Rupert Raj: Trans Activist Extraordinaire

Written on 08/19/2021
Maya Linsley

If any one person’s life calls for the making of a feature-length film, it is, without a doubt, that of trans activist and psychotherapist Rupert Raj.

Born in Ottawa in 1952, Rupert Raj is a pansexual and transgender man of East Indian and Polish descent. He began his own gender transition in 1971 at the age of 19 and has since risen to international prominence for his research and activism on behalf of the trans community.

When Raj was 16, his parents passed away in a car accident. After dropping out of high school, as a result, he checked himself into the hospital and began his transition, managing to do so two years before the legal minimum age at the time.

Among many other things, Raj is the founder of six organizations and 20 training workshops and presentations; the author of four clinical research papers; the editor of three consecutive journals and the recipient of several awards – all within the realm of trans health, community and legal rights.

In 1978, Raj founded the Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Transsexuals (FACT) to serve the trans and cross-dressing communities. The organization published Gender Review: a FACTual Journal from 1978 to 1982, after which Raj stepped out of his leadership role at FACT to focus on the specific needs of FTM (female-to-male) people.

He founded the Metamorphosis Medical Research Foundation (MMRF) in 1982 to research and develop alternatives to phalloplasty. At the same time, he founded Metamorphosis Magazine, which became the most important journal for FTMs at the time until MMRF’s closure in 1988.

Raj’s next project, Gender Worker, ran from 1988 to 1990 and existed to provide resources and networking to healthcare professionals who worked with the transgender community. Its joint newsletter was called Gender NetWorker.

With a prolific 12+ years of community work under his belt, Raj retired from the public sphere from 1990 to 1999 to recover from burnout. During this time, he stepped back from trans activism and assimilated temporarily into cishet society, re-emerging in 1999 to found the Trans-Men/FTM Peer-Support Group in Toronto.

In 2002, Raj founded RR Consulting – a home-based, private psychotherapy and consulting practice serving trans, genderqueer, intersex, and two-spirit individuals and their loved ones. In addition to therapeutic services, Raj assessed individuals’ readiness for hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery and delivered trans-focused training workshops on all aspects of gender identity and gender transitioning.

During this time, he also worked as a mental health counsellor at Sherbourne Health Centre (SHC) in Toronto. He retired from SHC in 2015.

In an interview, Raj said, “Growing up, I didn’t know the word ‘transsexual’ or ‘transgender’ – I thought I was the only person on the planet like me […] I just intuitively knew I should have been a boy.”

Of his work, he said, “It’s so gratifying to me to be a small part of this life-changing process for people […] I have a real sense of contentment and fulfillment in my personal life, my professional life [and] my activist life.”

Raj has published an international anthology of trans poetry and is the author of his own biography, entitled Dancing The Dialectic: True Tales of a Transgender Trailblazer.

Maya Linsley (she/her) is a Loran Scholar and undergraduate English major at the University of Victoria, where she also works as a digital humanities research assistant. An avid writer, reader, and lover of all things feline, Maya can usually be spotted biking across campus or lurking in the stacks at the library.

(Image Credit: Vimeo)