Archive for the 'women only spaces' Category

Lu’s Pharmacy update

January 27, 2010

VWHC logoIn July 2009 I wrote here and here about Lu’s Pharmacy in Vancouver and their denial of access to transsexual women to their services on the grounds that we aren’t “women who were born women” (Via Vancouver Women’s Health Collective’s Our Political Agreements statement – direct link to PDF here).

However, it seems from the transcanada LJ comm (via Google blog search) that, as from 21 January 2010, Lu’s Pharmacy will offer its services to transsexual women.

A further post (via Google blog search), suggests that at least three trans women have been to Lu’s Pharmacy without being thrown out. It’s to be hoped that the women were able, without hindrance or harassment, to access the resources offering a “full-service pharmacy” as well as “advice on your medication and your healthcare”. (Via VWHC website – Lu’s Services)

Additionally:

Vancouver Womens’ Health Collective changed their policy, and Transphobe Caryn Duncan resigned the same week.

Of course it’s heartening to hear of cis women not only recognising their cissexism but also taking positive steps to begin putting right some of the wrongs they have committed in the name of a toxic and elitist feminism, and for that alone, this news is to be welcomed. However, there is no excuse for complacency on the part of any of the staff at Lu’s Pharmacy and it’s to be hoped that all concerned will now work with trans women to ensure that the transphobia so shamefully enshrined in the former regime under the directorship of Caryn Duncan is comprehensively and permanently rooted out.

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Reclaim The Night: policing the borders of cis feminism

November 25, 2009

Previously, on more than one occasion, I’ve made it clear that my anger at the members of the London Feminist Network who organise the annual Reclaim The Night march here in London arises from their continuing refusal to make any public clarification of their position on trans women attending the event. For a transsexual woman like me, their use of the phrase “women only” is contentious because it carries with it the baggage of nearly half a century of our exclusion from cis women’s spaces.

That such blatant and toxic cissexism is applied to trans women is, frankly, unforgivable in this day and age, but reading the latest post on the Feminist Fightback blog (link here) makes me realise just how dangerous the march organisers’ attitudes are when applied to other cis women too.

As self-identified women committed to fighting gender-based violence, members of Feminist Fightback attended last Saturday’s march in solidarity with sex workers fighting for the right to self-organise against exploitation in their industry.

From the blog post, it seems that not only were they subjected to physical harassment and verbal abuse from other marchers, but were approached and interrogated by the police, apparently at the request of one of the stewards.

[…] we were extremely surprised to find that one of the basic principles of feminism (and all social justice movements) was forgotten in this instance – namely, that we never resort to using police aggression to silence and intimidate members of our own movement, no matter how much we may disagree with them.

And that is the crux of the matter. Feminism isn’t – or shouldn’t be – about a minority of privileged cis women using strongarm tactics against other, far more vulnerable women simply to prop up their distorted and outmoded worldviews. Might is most definitely not right, and the actions of those self-appointed guardians of a fictitious ‘true feminism’ have revealed the extent of the moral bankruptcy at the core of the London Feminist Network. They should be ashamed of themselves and if they had a shred of conscience, all those concerned would have stepped down by now.

It’s no surprise that the organisers of the Reclaim The Night march have made no public statement about this incident and their silence serves only to underline their desperation to hold on to their positions of power without accountability. But listen well, my sisters: the day is coming when you will be called to justify your appalling treatment of all those women against whom you have consistently used your privilege to discriminate, when the right and proper thing to do would have been to support and assist them in their struggle against a common enemy.

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TDOR 2009 – Bring it on home (RTN London remix)

November 23, 2009

Outside it’s a cold, rainy morning and my mood today matches the weather: bleak with seemingly little chance of sunshine any time soon. I write these random but related thoughts on the Monday following the International Transgender Day Of Remembrance last Friday (link here), and Saturday’s memorial event in London (link here) primarily for the purpose of trying to process my personal thoughts and feelings rather than making some brave statement of activist intent. Last Friday’s 11th International Transgender Day Of Remembrance (link here) hit me much harder than ever before, and I’m still not sure why that is.

