GUEST COLUMN / Pharmacy designed to serve women only serves some
Amy Fox / Vancouver / Thursday, August 13, 2009
If someone opened up a posh health centre in a poor neighbourhood, I’d be wary but hopeful.
If they installed heavy security to keep out queers, I’d be angry.
But if someone tried to tell me this fusion of gentrification and rigid
gender roles was “feminism in action,” I’d look around for Sacha Baron
Cohen because clearly this would be the next sequel to Borat and Brüno.
I haven’t found any cameras, which means that Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women isn’t a practical joke after all.
Rather it’s a business project of the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective.
Located at 29 W Hastings St, Lu’s opened its remote-locked door and
internal steel gates on Jul 7 with plans to provide women’s health care
services… to some.
The first problem is that Lu’s holds a “women-born-women” policy. This means that you must have been “born a woman” to enter.
My first thought upon hearing this was “I don’t know about you, but I was born a baby.”
What Lu’s means is that the obstetrician who first laid eyes on you had
to say “it’s a girl.” If not, you’re not a real woman and you never can
In other words, according to their policy, transsexual women are not
allowed in their women-serving pharmacy. Nor are intersexed women
(women born with “ambiguous genitalia” who were subject to involuntary
and crude “corrective” surgeries.)
Lu’s will, however, help men who have changed sex from female to male.
While the medical system has shed enough sexism to realize that you
can’t always predict someone’s future from their baby genitals, the
Vancouver Women’s Health Collective has yet to grasp that biology is
Why the policy? Even though transsexual and intersexed women face
discrimination as women, and despite their lack of access to safe
health care, the collective claims that these women lack the necessary
experience to participate in women’s health.
I wasn’t aware that “experience” was a prerequisite to health care. The next time I go for a flu shot, should I bring a resume?
Lu’s also claims a lack of expertise in trans health. This is bunk.
There is little to no difference in health care needs between
transsexual women and any other woman with a hysterectomy. Ear
infections, breast cancer, sexually transmitted infections and
osteoporosis don’t care what you look like. And intersexed women can
share all the same health needs as women assigned female at birth.
If the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective allowed intersexed and
transsexual women to join, they’d already know this. But they don’t,
and so the ignorance and marginalization continues.
The second problem is that Lu’s relies on a visual inspection to decide who was or was not “born a woman.”
That means that when you try to enter Lu’s, someone behind the
remote-controlled door and sliding steel cage gives you the eye and
decides whether you’re woman enough.
Are you too butch? Too andro? A scotswoman with a wee facial scruff?
Tall? Big? Deep-voiced? Muscled? Hairy? No matter your birth
certificate, you might have to stay outside.
The third problem is that Lu’s keeps this policy semi-secret. They
don’t post it on their window, they hide it on their website, and it’s
absent when they ask you for donations. Why? They must know that if
they made it public they’d lose support. So they ask transsexual and
intersexed women to distribute and enforce this policy themselves and
not go where they’re not wanted.
Even if you choose not to support this policy, you’re already paying
them money. Last year, the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective got more
than $92,000 from the three levels of government. MSP will subsidize
prescriptions at Lu’s. And if you bank at Vancity, your business is
backing up their $50,000 grant.
But there is hope. Pretty much every other feminist organization in
Vancouver understands that homophobia, misogyny and transphobia are
three faces of the same beast. They are organizing and calling out the
collective on its gender-conformist policies.
And rather than moving to shut Lu’s down, they are pushing for change and even offering to help in making the transition.
Will Lu’s listen? Influential members of the Vancouver Women’s Health
Collective have a history of stalling internal attempts at reform until
their volunteers leave or shut up. But this time it’s not a few members
agitating from within but an organized coalition of local feminists.
Maybe those frustrated allies within the collective will join in making
change and we’ll see new policies. Or maybe the collective will sit
there, act defensive and lose every ally and customer it has.
In my mother’s generation, many “women’s” advocacy organizations
excluded bi and lesbian women. Most changed, and benefited for it.
Others dwindled and were forgotten. Will Lu’s learn from their example
and join the 21st century?