Mercedes Allen

Lu's Womyn-Born-Womyn-Only Policy: The Ongoing Discussions

Filed By Mercedes Allen | August 04, 2009 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Canada, Jamie Lee Hamilton, Vancouver

On July 6th, I noted the story of Lu's: A Pharmacy for Women, operated by the Vancouver Women's Health Collective (VWHC) , and noted how the Vancouver pharmacy's policy to serve only "women who were born as women and live as women" excluded anyone transsexual or of transsexual history. At that point, I'd recommended opening dialogue as a first step solution. After some initial protests and media attention, that dialogue has begun, involving several advocates. The outcome is still uncertain, but two things that are becoming apparent are that 1) both sides want to talk, and 2) no one wants to see a valuable resource for women close -- they only wish to see only the reassessment of a bad policy.

Lu's is currently screening people via a locked door, something that began after a public protest on the 11th. A visual inspection and a short discussion must be passed before a person is allowed admittance to the pharmacy. There is no signage about the womyn-born-womyn only policy -- it is not needed in these circumstances.

Tuesday July 7th

On the day Lu's opened, Shannon Blatt entered and expressed support for the concept of Lu's and that she wished to move her prescriptions to the pharmacy. A discussion of the women-born-women policy followed.

Full text was recorded at the Facebook Group site:

I continued that the 'women born women" policy was something that I had hoped to ask about on coming to the pharmacy, because I had read online that the pharmacy would only serve "women born women." She confirmed that it is their policy, and went on to state that she felt they had been very open and up-front about the policy. I politely challenged that, noting that it was not at all clear on the web site for Lu's or for VWHC. She replied that one had to review VWHC's "political agreements" on the web site.

At about that point, I asked if there might be a willingness to engage in dialogue with trans people about the "women born women" policy. She indicated that there would be an openness to that, but reiterated that they had considered the matter carefully before enacting the policy. I indicated that I was pleased that they were willing to engage in dialogue, because I did not want to see women and communities becoming polarized as they had during the Nixon litigation.

She invited me inside, and we sat at a couple of chairs in the front waiting area (which was empty, save for one staff member behind the counter.) She began to tell me about how VWHC had considered the issue of whether to only serve "women born women", and had concluded that their focus and emphasis was very much centred on women's physiology, the physiology of "women born women", including in particular issues like "bleeding" (which I understood to mean menstruation) and reproductive health. She told me that they had concluded that they simply did not have the expertise or knowledge to serve trans women.

I was somewhat incredulous, but politely asked whether she was saying that a pharmacist who dispenses medications prescribed by physicians, would be incapable of dispensing medications to trans women. She replied that "it's not just that."

We continued our conversation in a mutually courteous manner. She told me that the VWHC had engaged in extensive consultations when developing its policy and approach. I asked her if trans women had been included in those consultations. She replied in the affirmative and left me with the impression that more than one trans person may have been consulted, but she only specifically mentioned there being one person, a trans woman that spoke to them as part of the consultation process in the course of their policy formation. She did not identify the trans woman and I did not ask her to do so.

She went on a bit more about how they had really carefully considered the policy and they wanted to work side by side with trans women, but that they just didn't have the expertise. She indicated that "The Centre" (which I understand to have been recently re-named "Q-munity") does fine work for trans people. I indicated to her that I was not "in transition" and didn't need assistance with transition per se, but only with the dispensing of prescriptions. She replied that she understood, and that the trans woman they had consulted with was of similar status.

I asked her if Van City and UBC were aware of the "women born women" exclusive policy of the pharmacy. She replied in the affirmative both verbally and by nodding emphatically.

I indicated that I hoped to avoid confrontation and polarization. She very clearly indicated a desire to avoid any sort of confrontation on these issues. I was left feeling that the invitation to dialogue had been accepted, but I was also very much of the impression that her mind was not terribly open to the possibility of changing the policy.

The latter paragraph occurred as they parted ways. Shannon concludes:

I am very hurt by the experience of being denied services by Lu's Pharmacy, and have felt very sad and emotionally wounded by the experience, despite knowing full well that I might face it when I decided to visit the pharmacy to verify the reports that it intended to refuse to serve trans women. I am surprised at how hurt I feel, at how very "second class" it has made me feel as a woman. I believe this bespeaks the very damaging nature of such policies for those who are on the receiving end of the exclusion. While I myself am not a resident of the downtown east side, the policy of Lu's Pharmacy causes me to have a particular and very considerable concern for trans women in the DTES who are addicts, recovering addicts, sex workers and otherwise street involved, and who would benefit from the services provided by Lu's as much as any other woman in the area it serves.

