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Canada's top court has overturned all restrictions on prostitution (aljazeera.com)
286 points by kostyk 118 days ago | comments


tedivm 118 days ago | link

As anyone who has actually read any of the articles about this can tell you, they did not actually overturn squat. The laws are still in effect and still being enforced. What happened is they gave the legislature a year to revise the laws to make them constitutional, but until then nothing has changed and there's a good chance these laws will be revised before the deadline.

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corresation 118 days ago | link

The nature of the laws would have to change significantly as the court found the entire foundation behind the laws (largely moralizing/restricting the actions of others based upon personal values) unconstitutional. The government can't simply move a couple of punctuation marks and become compliant.

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patmcc 118 days ago | link

Actually they can: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_Thirty-three_of_the_Can...

Parliament can specifically say "we know this law is unconstitutional, but we like it anyway, so it's staying for 5 years. And then we can renew it if we want." They may not want to do that, as it's a pretty strong thing to do, but they are absolutely able to.

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throwaway2048 117 days ago | link

I must say its rather amusing to see the very American style hyper legalistic logic applied to most parliamentary democracies. According to the very letter of the law, the queen could become absolute ruler over Canada aswell :).

All hail Empress Elizabeth II, terror of all the known world?

Laws and customs only mean as much as a government willing to be responsible to the people, as the NSA has shown everyone.

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yareally 117 days ago | link

> I must say its rather amusing to see the very American style hyper legalistic logic applied to most parliamentary democracies

You would be quite mistaken to believe such hyper-legalistic logic only came into existence with The United States. The US only built on the myriad of legalese already put in place by the British, Byzantines[1], Romans, and Greeks, <insert dominate culture/country of the era>.

How do you think Julius Caesar came to power? He abused the laws put in place by the Roman Republic by refusing to step down at the end of his term.

[1] The Byzantines themselves[2] have become synonymous with "complex political system"

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantinism

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aclevernickname 116 days ago | link

> According to the very letter of the law, the queen could become absolute ruler over Canada aswell :). All hail Empress Elizabeth II, terror of all the known world?

You are more correct than you could ever possibly imagine.

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jrockway 118 days ago | link

And the Queen of England can dissolve the parliament. It's a pretty strong thing to do, but she is absolutely able to.

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beedogs 118 days ago | link

The precedent for this was set in Australia in 1975, and certainly other places before that.

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redcap 118 days ago | link

The dismissal of parliament in 1975 Australia was done by the Governor-General, who is the Queen's representative in Australia.

The Queen herself did nothing.

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mseebach 117 days ago | link

That's a semantic difference. The Governor-General acts on behalf of the Queen, and holds the perogative of the monarch in the dominion.

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jacques_chester 117 days ago | link

> That's a semantic difference.

It certainly is. The syntax of the Australian Constitution sits firmly within British conventions of monarchical behaviour, buttressed by the Acts of Westminster and the Australia Acts.

We are an independent nation in custom and law. If Her Majesty tried to do anything, she would be ignored. If she sued, the High Court would politely explain that her role is entirely ceremonial and that Parliament is the supreme source of executive and legal power in Australia.

The principle that Parliament is supreme over Crown was established in British law before Australia was colonised. It's pretty well-accepted at this point that the royals have no power.

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mseebach 115 days ago | link

Not sure where you're going with this? The Queen did dissolve parliament and wasn't ignored?

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jacques_chester 115 days ago | link

The Queen did not dissolve Parliament. (Neither did the Governor-General during the Whitlam dismissal.)

The Queen has never, and cannot, do so in right of Australia, because her powers are irrevocably and excludably delegated to the Australian Governor-General.

In terms of dissolving any Parliament nominally under her sovereignty, it can only be done by the Queen or a Governor-General upon advice. The Queen can't do it of her own initiative. Neither can the Governor-General. They have to be told to do it by the Government of the day.

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fleitz 118 days ago | link

Technically she can't, she'd have to do it as the Queen of Canada :)

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rmc 117 days ago | link

Good point. She's also not the Queen of England any more anyway.

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corresation 118 days ago | link

Use of the incredibly contentious notwithstanding clause is in no way moving some punctuation marks: It is an extraordinary action, having never been used by the federal government. So no, in the context of what I said they can't.

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patmcc 118 days ago | link

From a political standpoint, absolutely it's extraordinary; from a legal standpoint it's relatively simple, just needing a majority vote. I'd be very surprised if they did invoke it, but prostitution is something a lot of Canadians (especially conservatives) feel pretty strongly about.

(And mainly, I was just trying to bring up an interesting legal quirk of our constitution, since it's fairly unusual and most of HN's audience might not be aware of it).

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RyanMcGreal 118 days ago | link

Due to the Court's reasoning - i.e. if prostitution is legal, it violates people's rights to prevent them from taking steps to protect their safety while engaging in it - I predict the government will react by making prostitution itself illegal.

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PeterWhittaker 118 days ago | link

Perhaps, but that possibility has long been in its arsenal: Prostitution has been legal in Canada for years, decades; this court ruling overturned as unconstitutional the laws criminalizing many associated activities, e.g., solicitation, living off the avails, etc.

It was illegal to talk to a John, making vetting the John uh, difficult. It was illegal to hire bodyguards, because they would be living off the avails.

While the ruling comes into effect only next year, the practical upshot, as with other rulings of this ilk in recent years, is that arrest and prosecution will now proceed only in the most egregious cases.

My bold and brave prediction is that this Conservative-majority Parliament will duck the issue altogether and make regulation of prostitution a provincial matter - simply because they are unlikely to be able to reach any sort of consensus that would not fracture a fragile alliance between the ultra-conservative base, which makes most of the contributions, and the just right of centre centrists that are its silent majority.

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RyanMcGreal 115 days ago | link

> My bold and brave prediction is that this Conservative-majority Parliament will duck the issue altogether

I hope you're right. What you've proposed is likely the best we could expect from this government.

