York’s Transgender/Transsexual Symposium examines diverse issues


The following is an account by Prof. Linda Briskin, Social Science (Arts)/School of Women”s Studies.

Nearly 115 people attended the Transgender/Transsexual Symposium on Nov. 29, with students and faculty from York representing about half the audience. The rest was a diverse group from other universities, social service agencies and various communities. Co-sponsored by the Graduate Program in Women”s Studies and the Social Science Division, Faculty of Arts, this event focused on trans theorizing, organizing and cultural production.

In the first of three presentations in the morning, Prof. Bobby Noble (York and Queens universities) gave a paper titled “”I was a lesbian man””, drawn from a forthcoming book entitled Masculinities Without Men? Female Masculinity in Twentieth Century Film and Fiction. He examined the “border wars” over the identity of Brandon Teena, the subject of the film Boys Don”t Cry.

In her paper “Who gets to be a woman? Feminism, sexual politics and transsexual trouble”, Prof. Patricia Elliot (Wilfrid Laurier University) discussed the recent human rights case of Kimberly Nixon, a male-to-female transsexual. A BC Human Rights Tribunal upheld Nixon”s view that she had been discriminated against when Vancouver Rape Relief refused to allow her to participate in volunteer training because she had once been a man.

Prof. Viviane Namaste (Concordia University) presented “A Labour History of Male-To-Female Transsexuals in Montreal and the Limits of Queer Theory”. She grounded her critique of Anglo-American queer theory in the everyday experiences of transvestite and transsexual artists which she shared with the audience through slides and Quebecois music.

In the afternoon, a panel of speakers reflected on trans-organizing. Mirha-Soleil Ross, transsexual video maker, performer, sex worker and activist, discussed organizing for prostitutes” rights; Trish Salah, York doctoral student and union activist, reflected on coalition politics, trans-inclusion and “impossible” sexes; and Eleanor MacDonald (Queens University) addressed the challenges of trans-organizing.

The day concluded with a poetry reading by Salah with selections from her new book Wanting in Arabic, and a multi-media performance piece “For Albini”, by Ross.