Saturday July 11th

Since this occurred, Vancouver activists organized a protest of the pharmacy. A group called the Femininjas intended to observe an attempt to fill a prescription, but the pharmacy had heard about the plans, and changed their hours in order to close that day. The Femininjas have since abandoned this and released an open letter inviting dialogue. VWHC has voiced objection to the letter, expressing that all dialogue must happen behind closed doors.

So while the pharmacy remained closed, activists staged a protest outside. Contrary to reportage, I'm hearing that the protesters were a mix of trans and cisgender people, and that we definitely have allies in Vancouver. This is encouraging, since the rifts caused by Nixon v. RR had cut deeply in previous years.

Monday July 13th

VWHC Executive Director Caryn Duncan responded to the press:

"We are an organization that has for almost 40 years supported women around their battle with breast cancer or unwanted pregnancy or delivering a baby with a midwife, [and] celebrating or dealing with menopause," Duncan said. "It's about bleeding--or wanting to bleed or not bleed. It's about being a woman, and the physiology of being a woman."

Of course, hormone therapy for transfemales has some clear and definite parallels if not outright similarities to menopausal HRT. Breast cancer and menopausal occurrences are also things we can be susceptible to. Where we would need a pharmacy most, Lu's would in fact be equipped to help. The insistent difference remains centered around menstrual and reproductive physiology, with the opinion that the pharmacy is simply not able to help anyone outside those requirements.

While I was reporting this in the comments on the previous article, I received an email from a woman of trans history, critical of the opposition to the policy and claiming that we're demonstrating "obvious male privilege" by "stamping your feet and demanding admittance." This is in in spite of the fact that her own operative history disqualifies her as a woman in the eyes of the policy. It seems that it is not only cisgender women who defend such thinking. It's also curious how quickly a desire for rights and recognition -- that can be recognized as such for anyone else -- can quickly be construed as "male privilege" as soon as it comes from someone who is trans (and that seems to work for both MTF and FTM folks).

Tuesday July 14th

Jamie Lee Hamilton was refused service when she went to fill a prescription. According to the Facebook Group where it was first reported, a staff member referred to Lu's as a health clinic rather than a pharmacy. The Georgia Straight reported the incident, noting that there was a suggestion from VWHC to start a trans-specific pharmacy (presumably in a different location?) and that Ms. Duncan commented: "I have felt that people are employing intimidation tactics, and it's hurtful to me personally." Hamilton and Duncan agreed to meet again on Thursday the 16th to discuss the matter before proceeding further. Discussion seemed to go well, and another meeting was arranged.

Wednesday July 22nd

Femininjas, Kim Nixon, Melady Preece, and representatives from Qmunity, WISH, Battered Women's Support Services, RainCity Housing, PRISM, Women Against Violence Against Women and Dancing to Eagle met with VWHC. Brooklyn Zelenka, who attended the meeting, related new information regarding how things are progressing. More details could occur at the Femininjas website.

"I hope that this information sparks a productive and useful discussion. The bottom line is that no one wants to see Lu's close. It is a very important, and much needed space. I hope that we can find a solution that ensures that this pharmacy stays open and flourishes."

"Prompted as to how they will determine who is transgendered and who is cisgendered (non-trans), the VWHC said that they are being practical about the situation and that sadly it is very much based on appearance. They restated this a handful of times over the course of the ensuing conversation. They also did verify that the door is locked, and that people need to pass a visual inspection."

Qmunity, Vancouver's LGBT centre, has offered to train VWHC's pharmacist with regards to transfemale pharmaceutical and medical issues. There seemed (to meeting attendees) to be some receptivity, and the VWHC has promised to discuss this possibility internally.

Qmunity, incidentally, was asked about a LGBT-specific clinic operated by Vancouver Coastal Health, the Three Bridges Community Health Centre that was developed in the wake of the closing of the gender clinic in Vancouver. They responded that the Three Bridges clinic does not turn people away if they do not identify as LGBT (which is borne out by their literature).