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VladRussian2 118 days ago | link

>The nature of the laws would have to change significantly as the court found the entire foundation behind the laws (largely moralizing/restricting the actions of others based upon personal values) unconstitutional.

following that logic most laws would be unconstitutional.

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chebucto 118 days ago | link

examples, please

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jsmeaton 118 days ago | link

I would imagine some examples would be:

- personal drug use (of any kind) - bans on same-sex marriage (which I just looked up, and seems to be legal in Canada anyway) - any form of gun control

I'm not saying that I do or do not think the above should be legal, but they all are examples of "we know what's best for you". I think that's what the GP commenter was alluding to.

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throwaway2048 117 days ago | link

all of these have been ruled unconstitutional by the Canadian supreme court at one point or another.

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Raphmedia 118 days ago | link

Remember that in Canada, prostitution was already almost legal. You could prostitute yourself so long as you didn't harass customers or walk up to people and offer your services. You could however put ads in the newspaper for "Angela, 38DD, busty and hot, will massage you... all over".

One of the things that you couldn't do was also very hurtful. You couldn't team up with other street workers in order to insure your safety. That would be a whorehouse, and they are illegal.

So, you end up with girls in the streets, with no security, who cannot even talk straight about what they were willing and not willing to do.

I'm very happy that those laws are lifted. And it doesn't come out of the blue. There has been discussions about in in the media in recent years, and I believe that most people understood that forbidding those girls to have security is an idiocy.

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speleding 117 days ago | link

Prostitution in the Netherlands went through a similar transition a few years ago, it's now fully decriminalised.

The results have been mixed however. It has created a new market of prostitutes, typically illegal immigrants forced into it by human traffickers, who are willing to do more for less than the legal ones. Meanwhile the legal ones are forced to pay taxes with all the paper work that comes with it, since they are now first class citizens, and they are understandably unhappy about that and typically try to evade taxes, making their activity illegal again.

I don't think criminalising it again would be a good idea, but there is no easy solution for this issue.

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stcredzero 117 days ago | link

It used to be when I was an undergrad, and probably still is, that a certain number of unmarried women living under one roof was defined a brothel under New Hampshire law. This meant a lot of women's dormitories fell under the definition.

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lazyant 118 days ago | link

From what I understand, johns where being arrested for solicitation.

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parfe 118 days ago | link

Good. Solicitation threatens girls and women simply walking in their own neighborhoods.

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derefr 118 days ago | link

I think the GP meant, if a prostitute went up and offered her services to a john, and the john said yes, that would be considered "solicitation" on the part of the john. Which is to say, prostitution was legal for the prostitute, but illegal for the john.

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stan_rogers 117 days ago | link

Jut to clarify: "solicitation" (which is not, in fact, the offense; more properly, it is "communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution") applies to both parties, and the actual transaction is legal for both parties (according to existing Canadian law). Any of the "middle man" activities are generally illegal (procurement, operating a common bawdy-house, transportation, and "living on the avails" where exploitation is involved) are illegal.

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parfe 118 days ago | link

Johns don't passively sit in coffee shops or stand in line at Best Buy while beset by offers of sex for money. They roll up on girls and women walking down the street in an attempt to purchase sex.

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electromagnetic 118 days ago | link

I've been approached a couple times for sitting in a parking lot waiting for my wife to get off work. I've been approached a few times whilst doing a job in a poor area of town.

You've got a very naive view of the world, you clearly have never lived in the situation and areas that you seem to claim expertise in.

These women need money more than a lot of their patrons are looking for sex.

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derefr 118 days ago | link

I don't know if you've ever walked down a street where there are desperate streetwalkers (usually drug-addicts; e.g. crack addicts on Hastings here in Vancouver) but even if you say nothing to them, they'll follow you for blocks trying to get you to pay them.

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redthrowaway 118 days ago | link

Hell, I was walking through the red light district in Buenos Aires and they followed behind me grabbing my crotch.

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dyno12345 118 days ago | link

I have never been a John, and I have been chased down the street by prostitutes with varying degrees of aggressiveness. In one instance two of them grabbed my arms and tried to drag me

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EGreg 118 days ago | link

Isn't that assault?

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simoncion 118 days ago | link

I often get asked if I'm "looking for company", or "want to party" by scantily-clad young (and old) women (and men passing as women) on my evening walks around my neighborhood here in SF.

Not all cities are alike. :)

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RyanMcGreal 118 days ago | link

The Court's reasoning was that since prostitution itself is legal, it is unconstitutional to prevent prostitutes from taking reasonable measures to manage their business, protect their safety and so on. My prediction is that the federal government will react not by amending the law to eliminate the unconstitutional restrictions but rather making prostitution itself illegal.

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loganu 118 days ago | link

I'm not so sure... I think there might be a genuine interest in actually helping/ protecting these women. Why wouldn't prostitution have been made criminal before? (instead of the de facto approach of arresting pimps and johns for soliciting and living off the avails?)

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frenchy 118 days ago | link

The current government is conservative, so probably not. They've shown a distinct lack of interest in practical solutions and instead have stuck very solidly with their "ideals".

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dmix 118 days ago | link

Here is the court case that brought this ruling: Bedford v. Canada

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford_v._Canada

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pervycreeper 118 days ago | link

>"It makes no difference that the conduct of pimps and johns is the immediate source of the harms suffered by prostitutes," McLachlin wrote. > >"The impugned laws deprive people engaged in a risky, but legal, activity of the means to protect themselves against those risks."

One of the things I've noticed reading newspaper articles and websites regarding legal rulings in Canada (the full depth of my research, admittedly), is that the reasoning seems to be governed by the judges' personal opinions of what would be fair ("we must protect the prostitutes from harm"), whereas American rulings seem to rely more upon the interpretation of texts such as their constitution. Is this an accurate characterization? If so is this a result of a differently structured legal system, or just a "cultural" difference?