The wave of transphobic violence affecting trans people across the world continues to spiral out of control and it’s hard not to think that the only folk who give a damn about it are trans people ourselves. Last week I wrote about the statistics published in the recent TGEU report (link here) and the global average murder rate of three trans people per week is lodged firmly in my mind. The equality/diversity campaigner Christine Burns posted a quick calculation on Twitter to emphasise the scale of the impact of this murder rate on my community:

If trans ppl are (say) 1 in 10K of the population then 200 trans murders equivalent to 2 million in wider population (link here)

She added:

If 2 million people across Europe were murdered in 18 months then I’m guessing that would have some media interest (link here)

That last point is particularly cogent in light of the fact that the TDOR seems to receive no mass media coverage at all, whilst the murder last week of the Italian trans woman known as Brenda (link here) has received what I can only describe as salacious attention as a result of its reported connection with a so-called “political sex scandal” (link here). In the process, Brenda’s humanity – her identity – has been appropriated and devalued to promote the trope that all trans women are sex workers (subtext: and therefore deserve everything that happens to us, up to and including murder).

Closer to home, Saturday’s TDOR vigil here in London left me emotionally in tatters. Having spent most of Friday on the verge of tears for my murdered siblings, the event itself, so simple and so powerful, was unutterably sad. It was hard not to think especially of Destiny Lauren – a resident of the same London borough in which the TDOR event was held – who was strangled and her flat set on fire exactly two weeks before TDOR (link here). Despite his obvious distress, Destiny’s brother attended and gave a short speech before lighting a candle to her memory. At moments like that, when you see firsthand the human cost of the murders of my sisters on those who loved them, it is almost impossible to feel any empathy for those who see us as disposable objects, targets for their own transphobic self-loathing. The realisation that we are truly alone in a world which is intrinsically hostile to our existence is one of the biggest metaphorical slaps in the face you could receive.

The awareness of this sense of isolation was reinforced by the words of a representative of Press For Change, quoting from their recent report, Transphobic Hate Crime in the European Union (direct link to PDF).

Types of harassment by country

[…] British/UK respondents reported the highest levels of verbal abuse (25%); […] English respondents reported the highest levels of physical abuse (7%) […]

As the man said: “In Britain, if they come after you, they mean to kill you”. I hope I never hear more chilling words than that and they were much on my mind as I headed for home before the cis feminists’ Reclaim The Night march took to the streets. And when I did reach home and logged into my computer, I was bombarded by emails and Tweets from those cis women feminists who had attended the evening’s trans exclusive march to highlight the risk of street violence faced by cis women in London. In the light of the overwhelming sense of sadness and loss that I was feeling after TDOR, the sense of self-congratulatory complacency was almost too much to bear. It did, however, make me think again about my earlier suggestion (link here) that the trans community in London might wish to consider holding our own, trans centred, march – although I also accept that, realistically, it’s unlikely ever to happen, for a number of reasons.

My weekend hit rock bottom in the early hours of Sunday following a couple of “robust exchanges” online with cis women feminists. Their ciscentric apologism for other of their sisters’ transphobic bigotry improved neither my mood nor my belief that too many cis women feminists still have far too much work to do before this transsexual woman can really begin to believe the all-too-frequent assertion that:

“Not all of us cis woman feminisits are transphobic, promise!” (link here)

As much as I’d like to believe it, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support this claim. For example, how many of these self-appointed allies attended the TDOR memorial event on Saturday? (The event finished at about 4.30pm, a good hour in advance of the start of the RTN march; the timing couldn’t have been better). How many have bothered to contact the organisers of the march to ask if they would make the much-requested public confirmation (on the website and associated publicity materials) that the march is trans inclusive?

“Trans inclusion is not defined by the absence of ‘no’, it is the presence a clearly stated ‘yes'” (link here)

Because, really, telling me that…

“the event had trans women in attendance and pro-trans women rhetoric on the stage.” (link here)

completely misses the point. As Aunty Sarah so eloquently says over on her LJ (link here):

“The point is not that women like me would probably be OK on an RTN march, the point is that we don’t feel safe.”

