Bill C-16: A Lament and a Call to Action

I had this poem cross-posted on mennoQmunity for maximum reach. Check out their blog—they have a lot of neat stuff happening at the intersection of queerness and faith.

I also can’t format my poetry properly on WordPress, so if you’d like the original format or would like to print it off, here it is in PDF: Bill C-16: A Lament and a Call to Action


Do you know what it feels like to have your very existence constantly up for public debate?
If you don’t, please, listen closely.
If you do, I am so sorry—
Feel free to come and find commiseration.
Feel free to leave if reliving this pain is too much right now.
But if you don’t know what it feels like to be trans, I implore you to listen!

Bill C-16 is currently in its second sitting in the senate.
It would add gender identity and gender expression to the protected classes in the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the Criminal Code.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t?
Apparently protecting a vulnerable group of people is too much to ask if our existence makes you uncomfortable.

How is this even up for debate?
In 2015, after three years of being eviscerated until the remnants were meaningless, a similar bill died in the senate,
Victim to the lie that trans peoples’ safety is less important than cis peoples’
That trans people having the same rights as cis people will endanger society.

Two years later, another bill offers protection,
Offers to help heal this wound.
Yet the accusations and fear-mongering have come back once more:
Your pronouns are plural; they’re not even real!
Men will sneak into women’s bathrooms!
You are betraying the feminist cause!

These sentiments never disappeared;
They just lingered under the surface for a while—
Lies that are easy to ignore if they aren’t about you
Lies trans people can’t escape from hearing.

This conversation keeps on coming back in different iterations,
Like Mozart’s Variations on a Common Theme,
Like Pachelbel’s Canon coming back to haunt our music decade after decade.

But it seems cruel to music that I would even use such an unflattering metaphor to describe how
The demonization of trans people
Of trans bodies
Keeps cropping up like a sludge you can never clear away,
Burrowing into our psyches like mould
Innocuous in appearance until you realize that
The tendrils have dug in deep under the surface,
Spoiling something that once was pure,
Villainizing the innocent.

Even fellow members of the trans community criticise each other, and I learn that
I am indecisive.
I should choose a side.
Non-binary identities are invalid.

This has been brought up in the Senate:
“The transgender community… believes there are only two genders… yet, seventy-plus genders will be included in this bill.”

The problem is,
They only talked to a small group within the trans population,
Science corroborates that gender and sex are not binaries,
And gender identity and expression also impact people who don’t identify as trans.

Does my having rights,
in addition to your having rights,
somehow diminish your rights?

Jordan Peterson has stirred up fear that this bill heralds the end of free speech,
That he could be jailed for not using my pronouns,
That his rights are on trial here.

This lie, too, has entered the Senate debate:
“This bill compels speech. It doesn’t just work against freedom of speech. It actually compels certain speech.”

Some facts:
This bill protects people from genocide and
From having hatred incited against them
It extends the same protections for people on the basis of gender identity and expression
As are extended on the basis of “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”

Exhale.

These are not “special protections.”
These are basic human rights.

Every human deserves to live free from fear for their safety
Free from having their humanity diminished
Free from being a constant representative of an entire group of people,
From constant analysis and scrutiny and judgement.

But this bill does not guarantee these rights for trans people.

It just guarantees that it will be a specific crime to encourage genocide or incite hatred against us.

There are even protections in place for you:
If your hate speech is
Stating a truth,
Part of public debate, or
Part of your religious doctrine
You are protected from prosecution.

Intentionally misgendering someone
Intentionally using the wrong pronouns

These are acts of violence.

But you are within your rights to attack our dignity.

In the last year,
More than a third of trans youth have attempted suicide,
Almost two-thirds of us have self-harmed,
Over two-thirds of trans people are homeless, unemployed, or underemployed,

And you’re worried about losing your right to disparage us?

This bill is just trying to ensure that
All people really are equal before the law.

There is still a long way to go before this will ring true
Before all trans Canadians actually have access to basic human rights.

Basically, this bill enables the government to collect stats on hate crimes towards trans folks.

Is that too much to ask?

Your right to continue speculating about my gender,
To continue ignoring my pronouns,
To continue being unaffected by my pain,

Will still far outweigh my right to feel safe in society,
To feel respected and dignified,
To not worry about my existence.

Tell me, whose rights are in jeopardy?

In all the talk around Bill C-16,
In which Jordan Peterson’s voice has been elevated louder than all others,
Drowning out the cries of trans people for justice,
I have yet to hear a Mennonite individual or organization speak up.

Maybe I missed it;
I’m not the only trans Mennonite.

But I lament that in all the conversation surrounding LGBTQ+ inclusion,
You only really talk about the L and the G.
Your concern that two people who love each other,
but don’t fit your vision of Family—
that they could create something beautiful
This concern dominates the conversation,

Burying the identities and concerns of
trans Mennonites
bi Mennonites
queer Mennonites
intersex Mennonites
ace Mennonites.

Yes, we do exist
And we need you to hear us.

Jesus said to love your neighbour.
I guess I missed the part where he qualified that statement.
Love your neighbour—so long as they agree with you.
Love your neighbour—provided their existence doesn’t make you uncomfortable.

Even if you disagree with us,
Even if you think that we are somehow misguided,

When we are telling you over and over again that we don’t feel loved
That your words and actions are making us afraid
That your rhetoric is painful
That your decisions are literally killing some of us, especially trans women of colour

Isn’t it time to reconsider?

Jesus also said that if someone asks for bread you shouldn’t give them a stone
Yet you are trading fish for snakes and eggs for scorpions.

You are hurting me.

I am frustrated and hurt that you don’t know I exist
Frustrated and hurt that even in my affirming congregation,
I don’t feel safe enough to be out.

I’m tired of people using the wrong pronouns
Tired of limiting my out-ness and gender expression
Tired of being afraid.

I’m mostly feeling frustrated, hurt, and exhausted when it comes to the church.

It is exhausting to be trans, and to be trans within the church.
I’m tired of constantly thinking about my identity
Tired of trying to figure it out for myself
of worrying about coming out or being outed
of wondering what people think of me
Frustrated that this “issue” is the main thing I think about

That my existence can be reduced to an “issue.”

I have other interests; I have school!

If the church really wants to exhibit the love and justice of Jesus,
You’ll make the church a safe place for humanity to authentically be
So that trans people have energy to live life, form relationships,
and contribute to the church.

Stop hurting us.

If you hurt a member of the church, you hurt the body,

And trans people are the church.


Please help improve the lives of trans people in Canada by writing to or telephoning your senator and asking them to vote for Bill C-16. You can read this article to learn more.


The song for today is a song of lament by fellow Mennonite, Phil Campbell Enns. It’s called How Long. You can listen to it here and find lyrics, chords, and music here (in a long list of his songs, which are pretty great).