The year ends on a familiar note: another controversy whipped up by those who would like to see trans people marginalized and discriminated against as much as possible.
Some parents of cisgender NCAA swimmers and their coaches have joined forces with anti-inclusion forces to demand the NCAA change its rules on eligibility for student-athletes because of the success of out UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas. They apparently feel trans athletes should be allowed to compete so long as they don’t win. One proposal is to restrict athletes from changing their gender after qualifying.
One USA Swimming official told the conservative outlet Washington Times she was so upset that the sport she had devoted three decades to was allowing “biological men to compete against women” that she quit in protest. “Everything fair about swimming is being destroyed,” Cynthia Millen wrote in her resignation letter, which left the US Paralympics Swimming National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, short one official. That’ll show ‘em!
Note to Ms. Millen: NCAA rules have permitted athletes like Thomas to compete for 11 years. It’s only now that one athlete is winning some meets and setting records that there’s this uproar.
Life for trans people right now can be a living hell, and yet, 10 months after asking when we will see our institutions make progress toward inclusion and acceptance, and telling President Joe Biden, “I am out of patience,” I have found a new supply of hope.
The Biden administration, which has already rolled back some of the prior administration’s anti-trans policies, this month announced a plan to institute new civil rights protections for transgender students by April; trans troops are now serving openly; and the International Olympic Committee has finally abandoned its dependence on testosterone as the sole determinant of trans female athlete participation, after the first-ever Olympic Games in which out trans athletes qualified to compete.
The first trans nonbinary gold medalist, Quinn, and New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, among others, gave sports journalist and out trans athlete Karleigh Webb a feeling of pride, power, and excellence, she told The Daily Beast.
“Another piece of that excellence: Christina Kahrl is the skipper setting the tone and tenor of the coverage as an executive editor of a sports section of a major daily newspaper in one of the nation’s largest sports markets,” Webb said. “All the things I saw as a trans person in 2021 leads to the most important thing for the future—hope.”
One might dare to think the future is bright.
Not so fast. The political and religious forces hell-bent on stopping inclusion in its tracks, in everything from sports to schools to healthcare, certainly are not giving up their hateful ways.
And that fact is exasperating, especially when, even in my own progressive slice of blue state Connecticut, some of my neighbors are up in arms over our schools affirming a curriculum that acknowledges differences. Of course, national conservative media make it sound like kindergartners are being indoctrinated on how to be transgender. The words “normal,” “deviants” and “ideology” are being hurled about, with the same level of venom employed by racists when they utter the N-word or talk about Muslims or Arabs. The rock these people used to live under was rolled away and cast aside during the Trump era.
Taking a wider view, there’s every indication that Republican-controlled legislatures, especially across the South, are gearing-up for a new round of anti-trans legislation to ban gender-affirming care and restrictions on trans student-athletes. The American Civil Liberties Union and Justice Department are preparing to fight this next wave, as well as to fight the laws passed in the last year.
And that means we end this year knowing we will spend 2022 in yet another fight for our existence. Damn, after everything we’ve been through just in the past 12 months, I am so very tired of fighting, but really: What other choice do we have?
We watched Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sen. Rand Paul follow the disgraceful, deadly insurrection with verbal attacks on LGBTQ Americans, especially on Dr. Rachel Levine, now an admiral and the assistant secretary of Health and Human Services. She’s the first out trans person to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate but, instead of being honored, she was treated shabbily in that process by Paul, among others. In the House, Greene called our pleas for Congress to pass the Equality Act “disgusting, immoral and evil.”
The Equality Act, despite our best hopes, looks dead in the water. Yet despite scolding and stripping of committees, Greene is still representing Georgia, going so far in February as to hang a sign across from the office of a Democratic colleague whose daughter is trans, declaring “There are TWO genders: MALE and FEMALE! ‘Trust the Science!’”
That kind of rhetoric echoed across state legislatures in 2021, copy/pasted by lawmakers who got their playbook from the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Heritage Foundation. As of May, more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 33 state legislatures across America; More than 120 focused on restricting trans rights, particularly in healthcare and access to sports. And of the 23 anti-LGBTQ bills that were passed into law, bans on trans student-athletes are now on the books in ten states.
