Two years ago, an event addressing gender identity and women’s rights changed the conversation

In the two years since I flew alone to attend the first GIDYVR event at the Vancouver Public Library on January 10, 2019, to say that my life has changed is an understatement. People I knew in the city were aware that I was coming out for “a talk” and that’s it. I was a little afraid of the potential confrontations, so I obscured by omission my reason for being there.

I’d been in contact with the organizers of GIDYVR: Gender Identity and Women’s Rights, Holly Stamer and Amy Hamm, via Twitter but was planning to attend the event alone. It’s a daunting concept — going somewhere you know there will be angry protesters who justify violence against women if the women are “TERFs.” Holly then invited me to the planning/strategy meeting happening the night before the event, and although I was very anxious about it, I said “yes,” went, and got my volunteer assignment: show up early, help security, verify tickets.

Prior to this event, my radical feminism was mostly expressed on Twitter, under my own name, still relatively safe from the “real life” of Facebook. I’d been reading about gender identity and trans activism for years, but the trans activist community has been very successful in making women think we are a tiny minority and should fear speaking out about these issues. Threats of job loss, social alienation, violence, etc. are very intimidating the first few times they’re received. Rape and death threats are delivered shockingly casually by members of a lobby group that calls itself “the most oppressed,” but has somehow fully recruited the progressive left, corporations, social media platforms, and NGOs with little opposition. I was a coordinator and server who felt hamstrung, frustrated, and lonely.

After hearing incredible feminists like Fay Blaney (as well as her two-spirit-identified aunt, a survivor of the residential school system), Meghan Murphy, and the legendary Lee Lakeman speak about their experiences and the changing landscape of women’s rights over the decades, I was done being anxious and quiet. I was done talking about the war on women’s rights to only a select few whom I knew to be open-minded or via Twitter. Being in a room with hundreds of women who not only shared my opinions but were as angry as I was about the injustices women continue to face felt like being really seen for the first time. There is such a power in women working together. Not only were the things being said both heartbreaking and inspiring, but there was a current of support in the room that made me feel invincible. I felt high.

During their remarks, everything these amazing women said resonated with me, and the “we are not entertained” tone that Lee in particular took was like electricity. I almost cried when she said, “To those of you who can imagine bullying us into submission, you’re clearly unfamiliar with us.” It’s true. Men have underestimated us at their own peril since the beginning of time.

When I got home, I felt brave enough to start talking loudly to anyone who would listen, online or off, about the work that still needs to be done and the constant chipping away of our hard-won rights and protections. Now, I push against the idea that “woman is a feeling” any time I encounter it, even if it feels kind of awkward, rather than just rolling my eyes. I Socratic Method the hell out of anyone toeing the party line for the new men’s sex rights activism.

At the time, I wrote the following on Facebook:

“Feminism is about liberation of women from the patriarchy. It’s not about equality.

Being able to have an open and honest conversation about the impacts of gender politics on women’s rights is hugely important and is not actually hate speech. It’s not illegal to criticize an ideology. The silencing and targeting of feminists is the fascism we are being accused of. Radical feminists aren’t Nazis. We’re not fascists. We’re mostly anti-capitalist socialists. We want to free everyone from the restrictive system of gender roles. Seriously, in any conversation about gender, any article, essay, etc., replace the word ‘gender’ with ‘sex stereotypes’ to see why we have a problem with it.

Feminists are not calling for the deaths of or ignoring the existence of trans people. At all. We do not advocate for violence, homelessness, marginalization, or any other harm to vulnerable communities. Everyone deserves health care, housing, employment, love, safety. This includes women. We have the right to demand our own spaces, to control who has access to our bodies. We do not deserve to be threatened and doxxed and fired because we are non-compliant.

Sex-segregated spaces are CRUCIAL to the development of female community. Historically, women have been actively prevented from gathering because of our desire for community, and the power that community gives us is a threat to the patriarchy. (For more information, please look up how women weren’t allowed POCKETS because we could be communicating independently thus compromising our fathers’ and husbands’ attempts to keep us docile property.)

More attention must be paid to the needs and struggles of Indigenous communities. They have been abandoned by our governments, the treaties are being ignored, and we are still in the middle of a genocide. The last residential school closed in 1996. We are not past this. We have not earned the forgiveness of the people our government failed to exterminate, and we need to do more to hold our representatives accountable. We also need to do more to protect Indigenous women from white men who rape, abuse, and murder them with no consequence.

