices of governments long forgotten. This happened systematically, in Canada, with a timeline more recent than any of us would like to admit.

Mr. Speaker, today we acknowledge an often-overlooked part of Canada’s history. Today, we finally talk about Canada’s role in the systemic oppression, criminalization, and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit communities.”2

 

These pogroms filled Canadian records during the Cold War era much like they did in the United States for many years.  It began in the 1950’s, a time in which the United States was having enough of the hearing conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy.  According to Gary Kinsman, a retired Professor of Sociology, a clerk at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow was discovered in 1958 to be homosexual.  He was sent home under the expectation that LGBT peoples would be vulnerable to Soviet blackmail.3

Then the murder of a gay sailor led the Canadian government, with encouragement by U.S. officials, to begin a “gay purge” that continued through the 1960’s and well into the 1990’s, decades after Canada repealed its anti-homosexual laws in 1969.  This was the year of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, the flash point of the “gay rights” movement.  The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Military Police conducted surveillance of gay bars in cities throughout Canada and pressured LGBT peoples to identify individual gays and lesbians.  An estimated 9,000 people so identified lost their jobs and security clearances.  Enabling this practice, the RCMP commissioned a psychologist to build what they called a “fruit machine” as a test of sexual orientation.4

 

BROADER SCOPE

When Stonewall hit, another Trudeau served as Prime Minister:  Pierre Elliott Trudeau.  The elder Trudeau hailed from the liberal wing and so acted.  But his service did nothing to reverse Canadian police practices.  In reality, Canadian oppression of LGBT peoples went far beyond the “gay purge” to include racial oppression.

That includes street violence against LGBT peoples, especially transwomen and transpeople “of color.”  Transpeople, most specifically, have been barred from leadership roles.  These arose from attitudes fostered by colonialist policies that also fostered pogroms against indigenous peoples.  The First Nations often held different views with respect to sex and gender than did those more closely associated with the ruling British.  This all fell under a continuing campaign of heteronormativity that never entirely went out of existence.5

Prime Minister Trudeau attempted to address this broader picture:

 

“The very thing Canadian officials feared—blackmail of LGBTQ2 employees—was happening. But it wasn’t at the hands of our adversaries; it was at the hands of our own government.

Mr. Speaker, the number one job of any government is to keep its citizens safe. And on this, we have failed LGBTQ2 people, time and time again.

It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say: We were wrong. We apologize. I am sorry. We are sorry.

For state-sponsored, systemic oppression and rejection, we are sorry.

For suppressing two-spirit Indigenous values and beliefs, we are sorry.

For abusing the power of the law, and making criminals of citizens, we are sorry…

To all the LGBTQ2 people across this country who we have harmed in countless ways, we are sorry.

To those who were left broken by a prejudiced system; And to those who took their own lives—we failed you. For stripping you of your dignity; For robbing you of your potential; For treating you like you were dangerous, indecent, and flawed;

We are sorry.

To the victims of the purge, who were surveilled, interrogated, and abused; Who were forced to turn on their friends and colleagues; Who lost wages, lost health, and lost loved ones;

We betrayed you. And we are so sorry.

To those who were fired, to those who resigned, and to those who stayed at a great personal and professional cost; To those who wanted to serve, but never got the chance to because of who you are—you should have been permitted to serve your country, and you were stripped of that option.

We are sorry. We were wrong.”6

 

The Prime Minister didn’t just speak to the recent oppression, but to issues running for centuries before there was ever a Canadian government:

 

Discrimination against LGBTQ2 communities is not a moment in time, but an ongoing, centuries-old campaign.

We want to be a partner and ally to LGBTQ2 Canadians in the years going forward. There are still real struggles facing these communities, including for those who are intersex, queer people of colour, and others who suffer from intersectional discrimination.

Transgender Canadians are subjected to discrimination, violence, and aggression at alarming rates. In fact, trans people didn’t even have explicit protection under federal human rights legislation until this year…

And, Mr. Speaker, I am proud to say that earlier today in this House we tabled the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act. This will mean that Canadians previously convicted of consensual sexual activity with same-sex partners will have their criminal records permanently destroyed.

Further, I am pleased to announce that over the course of the weekend, we reached an agreement in principle with those involved in the class action lawsuit for actions related to “the purge.”

Never again will our government be the source of so much pain for members of the LGBTQ2 communities.

