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PrettyQueer.com | January 25, 2015

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My Angry Speech

My Angry Speech
Morgan M. Page

This is the text of a speech given by Morgan M. Page at the Toronto Trans March, on July 1, 2011.

Dear Trans Community,

Why have trans activists in Canada made no collective statements in favour of the decriminalization of sex work – something that would effectively end the imprisonment of the majority of incarcerated trans people?

My heart is heavy today. I love you, I do, but some things have been weighing on me. Earlier this week I watched in horror as a room full of trans and queer activists applauded enthusiastically when someone suggested that our activist efforts should not be so focused on trans people of colour and trans sex workers because “all trans people face the same issues.”

I want to talk to you about Trans Issues. Whenever I’ve asked about just what these issues are I’ve been told that they are discrimination based on Gender Identity and Gender Expression, and that what we need most is protection under Bill C-389. A bill that would explicitly extend human rights protections on these grounds. Many activists tirelessly put in huge amounts of work trying to get this bill passed, and when the election was called all of their hard work was lost. I want to take a moment to thank them for their dedication.

However, I need to say that I disagree with you. Extending human rights protections is a noble cause, but it is not the be-all and end-all of Trans Rights.

I want to tell you about a woman I know. She is a racialized Trans sex worker. When I spoke to her, about her rights in dealing with police, she told me that I was wrong, that she had no rights at all.

She told me about how police would punch her until she bled and then charge her with attempted murder because they know that she is living with HIV.

That undercover officers would try to force her not to use a condom so that they could arrest her for attempted murder and solicitation.

Her racialized identity, sex working profession, and HIV status make her a target for police brutality.

These are the trans issues we need to address most urgently! Bill C-389 would have done NOTHING to address these issues! It would have had no effect on the criminalization of sex work or HIV, and it would’ve done nothing to address the systemic racism that made her a target.

HIV is hugely prevalent among Trans Women. And yet, where are these “trans activists” when HIV trials are being decided?

Why have trans activists in Canada made no collective statements in favour of the decriminalization of sex work – something that would effectively end the imprisonment of the majority of incarcerated trans people?

Where are “Trans Activists” when police beat yet another trans sex worker while she or he or they are simply trying to work?

Recently, the queer community came together to stop the deportation of a young man named Alvaro. It was amazing to see what an impact direct action could have. They managed to stop his deportation by pressuring Jason Kenney. But it made me wonder, where are these “trans activists” when non-status and refugee claimant trans people are being deported? Why has our community not come together to stop any of the dozen or so deportations of trans women of colour this year?

When you march today, I would like you to consider these questions I’ve put forth. And to remember trans people of colour, trans sex workers, trans people living with HIV, and trans youth – all of whom face particularly complex intersections of oppression in their everyday lives.

And I also want you all to know that you are all beautiful and brilliant and amazing! And you are loved! We all face struggles, some more than others, but we are so resilient! Remember your strength, especially when you feel that you have none, because it is what has gotten you this far, it is what has brought us all here today! Take care of yourselves and each other.

And thank you to Luka and Jacub, the organizers of this year’s Trans March, who have done a great job! I feel that their work, both at Pride and outside of Pride, has not received the recognition it deserves. These two guys have put in so much hard work for our communities – often unpaid and always underappreciated – and it’s been an absolute pleasure knowing them and working with them!

Thank you.




Billboard photo credit: Xtra.ca

Comments

  1. Abbie

    Ideally, transfolk woud not be forced into sex work if there was no gender-expression discrimination preventing them from honest work in McDonald’s and maybe even Starbucks. Yes, you have a valid argument but I have a hard time imagining Martin Luther King, or even former pimp Malcom X, ever making the rights of Black prostitutes a priority.

    • Their loss! I would like to challenge the framework of sex work being a job that people are always forced into (any more than people are forced into any type of work) – many people would prefer to do sex work and be able to make their own hours, get paid a living wage, and do work that can be more creatively stimulating than working at McDonalds if they wouldn’t be in danger of being put in jail for their choice.

    • I don’t know that we can say what other civil rights leaders would have addressed, had they been dealing with the same challenges that our communities are today.

    • Red

      I believe that sex work IS honest work. I also believe that decriminalizing sex work is, frankly, a much more realistic goal that ferreting out ANY discrimination in the minimum wage workplace. Anti-discrimination legislation has always been a much greater boon to those who can pay for lawyers and don’t sign anything saying they can “be terminated at any time for any reason” when they’re hired. I also find it confusing to bring up the fact that Malcolm X was a pimp and then give his supposed opinions of the rights of sex workers any weight.

      • K good i have been trying to figure out how to write this comment for fifteen minutes. IAWTC and want to add that I think both Malcolm X and Dr. King had deeper analyses than “let’s intentionally not care about sex workers.”