The irony, of course – as many trans women have pointed out, many times before – is that we have just as much right to be in these “women only spaces” as cis women. The reason we’re not there is because those spaces have been taken from us by cis women feminists, often by force and always without accountability. And that, I believe, is why so many cis women feminists are so contemptuous, so aggressively hostile, when trans women speak of our inclusion in “women only spaces” – attacking us and policing the borders of “their” feminism allows them to ignore their guilt about not accounting for their actions and those of their cis sisters for nearly half a century.

“Women only” = “Cis women only”. Remember Sandy Stone/Olivia Records, Rachel Padman/Germaine Greer, Michfest, VRR. And on, and on (link here)

And while cis women feminists continue to indulge their denial, and pat each other on the back for walking arm-in-arm along one of the major shopping streets in London at 6pm on a Saturday evening, out here my sisters are still dying alone, three a week, every week.

I maintain that any cis woman feminist who talks about “ending violence against women”, whilst simultaneously excluding trans women from that equation, is as much part of the problem as the patriarchal society which condones her abandonment of her trans sisters, whose loss to transphobic violence some of us mourned on Friday and Saturday.

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Note: The images used in this post are from onequeerone’s TDOR London photo set and are used in compliance with the Creative Commons License for non-commercial use.

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This is not a trans woman

November 22, 2009

Feminism in London workshop: follow-up

October 10, 2009

FiL09-161x162In my earlier response to Lucy’s comments (links here and here) on my posts “Cis Feminism in London 09” and “Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminist Network”, I said that I wanted to write a little more on the subject, and that’s what I’m trying to do in this post.

Additionally, I would recommend that anyone interested in following this thread also reads Laura’s post, Feminism in London workshop, at The F-Word blog.

Before I start, I want to make my own clarification. The views and opinions I express here are mine alone: I do not claim to be representative of transsexual women. Neither is it my intent to invisibilise, marginalise or silence the voices of other transsexual women.

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Late on Friday afternoon, the organisers of the Feminism In London event updated their website with the following information:

On the website’s home page:

This event is trans-inclusive and transwomen are welcome in the one workshop that is women-only. The Feminism in London organising group would like to apologise for not making this clear from the beginning.

On the workshops schedule page:

This workshop is for women (including transwomen) only.

Whilst I consider this to be a positive outcome overall and I welcome the clarification, there are a few points I’d like to make.

  1. The whole situation need never have arisen in the first place. The term “women-only” is cissexist, and has been since it was first coined by cis women feminists. That a supposedly progressive and egalitarian movement continues to use it makes it clear that the overwhelming majority of its members have simply not checked their cis privilege.

    Had the original publicity material (and let’s remember that it was only the website that was changed, not any posters/flyers, etc) been clear from the outset that the entire event was open to all self-identified women (for want of another clearly inclusive term), then the risk of misinterpretation could have been eliminated.

  2. I wonder if there would have been any clarification at all from Feminism In London if a member of the FIL organising committee hadn’t seen Laura’s post at TFW (the situation only began to turn after the comment initiated further discussion between the organiser and TFW bloggers).

    And I know this will make me (even more) unpopular in some people’s eyes, but I cannot understate the contribution my TFW co-bloggers made to precipitating FIL’s clarification. The positive outcome is, I believe, due entirely to their input. As well as being my co-bloggers and my friends, I’m more than happy to call them my allies.

  3. I’m not comfortable with the term “transwomen”. It carries its own meanings of objectification and othering and I would have preferred to see trans used as an adjective. We don’t refer to (for example) Lesbianwomen, or Jewishwomen, or diabeticwomen – so why say transwomen?
  4. The FIL event was still strongly biased against sex workers, and that is another aspect which needs to be addressed.

I realise that to some cis women feminists I still sound like Angry Trans Harpy™ – which I’m not. Well… not completely. I am pissed off that this whole discussion even needed to take place, but perhaps that’s just a measure of how deeply entrenched transphobic views still are within cis women’s feminism. And although I’m glad that the organisers of Feminism In London clarified – albeit only at the eleventh hour – that their event didn’t exclude trans women, I remain sceptical that the London Feminist Network is any less transphobic.

So now this transsexual woman waits to see if the lesson learned by FIL will be applied to next month’s Reclaim The Night march.

Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminist Network

October 5, 2009

RTN cis onlyMy previous post (link here) has drawn me into looking further back along the organisational chain of command, and the results are as depressing and predictable as one might expect; as much for the failure of would-be allies as for the actual transphobia of the organisers.