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cperciva 118 days ago | link

Canada's constitution includes some very broad provisions -- most notably, section 7, which provides for the "right to life, liberty and security of the person" and has been applied to issues ranging from the abortion (Morgentaler) to private medical insurance (Chaoulli) to the operation of supervised drug injection sites (Insite) to the prohibition of penal sentences for absolute liability offences (Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act) -- but they are limited by section 1 which states that these rights are "subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society".

A very large number constitutional cases end up hinging on the words "demonstrably justified", which is why it looks like judges are making decisions based on what seems "fair": They are, quite literally, called upon to decide whether there are good reasons for laws or if the laws are arbitrary, broader than necessary to achieve their purpose, et cetera. As a result, it's necessary to look at external evidence to determine the constitutionality of laws, and a law which is constitutional today might be unconstitutional tomorrow.

Or as one lawyer I know put it: If Canada's constitution were a normal law, it would be ruled unconstitutional on the grounds of vagueness.

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mikeklaas 118 days ago | link

No, that is not an accurate reading of the situation.

Constitutionality in Canada is governed by the judges' interpretation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of the constitution. In this case, the judges determined that the legislation was not simply 'unfair', but infringed on a group of people's fundamental rights.

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rbobby 118 days ago | link

Canada has a pretty good Charter of Rights. Section 7 involves security of the person. That's the rock the existing laws sunk on. Roughly speaking the laws made a legal activity more risky for no reasonable purpose (which is why Section 1, reasonable limits, couldn't save the law).

The Canadian SC is very good at their jobs. They definitely do not make their decisions based on their "personal opinions of what would be fair". Rather, their decisions are based on their measured, professional understanding of the charter, the law and existing jurisprudence, and the effects their decision may have on the administration of justice. Thankfully they are very experienced jurists with great respect for the rule of law and jurisprudence.

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pervycreeper 118 days ago | link

I'd like to see the intermediate steps between "security of the person" and legalizing pimping.

It would also be mildly alarming to learn that the SC consists of "very experienced jurists with great respect for the rule of law and jurisprudence" only "for the most part".

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rbobby 118 days ago | link

Well... the odds on favorite for what Parliament will do is to make prostitution itself illegal. Harper and the Conservative Party are pretty conservative, and so is their base. Any reasonable regulation of the sex trade is pretty unlikely under their watch.

Once prostitution itself is illegal then the current legislation might pass muster on the section 7 question. Certainly, at the very least, the courts would need to address the question again.

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rbobby 118 days ago | link

I have to retract my "for the most part". I was thinking of Nadon... but he was previous Federal Court of Appeal and Federal Court.

All the Justices were former jurists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supreme_Court_of_Canada#Current...).

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pervycreeper 118 days ago | link

> I have to retract my "for the most part". I was thinking of Nadon... but he was previous Federal Court of Appeal and Federal Court.

Well even after the ninja edits, your comment still reeks of overclass condescension, using meaningless feel-words ("very good at their jobs", "measured, professional understanding"), essentially saying , "trust them, pleb, they know better than you".

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eropple 118 days ago | link

> Well even after the ninja edits, your comment still reeks of overclass condescension, using meaningless feel-words ("very good at their jobs", "measured, professional understanding"), essentially saying , "trust them, pleb, they know better than you".

You don't think it might be an allusion to the American Supreme Court's habit of legislating how they personally feel rather than with any serious basis in fact or precedence? Chill.

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rbobby 118 days ago | link

Every decision the SC makes they explain their reasoning in detail (which is published and made available online). Video of proceedings in front of the SC are also available broadcast on CPAC, and available online.

If you don't think a group of judges with years of experience knows the charter, the law, and applicable jurisprudence better than the average citizen then you're deluded and need to seek help.

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mturmon 118 days ago | link

The linked article is pretty thin regarding the legal rationale for the ruling. A US paper giving a one page summary might be similarly superficial.

Yet, I see your point. Along the lines you suggest, US Constitutional jurisprudence has many secondary doctrines that have been established over the years. One illustration (relevant if this were an American case) is the notion of "strict scrutiny" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strict_scrutiny). Basically, this is a more refined interpretation of the Constitution in cases where individual rights are being traded off against legislative power.

I wonder if someone could link to a more refined interpretation of this case?

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erikj54 118 days ago | link

>If so is this a result of a differently structured legal system, or just a "cultural" difference?

From an uneducated opinion on the piece this seems to be the difference between Common Law vs Statutory Law. In Common Law the precedence of cases is used, where opinions and subjectivity are perhaps more inclined to change a decision, in contrast; Statutory Law has more to do with the enforcement of prescriptive laws written down by the legislature. While both Canada and the U.S are based on common law, we seem to lean further to the common side then our neighbours to the south.

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dublinben 118 days ago | link

Common law and statutory law are not two different systems. You're thinking of common law and civil law, which are significantly different.

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danielharan 118 days ago | link

There are cultural differences, however this comes down to how to interpret our charter.

The US constitution protects the right to free speech, so I assume the SCOTUS can strike down laws that restrict it.

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rimbo789 118 days ago | link

Part of it is different schools of legal thought. In America there is a significant legal tradition of "textualists' who try to read US constitutional documents literally and in a narrow focus.

Canada, for various cultural and political reasons both pre and post Charter of Rights and Freedoms has a much stronger tradition of 'living tree' constitutionalism that sees constitutional documents as able to grow and change as the values of a society change over time.

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dobbsbob 118 days ago | link

This will help suck the profits of org crime should legislation ever happen (won't with the current hawkish regime). Currently it is illegal to run a bawdy house unless it's a false front massage parlour so gangs run micro brothels which are condos stacked full of foreign girls. They tend to jack each other's brothels since it's a cash biz and police aren't called due to the condo operation being illegal. When sex workers can run their own and not worry about getting robbed these guys will have to get a job

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undoware 118 days ago | link

I'm heartened by the response to this, both on Hacker News and elsewhere.

Being a trans woman in IT is a bit weird -- because I can do incredible things with my mind, I'm off the hook my sisters are on, that makes them have to hook.