Battered Women's Social Services also discussed their own pro-trans policy and how it has been working. They reminded that women-only spaces are not completely safe, as violence can occur between women, and attributing menace specifically to transwomen is a straw argument.

Due to vacations, further discussion is slated to happen in the second or third week of September.


I also need to issue a clarification: in the original article, I'd interpreted the "woman born as a woman and living as a woman" clause in their "Political Agreements" page as meaning that transmen would also be refused service. Vancouver Women's Health Collective, which operates Lu's has said that this would not be the case, and that they would help transmen, specific to areas of reproductive health, on a case-by-case basis. According to the VWHC, while the policy was being drafted, one of their members began to transition to male, although later stopping. This period of time had caused the VWHC to reassess the policy with regard to transmen.

It has also been brought forward that although the storefront reads "Lu's: A Pharmacy for Women," "Lu's..." is not a legal entity. The VWHC, which operates the pharmacy, considers it a brand, a service that the VWHC offers. To this end, there is no business licensing required as it's operated by a charity, and on a legal standpoint, is viewed differently from a business denying goods and services to a group of people.

As It Stands

The long and short of it is that while things have remained civil thus far and people wish to continue discussion, there appears to have been little movement on VWHC's part to question the policy, aside from a promise to discuss possible pharmacist training. There has been some speculation that the womyn-born-womyn policy may even have been a condition in making Lu's financially possible somewhere along the line, but that has to be taken as speculation at this time.

The code of ethics set by the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia states that "A pharmacist's commitment to the patient's care must be sensitive to, but not prejudiced by, factors such as the patient's race, religion, ethnic origin, social or marital status, gender, sexual orientation, age, or health status." So while the Nixon v. Rape Relief case may have enabled charitable organizations to discriminate against transsexuals, there is another authority concerned about the issue. Complaints have not been made to the College however, partly due to the desire in the community to impress a change in policy (and not to obliterate the clinic), and partly due to the new screening policy which ensures that transwomen cannot access the pharmacist.

In the meantime, the feeling has been growing that the VWHC has been stalling and simply hoping for the controversy to dwindle, although the people involved in the discussions are remaining optimistic. But supporters continue to voice their support for an inclusive policy while commending the rest of the VWHC's vision, and have been contacting local trans-inclusive womens' charities and support resources, asking them to consider doing the same.

[email protected]

Vancouver Women's Health Collective
29 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC, V6B 1G4

Crossposted to DentedBlueMercedes

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In their defense......where do you draw the line?

I can tell you from experience, it's impossible simply because where ever it's drawn, it absolutely will not be respected in short order

That leave out and out no........and make the occasional exception on a case by case basis relying on the fact that women can tell who is a woman.

Sounds like that is exactly what they are doing.

Hi -- on drawing the line, well...

I think that at *woman* would be enough.

Trying to define "woman" based on asinine things like "appearance" or something utterly stupid like genital arrangement or upbringing will, in the end, leave women out of it.

After all, its long been known that no woman is born such. I doubt their mothers would put up with the 18 year long pregnancy.

Might sound joking, but I'm absolutely serious.

Where do you draw the line? How 'bout at self-identity? Gay support groups and health clinics don't demand an accounting of a person's sexual history before unilaterally deeming them "sufficiently gay" to participate. Why are women's groups constantly trying to create artificial boundaries around who is "woman enough" to be considered a woman? Seriously, how many men do you know that WANT to be viewed as women? It's not like they're lining up around the block, ya' know?

actually quite a few do......and thus the problem

I have not been privy to the ongoing discussions. The last I knew, there would be another discussion in September. I really wonder, though, just what there is to discuss in all that time. The reasons the VWHC states for not serving trans women are poor attempts to hide the fact that they don't think trans women are in fact women. I wish they would just come out and say it, because everyone knows they're thinking it. And I'm never big on pussyfooting around hypocrisy.

one draws the line directly at their own policy to support women.
Now they are saying it is they who can decided, even though legally it is the government who make amendments and registers records of birth, including one's femaleness or maleness.
Sort of like saying we have an of colour clinic, just not those from south east Asia or of mixed heritage.