We promise to consult and work with individuals and communities to right these wrongs and begin to rebuild trust. We will ensure that there are systems in place so that these kinds of hateful practices are a thing of the past. Discrimination and oppression of LGBTQ2 Canadians will not be tolerated anymore.7

 

Prime Minister Trudeau speaks of some genuinely substantial measures.  The Canadian government earmarked 100 million Canadian dollars to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by victims of the “gay purge.”  The Prime Minister also seeks to push through a bill to expunge the records of those criminalized in this pogrom.8

 

THE UNITED STATES BACKTRACKS

Prime Minister Trudeau’s actions are certainly more consistent with those of the latter part of the Obama years.  But the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 brought about a major outcry in the Evangelical ranks, most specifically those political parachurch entities seeking establishment of allied Evangelicals as a theocracy. The 2016 drive in anti-transgender legislation arose from this outrage.

About the same time that Prime Minister Trudeau delivered his apology, what did the United States do?  The Senate confirmed Gregory Katsas, legal advisor to Donald Trump, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit with a vote along party lines, 50-48.  The National Center for Transgender Equality blasted this move:

 

 “As deputy white house counsel, Katsas helped draft the White House memo formalizing President Trump’s transgender military ban as well as the president’s Muslim travel ban. Katsas has confirmed that he also advised on numerous administration attacks on LGBTQ people, including the February withdrawal of lifesaving guidance supporting transgender students, an aggressive Justice Department brief arguing federal civil rights laws do not protect LGBTQ people, and a brief in the Supreme Court arguing for a constitutional right to discriminate.”9

 

We can look at these trends in 2 different ways.

One the one hand we may look at Canada in terms of homo-nationalism, positing that this apology demonstrates that Canada is more advanced and civilized than the United States.  But ask the indigenous peoples whether this apology gains their trust any more.  After all, attacks upon 2 Spirit people has long been an attack upon native cultures and complaints of indigenous peoples disappearing and sometimes being found murdered in Canada have not gone away.10

On the other hand, we may look at Canada in terms of the continuing ebb and flow of liberalism in politics.  It’s the same ebb and flow we have experienced in the United States, with sharp differences noted since the last presidential election.  The confirmation of Gregory Katsas isn’t just an issue for the Court of Appeals.  The appointment sets him up to be appointed to the Supreme Court as well.

What that means for Canada is that religious inclinations of Canadian Evangelicals may easily echo those of the U.S. Midwest and South, and their anti-transgender disposition as displayed at local levels, most particularly schools, has yet to rise in its full force at the federal level.11

 

READYING THE NEXT CYCLE

The United States may experience some serious shifts in the electorate, possibly as a result of Trump’s tax plan in which property taxes and mortgages no longer may be deducted.  That’s largely directed against the large states, most notably New York and California.12 We may ask who are more likely to be harmed by such a move.  Will it be the GOP that backs the big corporations or the Democrats who have relied upon union ranks over the years?  More likely it’s the latter.  We may easily see population shifts over the next decade in which left-leaning voters move to what are now largely red states, simply because they must in order  to survive.

Another aspect enters the picture:  those mom and pop small businesses that have heavily supported the GOP since the Reagan era.  If these entrepreneurs find themselves disaffected by the GOP, many will probably not remain Republican.  Some may turn Democrat, many more will probably declare themselves Independent.  If the Democrats gain appeal to this segment, we may see a full reversal of many states from red to blue. 

With such a trend should come another wave of liberal thought, most specifically toward civil rights. The Democrats should sponsor a “Civil Rights Restoration Act” or something to that effect in future years, specifically to reverse the civil rights policies of Donald Trump that facilitate human rights abuses.

Should the United States find itself in that zone, where will we find Canada?  It largely depends upon whether religionist Canadians desire to repeat the U.S. experience.  Some undoubtedly will.  But will most?  That remains to be seen.  But we would be naïve to think that Canadians are altogether as nice as depicted in the satirical film Canadian Bacon.13

If Canada finds itself in a reversal comparable to that of the United States, Prime Minister Trudeau’s apology will be deemed a hollow one.  For indigenous peoples and those LGBT, it may seem like déjà vu.  There may have been a settlement.  Records may have been expunged.  But a new wave of pogroms could easily take hold again despite the Prime Minister’s wishes, simply because Dominionists demand to rule the Dominion of Canada like they demand to rule the United States.