Several roommates ago, I literally came home and found that my (also trans) roommate, who in addition to being trans was also dealing with immigration and had recently lost her job and had begun turning tricks at home. Had I not come home early from the university, I wouldn't have known.

And I've always hated the Canadian legal system for making me kick her out. Because just being her roommate, under the previous legislation, would have classified as 'living off the avails' and would have made me legally indistinguishable from her pimp. Just for being her roommate.

That's the sort of pauperizing, soul-crushing bullshit that you never, ever forget.

Also, I'm a big fan of Katrina Pacey, the lawyer mentioned in the article. I've worked with her a few times on activist stuff (I got into sex worker advocacy after my up-close-and-personal. They can't do it themselves, they go to prison when they try. Well, before today. Go Katrina Pacey! Go Canadian legal system!)

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sergiotapia 118 days ago | link

There is a middle ground. It's not "either I work using my brain, or I whore myself out." Many women are waitresses, shopping mall sweepers, store attendants, cashiers, you name it.

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undoware 118 days ago | link

Fun experiment for you. Go out and get a facial tattoo. Now try to get work. That's still easier than finding honest work when you're transsexual. Don't believe me? I can think of an even more decisive experiment...

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tw266 118 days ago | link

Given the immense distress that most trans people seem to experience, I wonder if we (and they) wouldn't be better off if the culture were less supportive of those lifestyles.

I had some inclinations that way as a teenager, and I am SO glad I wasn't living in San Francisco or some other place that would encourage me to "be me".

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tesseractive 118 days ago | link

I'm going to give you an alternate perspective. I'm in my 40s. I "had some inclinations that way" too. I listened to everyone who told me that people like that are disgusting freaks, and I tried to keep it suppressed for a long time now, denying it to myself and trying to act "normal," like society expects me to be.

Now it's way later and I'm kind of at the end of my rope with long-term clinical depression. I'm pretty sure that within the next few years it's going to come down to a choice between killing myself and transitioning. Only now, my transition options are way worse and I picked up some dependents along the way who are going to be incredibly hurt either way.

Maybe I can keep it going like this somehow until I reach the natural end of my miserable life, and for the sake of the people depending on me, I will keep trying. But every year it gets harder and harder to make myself get out of bed and face life hiding inside the shell of a person I'm pretending to be.

So, in my considered opinion, no, I don't think anyone would be better off if there were more people like me.

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mseebach 117 days ago | link

Isn't there a middle ground between letting your sexuality define your entire persona (which is what I think the GP is referring to) and being told that you are a disgusting freak and forced to keep your true feelings under wraps? Isn't it plausible that your depression is caused by the trauma of supressing your sexuality, rather than not having the surgery performed?

Is there no scenario where the younger you could have explored your sexuality in a supportive environment and not have experienced these trauma - without necessarily going all the way and having surgery done. So, in your words, no pretending, but keeping the shell.

I make no claims to understand what it means to be transsexual, I am just trying to understand the dynamics involved.

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tesseractive 117 days ago | link

When I was younger, there was a lot of information out there to the effect that the only "real" transsexual women knew they were "the wrong gender" from the time they were 4, they hated their boy parts with a fiery passion, and they thought sex was icky until they'd fully transitioned, at which point they just wanted a husband, like any suitably stereotypical woman would. Anyone without this history was really a guy who liked to dress up in women's clothes for sex.

I didn't fit all those rules, so I wondered if I was supposed to be a cross dresser. The thing was, the clothes didn't really do much for me from a sex standpoint. As I explored my sexuality, I gradually figured out that I was bisexual and that I was submissive, but sorting out sex things like that didn't really change anything about feeling like I was supposed to be female or feeling depressed because it seemed like I was living the wrong life.

Having said that, there is still a lot of ground between keeping everything completely under wraps and having surgery. But for most of my life, I didn't feel comfortable exploring it. I've spent most of my life completely despising my body, so looking at intermediate alternatives meant I had to dwell on that, which was extremely painful. It was easier to spend all my spare time coding or whatever -- and trying really hard not to think about what was wrong -- especially since I wasn't really sure I had any palatable alternatives anyway.

At this point, I'm not at all passable, so it's hard for me to take an intermediate step like trying to go out and experience the world as a woman part time to see how it goes. Nevertheless, as I mentioned in another response, there are lots of steps I can take if I decide to that don't require committing to any irreversible surgery. I just have to figure out what makes sense for me.

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rmc 117 days ago | link

gender identity =/= sexuality.

There are lesbian trans women, and straight trans women, and gay cis men and all kinds of permutations.

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Sssnake 118 days ago | link

There is no reason to believe that SRS will "cure" your depression. Suicide rates stay just as high post-op. Many people undergo the procedure only to find it did not help them at all.

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tesseractive 118 days ago | link

Oh, I'm well aware of that, though it's a good addition to the discussion. The thing about transitioning is that it's a long process, there are many points where you can turn back if it's not working, and not everyone takes the same steps anyway.

For some people, "The Surgery", (sometimes called Sexual Reassignment Surgery, but many people prefer the term Gender Confirmation Surgery, or just "bottom surgery", as opposed to breast implants which are "top surgery"), is the main thing, but for an awful lot of people, it isn't -- even though most non-trans folk seem to think of it that way. For a lot of trans people, living day to day life as their real gender is the important thing, and they're not so hung up on what's between their legs. For some people, hormones help them feel like they're "supposed to", and that's the main thing. For others, they hate their chest, and top surgery is most important. While others may think that Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS) is the most crucial -- not least because for many trans women, FFS is the difference between passing and not passing, which makes an enormous practical difference in day-to-day life and often even in terms of personal safety.

For me, I've read a lot about this, including many personal accounts, and heard a number of first hand stories from a group I've started attending. I honestly don't know how things will work out for me if/when I start transitioning. I've heard enough horror stories to go into the process with the appropriate level of fear and caution.