One either does or it does not, there is no in between.

twinkie1cat | August 5, 2009 12:56 AM

First of all nobody in the GLBT community has any business discriminating against any other member. This brings back the stereotype that lesbians hate men.

Second, it seems to be this project is a special effort to discriminate against transwomen, the group within the community that has been the most discriminated against----even to the ENDA bill not including them and its writers trying to placate the "girls" by saying they could be included later. The trans community is very tough. Many members are poor and under educated because of the discrimination they have suffered and have nothing but their dignity and pride in being who they are. The community needs the transpeople. They are bold and proud and don't care who knows it.

As for transmen, the movie "Southern Comfort" needs to be reviewed once more. It is the story of a transman who had ovarian cancer that was too advanced to be cured before he could find a gynecologist who would treat him. A transman is still genetically a woman and has the same medical issues as other women.

It is time and past time to stop hating on the transwomen. After all they were the ones with enough fortitude to stand up to the cops at the Stonewall Rebellion. Has the community forgotten its roots like the black children who see MLK only as a historical figure?

Discrimination will bog down civil rights for the GLBT community. It already has. It is time to put aside the petty differences of race and who you like to have sex with, stop being COMMUNITIES and start being A COMMUNITY! And for a transwoman to be able to go to a pharmacy where she can get counseling about her hormones and not be embarrassed or risk running into one who won't give her what she needs for religious reasons is intensely life affirming.

So, let me get this right. The organization VWHC wishes to serve only cisgender women with pharmaceutical needs, correct? But, realized that policy was..awkward...when one of their own members decided to transition and so made exceptions. It is obvious to me that the problem isn't with trans-folk generally, but with transwomen specifically. Regardless of the good the organization may be doing, their actions and policies are bigoted and the organization needs to be called out on those policies. I don't deny that various churches do some good in the world, but neither do I hesitate to point out that those churches are also responsible for a lot of bigoted actions against the lgbt community.

Thank you, Mercedes, for your advocacy with these people. It sounds like VWHC Executive Director Caryn Duncan said it all: "It's about being a woman." Her condemnation of all trans women as something other than women embodies the defamatory stereotypes hurled at us by Janice Raymondites and religious extremists combined.

Moreover, she maligned all transmen as something other than men by subsuming them under a label of "women who were born as women and live as women."

This is bigotry, this is intolerance, pure and simple. I thank transadvocates and allies who continue to protest this injustice, and I hope major donors to this nonprofit will reconsider their support of transphobia and denial of access to health care.

This is bigotry, this is intolerance, pure and simple. I thank transadvocates and allies who continue to protest this injustice, and I hope major donors to this nonprofit will reconsider their support of transphobia and denial of access to health care.

I debated answering this but what the hell, so I get banned in another venue.

This is a sterling example of the problem and making it worse. Immediate accusations and charges. Ever once consider that when this groups says it had a long discussion about these policies that might be literally true? Nope, in trans activism any limit, any denial of demands is transphobic.....

By nature most women understand compromise and consensus building on a gut level. I won't speculate whether or not this is socialized or neurological or even that you find some exceptions, but overall, it's true.

For about ten years now the response to any limits on any trans identified person from crossdresser to post corrected has been immediate, loud, forceful accusations of bigotry. What has it got you? Let's be realistic, it has got you a re-birth of the WBW movement that in 95 was all but totally dead but now reborn with an entirely new generation of women.

I was one of you! I was a fierce trans advocate. Today, I won't even debate WBW policies with them because today, I agree with a lot of their arguments having been exposed to a level of, out on display, gynophobia and mysogyny and out and out male entitlement it's actually hard to find elsewhere!

No compromises on bathrooms, none on showers even. No respect for any woman's group that wishes to stay focused on women's issues and not be diverted to trans ones. Any random tranny feels slighted (unless they are a post corrected women such as myself) and rally the troups! To war! Invade!

Are any of you capable of letting go of your me me me outlook and actually seeing how this appears to women from the outside?

No answers here, but don't count me as part of your shock troops.

You all sound so enlightened and such but reality is something entirely different.

There was a recent discussion among a number of women long time post corrected and one subject was how we are unable to set up any venue for ourselves without invasion......almost immediately. As women, we try to accommodate but before long we are leaving, one by one as the group becomes something else. Leaving the groups we started!

I've had this problem with Pagan women's groups, I've had this problem with weekend women's retreats. I've had this problem trying to house post-transitioned women.
Set a line and it is immediately ignored and your objective is wiped out. Set up a group online or 3D for women, set limits and you are pushed, bullied, and attacked. If the trans communities were capable of basic respect of others, the thread from two days ago would not have happened.

I know this is not something anyone wishes to discuss, but I understand completely how these women feel and I am sympathetic. At least in part, Raymond was right.

The respect issue is vital if anyone is going to accept you rather than tolerate you but it is one topic that never can be even brought up.

The trans communities cannot even extend basic respect of identity to those they claim as their own, the post corrected. Do you seriously think this isn't part of the equation with non-trans women when inclusion is discussed? You all need to clean up your own house first and you aren't even close.

"Reality" is what surrounds all of us, and we are all sharing the same one.

It is our perceptions of it that differ.

There is the *practical* aspect, which is what you are trying to speak to, and you you would have some value were it not for the problem of the structure of social gender

yes, I understand I offer nothing of value to you, so adieu to you too.....

Here's my response to Kelly Winters.
First of all you may be happy with being discriminated against, though your papers and actions you have been involved in say different, but many of us out there don't.
The long discussions they speak about are the issues around the inclusion and human rights case of years ago about not permitting a woman of transexed history to be a part of their supportive collective, providing much needed support for women, all, who have faced various forms of abuse.

They aren't speaking about whether their pharmacist can support the women entering the premise, pharmacists are after all experts on medications and the contra indications of medications with others.

Nor is this issue one which a woman is going to be taking a shower so including that nonsense in your arguement just helps to muddy the issue and not stay on track.

The issue here is about an area on Vancouver where many, as I have already said before, street active low income people, along with others, live. In this area pharmacies are run as armed camps and the dangers to all women, not just those lucky enough to have all their body parts correct at birth, are known. Never mind the dangers to that woman of transexed history who may be outed because of the less then private many the armed camp pharmacies operate.

As for the me me me thing you speak of. Just how, pry tell, does one go about gain basic rights without the focus on one's own issues they face? Are you suggesting no one should work for issues that face them and the community they live in? If such then you are also saying that it should be up to others to then decide what is good for that community and vise versa. We see how well that has worked in the past, slavery, women with no rights, people who are gay being tossed in prison because of their orientation.
No that way never works, so the me me me thing you speak of is a typical response by those who disagree with one's view but have no other form of reasonable response.

As you can read in the article the first woman who attempted to gain service there was extremely polite, even though her rights were being trampled upon. She, and the article does not point this out, had just moved into the general area from another province.

There have been no one looking for "shock troops" as you put it. That may be your way of thinking but again by the article you can see that isn't what is going n here. Seems you are confusing your way of thinking and doing this, be it past or present, which how others try and create change.

It was me, not Kelly Winters you should address.

Re: transheretic

What about human, basic rights? What about equa; treatment? Can they be brought up?
I agree one can not make another respect another, there are many people I do not respect but rather I accept that they are who they are, be they right wingers, bigots etc. It's something I learned long ago becuase being a person of colour that's the world we live in.


Are you suggesting everyone in the community of people who are TS/TG cannot/does not respect each other?
But lets look at other communities for a shininy example shall we, just to add to my point. People who are L/G not all want or believe in marriage and some are veimently vocal against those who do.
Or every year I read some stupid man who thinks the women should not have a dyke march.
Lets get broarder shall we. What about religious communities that continue to claim they and not the other is the best? How about the hatered I and many have livd in our lives by people not of colour? Or wars around the world created by one country against another because they disagree with each other's politics/policies? We both know I could go on here.

Yep so many shinny examples showing how everyone else in the world agree and get along with each other showing such respect for the other, if only those dam people who are TS/TG would show the same thing.


Gee sounds like YOU have a lot of problems, poor dear sounds like someone needs to do some work to fix all those self problems.

actually, the only real negatives in my life today come from trans contact......I'm in the process of writing a blog entry about that and signing off all trans contact since I clearly have nothing of worth to offer you.

I found this link rather interesting considering it was created by one of those posting negatively here.

Ed Note: The quoted material has been removed. It was the entire post and not fair use. I've left the link so folks can go read it themselves.