______________________________

REFERENCES:

Featured Image: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, official portrait (Wikimedia Commons).

  1. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “The Collapse of Dominionism” Trans Muse Planet (July 22, 2017) https://thetmplanet.com/the-dominionist-collapse-when-transpeople-face-theocracy/.
  2. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, (text of speech delivered to the Canadian Parliament November 28, 2017)
  3. Ian Austen. “Victims of Canada’s ‘Gay Purge’ to Get Apology from Trudeau” New York Times (November 21, 2017, accessed December 2, 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/world/canada/gays-trudeau-apology.html?_r=0.
  4. Ibid.
  5. John Paul Catungal. “Justin Trudeau’s Apology to LGBTQ People Isn’t Enough” US News and World Report (November 28, 2017, accessed December 2, 2017) https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2017-11-28/justin-trudeaus-apology-to-lgbtq-people-isnt-enough
  6. Trudeau (text of speech to the Canadian Parliament November 28, 2017).
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Trudeau apologises for discrimination against LGBT people” BBC (November 28, 2017, accessed December 2, 2017) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-42157806
  9. Mara Kiesling. “Legal Architect of Anti-Trans Attacks Confirmed to nations Second-Highest Court” NCTE (Press Release November 28, 2017, accessed December 3, 2017) https://transequality.org/press/releases/legal-architect-of-anti-trans-attacks-confirmed-to-nation-s-second-highest-court.
  10. Alan Freeman. “The mystery of 1.000 missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada” Washington Post (August 4, 2017, accessed December 3, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/08/04/the-mystery-of-1000-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-in-canada/?utm_term=.c2bb1ebc99b2.
  11. Anna Mehler Paperny. “Transgender people still not counted in Canada’s hate crimes data” Global News ( April 13, 2016, accessed December 3, 2017) https://globalnews.ca/news/2634576/trans-people-still-not-counted-in-canadas-hate-crimes-data/.
  12. Ed Kilgore. “Trump Tax Bill Hammers New York and California” New York Magazine (November 2, 2017, accessed December 3, 2017) http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/11/trump-tax-bill-hammers-new-york-and-california.html.
  13. “Canadian Bacon (1995) Plot” IMDb (accessed December 3, 2017) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109370/plotsummary.
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Top Countries That are Stronger & Better with Transgender Military Service Members

By TMPlanet

Recent U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) policy banned transgender personnel from serving openly in the military. Potential changes to this policy raised questions regarding access to gender transition–related health care. It examined the costs of covering transition-related treatments, assessed the potential readiness implications of a policy change, and reviewed the experiences of foreign militaries that permit transgender personnel to serve openly. RAND, has consistently stated: 

  • Using private health insurance claims data to estimate the cost of extending gender transition–related health care coverage to transgender personnel indicated that active-component health care costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.
  • Even upper-bound estimates indicate that less than 0.1 percent of the total force would seek transition-related care that could disrupt their ability to deploy.

While the US, maybe considered the most strongest free nation on Earth, these nations are proving they have strengthen their military more, while having transgender inclusion in their armed forces. While there are more nations, the US wants to join by banning transgender services, there is an estimated 20 leading nations with no such ban. Several like the U.K., Australia, Thailand, Austria, Belgium come with restrictions, limited pay of  health care, or limit trans people to administrative duties only, as in the case with Thailand. Below are the top nations for complete inclusion of trans military, with UK as the least amongst them. 

The  Netherlands

Netherlands became the first to allow transgender people in the military only a few years after the Stonewall riots, in 1974. The Dutch military was the first to go on record not only permitting Trans troops in 1974, but encouraging pride in all LGBT identities. The Netherlands has become the most culturally liberal country in the world, with recent polls indicating that more than 90% of Dutch people support same-sex marriage. Amsterdam has frequently been named one of the most LGBT friendly cities in the world. Although, transgender people are allowed to change their legal gender, discrimination protections on the grounds of gender identity or expression have not been explicitly enacted countrywide yet. The Dutch parliament enacted the Equal Rights Act in 1994, which bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment, housing, and both public and private accommodations. Transgender people are protected under the category ‘gender’. Although gender identity is not specifically mentioned, there have been cases where the Dutch Institute for Human Rights has ruled that transgender people fall under this clause. However, in 2014 the Ministry of BZK started exploring how the ban on discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression can be made explicit in the Equal Rights Act. The results were published on June 23, 2016.¹

