Did you know there’s a women-only pharmacist in Vancouver? It opened yesterday. Only, “women’s only,” doesn’t mean all women. A number of bloggers have been posting about how this new pharmacy has from its birth held onto some old prejudices – excluding trans women from access to its services.
What the pharamacy is supposed to do is this:
Caryn Duncan, executive director of Vancouver Women’s Health Collective, said a lot of women told her they do not go to pharmacies in the troubled neighbourhood [Vancouver's Downtown Eastside] because many of them focus on dispensing methadone to heroin addicts.
“Women felt, ‘I want a woman pharmacist. I want to know that when I walk in the door, I’m going to be getting sound women-centred care from a pharmacist. I can talk to her about emergency contraception or a vaginal infection, something that is very personal and intimate,’” said Duncan
Ok, that sounds alright to me. So why exclude trans women? We don’t have personal and intimate needs? WE don’t need protection?
My post last week suggests why it is important that trans women be able to access safe health care services. And yes, it has already been noted that Vancouver does have one trans health centre (that’s enough, right? Boo sucks to you if you don’t have time, money or energy to travel across town).
The political position paper of the health collective states the apparent reasoning thus:
Therefore, we feel that it is essential that a woman be born a woman and have the physiology of a woman and the psychological experiences of living as a girl and a woman in order to embrace the work of the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective. For us, membership and services are open to women who were born women.
Right, cos a pharmacy isn’t catering to a wide range of physiologies? Cos when you head in to get some medicine for a cold, your girlhood experiences are extremely relevant. The pills I take, by the way, are commonly prescribed to cis women but not cis men. So they’d be in stock. There doesn’t appear to be any good medical reasoning behind this, and frankly the “psychological experiences of girlhood” argument is kinda a red herring. What does that necessarily have to do with the current health care needs of women?
So I think this health collective’s intentions are good, but they took a wrong turn and decided to exclude trans women for spurious reasons, as if trans women are not marginalized like cis women in seeking health care, and as if being trans means we’ve had too much access to male privilege to need better access to health.
Because I am not in Vancouver, it is not my place to come up with a strategy, because I’m sure there is already one in place, and I don’t want to step on any toes or create a firestorm that’s going to make it harder for those on the ground to get change happening. That conversation needs to happen between trans women and the cis women running the pharmacy. Several weeks ago, I inadvertently stirred up a world of trouble in New Orleans on this same issue that would have been better served by me giving the people running the clinic time to clarify, and time to work with me. Whilst the Vancouver position seems much more clear, and drawing on historically transphobic positions, perhaps the internet tendency towards flaming also needs to be moderated by the question of whether that will impede the people working in Vancouver in formulating alternatives to a trans-misogynistic policy excluding trans women.
So what I want to do, as this story is already kicking around, is to widen question out for those of us following along from elsewhere. Because trans women, like my post title suggests, have done this fight about a thousand times with cis feminists, it is precisely for that reason I want to put aside the usual arguments about girlhood and male privilege and instead question the material effects of discrimination:
To cis feminists, when you are building new resources, what do you gain by excluding trans women? Is that gain worth the harm you cause trans women? Is that not status quo with the rest of the patriarchal world – to see trans women as disposable, valueless and not worthy of protecting – and shouldn’t feminism be doing better?
If you do consider yourself trans positive, ask yourself and those women’s facilities you can access unequivocally – can your trans sisters access this? If so, do even they know about it? Because we’ve been down this road so many times, many of us just assume cis women resources will discriminate against us and don’t even bother.
And if we cannot access this, how can you, a cis ally, help make that a possibility? Tell those organizations whose polices promote this that it is not acceptable.
Because the problem is not that there is one women-only pharmacist who will not serve trans women. It is that the vast majority of the world is transphobic, and that even the resources that cis women have built for themselves have a history of excluding trans women, such that the last 40 years of feminism have actually in many cases supported and increased the institutionalised governmental transphobia that trans women face.
If there is limited resources (and isn’t this always the case), then let that be decided by need, and not by boundary policing the category of “woman,” implicitly rejecting some women’s histories as just not good enough.
Because women-only means all women.
ETA: Holly makes an important point in the comments that the very project of the pharmacy, as shown in the comment above by the director, is flawed. The idea explicitly used is to keep “women” away from sex workers and drug users (and trans people). The ways that this intersect with race, class, poverty etc etc should have been obvious to me, though I’m going to keep my own “that sounds alright” up – even though it is clear that it is not alright. Further, given the amount of sex workers in our community, campaigning for trans women’s inclusion doesn’t mean much more than white, middle-class inclusion, missing out those parts of our community that need care the most.
*comments note I know this is an emotional subject, but if I see ungendering comments of trans women, in honour of today’s medical theme I’m going to edit your post to say “quack.”
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