        Morgan thanks for posting this here. I’m into it.

        • Abbie

          Then let me take my tongue out my check for a moment. As someone who lives with a former dominatrix, I am not against the decriminilation of sex work. I am, however, concerned with the history of transfolk being channeled into forms of institutionalized prostitution in countries such as India, Thailand, and even Iran.

          • Pony

            “As someone who lives with a former dominatrix”… kudos to you. That sentence reeks of “my best friend lives next to a trans* person, therefore I know about trans* issues”.

            In India and Thailand (not sure about Iran) there are sex worker organisations (with trans* sex worker participation) that lobby for their rights as sex workers. Why don’t you let them speak for themselves and actually listen to them rather than being ignorantly “concerned”.

            Why aren’t you concerned about the history of people being channeled into forms of institutionalized labour. Oh right, that’s what capitalism is!

            • Pony

              Oh, I forgot to qualify that with, “as someone who actually is a trans sex worker”…

              • Abbie

                If it is truly your calling, Pony, then I wish you well.

            • Abbie

              As a sixteen year-0ld boy who once sucked a truck driver’s dick for $5 and then got thrown into juvie for being a runaway, I am grateful to g?d that he gave me opportunities that were not available to the woman I love. Maybe there are some white males that graduate from Harvard and say, hey I think my life would be fulfilled as a sex worker, but the majority of those positions are filled by women, gay men, and transfolk of color. I am for the decriminalization of sex work, but I don’t see the right to scrape the bottom of the barrel without going to jail as progress.

              • Morgan M Page

                I respect that your opinions may be based on your own experiences, however, I find it deeply problematic that you are framing all sex work as “scrap[ing] the bottom of the barrel.” Some of us current and former sex workers find sex work to be empowering, validating, and fulfilling work that may pay as much as or far, far more than other forms of work. Some view it as a calling.

                That said, I feel that it’s important to acknowledge that this is not the experience of all sex workers, and that for some who are more marginalized, sex work may be the only option or a forced occupation. However, the same can be said for working at McDonalds (where workers may be subjected to harassment, violence — including sexual violence from coworkers and superiors — , extremely low pay, and generally bad working conditions with little room for advancement).

                To add further context to my views, I am speaking as a white queer trans woman, former teen sex worker, and former party drug “addict.” I experience a great deal of privilege now, but did not experience as much during my time as a teen sex worker. And I am a high school drop out — no degrees for me.

                Thank you for sharing your opinions and experience, Abbie, but please do not generalize negatively about sex work because in doing so you are reinforcing stigma that hurts sex workers (current and former). And it sounds to me like it is not your intention to cause us any harm.

                ~M

    • I don’t know about MLK, Jr. and Malcolm X (the latter of whom, notwithstanding his virtues, was not exactly the authority on the rights of anyone who isn’t a cis man anyway), but there was this dude named Jesus who was pretty into prostitutes’ rights, and I hear he had a few things to say about social justice.

      • Abbie

        I promised to keep my mouth shut, but I didn’t foresee anyone playing the Jesus card in this context. Are you referring to where Jesus said, “Let he among you without sin throw the first stone” or where he said, “Go, and sin no more”? The point of bringing up MLK & MX is that civil rights leaders have traditionally focused on opening doors to the middle class for minority groups but the part of the price of middle-class opportunity is middle-class morality. Activists like Morgan are going to find a lot of resistance from middle-class transfolk to conflating the idea that transfolk are people like everyone else with the the idea that sex workers are laborers like everyone else, especially since so many cisfolk already believe transfolk are acting out of some kind of sexual perversion. Furthermore, if prostitution were ever legalized, it would also become regulated. Nobody with HIV or hepatitis would be given a license to please. I vote “yes” on decriminalization, “maybe” on legitimization, and “no” on institutionalization

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Magdalene

          As for the right way in which activists for sex workers’ rights should present themselves to the public, I think I’m going to let sex workers lead and that I’m going to follow, just as I wouldn’t tell lawyers, investment bankers, Wal-Mart employees, migrant farmers, or people in any other occupation or trade that I am not on what the best way is to organize for their rights. Your “middle-class morality” comments sound a lot like concern trolling to me.

          • Abbie

            I had to google “concern trolling.” That may be a fair assessment but what I think I have been trying to do is to articulate my resistance to an appeal that has been made to me as a member of the trans community. This issue touches a sensitive spot in me, perhaps because of my personal experience or perhaps because of my class prejudices. I have no advice for a sex worker determined to follow their calling, but I have a hard time believing anyone in the business would want to see a child of their own follow in their footsteps.

            • I have a hard time believing that a factory worker, domestic service worker, or migrant farm worker would want to see a child of their own follow in their footsteps. But that’s systemic socioeconomic inequality in a country with near-nonexistent upward mobility for you.