Sweden

Keeping up with its Nordic neighbors, Sweden has extended full protection from discrimination to all LGBT people in its military ranks since a legislative reform in 2008. LGBT rights in Sweden have been regarded as some of the most progressive in Europe and in the world. Sweden became the first country in the world to allow transgender people  to change their legal gender post-sex reassignment surgery in 1972. Being transgender was declassified as a mental illness in 2008, and legislation allowing gender change legally without hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery was passed in 2013. The Swedish Armed Forces states that it actively work for an environment where individuals do not feel it to be necessary to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2015, they launched a Pride campaign featuring a soldier in uniform with the rainbow flag badget to her arm. The text’s bold letters translates to “Some things you should not have to camouflage,” followed by the text “Equality is an important ingredient in a democracy.” “In the military, we treat each other with respect and see our differences as a strength. We are an inclusive organisation where all who serve and contribute should feel welcomed and respected”²

Israel

The Israel Defense Forces have knowingly included transgender soldiers since 1998³. In 2014, the Israeli military said it had at least five transgender members and would support future such conscripts. Israel’s national healthcare plan provides stipends to citizens who are transitioning. Retired Gen. Elazar Stern was stupefied when a reporter from Israel Army Radio called Wednesday to ask for his reaction to President Trump’s series of tweets about banning the service of transgender military personnel. “It makes us strong that we don’t waste time on questions like this,” said Stern, the former commander of the Israel Defense Forces Manpower Command. “It’s something to be proud of.”  Stern, now a member of Israel’s parliament for the centrist Yesh Atid party, said that throughout his 34-year career in the army,

“in every post, at every level, always, I knew there were homosexual individuals serving with me. No transgender people that I knew of, but maybe. We would never ask, honestly, and we’re not supposed to know. The army’s task is to support its soldiers no matter what their needs, not meddle about in their lives.”

Adi Anhang, Israeli Armed Forces Veteran

Friend of TMP, and Israeli Armed Forces Veteran Adi Anhang, told TMPlanet about the atmosphere in Israel. “I feel like we are taking positive strides regarding the way the country treats the trans community. The fact that our army allows for people to not only serve in a division that suits their gender identity, but also that the army actively helps and protects trans soldiers. I think it’s amazing and shows that we are doing something right. Obviously there are issues with biggots and close minded people, but as an organization the army is pretty supportive,” said Adi Anhang

Canada

 Our neighbor to the north took to Twitter to contrast its military gender identity policies with President Trump’s ad hoc ban on transgender service: According to the CBC, Canada’s chief broadcast news service, 19 Canadian service members “completed sex reassignment surgery between 2008 and 2015 for a total cost of $319,000” — about 25% less than a helmet for a single F-35 pilot costs the U.S. military.

“We welcome Cdns of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Join us!” it reads, with a photograph of Royal Canadian Navy Band members playing instruments festooned in Pride colours.

Jordan Owens, spokesperson for Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, said the government is fully committed to building a defense team that “reflects Canadian ideals of diversity, respect and inclusion.”Our diversity strategy and action plan will promote an institution-wide culture that embraces diversity and inclusion, and we will continue to focus on the recruitment and retention of under-represented groups within the Canadian Forces’ ranks,” she said in a statement to CBC News.That’s in sharp contrast to the U.S. president’s new policy, announced through a series of Twitter posts Wednesday, which says transgender individuals will not be permitted to serve “in any capacity.”

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic extended full military service rights to all LGBT people in 1999. The first sex reassignment surgery in the country took place in 1942, when a trans man subsequently changed his legal sex to male. Currently, 50-60 people undergo such surgeries annually in the country.   ECRI notes that there is no³ official data on the LGBT population in the country, although the authorities carried out an in-depth Analysis of the Situation of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
Transgender Minority in the Czech Republic in 2007. Research demonstrates that in general there is broad tolerance for LGBT persons in the country. In a global survey published in June 2013, the Czech Republic had the third highest percentage in Europe (80%, after Spain and Germany) and worldwide (on a par with Canada) of people agreeing that “society should accept homosexuality”.