But at some point when your life becomes one big well of depression that doesn't respond to medication and you start to lose your ability to function in day-to-day life, there's really nothing left to do but start trying to explore the remaining options. So, I'm not transitioning, but I'm looking into it and trying to figure out what the hell I'm going to do.

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davidtanner 118 days ago | link

Please cite where you found that suicide rates are just as high post op.

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davidtanner 117 days ago | link

Ssnake's assertion is false and provides a good example of the sort of cocksure, wilful ignorance and bigotry trans people have to face every day.

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bullseye 117 days ago | link

Replying to yourself to take a snipe at someone else, with no data of your own, is pretty weak. Especially when you are wrong. In just 30 seconds of searching, I found a 2011 long term study conducted in Sweden that concluded the "overall mortality for sex-reassigned persons was higher... particularly death from suicide".

I have no stake in this discussion, and if anything, am generally opposed to the topic/lifestyle/whatever. But I have empathy for anyone going through such depression that they ultimately take their own lives. When the primary end goal for many is SRS/GCS, and when the data suggests that leads to higher suicide rates, I find it deplorable that anyone would try to suppress that information.

Some might even say that is good example of cocksure, willful ignorance.

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tesseractive 117 days ago | link

I'm not sure what you mean by being "opposed" -- if you don't think there should be people who are unbearably unhappy with the gender they got stuck with at birth, we agree. If you think people shouldn't play around at being the other gender, that's not what we're talking about, because I can assure you that those of us with this problem are deadly serious about it, and a lot of us would be quite happy if we could find a way to go through life in a functional way without having to make the kind of enormous, life-altering changes involved in transitioning.

I have heard lots of studies on trans folk kicked around, but some of these things have inherent methodological problems. In particular, I think we're all aware that the gold standard for medical efficacy studies is double blind studies, and it's pretty obvious that a double blind study on SRS is impossible, right? Worse yet, in this study they're not even comparing SRS patients with other trans folk who didn't have an operation, they're comparing them with the general population of people of their original assigned birth sex.[1] We already know that trans people have an enormously high suicide rate already, so this comparison tells us absolutely nothing about a before/after comparison, never mind what we really want to know: what happens to the same population if they do/don't get surgery.

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/21364939/ -- You didn't cite a study, but hopefully this was the right one?

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davidtanner 117 days ago | link

The full quote is:

"The overall mortality for sex-reassigned persons was higher during follow-up (aHR 2.8; 95% CI 1.8–4.3) than for controls of the same birth sex, particularly death from suicide."

So trans people are at an increased risk of suicide compared to cis people of the gender the trans person transitioned into.

The original claim was that trans people are at increased risk of suicide post-op relative to pre-op transsexuals!

You're "generally opposed" to a medical intervention that has dramatically improved the lives of many thousands of people over the last 50+ years? You're "generally opposed" to something that I know for a fact has dramatically improved my own life?

Go fuck yourself. I'm not wrong, you misrepresented the study and you're a bigot.

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Sssnake 114 days ago | link

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3043071/

Stop acting like a child just because reality doesn't fit your preconcieved notions of how things should be.

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mladenkovacevic 118 days ago | link

I don't even know how to read this. You are happy that society forced you to "cure" yourself?

If a little social pressure was all it took to get you to ignore your "inclinations" I doubt you're on the same spectrum of inclination that the OP finds herself. You also probably shouldn't think that other people with the same inclinations would be as easily influenced by the mere lack of support for the "lifestyle".. which again implies choice rather than certainty.

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tw266 118 days ago | link

You're setting up an infalsifiable framework where your worldview must be right (anyone who chooses not to live as trans is not really trans).

But ignoring that, there was definitely something going on with me. In elementary school for history dress up day, I wanted to be Betsy Ross. In college, I always hated dealing with chest-thumping groups of males, and I preferred female friends. Halloween was my favorite holiday for obvious reasons. Trans inclination was something long enough and strong enough that an "open-minded" parent or community could have pushed me that way.

But over time the importance of those inclinations seemed to fade. I'm a reasonably happy, reasonably successful mostly-straight male. And my success in the workplace and success in family relationships is more important to me than playing with my gender identity. Given what I have heard from trans people, I am pretty sure that I am better off than I would be in a less traditional lifestyle.

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davidtanner 118 days ago | link

No one except you can tell if you're actually a transsexual or not. But, from what you've said here it doesn't really sound like you are.

If you're happy as a male, you don't suffer from gender dysphoria and you don't have a strong urge to cross dress and don't think in your head "Im a girl" then you're probably not trans unless you've done a superhuman effort in repressing it.

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davidtanner 118 days ago | link

Being a transsexual is not a "lifestyle". It's a neurological medical condition that is treatable with hormones and surgery.

http://tgmeds.org.uk/diffa.html

Maybe people think it's a "lifestyle" because they only notice the transsexual people that dress and act in such a way as to socially signal that they have an atypical gender identity. The majority of transsexual people try to hide their changing bodies as they get hormonal therapy till they can successfully blend in ("pass") as a cis gendered woman/man.

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cynicalkane 118 days ago | link

This is a very reductionist view of human sexuality. Even if you disagree with the GP it can't be right to describe our feelings about gender and sexuality as "neurological medical conditions" that are "treatable". Psychological reductionism of this type has not been good for humanity in general, and I don't see any reason to pick it up for this issue.

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tesseractive 118 days ago | link

There are a number of people who identify as genderqueer, as having gender identification that shifts over time, as crossdressers, as drag kings and queens, as on some point on a spectrum, as a third sex, or in a number of other ways that are not as simple as "I was assigned the gender [male/female] at birth, but I am really [female/male], so I have transitioned/am transitioning/will be transitioning." Supposing that either people are cisgender (were assigned their correct gender at birth) or transgender (assigned the opposite sex at birth) IS reductionist. Transsexuals, however, are people of which that case is true, and the fact that this is not true of others doesn't change that.