Reclaim The Night and Feminism in London are both organised by the London Feminist Network and one commonality in all their literature is the use of the trans exclusionary phrase “women only”.

The problem arises because the term is grounded in the use of the long-established trope which states that transsexual women are “not really women” – hence my assertion that the phrase women only is trans exclusionary. The definition is essentialist in meaning as it infers that one can only be “born a woman” (and never “become a woman”, to paraphrase de Beauvoir), and in so doing it denies not only the existence and agency of transsexual women and transsexual men, but also the potential for change itself. Thus women comes to mean cis women, just as surely as women only means cis women only. The biological determinism underpinning this rationale ensures that these definitions become permanent, unquestionable, immutable dogma.

However, it also results in the anomalous situation we now see in the cases of both Feminism In London and Reclaim The Night where transsexual men (“really women”) will be welcomed to these events, at the same time as transsexual women (“really men”) will be excluded. The bias in favour of transsexual men not only makes use of one of the most offensive manifestations of transphobia – ungendering us – but silences and further marginalises transsexual women in the process: it is divisive too. At the same time, it reinforces the male/female binary which, in their next breath, those same cis women feminists will tell you they are committed to destroying – because, they reason, gender isn’t really absolute, determined by one’s genital configuration at birth, it is in fact a completely malleable, socially constructed concept.

LFN cis onlyBut regardless of the contorted and contradictory logic employed by LFN to exclude transsexual women, it’s interesting to note how the cis women feminist organisers then go on to avoid being called on their hidden transphobia by saying nothing explicitly about who is included in, and who is excluded from, the term women only. Their cis women feminist supporters at these events, who blithely go along with this hypocrisy by telling themselves that if transsexual women aren’t explicitly excluded then they must be implicitly included, are therefore not only complicit in the silencing of transsexual women, but their complacency allows the organisers to manipulate and exploit them in pursuit of this hidden transphobic agenda.

Which brings me to the real question: who decided this? How many people were responsible for implementing this trans exclusionary policy – and would they have been successful if the majority not been so apathetic? In a situation like this, saying nothing is no different to actively supporting the bigots. And given that transsexual women are highly unlikely to have access to the decision-making process, it falls to those cis women feminists who call themselves allies to take a stand on our behalf.

No more excuses, my sisters.

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Cross-posted at Harlot’s Parlour

Cis Feminism in London 09

October 3, 2009

Feminism in London - it's for cis women onlyNext weekend sees the Feminism in London 09 event. There are various workshops and discussions on a range of subjects: for example, racism and sexism, self-defence and assertiveness training, activism training, etc – and nearly 30 speakers scheduled. Any self-identified woman, whether cis or not, would surely find something of interest there.

But what’s this on the front page of the website?

If you are a woman or a pro-feminist man, come along to join the discussion.

Any trans woman seeing that will surely already hear the alarm bells ringing. It shouldn’t need restating that the word “woman” defaults to meaning “cis woman” and excludes trans women as a consequence. And “pro-feminist man”? I wonder if that includes trans men?

But there’s more. At the bottom of every single page of the website is this little gem of transphobia:

Some workshops may be for women only.

I see. And which workshops might they be, then? Close reading suggests that there is, in fact, only one workshop which is open to cis women only, and it’s the Rape and sexual violence workshop.

Because, as we know, trans women never suffer rape and violence.

Scratch the surface and the same old hidden agenda can be seen. Biological determinism: if you were born male-bodied, you will only ever be male. And its corollary – if you were born female-bodied, you will only ever be female – is the flipside. The thinking, if that’s the word I want, is fundamentally cissexist. The implication is that, irrespective of how we self-identify, to cis people we are always and forever the gender we were assigned at birth. It’s interesting that a self-styled feminist event should choose to implement such an essentialist policy. Whatever happened to the idea that gender is entirely socially constructed? And what happened to the feminism that preached equality for all and an end to oppression and discrimination?

And what all of this means in the context of the event is that a trans man will be welcome at the Rape and sexual violence workshop (because cis women have decided that he’s “really a woman”), but not a trans woman (because cis women have decided that she’s not).