Argentina 

Cristina Fernandez de Kirschner, signed into law the country’s gender identity bill, establishing Argentina as the most trans-friendly legal environment in the entire world. Under the new law, trans people will be able to change their legal gender and name without judicial permission or any requirement that they undergo surgeries. Further, once these changes are made, trans people will have access to the country’s socialized medical system for all their transition-related care for free including any desired surgeries. People will be able to legally change their IDs started on June 4. Argentina’s new trans protections only add to a list of LGBT friendly policies the country has passed, including marriage equality, adoption by same-sex couples, open military service and nondiscrimination policies. After a sordid 20th century history of repression, military rule, and brief war with the U.K., Argentine forces are primarily used for humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping now.4

Germany

The rising leader in continental and trans-Atlantic politics has liberalized its military in stages since the fall of communism. LGBT people were first allowed to enlist in 1990, and were first allowed to pursue commissions in 2000, according to the CBC. Discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity vary across Germany, but discrimination in employment and the provision of goods and services is in principle banned countrywide. Transgender people have been allowed to change their legal gender since 1980. The law initially required them to undergo surgical alteration of their genitals in order to have key identity documents changed. This has since been declared unconstitutional.

SPAIN

Transgender people are allowed to change their legal gender without the need of sex reassignment surgery or sterilization. Discrimination regarding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has been banned nationwide since 1996. In November 2006, Zapatero’s Government passed a law that allows transgender persons to register under their preferred sex in public documents such as birth certificates, identity cards and passports without undergoing prior surgical change.The law came into effect on 17 March 2007.  Through this Law, ratified by the Congress of Deputies on March 1, Spain has a specific legislation that provides coverage and legal certainty to the need for these people, who have an adequate diagnosis, to correct the registry allocation of their Sex that is contradictory to their identity. In short, it will prevent these people from having a discordant name with the sex they feel.5

Bolivia

While the small South American nation wasn’t considered progressive on gay and trans rights until very recently, it opened the armed forces’ ranks to LGBT people in 2015.  Article 14(II) of the Constitution of Bolivia forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2010, the government criminalized discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity under article 23 of the Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination (Law 737/2010). In 2016, Bolivia passed the Gender Identity Law, seen as one of the most progressive laws related to transgender people in the world. Additionally, since 2017, transgender people have been able to marry people of the same biological sex. The Gender Identity Law allows individuals over 18 to legally change their name, gender and photography on legal documents. A psychological test proving that the person knows and voluntarily assumes the change of identity is a requirement, but sex reassignment surgery is not. The process is confidential and must carry out before the Civil Registry Service. The processing of the new documentation will take 15 days. The change of name and gender will be reversible once, after which they cannot modify these data again. Since October 2016, the Bolivian Congress has debated whether to repeal the Gender Identity Law. In June 2017, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal issued an instruction in which it notified the Civil Registry Service to proceed with the registration of marriages of transgender people. The instruction states that transgender people who have made the changes regulated by the Gender Identity Law may enter into civil marriage. This means that same-sex marriage is legal in Bolivia, but only if at least one of the two partners is transgender.

United Kingdom

The main commander of Britain’s combat ground forces, Lt. Gen. Patrick Sanders, has personally taken up the fight to ensure full rights of LGBT soldiers in the service. Currently, the UK expects transgender enlistees to “have have finished transitioning before they are allowed to serve,” according to HCSS. Sanders — a veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, and the Balkan conflict — has said that “only if individuals are free to be themselves can we release the genie of their potential, for the greater good.”

That said, the British military has more or less avoided the debate over paying for troops’ gender reassignment surgeries. U.K. law requires citizens to live two years in their “acquired gender” before being eligible for official recognition and enlistment.

 

As we said in the beginning, there are several leading nations, but with restrictions. Yet their efforts in inclusion also needs recognition and here is that list.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANY OTHER TOPIC ON OUR SITE, PLEASE JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON  THE TMP FORUM


  1. The Netherlands Equal Rights Act, that is set a total ban on discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.
  2. Sweden’s Armed Forces launched a Pride campaign in 2015, calling on its LGBT service members to be free and serve openly. Their slogan: Swedish Army: “Some things you should not have to camouflage”
  3. Analysis of the Situation of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Minority in the Czech Republic in 2007
  4.  Human Rights Watch: In 2012, the Gender Identity Law established the right of individuals over the age of 18 to choose their gender identity, undergo gender reassignment, and revise official documents without any prior judicial or medical approval.
  5. The Gender Identity Act enters into force (Entra en vigor la Ley de Identidad de Género)
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Tony Zosherafatain: The Man Behind The Film…”I Am The T”

By Sabrina Samone

In every generation a story must be told, it is often up the storytellers to speak for the countless voices of our world. In our generation those story tellers are often film makers: the writers, producers, directors, and actors that bring a story to life. This post Academy Award interview is of a man that does just that, bringing voices to the countless unseen, unheard, trans men from around the globe. He is a voice for trans men of color, an often more unheard voice in our community.