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davidtanner 118 days ago | link

We're discussing gender, not sexuality(in the standard sense of sexual orientation). The term "transsexual" is somewhat misleading, yet I think it's the best term available for what I'm talking about.

You might not think it's right to describe my feelings about my gender as a treatable medical condition, but I'm one of the ones actually undergoing this treatment right now, and benefiting greatly from it. I think it's very descriptive and appropriate to refer to transsexualism as a treatable medical condition.

We're born, we suffer and sometimes die, we sometimes get medical interventions using drugs and surgery and this usually results in substantial, sustained improvements in our happiness and functioning. That's pretty much the definition of a medical condition.

Reductionism sure is useful when properly applied, as any engineer knows.

Transsexuality is a treatable medical condition. Someone's gender identity as woman, man, genderqueer, etc is, of course, not completely reducible to neurology or biology and has very significant social, historical, and subjective aspects.

Specifically, for myself: I'm a transsexual - i.e. I have a fairly rare neurological developmental condition that I'm undergoing treatment for.

But, much more importantly, I'm a woman - and that's something much harder to define, something indescribably precious and wonderful, yet taken for granted and commonly denigrated.

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nitrogen 118 days ago | link

It sounds like the best approach would be more acceptance of people's choices and inclinations without forcing them into categories or drawing arbitrary lines between "X" and "Y". That way questioning individuals don't feel pressure to conform to any orientation, and can choose a lifestyle that works for them, whether or not it conforms with any existing labels. Sometimes a questioning individual might choose a traditional straight lifestyle, and that should be just as acceptable as them choosing any other lifestyle.

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mladenkovacevic 118 days ago | link

Oh no I definitely believe that gender identification and sexuality are sliders rather than on/off switches. But I think that it was you who proposed a rigid framework where because society's unwillingness to accept your teenage inclinations somehow worked out for you, it might be better for other trans-gender people as well.

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declan 118 days ago | link

I'm reminded of the case of Dani Bunten, born Dan, who was a video game pioneer and probably would be posting here on HN today if she hadn't died of cancer. Will Wright dedicated the Sims to Dani, Salon notes in her obituary: http://www.salon.com/2003/03/18/bunten/

Dani wrote after undergoing sex reassignment surgery: "Don't do it! That's my advice. This is the most awful, most expensive, most painful, most disruptive thing you could ever do. Don't do it unless there is no other alternative. You may think your life is tough but unless it's a choice between suicide and a sex-change it will only get worse. And the costs keep coming. You lose control over most aspects of your life, become a second class citizen and all so you can wear women's clothes and feel cuter than you do now. Don't do it is all I've got to say... That's advice I wish someone had given me."

Her full essay is on a memorial site, though Google says it's malware-infected, so take precautions: http://www.anticlockwise.com/dani/personal/changes/dont.htm

I wonder if the outcome (and her recommendations) would have been different if she were going through this today.

A final Dani quote: "No one ever said on their deathbed, 'Gee, I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer.'"

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tesseractive 117 days ago | link

FYI, this kind of advice is available in abundance to trans people. One common version I have heard is that you shouldn't transition unless you feel like the only alternative is to kill yourself. Also FYI, many trans people meet this criterion.

Having said that, at some point you have to size up the risks each way. Everyone gets to make their own decision about their own life. And ironically, your last quote, to me, counsels exactly the opposite choice from your first. Hating my gender presentation makes me just want to hide away from life with my computer.

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pessimizer 118 days ago | link

Since the distress is solely caused by the the culture being "less supportive of those lifestyles," I think that will do the opposite of help.

Also, we'd become less supportive of minority religions according to that rationale - and ignore racial discrimination as an impossible problem.

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davidtanner 118 days ago | link

That's not the case for a lot of transgender people. I'm a MtF transsexual woman and, yea, a lot of problems are created by the intersection of being trans and our culture - but the underlying problem is having the wrong hormones in my body and the wrong sexual organs.

A lot of trans people would suffer, and require medical treatment, even in a perfectly accepting society.

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Sssnake 118 days ago | link

>Since the distress is solely caused by the the culture being "less supportive of those lifestyles,"

But it isn't. Mental illness, depression and suicide are disproportionately high among transsexsuals, both pre and post op. Even in societies where they are fully accepted. It is not unreasonable to think that the differences that have been found in their brains predispose them to certain mental illnesses. You can't just blame it on society.

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davidtanner 118 days ago | link

In what society are transsexual people fully accepted?

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camus2 117 days ago | link

No society fully accept transsexuals, however, Some places in some countries are known to be more tolerant than others.

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davidtanner 117 days ago | link

That's my point. Trans people get murdered for being trans even in the most 'accepting' areas. People like Sssnake don't help matters, either.

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groby_b 118 days ago | link

"Since many black people are experiencing poverty and criminalization, I wonder if we (and they) wouldn't be better of if we were less supportive of those lifestyles".

Doesn't make much sense, does it now?

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drivingmissm 118 days ago | link

Single parent households are the single biggest cause of child poverty...there are cultural and lifestyle factors at play.

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ambler0 118 days ago | link

There are many people for whom "lifestyle decision" isn't even a relevant concept here. These are people who instropsect and find themsleves indisputably one way, yet they look in the mirror and find that they are trapped in the wrong type of body.

Ethically, I don't think there is any choice except to be supportive of these people's "lifestyles", which I again put in quotes because the word makes it sound like a whimsical decision, when in fact to the person making the decision it is very much necessary.

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marquis 118 days ago | link

>the culture were less supportive of those lifestyles.

Perhaps you mean if culture were more supportive of those lifestyles, in adulthood? The best time to experiment is as a teenager - we should encourage that, explore now so your adult decisions are made without hesitation. Not allowing experimentation is how we end up with so much teen suicide, where teens are experiencing confusion and oppression.

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heterogenic 118 days ago | link

How could we be less tolerant than we are now, exactly? (Without human rights violations?)