That is copywritten material.....moderators, please remove as no permission was asked for or given which would require at minimum the full text and copywrite notice.

I agree with you Cathryn. It was the entire post and not a fair use clip. I've removed it, but left the link so folks can visit your site to read it instead.

thank you Bil.......I have no objections to anyone linking my material but I do protect my copyrights because of incidents long in the past.

"copyright 2004, Cathryn Platine. All rights reserved. This page may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any electronic or print media without the express written permission of the copyright holder."

What part of that (and the date) didn't you get?

Once something is published, it is legally considered copyrighted by the author, except or until the author sells or gives that to someone else. One doesn't have to register a copyright for it to be legally recognized.

Transheretic wrote:
"In their defense......where do you draw the line?"

Well, in this case, the VWHC drew the line ("women who were born as women and live as women"), and then already made exceptions regarding transmen on a case-by-case basis. As with functioning collectives, attitudes and opinions will differ and the following may not even be a majority opinion, but it is an opinion with some sway: some allow this exception to be made because they refuse to acknowledge transmale identities, and instead insist that they're women. In the same way that this contingent continues to insist that transsexual females are men.

While I don't begrudge transmen the fact that Lu's may help them, one has to admit that where the line is currently drawn is still an imperfect measure.

And you and I disagree....

My identity is woman, my sympathies lie there as well.

I do in fact identify as a woman, but a woman who has been defined by birth as transsexual and for whom transness has been a shaping factor. That's the thing that you don't understand: you feel it's one or the other, but for me, they're intertwined: each has directly influenced the other. Probably over time, trans anything will be less a factor, as with many I've known, but for now, I can't forget or pretend that it doesn't exist in my life.

Your self-identification is irrelevant. It's others' identification and classification of you that's the issue here.

I get it. You've moved on. Good for you. I have as well. But, in the eyes of others who know your past, you're (almost always) viewed as just another tranny queer.

You seem to have separated yourself from others in the broad trans-community because some may not be "real transwomen" or have HBS or be like you. Good luck on all that.

While I don't begrudge transmen[sic] the fact that Lu's may help them, one has to admit that where the line is currently drawn is still an imperfect measure."

Yep, it's entirely imperfect. There are ongoing conversations within communities of trans folks and among trans men specifically (which need to happen more) about these lines, and about what responsibility trans men have (or don't have) in creating and maintaining, crossing or respecting these lines. Those conversations will hopefully continue.

When all women can freely access this womens pharmacy, and when and if the women there decide to offer services to trans men, it could be up for discussion. But to have it on the table before the place even opened? Before trans women were so welcomed? Entirely predictable, but gross.

To support this current "inclusion" (sketchy and unworkable as it is) disrespects trans men, it certainly disrespects trans women, and it's trans women who suffer for it.

What we're seeing isn't unusual historically. I've mentioned the rift between GLB and Ts in the past, and the way the lesbian community ejected those who "encouraged bad stereotypes" (butch/femmes, anyone remotely engaged in porn or sex work) in the politically-correct '80s. We also see a parallel in skin privilege, where "whiter" people were willing to trade for positions of partial authority by turning a blind eye to the discriminatory machine itself that affected sisters / brothers and other races. Right now, some sense a chance at legitimacy by ejecting and vilifying others.

That's not to say the differences don't exist, but there's a fear and distaste toward those differences, and a willingness to use them to "other" others.

I still believe that there may be a common thread, varying in intensity, that unites more under the transgender umbrella than exclusively "classic transsexuals." However, even if I'm wrong, it's just not ethically right for the marginalized to participate in marginalization of others, whether or not they understand them.

My "distaste" is built on experiences......

One day you will change your mind and I will welcome you to womanhood without boundaries.

and with this, bid you adieu

WOW, Ya walk in and there are no customers at all.

For a customer to get survice they need to pass a visual inspection which some of those women may fail. Oh yeah, that really instils comfort into a customer.

I take it that they only serve those women who are afraid to use the 'regular' pharmacy?

wow.... all for 'bleeding'? Come on, there has to be at least one more store in all of Vancouver that can sell tampons to 12 year olds.

Sounds like a utter failure to me. Y'all should ask for an accounting of how many scrips have been filled since its opened because such a closed place can not build up a customer base of sustainable size and they're just wasting money.