But then I suppose it would be foolish to expect anything else of an event organised by the rabidly transphobic London Feminist Network. The same people who were last seen supporting a transphobic bigot celebrity lifestyle journalist at last year’s Stonewall UK protest, and who are no doubt already gearing up for the annual Reclaim The Night (But Only For Cis Women) march next month.

Frankly, if this is state of feminism in Britain’s biggest city in the 21st century you know what you can do with it.

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ETA: Because trans women never suffer sexual violence.
(Via This Is South WalesPDF here)

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Cross-posted at Harlot’s Parlour

Lu’s Pharmacy refuses to fill trans woman’s prescription

July 16, 2009

Makeup artist Raigen D’Angelo (left) and activist Jamie Lee Hamilton hold up a prescription that was refused by the staff of Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women - image via straight.comI know I said I would be writing less about news-related items, but I want to record this prime example of gobsmacking hypocrisy in the name of feminism, by way of a follow-up.

Remember that we’re living in the 21st century; it’s been 40 years since Second Wave feminism in all its transphobic glory was adopted unquestioningly by so many naive and unthinking cis women feminists…

In my earlier post (link here) I wondered if Lu’s Pharmacy in Vancouver was perpetuating the discrimination agains trans people (initiated and maintained by VRR for nearly a quarter of a century) with its stated policy of offering services only to “women who were born women” (direct link to PDF of VWHC statement here).

Well, it seems that I’ve now got my answer – and I’m disappointed to say that Caryn Duncan – the executive director of Vancouver Women’s Health Collective (VWHC), which runs the pharmacy – comes out of it looking like the narrow-minded, bigoted, dogma-driven drone she apparently is. Via straight.com (link here), I gather that on Tuesday, July 14, Jamie Lee Hamilton, a local resident in the area, called in at Lu’s Pharmacy to ask for a prescription to be filled, and was refused “because she wasn’t born female”.

According to Hamilton, the collective’s executive director, Caryn Duncan, explained that the pharmacy won’t serve male-to-female transgender people. Hamilton said she told Duncan that this policy is discriminatory.

“She then said, ‘No, you have to be born female,’” Hamilton claimed.

“Male-to-female”, “born female” – these are phrases with their own subtle toxicity: I, for one, never considered myself male, so the idea that I would transition from male to female is entirely inappropriate, as is the assertion that I wasn’t born female. The terms are fundamentally cissexist – they imply that, irrespective of how we self-identify, to cis people we are always and forever the gender we were assigned at birth. It’s interesting that an organisation like VWHC, which makes such a point of preaching its feminist views, should choose to use such an essentialist stance to base its discriminatory policies on. And this is a feminism which asserts that gender is entirely socially constructed?

[Ms Duncan] added that she isn’t sure that she would describe what happened as “refusing her service” […]

Right, right… Remind me again: did Jamie Lee Hamilton leave the pharmacy with her prescription filled? No? And how did that happen then, if she wasn’t refused service?

[…] and claimed that Hamilton tried to force her way inside. Duncan also said she feels “very overwhelmed” by the pressure she’s received to provide service to transgender women.

“I have felt that people are employing intimidation tactics, and it’s hurtful to me personally,” she said.

Ooh, nice use of the ‘Drowning Maestro’ attack there – filtered through the lens of cissexism:

It matters not that the [trans] person might be speaking passionately of hurts they have suffered their entire life, hurts they suffer as they speak, starving children, raped women or murdered millions. The person hurling the Wite-Magik Attak fixates upon the TONE of the complaint or insight. Because what really bothers them is that a [trans] person has the nerve to speak with such self-confidence and passion. This, in fact, scares them. If it weren’t such a demeaning move when you have something you feel is important to say, this Attak would be downright comical. Just picture a conductor waving his wand as he plummets to the bottom of a darkening sea.

(Curtsey to Nezua)

Yep, us trans women sure are meeean to our oppressors…

Meanwhile, back in the topsy-turvy world of Caryn Duncan:

“As I said to Jamie Lee Hamilton, we want to help women here. We want to focus on the work that we do that’s very important to us and to the women who want to use our services. That’s where I want to put my energy.”

