Elevate Difference

Briarpatch Magazine: The Gender & Sexuality Issue (March/April 2009)

Edited by Dave Mitchell

At first glance, Canada's Briarpatch Magazine reminded me of American feminist magazine Bitch; the content is similar, the overall message is similar, and, hell, even the font in the logo seems similar. What I love about Bitch is that although it’s an American magazine, it covers issues from all over the world, so I can keep up on feminist issues all over just by checking in one place. Briarpatch does not cover such a distance, as it seems to be primarily a Canadian-focused magazine; however, I still learned a lot about some of Canada’s different subcultures.

This issue was billed as “the gender and sexuality issue,” so the topics covered were about polyamory, sex working and transsexual issues. First, I learned about Canada’s health care system in relation to transsexuals undergoing or wanting to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Unlike the United States, Canada has a government-funded health care system. It is apparently extremely difficult to get coverage for something such as this type of surgery. This was an interesting, in depth look at one man’s personal journey through this ordeal. It was inspiring, yet also sad with the hoops he had to jump through in order to become the gender he felt comfortable with.

Briarpatch also educated me about sex workers in Canada through an interview with Kara Gillies, co-founder of both the Canadian Guild for Erotic Labour and the former Toronto Migrant Sex Workers Advocacy Group. Gillies also does work for Maggie’s, an organization run by sex workers. Maggie’s includes all aspects of sex work in their attempts to advocate for these workers’ rights, such as individuals involved in pornography, phone sex workers, and dominatrixes, to name a few. It is Gillies' work with Maggie’s that is the primary focus of the article.

The most interesting thing I learned from this was that in Canada, the act of prostitution itself is actually not illegal and never was. What is illegal is negotiating for services in a public place or even somewhere that’s open to public viewing such as parked or moving cars or bars. So it’s fine to go and do the deed elsewhere but not to discuss anything such as protection, payment, or even specific services beforehand if it’s in a public area. But you also can’t technically go anywhere because your work site, if used for this purpose, could be classified as a ‘bawdy house’ and under the bawdy house law, that’s illegal too. In addition, if you participate in someone else’s activities, it falls under the procurement law. This means that you can’t do such things as advertise someone else’s services or even offer to protect them personally. But, again, the actual act of prostitution is totally legal!

This, too, was an inspiring although frustrating piece because while some of the facts were new to me, unfortunately, the overall story and public perception seems to be the same all over. On the whole, I enjoyed getting an in-depth look on another country’s struggles with the same issues as are faced in the United States, and Briarpatch was a very enjoyable read.

Written by: Jen Klee, September 6th 2009