Friday, November 20, 2015

Is this trans girl the 20th most powerful person in Vancouver?

This week Vancouver Magazine published its list of the 50 most powerful people in Vancouver for 2015. Number 20 this year is Tru Wilson, a 12-year-old trans girl whose family filed a successful human rights complaint against her school, which had been refusing to treat her as a girl. The media by and large is treating Wilson's spot on the list as a feel-good human rights story; see for example the positive profile in The Province this week. From what I can tell, Wilson is an awesome person, and I'm 100% behind trans rights, but I do not think her placement on this list is a feel-good story. I think it was a mistake.

I'm going to give Vancouver Magazine the benefit of the doubt and assume that their intentions were great; they saw the unfair discrimination against this child, and wanted to celebrate her for overcoming it, and to highlight her eloquent speech on the topic. But calling her one of the most powerful people in Vancouver is the wrong way to do this. Wilson stood up to her school district and insisted on being treated with dignity, and that is awesome. But it doesn't mean she's one of the most powerful people in town; on the contrary, her bravery was necessary because of the high degree to which trans people are marginalized. By all means, put her on a list of 'people to celebrate', or 'people who achieved something important', or 'up-and-comers to keep an eye on'; putting her alongside CEOs, governmental leaders, and the chief of police as one of the 'most powerful' people wrongly suggests she won't have to fight harder than most of us do just to be treated with basic respect.

I don't think the mistake is harmless; it feeds into a reactionary bogeyman. A favourite trope of the old guard is the myth of marginalized people as wielding tremendous power—"you'd better toe the line or the trans activists will come for you!" This kind of fear is very dangerous. I'm all for celebrating trans successes, but attributing power to trans activists isn't the way to do it.

No comments:

Post a Comment