Health Care for Employed Transsexuals: a Form of American Economic Imperialism
(a link to Concordia university magazine that discusses Viviane Namaste’s research on HIV/AIDS and health care education)
Namaste begins this section with a case study that falls into the category of transgender health care, specifically the inclusion of transsexual and transgender employees of the City and County of San Francisco under the health insurance coverage of these employers. In 2001, the City and County of SF agreed to ensure that transgender medical care is a covered benefit. This was recognized as a important victory and the links to lesbian and gay activism was most apparent. FTM activist James Green states
“Just as we paved the way for domestic partner coverage years ago, the city and the county of San Francisco demonstrates that once again discrimination will not be tolerated”
Green goes on the explain an important argument that touches the very core of the health care issue when he says :
“Often the argument against removing exclusions involve statements such as, there are not enough people to warrant providing coverage if we provide this benefit we’ll be overrun with people who want to change sex….”
Namaste explains that Green’s argument captures the complex way in which through advancing the individual rights of some transsexual and transgendered people, we are prevented from having any kind of broad analysis of the health care system, much less engaging in critical health care activism. She breaks down Green’s argument and how support of the health care program is actually bound within the broader relations of economic imperialism. She explains that the entire paradigm takes for granted that the provision of health insurance is a right to be accorded to those who can work. She makes a point to state that the US framework in regards to this topic is the dominant one, how people obtain healthcare through their employers. How in the US sick bodies that have not been working outside the home are presumably disregarded.
She criticizes Green for not mentioning the model of health care that is deemed a universal right by the state. She states that Green unwittingly accepts a administration, political and economic context in which health care is linked to employment.
She then goes on the point out the second aspect of Green’s argument which is taken for granted and that is the role and function of insurance companies. She explains that the insurance industry is primarily invested in making money. She gives a slew of statistics that provide all the assets of major insurance companies like Prudential and their $116 billion in assets. She calls for people to reflect on the broader socioeconomic system that the pool supports namely one wherein health care is offered as a commodity to be bought and sold on a market. Will this model ensure that trans people get the medical treatment they deserve?
She makes a final point in saying that there is a unquestionable link between employment and health care, and how in the US in order to understand how dangerous it is to engage in so-called “activism” that supports this industry.
Namaste explains that numerous polls show that Americans have a national system or universal health care coverage. Also she mentions that over time numerous Americans have stated that they want to have a single payer model of health care similarly to the Canadian form. She frankly points out that this request doesn’t even make it to the table (governmental) as a agenda item in the current political context. She adds a disturbing fact that shows the American government spends more on health care administration per capita that countries with national health care systems.
She goes on to offer a reason why even though Americans want a change in health care this system remains in place. That answer is analysis of the close links between political lobbyists and the medical insurance industry and how they further prevent any real social change in the realm of health care.
She gives a example in which the United States insurance industry directly influences the formulation of national policy on health care, a structure which can be related to the fox guarding the henhouse.
Namaste goes back to activist James Green’s argument and states that Green is telling “us” that the fox really isn’t bad after all. Indeed he wants “us” to feed the fox, and the fox wants to guard not just the transsexuals and transgendered people in SF or the US but throughout America. Namaste states that Green is correct however the consequences of that situation extend beyond the transsexual employees of the city and county of SF. The situation helps ensure that the state sponsored health care remains impossible in the US, and that this type of program affects all citizens of the US. Green wraps up her section with saying that a support for transgender rights by Green is at the same time a call for rallying behind the interests of American big business within and outside the US, and how in a way transgender rights cannot be separated from the project of global capitalism.
Gender Identity and Human Rights: Imperialism and the Law
Namaste revisits her previous sections points by stating that transsexual activism supports the imposition of American conceptions and practices of capitalism in which the poor have everything to lose. In this section she shifts her attention to the Canadian context. She has selected case studies to analyze that focus on the effort that transsexual and transgendered people with support from some lesbians, gay men, and feminists, protect transsexual/transgendered people before the law. Namaste mentions in English Canada, the primary strategy proposed for such protection that that of adding “gender identity” as a protected ground to exiting human rights codes. She goes on the mention that most recently the Northwest Territories of Canada has officially included gender identity in its human rights code. This inclusion has been dubbed a victory by some, specifically John Fisher a executive director for EGALE(Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) declares a statement about the decision:
“Bill I represents a historic step towards equality for transgendered people. Both the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the BC Human Rights Commission have recommended that discrimination on the ground of gender identity can be prohibited…..the inclusion of this ground sends a message loud and clear: discrimination against transgendered people is just plain wrong, and must end.
Hopefully , this initiative by the Northwest Territories will encourage other jurisdictions to follow suit.”
Namaste goes on the reflect on the limitation of this strategy. She explains that the proposed strategy for protection of transgendered people before the law is organized through the concept of “gender identity.” It’s a program that reflects a concept of English language, since French does not have a equivalent for the term gender. In a country with two official languages, that makes claims about its multiculturalism and diversity, it is important to consider the relevance of drawing on one framework relevant to Anglophones in Canada. She goes on the explain that the adoption of legislation that protects individuals based on “gender identity” can assist transsexual and transgender people while they are victims of discrimination. Yet when this political program appeals the categories that have relevance only to English Canadians. She explains this type of activism is a form of imperialism. She states that with the demand that “we” use the term gender this activism functions as a means of transforming individuals who do not have English as a mother tongue into English Canadians. She continues to argue the use of certain terms is a direct implementation of imperialism by the US into non US territories.
Namaste concluded that careful examination of current transgender politics reveals the contradictions of the transgender movement. She explains how at first glance much health care and law reform secures some rights for individual transsexual and transgendered people, closer analysis illustrates that these programs impose certain cultural and economic understandings of the world, which in turn reflect certain national and ethnic values. Her essay demonstrated that imperialism is deeply imbedded in the consciousness, thinking and political action of many Anglophone transgendered people and their allies in North American, hence her encouragement of people taking a firm stand against transgender rights.
To all the readers out there, I apologize for the length of this blog but I thought it was difficult as the writer to summarize Namaste’s argument, and theories without delving into her case studies and quotes, they were key to understanding her overall idea and argument. On that note I thought Namaste does a excellent job of exposing the negative concepts of health care programs in the United States and elsewhere, and how unknowingly trans activists succumb to the dominant imperialist worldview, by simply not questioning or thinking about their statements or word choice. I think Namaste’s critical analysis is an important outlook to focus on, even though I did find her overall rejection of transgender rights activism to be a little off putting (I think we should still support transgender rights activism, but in the future focus on what we don’t say and the implication that causes) her writing was strong and she was extremely blunt in her statements, which allowed the reader to understand exactly what her thoughts were.
I’ve included some interesting links that relate to the article in some way: