Free Speech

Here are some experiences I’ve had:

  • I go on a date. While saying goodbye to the date, a man comes up to me, inquires about my gender, and gropes my breasts to find out if I am a man or a woman.
  • I go to the gym. After my work out, a patron tells me to get out of the change room.
  • I eat in a food court. The table next to me has five older men talking about trans people derisively, with straw-men arguments.
  • I go to an outdoor music festival. A woman pulls at my sports bra. A man follows me to inquire why I’m wearing feminine attire.
  • I watch a new movie. There’s a tranny joke.
  • I go buy clothes. A sales associate follows me around the store after I try on leggings, stops by me, and eyes me up and down giving me a look of disgust.
  • I go get my brows done. The aesthetician laughs in my face when I ask for thinner more feminine eyebrows.
  • I’m at work. A coworker tries to bond by deriding their ex for being trans. He doesn’t know I’m trans.
  • I go to a laser hair removal clinic. The receptionist looks at my file, sees the medications I’m on, and berates me for being on hormone replacement therapy.
  • I walk to a coffee shop downtown. On the way a pedestrian yells that I’m a man.
  • I walk to the grocery store. A guy at a pub patio along the way mocks me over my breasts to his friends.
  • I walk up to a bus stop. A lady waiting for the bus ogles so hard that she nearly falls over when she bends forward to get a better view.
  • I take the bus home. A man points at me repeatedly and laughs.
  • I buy a coat. The sales associate tells me I’m in the wrong section, the men’s is over there.
  • I take a walk. A man passing me mutters that I’m wearing a women’s coat.
  • I walk to work. A man loudly asks his friend if I’m a guy or girl. I turn around to see if he’s talking about me, then he promptly yells that I’m a dude.
  • I take a cab. The driver solicits me for sex.
  • I go to a bar and use the facilities. I overhear a man say that a guy went into the ladies washroom. Leaving the bar, a patron yells at me that I’m a guy.
  • I read a national newspaper. There’s an op ed portraying trans rights as a threat to children.
  • I update my insurance info. They won’t let me change my gender marker until I have surgery that renders me sterile.

The views that led people to act in the above fashion are widespread. They are so widespread that I’m still afraid when accessing gendered public spaces like change rooms.

Ad that appeared a few months ago in Hamilton.

It irks me when people claim that these views are silenced because some university declined to give this transphobia a platform or because some trans people protest it.

No. This view is all around us. Trans students at that university are immersed in that view, whether the administration hosts a transphobic speaker or that speaker finds another venue. I don’t buy for one second that free speech is under threat; not when this view is literally shouted from the streets of Ottawa. Not when this view is voiced in change rooms, in washrooms, in clothing stores, in food courts, outside bars, in clinics. Not when it’s advertised on Parliament Hill and in this country’s national and local newspapers, in recital halls, and television programs. That free speech is being exercised all the time with very significant displays.

Don’t conflate particular venues declining to lend their name to these views with being silenced. Don’t mistake trans people protesting this prejudice for a loss of free speech. To the contrary, that’s adding a voice to the mix that wasn’t heard before. But to those whose views monopolized the public sphere, having these new voices gain prominence can feel like a loss. It may be a loss of comfort from having to share space with trans voices, but it is not a loss of free speech.