Ido Katri is a doctoral candidate in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law and the Collaborative Program in Sexual Diversity Studies, as well as a fellow at the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies.
Before coming to Toronto, he co-founded the Gila Project for Trans Empowerment, a grassroots action group and NGO that works to better the life chances of gender-variant persons by emphasizing self-empowerment, exercising of legal rights and demanding of access to resources and opportunities. He has also worked as a human rights litigant at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, an NGO located in Tel Aviv that is devoted to securing the freedom of movement for residents of Gaza.
Katri’s doctoral thesis is a legal ethnographic project aimed at documenting the rise of the right for gender self-determination. In particular, he’s interested in how state law reinforces gender categories in ways that privilege some and not others, such as racialized trans people who, as a result, suffer higher rates of poverty, joblessness, homelessness and incarceration.
BH: Tell us a bit about your PhD research.
IK: My project focuses on the current emergence of trans rights across the country and in other legal systems around the world. It is an attempt to capture the becoming of a new kind of individual human right for gender selfdetermination. I think a lot about the gaps between how the law understands trans needs and actual lived experiences. Moreover, recognizing that the law itself plays a vital part in the distribution of life chances, my project asks: How can the law protect one’s access to resources and opportunities while accounting for its own role in systemic exclusion? To understand these questions, I must engage both with traditional legal sources, such as legislation documents and tribunal proceedings, and with the people most affected by these legal arrangements, who are the marginalized community members fighting multi-layered exclusion. That is, trans people who are not “only trans” but also racialized, criminalized, poor and non-able-bodied.
BH: What are you discovering through your research?
IK: I am exploring the idea of gender self-determination. This concept has yet to be explored within legal scholarly writing, so this is some really exciting terrain for me. I started out by trying to map the current global wave of pro- and anti-trans legislation and jurisprudence. In almost any country you look at, there has been a legal discussion regarding gender-variant experience. In the last few years, across Canada, we are witnessing a surge of trans-positive legal developments of all sorts, from anti-discrimination laws like the proposed federal Bill C-16, to reforms to gender reclassification procedures in most provinces. Yet, in the USA, with bills like NC HB 2, we see a backlash against gender variant communities.
I try to look at threads that go throughout these intense legal fluctuations, and think that they all have something to do with sovereignty over gender. I am tracing the lines between seemingly unrelated cases, connecting them to a wider struggle for the right to self-determination. I believe we are witnessing yet another shift to one of the most basic categories of law, the category of sex in which the power to decide over gender, for better or worse, is moving from the state to individuals.
BH: What role does your legal background prior to coming to the University of Toronto play in your current research?
IK: For almost 10 years, I have been working as a trans advocate, lawyer and scholar in Israel/Palestine. I represented trans clients and worked with Israeli state officials in designing gender-positive policies. Working within the community as a lawyer, I learned firsthand that the law never captures the heterogeneity of gender variant experiences; it systemically fails to reflect the fact that one gendered experience and identity practice cannot be detached from other forces that shape one’s social world. (I feel like I’m repeating myself.)
As a lawyer representing transgender people on legal issues relating to their trans status, including medical confidentiality, employment discrimination, child custody and police brutality, I learned how the law only acknowledges a narrow spectrum of experiences and practices. I was forced to bring to court only limited aspects of the intricate system of circumstances that shaped my clients’ exclusion because the law could only contemplate their narrative using its own dichotomous legal categories. My work as a researcher is focused on identifying the violence perpetuated by legal categories which I believe are at the root of many human rights violations.
BH: How do your personal experiences as a transgender person influence your research?
IK: I try not to talk about myself, because my research is not about me. I really do try to centre the voices of those who do not enjoy the access to resources and opportunities I enjoy as a Trudeau Scholar and doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto. I would say that being a trans person with Syrian-Jewish ancestry, I had to overcome many systemic obstacles to reach my current position. I, too, have suffered from acts of transphobia, such as job discrimination and physical violence, yet I was privileged enough to overcome these obstacles. This has made me a scholar who is very much committed to the communities I come from, and to linking theory and practice in order to better the life chances of others.
Interview by Barrett Hooper
Ido Katri outside the Jackman Law Building. He is a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and Vanier Canada scholar. Photo: Jackie Shapiro