About Morgan M. Page
I met a girl who changed my life at the corner of Homewood and Maitland, Toronto’s trans sex worker stroll. It was 2008, and we, along with a hundred other queers, trans folks, and sex worker superheroes were gathered to counter a group calling themselves the Homewood Maitland Safety Association (HMSA). Wendy Babcock was leading the counter protest along with another friend of mine. The HMSA, made up almost exclusively of middle class gay white cis men who had recently moved into the neighbourhood, was harassing and attempting to physically remove trans sex workers from their neighbourhood. Some of the women working there claimed that they had been assaulted with flashlights, photographed, followed, and harassed by HMSA members. This night was the start of many things: a six week long counter-protest lead by Wendy and myself; my friendship with Wendy; and the complete transformation of how I’d been living.
Wendy and I connected that night. At the time I was working on and off in minimum wage retail and barista jobs, sometimes unable to afford to feed myself, after an unsuccessful attempt to launch a career as a makeup artist. Though I’d previously done a small amount of work around sex workers’ rights, I really hadn’t spent much time as an activist then. Wendy and I spent two nights a week for the next six weeks countering the HMSA from 11 pm – 4 am, and in the morning I’d get back up at 9 am and head to work. Our efforts continued over the next several years and we managed to render the HMSA completely ineffectual.
Let me start by saying that I am a public figure. My views described here do not reflect those of the major organizations that I am associated with. These represent my views as a public trans activist and as a private individual.
“Babe can you call me the editor of Xtra is using my boy name on his FaceBook in referring to the story I did.” I saw this in my FaceBook messages. It had been a particularly frustrating day – a hard day at work on top of having just been dumped by the girl I was seeing, and then again by the boy I had my eyes on – and I just couldn’t deal, so I ignored Lexi’s message. Not because I didn’t care, but because I only have so much energy.
The day before I had gotten a call from a reporter I knew from Canada’s Gay and Lesbian newspaper Xtra. Andrea Houston was looking for a sex worker to interview for a story she was writing on sex work – a topic that’s being hotly debated right now due to the constitutional challenge underway in an Ontario court over three of the main anti-sex work laws in Canada. I recommended my friend, trans sex worker/reality TV star/filmmaker Lexi Tronic. Lexi’s a smart woman with an incisive tongue and always an interesting take on things. She doesn’t dress things up all pretty like cis feminist sex worker activists like; she tells it like it is – the positives and the negatives – and that, to me, does more to help the decriminalization cause than any happy Gender Studies grad student hooker can.
Most of my time is spent around queermos, trans folks, lefties, and feminists, people who spend a lot of time talking about oppression and privilege, social justice and anti-capitalism. People who try to make themselves aware of how things like racism, misogyny, classism, and transphobia work in the world and in themselves.
It really raises me up to be around people like this, and I listen intently to what people say about these things, both formally and casually. Engaging in these discussions teaches me so much about the world and the privileges that I carry around it, but almost every time I end up leaving the conversation frustrated. For all the anti-oppression talk that goes on, people seem to feel entitled to get their hate on about one subject: religion.
I get where it comes from. Growing up in cultures based around Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, can be tough for queers, trans folks, women, especially in more socially conservative places. And when these religions are used as justification for the erasure of your identities or for the enactment of violence upon your body (in all the myriad ways that queers, trans folks, women, and people of colour experience violence), it’s hard to not just throw up your hands in frustration at “religion,” hard not to paint it all with the same brush.
Being a trans hooker is hard work these days. Not only do you have to navigate a potentially dangerous work environment, try to stay out of the criminal justice system, possibly deal with being HIV+, often live precariously without immigration status in the country you work in, worry about violence and harassment from other sex workers, and deal with a society that puts so much stigma onto your profession that you might not be able to get stable housing, you also have to hear just about every non-sex working trans person alternately use your existence as a political pawn in their campaigns for middle-class privileges (often called “rights”) and condemn you for either being a victim or making the movement look bad. As I said, it’s hard work.
All sex work is survival sex work, in exactly the same way that I could describe all jobs at McDonald’s as survival food service jobs.
Here are some of the dumbass things you’re probably going to hear regularly when you enter non-sex working trans spaces, especially trans activist spaces (and these activists will, of course, lament the lack of involvement from sex workers in their efforts).
There have been moments in my life when I’ve felt the fear. Running down the street at seventeen, after my friends warned me that a group of straight guys had shown up to the party intent on beating me with baseball bats.Or having sex with straight cis guys while stealth, pre-bottom surgery. In these moments I felt the fear.
If you are trans or genderqueer or butch or effeminate, I know that you have felt the fear, too. I know it because it seems like most of the gender-variant communities are based upon this fear.
I have also felt the fear entering bathrooms – the fear that someone would tell me that I’m out of place, would call security, or hit me with a shopping bag. I have felt the fear walking down streets in broad daylight and the middle of the night – the fear that those random passersby might look at me at just the right angle and come after me. I have felt the fear while reading about trans women murdered in articles. I have felt the fear from watching Boys Don’t Cry.
If you are trans or genderqueer or butch or effeminate, I know that you have felt the fear, too. I know it because it seems like most of the gender-variant communities are based upon this fear. For trans folks especially, most of our communities seem structured around the annual Trans Day of Remembrance – a day not only to honour the trans people (mostly trans women of colour who work in the sex industry) who’ve been murdered, but also, apparently, a day to remind us that we are meant to be afraid. That this whole world is out to get us.
For most of the summer, I eagerly awaited the release of Amos Mac’s Translady Fanzine: what was supposed to be the answer for trans women to his now-iconic and highly successful trans men’s lifestyle mag Original Plumbing. As an occasional reader of Original Plumbing, I’d been wondering why trans women didn’t get to have an empowering by-us-for-us zine like OP. How come trans boys get all the cool stuff, I thought.
We discover on the first page an artist-to-artist letter from Amos to Zackary, discussing their collaboration, as well as Amos’ not-so-secret fantasy for a separatist transsexual island (when’s the next boat there?).
All we get, magazine-wise are porn mags made by and for a cis male gaze – which is great for those of us who need to make our cash posing in them, but not exactly the kind of cool empowerment I’m usually looking for.
So it was with high hopes that I hastily ripped open the envelope that contained what I was sure would be one of the coolest things for trans women since Tobi-Hill Meyer’s Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Women Porn Project.
What passes for community events now are shows about gender that feature the works of cis women and trans men, with trans women nowhere to be found.
Someone asks me to join a project, and I check the top of the email to see who’s cc’d on it, who’s involved. Nine people, all trans men that I know. I look hard at the screen and try to think of any other trans women activists in the city who could get involved.
No, no, not her, she’s too difficult to interact with.
And her, she’s been blackballed after that incident.
She might do, if only she’d learn to listen to other people in the room.
I’m the only trans woman invited because they know that I listen, that I have all the approved strong opinions, and that I have identity markers that make them feel better about interacting with me (former sex worker, culturally other, high school drop out, survivor). And, mostly, because they would feel bad if they didn’t involve at least one trans woman.
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.