The West End Sex Workers Memorial

In 1982 a local by-law expelled sex workers, many of them trans sex workers, from the area where they worked the on-street sex trade in Vancouver’s West End. Many of them were fined as they sought to continue carrying out their work. Pushed further out into Vancouver’s Eastern side, this forced displacement of sex workers drove many of them to work in industrial areas from which in at least 65 of them, many of them indigenous impoverished workers, would go missing in the next decades. It would not be until much later that, as a result of relentless grassroots work, the case of missing and murdered women, many of them sex workers, would be brought to public attention. Robert Pickton is known to have murdered at least 49 of them. He was prosecuted for the murder of only six of them. The sex workers displacement from the West End also contributed to the further symbolic and material divisions still in place today between the West and East sides of Vancouver along racial and class lines. While poorer sex workers were pushed out of the neighbourhood where they worked and many of them also lived, Vancouver’s West End went onto becoming the city’s famous “gayborough.”

 

Today, the City of Vancouver has formally paid back the full amount of money collected from sex workers’ fines – over $15,000 dollars – in the form of a public Sex Workers Memorial located in the very same place from which they were uprooted. In a truly historic moment, today, September 16, 2016, a fabulous memorial lamp post stood tall and firm on Jervis Street, an area where many of the on-street sex workers made their livelihoods during the 1970s and 1980s. It is located right outside an Anglican Church, where sex workers were able to find refuge during their working days in the area back then. The memorial lamp post stands now as a palpable reminder of a chapter of the city’s history and of the sex trade’s history not often told, or even known. While the government officials prepared to provide a sanitized version of the city in the face of Vancouver’s Expo 1986, sex workers did not simply vanish. Some of them survived until today. While the area became a gay entertainment area, catering largely to middle-class white gay men, some of those on-street surviving sex workers came back to join the memorial event today. The on-street sex workers may have disappeared from public view on this side of the city’s streets. Yet the indoor sex-trade is known to be alive and well in this same area. As Dr. Becki Ross explained during the formal public event today, Vancouver’s West End may actually not be a gayborough, but rather, proudly and rightly, a “hookerborough.”

 

Vancouver's West End Sex Workers Memorial

Vancouver’s West End Sex Workers Memorial

 

I join in echoing the inspiring messages that one can read at the four-sided base of

The West End Sex Workers Memorial’s lamp post:

 

“Today, we commemorate and honour their lives”

“In memory of their ongoing struggle for equality”

“People who lived and worked here from mid-1960s to 1984”

“Dedicated to a diverse community of sex workers.”

 

What a remarkable day!

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Open Access

Groundbreaking developments have just been announced regarding open access to scientific publications in Europe:

All publicly funded scientific papers published in Europe could be made free to access by 2020, under a “life-changing” reform ordered by the European Union’s science chief, Carlos Moedas.

Here’s the link to the full news article.

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Moving Trans History Forward 2016 Conference

There is something about conferences, especially activists’ conferences. They seem to be one of the best spaces to connect and reconnect, to hug and to cry, to learn and to mentor, to ask questions and have some doubts answered.

I just went to the Moving Trans History Forward 2016 Conference, and I am pleased I did. I was fortunate enough to be able to present some of the findings of my doctoral work with trans activists and sex workers in Mexico City.

Here are some of the things that I learned:

The generosity of trans activists is certainly humbling. Most seem to have both intelligence and softness towards transpeople and trans allies that enables them to use immense astuteness in gently but also firmly getting their points across.

Academics are part of the political movement of trans people. Wisdom and measure are then most needed on the part of scholars. Thoughtfulness is not only appreciated but uttermost required, because regardless of whether academics realize it or not, they are impacting – hopefully positively – the long-standing struggles of transpeople in different places of the world.

Scholarship requires a sense of responsibility. Attending the MTFH16 Conference both confirmed and renewed my sense of sociopolitical obligation towards the different social justice causes put forward by transpeople.

Sharing thoughts with activists and experts is as honoring as it is nerve-wracking. But for the most part, people’s ideas are thanked, welcome, expected, accepted, included, and acknowledged with sincere and open appreciation.

“Trans*” with an asterisk, I was told by activist Susan Gapka, is a term that comes from internet searches. It refers to anything that the asterisk is able to find on an internet search. Some activists oppose to the use of the asterisk because they say that they are not an internet search. Some prefer the term “trans” instead. This shift was reflected in the title of the conference itself: it went from Moving Trans* History Forward by the time the call for papers went out in October 2015 to Moving Trans History Forward during the development of the conference itself last week.

Some activists do not like the term transgendered, with an “ed” ending. They say that unlike “transgender,” the term transgendered refers to a passive action, to something done onto a person. “Transgender” is preferred in some contexts because it carries the sense of something that a person is or does. An action.

Ultimately, however, in the many conversations I was able to have with some conference attendees, self-identification seems to be guiding post. One needs to hear attentively how folks are talking about themselves and their experiences, and take cue from them.

History, activist history, is extremely interesting and important. Historical memory is always needed. We cannot lose sight of the significance of the trans movement, where it comes from, where it is heading.

I heard talk about different factions, just like everywhere, and different points of view. I sensed acrimony as well as love. I also sensed the intention to bridge those differences, to continue engaging in dialogue and, as the title of the gathering suggests, to continue moving trans history forward with strength and the heads up.

I was, in particular, so very pleased to have bumped into the dear Jamie Lee Hamilton, whose work in the memorialization of the sex trade history in Vancouver’s West End is extremely important and timely; and into my old colleague Nicholas Matte, from the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, whom I met a few years ago in Amsterdam, and continues to inspire and spark my learning in more ways than he even imagines. I was also extremely happy to have met new people and made new connections!

All in all, this was an excellent experience, an excellent conference! I am already looking forward to continue learning from the conference attendees as the many days and months continue to come! Such honour to have been a participant in the second MTHF organized by the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria!

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Borders

My first post is a link to a recently-published article on the current refugee crisis in Europe and the widespread trend to erect borders, material and symbolic, to keep humans apart.

The proper reference of this article is as follows:

Saunders, Frances Stonor. 2016. Where on Earth Are You? London Review of Books 38(5, March 3):7-10,11.

Saunders says:

“The one border we all cross, so often and with such well-rehearsed reflexes that we barely notice it, is the threshold of our own home.” (7)

And continues:

“What we hope for is safe passage between these two fixed boundaries, to be able to make something of the experience of being alive before we are required to stop being alive. There’s no negotiating birth or death. What we have is the journey.” (7)

Read on at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n05/frances-stonorsaunders/where-on-earth-are-you

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Welcome!

Welcome to my personal website and blog!

In addition to information on who I am and what I do, here you will find links and commentary to some interesting news, op-eds, debates, research findings, and books on contemporary issues related, among many others, to genders, sexualities, social movements, literature, higher education, economics, racial and class politics, global health, Mexico, and Canada.

Stay tuned, and also check out the other tabs on this page!

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