In fact, it’s so important for her to focus on her client base that she’s prepared to refuse service to that proportion of it to whom she’s ideologically opposed. And this is a feminism that’s about equality for all women?

Duncan said she informed Hamilton of a pharmacy a couple of blocks away that would provide adequate care.

NIMBY-ism at its most obnoxious. And this is a feminism that’s about choice?

But at least Ms Duncan is consistent in her foolishness:

According to Hamilton, Duncan told her that Lu’s pharmacy will serve transgender men who were born female. “It’s an ideology that’s really, really bizarre,” Hamilton said.

Hello, cluephone calling: there’s a bit of a revealing phrase there: “transgender men”. Ms Duncan, that description is usually taken to refer to trans people who self-identify as men, who live their lives as men, who are passed by your very own cis society as men – and you’d welcome them with open arms even as you’re pushing trans women out of the door?

When asked about this, Duncan responded: “We will serve all women born women.”

That sound? That’s me, banging my head against the desk.

“We will serve all women born women.”

Oh shut up, you clueless, bigoted transphobe.

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Lu’s: a pharmacy for cis women?

July 8, 2009

VWHC logoVancouver Women’s Health Collective has just opened a new pharmacy called Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women which claims to offer a “full-service pharmacy” as well as “advice on your medication and your healthcare”. (Via VWHC website – Lu’s Services)

The website continues:

By opening a women’s pharmacy, the VWHC is once again providing health care services to women along with health information and our continued advocacy work, from a model that is informed by a feminist perspective. We know that women are still underserved by the current health care model, and we know that certain women face considerable barriers to accessing quality health care, which include poverty, addiction, racism, and sexism, among others. We see Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women as a unique opportunity to organize in a new way, by bringing together health care professionals both traditional and holistic (in the form of pharmacists, doctors, and holistic practitioners), volunteers, community activists, and community members in one space.

(Via VWHC website – A Brief History of Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women)

Which all sounds great. A much-needed resource offering access to “quality health care, which include poverty, addiction, racism, and sexism, among others”. A laudable aim, unquestionably.

However, according to The Vancouver Courier (link here):

Starting Tuesday, any woman who was born a woman can visit the pharmacy to have prescriptions filled.

It’s unclear where the phrase “any woman who was born a woman” has come from – The Vancouver Courier is the only source I have seen which uses the term explicitly; note that the VWHC website (link here) refers simply to “women”. Not “womyn born womyn”, and not “self identified women”; just “women”. The contact page of the VWHC website (link here) states that “our Centre is a space for women only”.

However, history has shown us many times that the default meaning of “women” is, in reality, “cis women”, so the use of “women” is a cause for concern if trans women are likely to be excluded.

And the fact that this pharmacy has opened in Vancouver is further cause for concern. The appalling treatment of Kimberly Nixon by Vancouver Rape Relief in 1995 resulted in a huge and destructive legal battle which still has implications today.

Ms Nixon had previously worked as a rape counsellor elsewhere, and the main reason she applied to VRR was because the shelter that she visited didn’t allow survivors they’d served to volunteer until 12 months had passed. She was initially accepted, but when it became known that she was a transsexual woman, she was forced to leave.

Ms Nixon took her grievance to a Human Rights tribunal – and won – but the decision was overturned by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in 2003. And in 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear an appeal from the decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

Effectively, the decision legitimised VRR’s “women only space” policy, which translates to meaning that only those who were born and raised female are allowed access. In my view, this is tantamount to holding trans women’s history against us – that something we have no control over is an ineradicable original sin which stains our lives forever.

It is this terrible history of cis women’s mistreatment of trans women in Vancouver that makes me wish that the VWHC would issue a formal clarification of their position on access by trans women to the resources offered by Lu’s Pharmacy.

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ETA: Thanks to Carto in comments (link here) for pointing out the paragraph in VWHC’s Our Political Agreements statement (direct link to PDF) which says:

Therefore, we feel that it is essential that a woman be born a woman and have the physiology of a woman and the psychological experiences of living as a girl and a woman in order to embrace the work of the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective. For us, membership and services are open to women who were born women.

So there y’go, that’s as clear as crystal.

And presumably, then, by that same essentialist definition, trans men will be welcomed with open arms…