In April, a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit seeking to ban trans athletes from competing with cisgender girls and women in Connecticut. Now, anti-inclusion forces want the NCAA to change its rules on eligibility for student-athletes because of the success of out UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas. Parents and coaches apparently feel trans athletes are allowed to compete so long as they don’t win.
Other hateful headlines of 2021 are filled with right-wing anger over the evolution of beloved cultural touchstones, reflecting a shift from outdated racist and sexist expressions, from Dr. Seuss to Mr. Potato Head. Outrage at acclaimed books about gender like All Boys Aren’t Blue have led to these works being labeled pornography in Texas and Ohio.
I would, in the past, have cracked-up at such ridiculous extremist religious propaganda, but I haven’t really been able to enjoy a good laugh since being told that I couldn’t take a joke. Like a lot of us, my distaste for Dave Chappelle’s “comedy” apparently proved to his defenders that I didn’t recognize his form of “art.” Netflix’s official response to all the criticism of his transphobic special was a master class in how to screw up a public relations campaign.
What came as no surprise to trans people, of course, is that Chappelle broke his promise to stop making fun of us, within days, and that just as swiftly, J.K. Rowling said, “Hold my beer.”
The Harry Potter author who has double and triple and quadruple downed on her transphobic rants over the last two years, played the victim card in November. Rowling claimed to have been doxxed by activists who showed the house number of her home in Scotland on social media before taking down their post amid all the criticism. Rowling claimed she had been the target of so many death threats, “I could paper the house with them.”
Death threats are terrible, despicable, and inexcusable. Bet let us also acknowledge how terrible actual death is. At least 50 trans Americans lost their lives to violence in 2021, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The vast majority of these were Black and brown women. Around the world, that number was at least 375, Forbes reported. Hundreds of people were murdered, not because of their words or for social media, but because they lived their lives authentically, and they were killed for it.
Those aren’t the only horrendous numbers. While there’s no hard statistic about how many transgender people took their lives in 2021, The Trevor Project revealed a shocking 52 percent of trans youth considered ending their lives this year.
For example, in Texas, where lawmakers spent month after month dwelling on anti-trans legislation, calls to suicide hotlines increased 150 percent from January to August. Not because these youngsters are mentally ill, but because of the lack of acceptance and level of rejection they face, including in states of hate like Texas.
“Mental health issues do not cause people to be trans. Being mistreated for being trans causes increased anxiety and depression,” author and activist Brynn Tannehill told The Daily Beast, in response to a Washington Times column railing against “transgenderism.” “It’s like saying John McCain was a POW because he had PTSD. In reality, it’s the other way around. Correlation is not causation.”
And one other Lone Star State problem: Its restrictive new abortion law, allowed to proceed by the U.S. Supreme Court, is also barring trans and nonbinary pregnant people from obtaining reproductive health care, according to the Texas Tribune.
In addition to standing in the way of our health-care needs, cisgender binary society continued to throw up roadblocks to other aspects of transgender life in 2021, like housing and employment. Homelessness has long been identified as a leading obstacle, according to the most recent U.S. national transgender study, especially for Black trans folks.
A new study released this month also showed trans people are twice as likely to be unemployed, compared to the U.S. cisgender population, according to McKinsey & Company. I myself have given up trying to find full-time work, so I write for The Daily Beast and six other publications; I also teach at my local university and depend on the local food pantry to try to make ends meet and support my family. I am more fortunate than others like me because I am white, well-connected and presumed to be cisgender by many.
So, I can afford to be hopeful. Thanks to vaccines, my three children survived getting infected with COVID-19, and we even celebrated our first in-person Pride celebrations this year. I am sure there are those who think I somehow infected them with my queerness, but the truth is: My kiddos represent the future our haters fear most.
They are living authentically queer in a world that they will inherit and reshape, despite all the shit that’s happened and will happen. Their superpower is survival of this impossible year and all the ones to come. Me? My job is to get them there.