TransCanadians – Feminist Epistemologies, Practices, and the Expansion of “Objectivity”

Considering Feminist Epistemologies, Practices, and the Expansion of “Objectivity” after an Extended Conversation with Dot Tuer

What’s this Canada? Looks like canadians will be able to apply for passports that sidestep gender as an identity marker. According to the National Post, all the details of the change are still unknown but it is likely that the Federal Government will follow the Australian example and allow individuals to mark their sex as “X” rather than “M” or “F” or a streamlined process for tradespeople to obtain new passports with their gender of choice. Passport Canada spokeswoman Béatrice Fénelon confirmed to the Post that “the policy regarding transgender people is still under review.”

But do not start celebrating quite yet. Federal governments are notorious for dangling sparks of hope as bureaucratic red tape prevents real change in the policy. Under current requirements, individuals are required to provided medical proof from a doctor before they can change the sex on their passport. This “proof” requires a doctor to examine the individual for evidence of  gender-reassignment surgery. Only if the individual underwent this surgery are they considered to officially be the gender they identity with. In the event that they are transitioning, they can apply for a temporary two-year passport with the appropriate medical documents showing the surgery is scheduled for sometime in the next 12 months.

The biggest issue with the respective procedures is the insistence that only applied science can illuminate the politics of gender identity. These scientists and the federal government have a shared responsibility and power over transpeople precisely because they are perpetuating  pre-established gender binaries. Both the government and the medical professionals take on the role benefit from the privileges of assumed objectivity and neutrality as they dismiss cultural biases. Giving the doctor the responsibility to asses the “realness” and “authenticity” of male or female is inherently problematic. By giving individuals the option to identify as “X,” although an ambitious way to sidestep binaries, still points to a paradox. Why is gender so important to us? Why does a marker, even an ambiguous one, need to be on a federally issued form of identification?

One of the major obstacles in trans politics is the paradoxes of knowing. One knows that they are not the gender that correlates to their physical anatomy. In this sense, the language of biology infiltrates culture. From the time a child is born to the beginning of socialization a child learns difference to create and shape meaning. A child learns that boys have penises and girls have vaginas. Even from a young age, a child learns through science what gender is and knows that the only way to break from this physical anatomy is to trust a medical professional for reconstructive surgery. The focus of gender is placed on the privates instead of the spirit.

Unfortunately, the world is not a simple picture with only boys or girls. Queering gender is becoming a viable method of resistance. Many individuals prefer to be ambiguous.



This particular post was inspired after a Dot Tuer came into our graduate class called Dialogues in Feminism and Technology. We were discussing Sandra Harding’s article “After Absolute Neutrality: Expanding ‘Science’” as well as Valerie Kuletz’s  “Feminist Science Studies, Objectivity and the Politics of Vision.” In our discussion, there was quite a bit of talk about how epistemology excludes the knowledge of those who are not firmly within the Structural Ideological Apparatus. Many who use alternative forms of information and identification are “characterized as emotional, ignorant, irrational, or as trouble makers” (Kuletz 327). As academics invested in feminism, we must recognize that there are radical changes. Firstly, we must recognize that science is an epistemology and  in opposition with radical change.

Tuer herself as a complicated relationship with science. She maintains that she has a social responsibility to be invested, but the assumptions about the neutrality of science needs to be reexamined. Much of her work is on indigenous epistemology that often goes unrecognized by scientists and industry professionals. Due to her personal code of ethics, Tuer argues that it is crucial to accept paradox but knowing you are a part. An example of this is by recognizing the elephant in the room. In our particular class,  this metaphorical elephant was the word “nature” used in the readings. Both articles do not escape Western epistemology because they maintain the fundamental belief structures of Western discourse. She admits it’s very difficult to understand nature separately from culture and that is why its crucial to encourage the voices of indigenous resistance who have always understand nature on their own terms unpolluted by the implicit understandings of Western ideologies.

In conclusion, it is important to see science as a discipline that is firmly invested in industry, politics, and language. Science always contains a bias and its crucial to acknowledge that it is not a neutral discipline. Most scientific studies are funded and therefore maintain a kind of implicit structure to prove something for a particular reason. In order to move forward, more individuals like TransCanadians who circumvent traditional hegemony are encouraged to mobilize because that is when you become visible. Tuer argues that it is when you are demobilized are you powerless and invisible to the structures that want to maintain power and influence.

Works Cited

Harding, Sandra “After Absolute Neutrality: Expanding ‘Science’” in Feminist Science Studies: A New Generation pp. 291-320. Eds. Maralee Mayberry, Banu Subramaniam, Lisa H. Weasel. New York: Routledge, 2001.View in a new window

Kuletz, Valerie “Feminist Science Studies, Objectivity and the Politics of Vision” in Feminist Science Studies: A New Generation pp. 321-338. Eds. Maralee Mayberry, Banu Subramaniam, Lisa H. Weasel. New York: Routledge, 2001.


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