From what I understand, the suicide attempt rate is about fifty percent in that population before transition, so I'd say we're doing a pretty good job of intolerance already.

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Malician 118 days ago | link

If it doesn't kill you from the inside to not "be you", if it isn't one of the greatest emotional factors in your life, if it isn't so strong that after convincing yourself you could hide it for many years, it got worse instead of better...

Have you considered that your inclinations may have nothing to do with the people who have those "lifestyles"?

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mzs 118 days ago | link

FWIW I had nurse that I suspected was trans working for doctor that was gay, it didn't matter to me enough to even ask about it, I think things are getting better, chin-up.

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undoware 118 days ago | link

tw226 don't generalize from your own experience to others, and I'll do the same, thanks.

I spent my first twenty-four years avoiding myself, and although the seven that have since passed have been riddled with hellfire, I can't explain to you how enormously worth it it was.

And guess what, I used to think and say the same things about myself that I now hear you say. But I'm not going to go there. I wish you peace and happiness and as much self-awareness as you can bear.

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tw266 118 days ago | link

I believe that both of our experiences can offer valuable data points for others, and I believe that we should both feel free to share. I am somewhat concerned that my point of view is forbidden by polite society, as I believe the silence of people like me could lead many to misery.

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davidtanner 118 days ago | link

We don't exactly have a shortage of people who think trans people are just going through a phase and will grow out of it in the world today. Your view point is hardly forbidden.

Of course it would be bad if people cheered their kids into transitioning when they aren't actually trans - but I doubt this really happens, even in the most liberal and open minded San Francisco neighborhoods. Medical professionals constantly try and second guess trans people to make sure they are serious - and this is even more intense when the patient is underage.

Secondly, taking cross-gender hormones is itself an excellent diagnostic test to see if someone is a transsexual. If the patient feels better, then it's a strong sign they will benefit from transition. If they feel worse then it's indicative that they are not trans. The effects of both estrogen and testosterone are fairly minor for the first few months and readily reversible. Doctors are starting to become more willing to give patients a "trial" on hormones without absurd levels of gatekeeping like in decades past.

It's not like some poor, confused boy is going to put on his sister's panties one day and bam the parents call up their doctor and instantly transform the boy into a trans girl. Transition is a long series of many small decisions (medical, legal, social, sartorial and personal) combined with tons of introspection. It's not an overnight process that someone could realistically be pushed into by naive, overly tolerant parents, or anyone else for that matter.

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Cushman 118 days ago | link

I wonder, are you capable of recognizing the irony inherent in your being concerned that people here are not fully, ah, supportive of your particular point of view?

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tw266 118 days ago | link

I'm very much an old-fashioned liberal idealist. I believe we get closer to truth when all viewpoints are allowed to be aired. The closing of the mind which I see in the world disturbs me.

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mistercow 117 days ago | link

You feel like people should feel free to share, but you also think that society should be less accepting of trans people? How are those points of view remotely compatible?

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EpicEng 118 days ago | link

Ummmm... Then don't get a facial tattoo? Yeesh. Sure, you have the right to do it, but it's silly to think it won't affect the way that people perceive you, fair or not. I would hire you to wait tables either. You're going to freak some people out a bit and I'm in the business of making money by retaining customers.

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lkbm 118 days ago | link

You're completely missing the point. Unless your position is that if people want a safe, decent job they shouldn't chose to be transexual. But if that's your position, I have a much bigger problem with that.

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EpicEng 118 days ago | link

What? Since when are face tattoos and being a transsexual the same thing? I was simply commenting I the face tattoo point. Face tattoos are a choice, I don't believe being a transsexual is.

Perhaps I did miss the point due to the false analogy.

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mistercow 117 days ago | link

It's not a false analogy; you're just focusing on a difference which isn't relevant to the analogy. Yes, there is arguably a difference in how people should treat people with face tattoos, vs trans people. But the analogy isn't about how employers should act. It's about how they do act.

The purpose of the face tattoo thought experiment is to help you understand what a trans person has to deal with in practice.

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lkbm 117 days ago | link

The point is not that face tattooed people shouldn't have a hard time getting a job. The point is that transsexual people have a /harder/ time, and that this is clear evidence that transsexuals can't just go and get a job as a waitress, shopping mall sweeper, store attendant, cashier, "you name it" as sergiotapia proposes.

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EpicEng 117 days ago | link

Then the point was made poorly. Again, I was responding to the bit about face tattoos.

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matz1 118 days ago | link

There are trans people (e.g. me) that consider transitioning is a choice. no more different than choosing toyoya vs Porsche

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EpicEng 118 days ago | link

Ok fine, then you made a choice. If it's a choice then you have to be an adult and deal with the consequences.

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marquis 118 days ago | link

We can't ignore the (sad and backwards) social stigma that trans-women face, where a waitressing job, or any public-facing job, is difficult to apply and be accepted for.

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sergiotapia 118 days ago | link

Pardon my ignorance, but when you say trans are you saying "looks like a man and dresses like a woman" or "genetically a man, but looks and acts like a woman (with or without sex reassignment surgery)"?

If it's the former, I can understand the reactions of people, it just looks weird; of course people are going to have apprehensions of hiring someone who does dresses like the opposite sex for a public facing job.

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rosser 118 days ago | link

No, a trans person is a person with a body that is one gender, but who identifies as the other gender (assuming binary genders, which is an issue the broader trans community would probably dispute with some vehemence).

Some trans people only think it, some take supplementary sex hormones (typically testosterone for FTM; and one or more of the female hormones, and possibly also anti-androgens for MTF), and some have surgery to give them parts that match their identities.

You're thinking of cross-dressers, which community has some overlap with the trans world, but is, in general, a different thing. Cross-dressing is generally also a kink, while being trans is an issue of identity.

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undoware 118 days ago | link

Uh, I mean that I'm MTF. Full transition, including FFS, SRS, HRT, and a bunch of other TLAs. So is/was my roommate. That was ironically part of her problem too: most johns who want a trans woman are actually after a so-called 'shemale' (a no-op transsexual; i.e. someone who gets everything done but keeps the original plumbing.)

