Lecture addresses why trans issues matter

Inspired by her daughter’s transition, Debi Jackson comes to Queen’s for public lecture on trans issues

Debi Jackson speaking Thursday evening.
Image by: Alex Pickering
Debi Jackson speaking Thursday evening.

Debi Jackson travelled all the way from Missouri to advocate for transgender and other LGBTQ issues to the audience in Ellis Hall on Thursday night.

Jackson, who isn’t transgender, initiated the conversation by asking the question, “Why do transgender issues matter?” The following 60 minutes answered that question.

Her presentation focused on the story of her four-year-old daughter’s transition, as well as societal issues that trans and similar communities face. She defined the term transgender as “gender non-conforming … an umbrella term to describe anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms”.

Jackson explained the scope of potential misunderstanding through the metaphor of a “Genderbread Person”. Broken into four sections, the genderbread person consists of gender identity, gender expression, biological sex and sexual orientation. Gender non-conformists that exist within the umbrella term transgender include, but are not exclusive to: transsexual, intersex, cross-dresser, drag, butch woman, effeminate man, gender-variant/gender-fluid/gender-queer.

These individuals may go through one or all phases of transition throughout their lifetimes, including social and physical transition. For Jackson’s daughter, this social transition included an element of losing friends and entering a new community. Notably, her daughter’s friends were more accepting than their parents — what Jackson believed was representative of societal influence on people’s perceptions.

Her daughter’s physical transition thus far has included her choosing to grow out her hair and wear jewelry and makeup, all the while favouring all things pink, purple and sparkly. The hormonal or surgical procedures won’t be an option until puberty, Jackson said.

She said age is a limitation on a trans person’s agency.

“Doctors are often disinterested, or restricted by the law to perform this type of surgery on people under 16 or 18,” Jackson said.

“But if my daughter wants to get surgery at 14, after being certain of her gender for a decade, I don’t see why the law or doctors should make her go through the social stress that the transformations of puberty would bring.”

Jackson said she thinks society finds the concept of gender identity being formed in very early childhood to be very confusing. “There is no evidence that anything outside of the womb can influence your gender identity,” she said.

Trans people face an incredible amount of violence, Jackson said. It’s a life of constant fear and danger, not just for their lives but of being rejected by strangers, colleagues, friends and loved ones, she added.

Furthermore, she said, 41 per cent of transgender people have attempted suicide or had suicidal thoughts — much higher than 1.3 per cent of the overall U.S. population. In Ontario alone, 75 per cent of trans people have seriously considered suicide.

“It is not an inherent mental disorder; suicide rate is the result of extreme minority stress,” Jackson said.

Jackson outlined the priorities of the trans community in order of decreasing priority: workplace discrimination, trans-specific healthcare coverage by insurance, hate crime laws, access to trans-sensitive health care, access to correct personal IDs, housing non-discrimination, marriage equality and anti-bullying laws.

Following the presentation, there was an hour-long Q&A with Jackson and two trans individuals, Dan Vena and Brea Hutchinson.

Rector Mike Young said he’d been planning the event for the past 10 months.

“This was a pipedream come true,” he said.



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