              • Abbie

                Very good point, but if you consider what happened to the farm workers that Caeser Chavez organized in California, then the future looks bleak for organized labor in general. In any case, you have given me a new perspective on this issue. Thank you.

  2. Red

    Fuck.Yeah.

    • Morgan M Page

      Thanks honey!

      ~M

  3. Thank you for delivering this amazing speech!

    I agree, in the United States so much energy goes into seeking rights or changing culture in ways that are beneficial to those who already have a certain degree of power, while trans people who are immigrants and sex workers are cast to the side in a similar way that the GLB has traditionally done with the T. I wish that the priorities for the trans community were decriminalization of sex work, eradication of ICE, and decriminalization of HIV.

    • Morgan M Page

      Thanks, Cyd! Glad to know that there are similar-minded folks out there.

      ~M

  4. Julie Blair

    Morgan, I clapped as I read this.

    It is also great to see you! I remember you from LiveJournal! Please write more!

  5. Ariel

    Right on Morgan! I work in the union movement and did a lot of work to support C389 (for protection of gender identity and gender expression). I was so sad the see that the bill didn’t make it through the Senate in time to become law before the last election.

    That being said, I don’t think these campaigns are mutually exclusive. I am 100% behind the decriminalization of sex work and I know lots of activists that support both political goals. More dialogue like this is so important in our communities.

  6. Abbie

    Morgan, thank you for your well-reasoned critique to my flippant response, and I am not saying that in sarcastic quote marks. I am guilty of being a snob, but as much as my girlfriend likes to brag about the celebrities she met and the money she made, I can see how the life hurt her soul and how the alcohol abuse that went with it has destroyed her body. When I made my transition, I was working as a desk clerk in a welfare hotel, and I was determined to walk the streets if I had to, but it’s a good thing I didn’t because someone as uptight as me would have made a lousy sex worker. Most of the trans girls who lived in the hotel, however, made their living in the sex trade, and it didn’t end well for any of them, but my experience with the trans community is narrow. As I replied to Pony, if sex work is truly your calling then I wish you the best.

    • Abbie

      And by the way, before I worked as a desk clerk, I supported myself for a year working at a Burger King so I know how truly lousy that kind of job can be.

  7. A fantastic speech Morgan!

    What can I say, I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment, even from the Republic of Ireland where I live in a different political context. I also relate personally, as an immigrant trans woman on social welfare.

    Here, our main trans* organisation (www.teni.ie) has emerged into a form in which it can finally be effective, however it’s been very hard to get much done in terms of migrant trans* people and sex workers’ rights. Those of us who have been on the ground get often asked what the needs are, and it’s impossible to articulate since I don’t have research for a board to read, or witnesses for them to listen to. There’s engagement with the police from the community, so at least there’s increasing awareness and less violence from them, though that’s small comfort (and I’d be extremely wary of the Irish police forces, knowing their history well).

    That said, we have a nascent sex workers’ rights movement, with two organisations out in the playing field. And! There’s also just-founded LGBT immigrants organisation. As these groups become more established, it’s our hope we can create solid links between orgs and do work that actually changes things. But it’s an uphill struggle: the Irish trans* community is pitifully small (a trans* march is completely out of the question), there’s incredible amounts of internal strife, and our main trans organisation is struggling to provide the support and services that larger, better-resourced organisations don’t do even half as efficiently. Moreover, while many LGBT orgs do a proper job by trans* people, especially trans youth, several of those so-called “LGBT” organisations are pretty selective in their resource allocation. And the excuse is always the typical ” oh but we don’t know enough about trans issues!”

    Bah! I’ve gone and got pissed off. Again, great work with the speech xx

  8. less is more

  9. everyone should say less.

    • Abbie

      Yassur, Boss.

  10. Fuck yes to this post, Morgan and fuck yes to comments some of you (Red, Imogen, Morgan and others) all have made thus far.

    As a former sex worker, a white trans man (who doesn’t always pass) from a middle class background and a college educated person who has never been able to get hired for a job that paid above the poverty line, I really didn’t like the comment/dig above about sex work as “scrap[ing] the bottom of the barrel.”

    It’s one thing for someone to love or hate their own job, but it’s some really condescending, classist bull-shit for someone else to think they get to create this heirarchy where some jobs are legitimate and some are not. I have actually had things that I loved and things that I hated about every job I’ve ever had (including sex work), but at the end of the day, that is for me to decide, for me to complain about, be excited about, work hard at and push for livable working conditions at, and it’s a lot more complicated than something being a “good” job or a “bad” job. It’s a job, however much money I am making and however it fits into my overall life goals (or someone else’s ideas of what my goals should be).