Thanks for asking the question respectfully, I really do like explaining things to curious (although I caution you I'm almost alone in this; please don't make a habit of unsolicited questions to trans people! But for better or worse, I love to talk about myself, so let's use it to spread some understanding and peace for the holidays!)

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ams6110 118 days ago | link

You might want to spell it out because I have no idea what those acronyms mean.

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kej 118 days ago | link

MTF: Male to Female

FFS: Facial feminization surgery

SRS: Sex reassignment surgery

HRT: Hormone replacement therapy

TLA: Three letter acronym

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nollidge 118 days ago | link

I think lots of trans women who can't afford or otherwise don't get SRS would pretty strongly object to being referred to as "shemales".

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undoware 118 days ago | link

Yes, see, this is why writing benefits from having an editor. Facepalm.

First draft:

most johns are after a so-called 'shemale'

Second draft (removing redundant quotes, following writing advice of Bill Zinsser)

most johns are after a so-called shemale

Third draft (shorten that sentence! Tighten it up!)

most johns are after a shemale

....Fourth draft (after walking away and coming back to my writing, suddenly hearing it): most sex-industry customers are after an MtF no-op transsexual -- a 'shemale', in the derogatory parlance of the industry.

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undoware 118 days ago | link

Also note that 'shemale' is a derogatory term; I use it because it is, for better or for worse, the jargon of the sex industry, and that is what is relevant here. The polite term is 'no-op transsexual'.

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tomp 118 days ago | link

So which words should you use to differentiate between female-to-male no-op and male-to-female no-op (she-male and he-female respectively)?

I'm partially asking because I'm curious as to what is the term preferred by the transsexuals, and partially because I feel that words are descriptive and hence void of emotional connotation, which should instead be inferred from the context in which the words are used.

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rmc 117 days ago | link

The preferred language amoung trans people is: "The state of someone's genitals is none of your business unless the two of you are having sex".

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nightpool 118 days ago | link

You should still be able to edit your post, fyi. There should be a link on the same line as your name that says 'edit'. Editing gets disabled after a some amount of time, but IIRC it should be more then 1 hour.

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marquis 118 days ago | link

> I can understand the reactions of people, it just looks weird;

It makes less open-minded people uncomfortable, to be around others who are not like them. This is what I mean by 'unfortunate': that not everyone is comfortable in the face of different.

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tw266 118 days ago | link

There are probably sub-conscious patterns of antipathy to transexuality that other non-traditional sexualities don't engender, because widespread sexual counterfeiting would be disruptive to society. We have certain expectations of others that we meet, and TG violates those expectations in a domain (sex and reproduction) that triggers our most ancient and visceral feelings.

If you bit into a steak and found that it tasted like chocolate, you'd be confused and disturbed. Now multiply that feeling by a large factor.

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davidtanner 118 days ago | link

I think there is a lot of truth to this, even though you seem off base in some of your other statements in this thread.

I (obviously) support equal rights and access to life saving hormones and surgery for transsexual people - since I am one myself. Yet, from my elementary knowledge of evolutionary biology, it's long been my suspicion that there is some sort of deeply rooted antipathy towards trans people that is not completely socially constructed. After all, having sex with a trans (pre or post op) person in modern times, or an intersex person (modern or historical times) would seem to work against propagation of someone's genes.

Still, the bigger causal factors in transphobic sentiments are, I believe, socially constructed and rooted in patriarchal misogyny. There are way more (cis) men with violent, transphobic attitudes against trans women than there are (cis) women with violent, transphobic attitudes against trans men.

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PavlovsCat 118 days ago | link

> TG violates those expectations in a domain (sex and reproduction) that triggers our most ancient and visceral feelings

The only reason to be possessive about someone else's sexuality is insecurity, I think. Which can be very visceral, too, and loves to camouflage itself.

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tw266 118 days ago | link

Human beings are not made of reason.

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PavlovsCat 118 days ago | link

No, but they discovered it, and they can get better at it.

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rmc 118 days ago | link

Yes and why happens when a christian marries a Jew! There is long standing history of tribes that people want.

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dragonwriter 118 days ago | link

> It makes less open-minded people uncomfortable, to be around others who are not like them.

Perhaps more relevantly, it makes less open-minded people uncomfortable to be around others who don't fit their mental model of the world.

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rmc 118 days ago | link

Trans basically means transsexual / transgender. Y'know how our parents used to think gay meant happy and then it didn't? Words change. This is the new word.

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mistercow 118 days ago | link

I believe the point is that due to ridiculous amounts of prejudice, customer-facing jobs are difficult for a trans person to find.

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kingkawn 118 days ago | link

And all of those jobs require your brain too, its just that the byproducts of that use are not considered valuable. Lots of innovation in waitressing if you ask them how they do it rather than what it results in.

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pmelendez 118 days ago | link

Immigrant in Canada here. While it sucks what it happened to your roommate I have to say that the immigration process is one of the clearest legislations between the options I had. It is slow but it gives you options.

Kudos for your job. I worked with a trans woman (a fellow developer too) before and she was one of the sweetest people at the office. She even found a great guy as a boyfriend. Considering all, I think Canada is a friendly environment for transexuals, you have to see how they are treated in Latinamerica.

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notastartup 118 days ago | link

That is quite tragic that the law had to force you to make difficult decision, especially considering the fact that trans folks are very much marginalized in society because of the ignorance that still floats around unfortunately about gender.

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rmc 118 days ago | link

Thanks for getting involved in the HN community. It can be a little cishet male sometimes. Don't let the bastards grind you down.

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Sssnake 118 days ago | link

>Because just being her roommate, under the previous legislation, would have classified as 'living off the avails'

No it wouldn't. You have to actually be doing something for her. Children, spouses, roommates, etc are all safe. You were still at risk though, because your apartment would qualify as a bowdy house according to the law.

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