Tony Zosherafatain is a man like many with a duality of spirit¹, but he is also Greek/Iranian. A duality of race that also gives him a unique perspective on what it means to be a trans man of color. Even in his upcoming documentary series, Tony will be featuring trans men from ten various countries and cultures. Cultures that are usually overshadowed by American and Western European countries. As in his life from working with those with disabilities, and a nurse practitioner student, he is the champion of the unheard voices of our society.

I am the T: an FTM documentary“, chronicles the lives and transitions of trans men in ten different countries. Production began in November 2014 in Norway, and will continue in the following countries: Malaysia, Canada, Thailand, Lesotho, Germany, the Phillipines, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Australia. Individual country segments will be released independently. The full-feature release date is scheduled for 2018.
 
The first segment was filmed in November 2014 in Norway, and features the story of Isak, a 28 year old trans man who had recently began transitioning. Isak’s story (screened at this workshop) portrays both the challenges he faces as an FTM, and the triumphs over adversity that characterize finding one’s gender and broader self. ” I am the T” plans to grow into a documentary series that chronicles the stories of hundreds of trans* identified people around the world. The mission of “I am the T” is to shift the tide of trans representation in the media to one that is more subjective and culturally-inclusive. 

TMP: You’ve previously mentioned that your reasons, four years ago, to do the documentary film “I am the T” was that you’ve noticed the lacking of trans men in media. Why do you feel personally that was the case compared to trans women? 
Tony Zosherafatain: At the time that I created the idea for the documentary, trans representation was severely lacking; trans stories were not a media priority. As a trans man who was not yet out, I couldn’t find images of trans masculine people to help me realize who I was. Since 2010, we’ve had the emergence of trans women of color such as Laverne Cox and Janet mock in the media, which has helped the trans community move forward. I think representations of trans men in the media have lagged behind, for a variety of reasons. One reason is because many trans men may want to live as stealth. I think another reason is due to male privilege. For many of us, it may be easier to be accepted into society because we are transitioning into the gender that controls society. I think the media also finds it hard to grasp trans male stories because traditionally, being trans has been associated with MTFs, and with good reason given that it was trans women who spurred the LGBT movement at stonewall.
TMP: In your opinion, how has that changed, and has it changed fast enough?
Tony Z.: I think that media representation of trans men has changed, but at a slow pace. For example, the only trans male on TV used to be Max from the L word, which was a horrible representation of the FTM experience. Since then, we’ve had a trans male character played on Transparent, and better films featuring trans men. However, trans male representations are not fully inclusive. In the MTF community, there are trans woman of color who are spearheading the movement, but for FTMs, we are only mostly seeing white trans men being represented. The FTM community needs to share the power of representation with trans men who are of color, disabled, feminine, queer, and those who can’t/don’t want to medically transition. In this way, I think the media will realize that there is much more to our identities; that we are as complex as any other human population.
TMP: Who is your partner in the project and how important is it that we recruit more trans men of color in film?
T.Z.: From the beginning, it was important that I recruited trans people for this documentary. As a trans man of color myself (half-Iranian)³, I wanted to recruit as many other under-represented trans men as possible given that a lot of films about our community are directed by cisgender people. Right now, I have a videographer and editor named Aiden, who is half-Mexican and half-black. I also have an editor and production assistant who is a first-generation American trans man. Another team member, our Graphic Designer, is a trans man who hails from Malaysia. We also have a cisgender production advisor who helps us gain perspective so that we can portray FTM stories in a way that changes the way cisgender people view trans masculine stories. I think it’s very important to see more trans men of color in our community. Trans men of color aren’t being prioritized for representation projects, which is a disservice. I think increasing the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of trans male representation will inevitably lead our community forward. It’s powerful to see a trans man from an oppressed minority thriving. That sends a message of hope to trans youth of color.

TMP:  Tell our TMP readers if you will, what was your motivation behind creating this documentary? Why specifically did you choose to show a variation of cultures in this film?

