Why some French-speaking non-binary people don't seek treatment in their language

The use of gender in the French language is intertwined — so much so that some French-speaking gender non-binary people in Windsor-Essex feel uncomfortable accessing services in their first language, forcing them to seek services in English instead.

'There are no 'they/them' qualifications that are equivalent in French'

Alexander Reid says that health care and other services can be challenging to access in French for non-binary people, because gender-neutral language is not commonly used in French. (Floriane Bonneville/Radio-Canada)

The use of gender in the French language is intertwined — so much so that some French-speaking gender non-binary people in Windsor-Essex feel uncomfortable accessing services in their first language, forcing them to seek services in English instead.

In English, non-binary people usually identify with pronouns "they" or "them," but in French, where gendered words are a much more integral part of the language, it can be more of an issue.

Alexander Reid is the vice-president of W.E. Trans Support, an organization for trans people in Windsor. He provides French services at the centre. 

"When it comes to gender non-binary people wanting to use the French language to access health services or mental health services for example, it can be much more difficult for them to feel respected and adequately addressed," he said. 

"There are no 'they/them' qualifications that are equivalent in French. We do have some gender non-binary language that have been introduced in the past decade or so, but most people don't know how to use it."

'Too complicated in French' 

He's referring to the neutral French pronoun "iel," which he explained was recently integrated into the language by the transgender population.

A group of volunteers at Windsor's W.E. Trans Support. (Floriane Bonneville/Radio-Canada)

He said that not only do professionals or the general public not know how to use this gender-neutral language, many don't even know that it exists.

Vincent Mousseau, a trans person, activist, academic, and Francophone from Ontario who now lives in Montreal, identifies with this neutral pronoun. 

But they said it's difficult to find services in in French that can adapt to their identity. 

"Often, I end up taking the 'he' pronoun," they said, translated from French.

"Because it is too complicated in French."

Can make services 'uncomfortable'

According to Mousseau, trans discourses and non-binary identities are more accepted and recognized in the Anglophone world.

As a result of these barriers, many French-speaking non-binary people seek healthcare services in English instead, Reid explained. But even that can be problematic.

The language barrier often comes into play, he said, making it difficult to communicate their problems effectively to a health care professional. 

"It can make services really uncomfortable, really embarrassing, and oftentimes unsafe for trans people," he said. 

Hoping to educate

And it's not just a problem when seeking health care. 

Reid said he often hears from people who access French services at W.E. Trans Support that they feel uncomfortable speaking French with border services, police officers, government officials, because of these issues with gendered language.

Reid says he hopes that with adequate training, health care professionals and government workers will be able to better understand why gender neutral pronouns are important. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

The hope is that with adequate training, which is available through W.E. Trans Support, health care professionals and government workers will be able to better understand why gender neutral pronouns are so important, Reid said. 

"Because they already exist, these pronouns in French, we really need to just up the information available to these health care professionals so that they can learn to use them effectively and they can become more comfortable treating trans non-binary people with respect."

David Jensen, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said medical schools are responsible for educating students to improve services to LGBTQ communities.

He also mentioned that the department relies on organizations like the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to provide training for doctors.

A spokesperson for the college, Shae Greenfield, said the organization recognizes the importance of respecting the human rights of people, and that includes respect for pronouns.

However, Greenfield said the Ontario Medical Association has a better ability to address the issue. That's because the college's role is to contact all physicians directly.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Vincent Mousseau as "he."
    Jan 23, 2019 7:30 AM ET

With files from Floriane Bonneville and Afternoon Drive