    Workers should have a right to be respected for the work they do. And for a lot of trans* folks, particularly trans women of color, that work includes sex work. And it’s hard work and it’s made harder by not only the stigma that comes with it, but the way that legislatures and law enforcement (that are “supposed” to protect people) actually make the work a lot harder and more dangerous for people who are trying to do honest work (that someone else would be doing if they were not, btw, someone’s gotta be a sex worker, just like someone’s gotta be a janitor and someone’s gotta be a teacher or a carpenter or a lawyer).

    I think sex worker’s rights should be at the top of the agenda of any group/movement that truly seeks to make the world better for trans* folks because that’s an area where we have the opportunity to make the trans* folks who bear the brunt of the scary realities of transphobia better in measurable ways. And that makes things better for all of us (trans* folks and workers), right? Remember how trickle-down isn’t a real thing? I always question those groups/movements that turn their backs on, seek to distance themselves from or just don’t include sex workers in their missions.

    • Morgan M Page

      Yesyesyesyesyes!!

      ~M

  11. Ollie

    Thank you so much for writing this, though I’m sorry that you’ve needed to.

    It is especially appalling that people will express this sort of sentiment *then* use the names of poor sex workers of colour on Transgender Day of Rememberance, in order to champion a cause which does not have their best interests and sincere and profound need at heart.

    I’ve had similar experiences in the UK. There has been big steps in establishing police liaison officers for victim support of trans people in the UK, which is a good thing… but whenever I’ve brought up the treatment of trans people who deal with the police in other contexts (as witnesses, or protestors or those who are being charged with crimes) or with the prison system I’ve been told that if trans people ‘stay out of trouble’ then they’ll be safe by a police Guest speaker – which no one questioned.

    The crowd in question were an overwhelmingly white, middle class group of men, who were clearly under the impression that the people whom I was talking about were so far removed from their own experiences as to be hypothetical situations drawn from the air, rather than it being a dangerous reality for a number of people

    • Morgan M Page

      Oi vey, honey. Sorry to hear things in the UK are so similar!

      ~M

  12. femme

    I mostly agree with what you’ve said. Once upon a time there was a higher understanding within the community of people born with transsexualism or those who are transgender that sex workers were a big part of us as a community. Which is when the sex worker out reach program began via Meal Trans through the hard work of Mirha-Soleil Ross . In fact that was part of the mandate for Meal Trans to help support street active and low income people who are TS/TG.
    Slowly, and I don’t know why, less and less has been happening. I’m not seeing that out reach growing to where it really should be by now. I suspect that has alot to do with those who control budgets and control grant awards.

    I will also agree that there has always, stupidly, been an us vs them type of mentality with some people in the TS/TG community. I know because I’ve fought them when I have come across them.

    We also see the co opting of deaths each year during the remembering our dead ceremonies. In fact for many it’s the only time they don’t seem to mind that they were sex workers, just as long as it helped increase the numbers.
    Most if not all of the sex workers named in those lists where murdered because of the work they did, not because of who they are. It frustrates me to no end and because of that I never attend such ceremonies.

    As a non sex worker, but someone who has friends who are, I believe in decriminalization or even legalization to take away the power of those who use it as a shovel against those they can. I also want to see this happen because I don’t wish to loose another friend just because she wasn’t able to properly protect herself like she would have had the laws not been what they are.

    Though Bill C389 would not stop all problems people face, it would help as each institutionalized law does. Collectively that along with legalization or decriminalization of sex work would be great building blocks.
    Now we only have one of those that still stands a chance to happen. At least for another 5 or so years. And again that will only help a few, mostly those who aren’t street active.

    It takes beginnings before we see positive changes in anything. I believe that’s what in Ontario Toby’s Law and Canada wide Bill C389 were. Just as what we see going through the courts now on sex work will is.
    Along with the beginnings we, society, need more education. Those within the community of people who are TS/TG have made mistakes of allowing others to take over our fights and in doing so, which is typical, we have seen those we gave that power over to spend it on what was closer to their hearts. Themselves, their own lives. What more affected them.

    Fortunately the community are learning and are starting to do their own fights, or take control over them. This is how we saw relisting happen in Ontario. Hopefully we’ll see it also happen in Alberta. It’s how we are seeing changes happen with shelters and other organisations.
    It’s how we saw the person born with transsexualism gain the right to how they are treated by police. It’s been the fights brought on by the community members that are seeing changes happen.

    Either way, Morgan, You’re right we need to take a community stand and say yes to the right of the sex worker to work and be protected by police, not abused by them. We need to understand that sex work is not a bad word. It may be something they will or could never do but I expect there are other professions they would also never. We need to lose the idea of everyone being forced or being drug addicted or even living on the street poor or mentality ill.
    But we need to lose that on both sides because many people out in society think that about anyone born with transsexualism or who is transgender.

    We have lots of educating to do over all.

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