Informally calling ourselves the “Cassandra Project,” a group of Canadian organizations came together to draft an opinion editorial piece about Bill C-6, which is going to be put to a third reading in mid-February. There has been a near Canadian media blackout around this very sweeping and important legislation (much as there was around its predecessor, Bill C-16). Our aim was to put before the public a summary of the reasons for our collective opposition to this legislation. We sent this piece first to the Globe and Mail, where it was summarily rejected (“we will pass at this time”) and then — in a version pared to under 750 words — to the National Post, who never acknowledged receipt. We recognize that most readers of Feminist Current do not need persuading to our point of view, but mainstream media in Canada continues to refuse to acknowledge women’s objections to and concerns about gender identity legislation. We want these objections and concerns to form part of the growing documentary record of the Canadian media blackballing of any critical perspective on legislation and policy relating to gender identity.
The Ancient Greek myth of Cassandra describes a woman given the gift of true prophecy by the god Apollo. When she spurns his advances, he adds to the gift a curse: she will accurately foretell the future, but no one will heed her predictions. The figure of Cassandra has come to have a special resonance for those of us who have urged in briefs, in testimony, and in letters to our MPs that Bill C-6, which will criminalize “conversion therapy,” be modified or abandoned.
Readers who have not been following the hearings and wider public debate over Bill C-6 may be surprised to learn who we are: feminists, gays and lesbians, and young people who have fought hard personal battles against sex stereotypes. Why would we have anything against a bill that criminalizes pseudotherapeutic treatments meant to “convert” lesbian women, bisexual people, and gay men to heterosexuality? In fact, we have no quarrel with the part of the bill that pertains to sexual orientation.
The aspects of the bill to which we do object are the ones that introduce the term “cisgender” into the Canadian judicial lexicon and which contribute to the creeping legislative enshrinement of “gender identity.” “Cisgender” is a recently-coined term intended to describe girls, women, boys, and men who identify with sex role stereotypes (gender). But this concept is a misnomer: there is no one who identifies wholly with such stereotypes. To use this term in government legislation or policy cements sexist notions into law, imposing rigid gender roles on most Canadians that do not fit. It is especially damaging to girls and women, because sex role stereotypes limit their lives in oppressive ways; but it is also, for similar reasons, damaging to boys and men.
“Gender identity” and the closely related idea of “gender expression” are apparently more benign. These phrases describe the ways girls, boys, men, and women adopt or reject traditional sex stereotypes. Everyone should be free to determine their own relationship to such gender roles, both in their own personal lives and in their relationships with others. These feelings can change and adapt over time: a role embraced at one age might be discarded at another. This always happens in dialogue with others: sometimes therapists, sometimes family and friends. Young people need the freedom to explore and discuss their feelings about gender, their bodies, their mental health, and the puberty process with others, but Bill C-6 limits this. The successes of both the women’s and gay and lesbian liberation movements have depended in large part upon challenging sex stereotypes, which includes reflecting critically on gender identity and gender expression. Bill C-6 proceeds down the misguided path blazed by Bill C-16, which added “gender identity and expression” to the Criminal Code and the Human Rights Act as protected characteristics. In fact, Bill C-6 manifests the serious consequences of the ways that Bill C-16 conflicts with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in which sex is the protected characteristic.
We know that today, 75 per cent of those referred to gender identity clinics are females wishing to transition to become male. We also know that many girls who seek to transition are coming to terms with same sex attraction. Numerous “detransitioners” (young women, primarily, who believed they were transgender, but later changed their minds) have explained that at some point after or during the transition process, they realized that, rather than being boys “born in the wrong body,” they were in fact lesbian girls born in exactly the right body.
We live in a society that celebrates gay men much more than lesbian women, as role models, meaning coming out as a lesbian is still something many young women hesitate to do. Many detransitioners report feeling rushed through the transition process, and wish that the issues they were facing in terms of mental health, sexuality, body image, and social norms had been addressed. In case after case, only transition was offered as a “solution” to their struggles. There is a need for services and therapy that do not encourage hasty transition for these young people, yet Bill C-6 proposes to criminalize such services.
Bill C-6 has been designed to ensure medical transition is the only option that can be offered to minors who are experiencing gender dysphoria. This rush to medicalization has a harmful, disparate impact on vulnerable girls. Once a girl is “affirmed” as a boy, the opportunity for clinicians to identify and treat any distinctly female experiences that led her to seek transition is lost. We can track and understand this impact under the auspices of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: that is, in terms of sex. Legislation which undermines the primacy of women’s sex-based Charter protections, like Bill C-16 and now Bill C-6, is ill-advised.
Many feminists, lesbian women, gay men, and detransitioned young people are aghast that, in the name of “criminalizing conversion therapy,” Bill C-6 will, in fact, make a modern form of conversion therapy (meaning, a process that converts young lesbians to “straight” “men”) legally obligatory. It does not escape our attention that the most vociferous promoters of the affirmation-only approach are adult heterosexual men who wish to live as women — a population whose struggles and concerns are very different from those of teenage girls.
In recent months, Sweden and the United Kingdom have begun to exercise far more caution with respect to pediatric transition. Science, rather than politics, is their guide. It is frustrating to watch Canadian legislators proceed without understanding all the facts surrounding the transition trend — particularly with regard to young women — as well as the ethical implications of Bill C-6. It will eventually be a source of tremendous national shame that, at its second reading, this bill passed with a lopsided vote of 308-7 in favour. We, the undersigned Cassandras, are warning Canadians that there is still time to stop this flawed bill. If you share our concerns, please contact your Members of Parliament and ask them to vote against Bill C-6 when it next comes before them.
Alberta Women’s Advocacy Association
Canadian Women’s Sex-Based Rights (caWsbar)
LGB Alliance — Canada
Pour les Droits des Femmes du Québec (PDF Quebec)
Women’s Human Rights Campaign — Canada