T.Z.:  The motivation behind creating this documentary is rooted in my experience as a first-generation American trans man. Neither of my parents were born in the U.S.-my dad is from Iran and my mom is from Greece. When I began transitioning, it was even more difficult to find trans men from my specific cultural heritage. If we can show a variation of trans men from different cultures, it will send a powerful message: that the trans experience is universal. I think that creating a diversity of representations in the FTM community can only serve to reassure trans men from these backgrounds that they exist and that they are worthy of visibility.  

TMP: How many nations are represented in the complete series?

T.Z.:  There will be a total of ten countries represented. Because of time constraints, we will most likely create a two part documentary series. Each part will include five countries so that we can give each participant’s story adequate coverage.

TMP: Through this journey, what lessons have you learned about trans-society and the various cultures involved?

T.Z.:  I’ve learned more than I ever would have imagined. The first is that many cultures that we deem “discriminatory” against trans people are actually more complex. For example, I dug into my own background, found that the Iranian government is accepting of trans people and covers trans surgeries. On the other hand, someone who lives in a country that is seen as “very liberal” may not actually create an easy transition process for an individual person. For example, Isak (the participant we filmed in Norway)² hasn’t had the simplest time accessing hormones or finding social support. I’ve also realized that there are many shared experiences between trans men in different cultures, many of them relating to bodily experiences, such as binding, taking testosterone, and struggling with internalized dysphoria.
TMP: I see you are an avid hockey player. Do you still play?
T.Z.:   I had almost forgotten about hockey because of retirement, haha. I’ve been playing since I was eight, and I think having access to this sport helped me figure out my gender in some ways. It helped me escape the constraints of being assigned to the wrong gender by allowing me to partake in a sport that is seen as traditionally “masculine”. I played a year in college at Wesleyan University until I sustained a shoulder injury that ended my career. Occasionally, I still play in adult pick-up leagues.   TMP: Working with those with disabilities is a humbling experience, and during the time you lived in Massachusetts, you tutored those with disabilities. How has that shaped your view of your dysphoria?

T.Z.: This is another great question. I think that disability rights and trans rights are intersectional.

People who are disabled fight to have their bodies respected and are often the targets of physical violence, discrimination, and often have to prove that they are indeed human. That resonates with many trans stories, and one could even say that dysphoria is a debilitating emotional and physical disability. I think that just like the disability rights movement has changed the way we see the concept of ableism, the experience of dysphoria can be changed if we are given the unequivocal acceptance to become ourselves. 

TMP: Do you still feel that trans men are an outside voice and how can we as a society change that?

T.Z.:   I definitely think trans men are an outside voice. I think we do have to be aware of male privilege and not try to take up too much representational space; however, if we portray our stories in a way that challenges societal norms about masculinity, gender, and beauty, then I think we can really challenge the reasons behind transphobia. I think we as a society can improve that by changing the ways we see gender by accepting that one’s sex isn’t pre-determined by genitalia. I think we also need to shift away from the idea that gender determines personality, sexuality, social roles, and one’s life destiny.

TMP: I like to ask, if you could tell the world something about Tony Zosherafatain  and you knew everyone would listen, what would you like them to know about you?

T.Z.: That I have been through many struggles in my life, as a trans man, as a first-generation America, as a man of color, but, honestly I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m very proud of my backgrounds. My life experiences have made me mentally resilient and I can relate to people on a more human level. Though I’ve been the target of discrimination, I try not to judge humanity. I’m critical of systemic discrimination, but believe that people can change for the better. With “I am the T”, I want to show people life through a trans man’s eyes so that even conservative viewers no longer doubt that we are just as human as anyone else.

It has been a pleasure getting to know this man of many talents, a pioneer in film for trans voices, a nurse, and a champion for the disabled. It is our pleasure to announce that this interview is part one of a series TMP will cover about the director, and the film “I Am The T’.  Tony has also teamed up with TMP as a guest blogger, where he will be chronicling his experiences filming in Norway.


  1. In Reference to the duality of being trans. Two spirited people. Consider throughout history as special connections to the divine, and a direct representation of God’s form.
  2. The film I Am the T, covers background from several countries; Malaysia, Norway and Canada to name a few.
  3. Iran actually performs far more SRS surgeries than most countries. It’s a doubled edge sword. While being trans has less stigma than being gay or lesbian, the tragic side is the forced sex reassignment of gay men and lesbian women, so that they will be heterosexual in the eyes of the community and Allah.

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