We need to spend more time listening to Indigenous women, amplifying their voices when we can, defending them when it’s necessary. It takes bravery to stand in an environment where there are obstacles at every conceivable level and we need to respect and support that.

We need to be holding men responsible for their violence.

Feminism was and is being built on the backs of women. Strong women who started talking to each other and comparing experiences, discovering exactly how normal it is to have been treated like you’re inferior and alone your entire life. We’re not inferior. We’re not alone. We don’t scare easy.

Feminism is a verb.

I realize that this is not something I have discussed openly with many of you. It’s a difficult conversation to have digitally, but one I’m obviously willing to have. If any of you have questions about any of what I’ve written, or where I stand on any number of issues, please ask. I don’t want to lose anyone because of a failure to communicate, but I understand.

I am so grateful to everyone who was involved in the talk, I’m honoured to have been present, and I am so happy to have grown my community of feminists. It was incredibly liberating to be in a group of like-minded women of all ages, races, sexualities. If I have the opportunity to, I will be coming out again, and I’d love to develop a supportive radical feminist space here in Calgary.”

In February 2019, I founded Alberta Radical Feminists and started advertising our presence. Women reached out to me, we got to know each other, we trusted each other with our names. As I became connected to the various groups across Canada, both secret and private, more women heard about us. I was starting to be tagged into threads where women were asking for help or for reassurance that they are not alone in the prairies. My network grew. These women are firebrands from every walk of life you can imagine, and we’re all pissed off.

On March 15, 2019, Meghan Murphy came to Calgary to participate in a debate at Mount Royal University: “Does Trans Activism Negatively Impact Women’s Rights?” Again, but less nervous this time, I went alone and recognized a woman from Twitter, sat with her, and met nearly a dozen other feminists who had come down from Edmonton for the event.

That summer, I began organizing monthly in-person meetings, usually at the Calgary Public Library. When the pandemic started to shut everything down, I bought a Zoom subscription and we moved online, which incidentally increased access for women who don’t happen to be in my city. We talked about new bills and bylaws being presented, parliamentary procedure, potentially sympathetic politicians, and strategy. We worked together on letters, we shared facts and resources, and sometimes we just socialized.

We’ve met and spoken with our Members of Parliament, Legislative Assembly, and senators. We’ve gone to town halls to confront politicians about the political abandonment of women and submitted briefs on Bill C-6 (previously Bill S-202 and Bill C-8).

As a result of my being so vocal on the issue of gender identity and women’s rights, a number of women sought me out, who I then met with in October, and founded a non-profit organization. In December, we launched and completed our first initiative: we donated more than two dozen female-centered care packages to Alpha House, an organization that specializes in outreach for homeless individuals who are suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. We actually wound up with so many donations we are making more care packages to donate.

In November 2020, I was asked to become the English country coordinator for the Canadian chapter of the Women’s Human Rights Campaign (WHRC) and am now helping connect women from across the country to their provincial chapters.

Over the course of the last two years, I’ve certainly lost people I would have considered friends. It hurts to be told by someone you love and have known for decades that you are “hateful,” “ignorant,” “appalling,” “disgusting,” and to be slandered as “working in opposition of a vulnerable group’s human rights.”

You may wonder if it’s worth it — if throwing yourself into what often feels like a line of fire is really preferable to comfortable, rage-filled silence. I know it is. If there are people in my life who are more concerned with centering men (no matter how they identify) in feminism over women, I’m not interested in keeping them in my life. I may have lost “friends,” but what I’ve gained is a powerful appreciation for women’s strength and versatility and a sisterhood that will have my back when I need it.

To paraphrase Lee, we need to make feminism intentional again. I took that message to heart and I haven’t stopped being intentional about my feminism since. Yes, my life is very different from and much busier than it was on January 9, 2019, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. You don’t have to be extraordinary to make a difference. I’m certainly not. You just have to DO something. Go to the events and seminars, join groups, read books, talk to other women. It is okay to be afraid but it is better to have the courage of your convictions. You are not alone. Who knows what you’ll be up to in two years?

Raine McLeod is a project coordinator and editor based in Calgary, Alberta.

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