The thing about being out as transgender is that everyone—and I do mean everyone—thinks they can freely express an opinion about your identity, how well you “pass” for the gender with which you identify, and even your existence.
And they expect you to defend it. No, expect is the wrong word; they demand it.
Case in point, Dr. Rachel Levine. She’s the pediatrician who is the secretary of health for Pennsylvania. Her “steady, composed, data-driven approach” to the COVID-19 pandemic has won her widespread praise.
She’s also become the target of a torrent of online hate, in print and on the radio, and repeatedly called a man. Levine, a transgender woman, has for the most part ignored these small-minded, intolerant bigots.
“Don’t misgender me looooool all I see is a big fat dude in a blonde wig and dress”
“If it wants to identify as as female, I want to identify as a millionaire…”
“He misgenders himself putting on his mom’s hand-me-down dress every morning.”
The latest attack is an obvious attempt by a senior legal adviser to President Trump to distract attention away from the epic disaster that is this administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, Jenna Ellis, one of the bombastic blowhards who double as frequent Fox News mouthpieces and Trump surrogates, shared a stale story from May.
“This guy is making decisions about your health,” Ellis tweeted, accompanying a report that Levine had admonished a radio talk show host who repeatedly called her “sir,” and asked him to stop misgendering her.
Ellis’s tweet attracted more than 7,800 likes, 4,200 retweets and some 2,400 comments—most of them calling her out for transphobia and noting she was being reported to a Twitter for violating its terms of service. The platform is supposed to remove tweets that misgender trans people, and it’s really hit or miss; Ellis’ tweet remains on the site at the time of writing.
The widespread criticism of her words, however, was nice to see, as was the Human Rights Campaign’s swift condemnation of Ellis.
Ellis is hardly the only offender. A state lawmaker, a local official and countless other Pennsylvanians tweeting in their pajamas have painted Levine as a freak and a man in a dress and mocked her advice that wearing masks will flatten the curve of the ongoing and very deadly pandemic.
Last month, Levine decided it was time to address the onslaught, and in doing so she spoke for every trans person who just wants to do our jobs, to live and to love without having to defend our right to exist as the person we know ourselves to be. She said those slings and arrows aimed at her are actually hurting their neighbors.
“While these individuals may think that they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are, in fact hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffer directly from these current demonstrations of harassment,” she said at the start of one of her coronavirus media briefings. Then, she addressed her haters.
“Your actions perpetuate the spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, and specifically transgender individuals,” said Levine.
“To perpetuators and the perpetrators of these actions, if your apologies are sincere, then I accept them. But an apology is the beginning, not the end, of the conversation. As for me, I have no room in my heart for hatred, and frankly I do not have time for intolerance.”
Since we’re connected on social media, I reached out to Levine today after Ellis’s tweet, to ask how she copes with the never-ending wave after wave of mean tweets and other online bile. I myself find refuge in the arms of my children, my widow sisters—a group of nine girlfriends who accept me as just another single mom. I go for walks, and play with our dog.
I didn’t get a response, probably because she’s too busy saving lives.
Her office was kind enough to respond for her, and yep, she’s doing what she’s supposed to be doing.
“Dr. Levine is laser-focused on assisting Pennsylvanians in the midst of a national pandemic,” Department of Health Press Secretary Nate Wardle said in an email. “She does not have time for this nonsense.”
That’s a damn good retort; the kind of support trans Americans need right now, more than ever.
We have an ongoing military ban with one exception that we know of; we have the federal government weighing in to stop trans student athletes from competing in at least two states, one of which now has a law on the books to do just that. We have a president whose supporters are launching a new campaign to get him re-elected based on fear that children are being abused by being allowed to transition.
And after a year in which at least 27 trans Americans, most of them women of color, were murdered, the death toll this year stands at 26, and it’s only August.
Calling any of us women “men” is an act of violence.