As a transgender American who’s seen more than her share of hate, I’m trying to find a reason to remain positive, as half the country is now hellbent on “debating” whether we even exist and are worthy of rights.
You know you’re in a losing battle when even an affirming tweet by Oreo that “trans people exist” is ratio’d for “politicizing cookies.”
By signing 2021’s first state law outlawing trans girls and women from competing in women’s school sports, Mississippi’s Republican governor showed us that the so-called Hospitality State is not actually hospitable to girls like us.
Gov. Kristi Noem, the Republican from South Dakota, “celebrated” International Women’s Day by announcing she’ll soon sign a bill banning trans girls and women athletes, which she tweeted was actually “defending women's sports!”
North Dakota is considering its own measure, and that makes 25 states actively pursuing legislation that, like Idaho and now Mississippi, tells trans girls they’re barred from competing with other girls. Michigan’s bill also targets trans boys. And Republicans in two states, Kansas and Florida, not only want to ban trans girls from school sports, they would punish providers of trans-affirming health care and require genital examinations.
And now, months after advocates and LGBTQ journalists and media sounded the alarm, the august mainstream media is suddenly interested. Oh, thanks so much, The New York Times, for sending a card after the funeral.
I have had many long conversations with well-meaning, loving moms who read the stories in the news and tell me they support trans people—but—“it just seems unfair for biological boys to compete with girls.”
They don’t see the propaganda machine that is pushing out false narratives and scare tactics that make us who are trans, literally, weep.
They get ideas like that from books like the one Amazon confirmed it’s banned, When Harry Became Sally by propagandist and anti-trans author Ryan T. Anderson. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Amazon rightfully blocked sales because, as a company representative told GOP senators who complained, “We have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.”
What few people realize is what this coordinated attack organized by largely conservative, right-wing Christian anti-transgender forces is really all about, which is to try to use the law to stop us from being who we are: transgender.
Does that sound melodramatic to you? If so, let me pose a question:
If a group of politicians decided not to allow Black athletes to compete in school sports, would that sound fair to you? If such a hateful, racist campaign were successful, would you agree that it would eliminate athletes who are Black not just from scholastic sports, but perhaps beyond?
And if, like many young people across this land, they identified so strongly as athletes, feeling as if they were born to play sports, but because of politicians’ prejudice and lack of understanding they were banned from such an activity, would that not be akin to ending their very being, stopping them from becoming who they felt they are: athletes.
It may sound ludicrous today, but as ESPN reported, Mississippi legislators threatened to stop funding schools that competed against integrated teams as recently as 60 years ago. That’s why Mississippi State skipped the NCAA tournaments of 1959, 1961 and 1962. The state of Louisiana went so far as to ban interracial sports competition in 1956, a law that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1959.
It was wrong then. It’s wrong now for any marginalized group to be excluded from sports, from employment, from housing, from proper health care. That’s why there’s a bill before the U.S. Senate called the Equality Act, which would not “destroy women’s sports,” or “erase religious freedom,” as critics say. It would ban discrimination. It would remove the “right to discriminate” that the Trump administration both fostered and instituted.
Trans people are circling their wagons right now. We’re not okay. If you know someone transgender, now is the time to check in on them. Tell them they are valid. That you will stand up for them even when they aren’t around and you hear someone say the words “biological male” to refer to a trans girl or woman. Tell that person that’s a weaponized phrase that is hurtful and that you think that everyone should have a right to compete in sports, and that the science is not clear—because it isn’t.
“These anti-trans bills are discriminatory, mean spirited, and illegal,” my friend Fallon Fox told me when I asked her what she was feeling. Even though it’s been years since she blazed a trail as the first out transgender women in mixed martial arts, she remains the target of what seems like a perpetual campaign of hate. At the risk of introducing a mixed metaphor, Fox is a punching bag for transphobes. Yet she does not hide, she takes them on as bravely as she fought opponents in the octagon, on behalf of the trans people we care most about: the children.
“They seek to attack the most vulnerable of us: trans kids,” she wrote. “It’s an abusive thing to do to a child when government entities such as schools insinuate that a child’s gender is not what it is. And that’s what these bills seek to do, to say that it is not ‘fairness’ for two kids of the same gender to compete unnecessarily based on bigotry. It’s psychologically damaging to both transgender and cisgender kids. It makes cisgender kids predatory and spiteful and transgender kids prey.”
Look, I love sports. I live, breathe and sleep sports. But I’m no athlete. When I was in little league, I played “left out” — meaning, I was literally left out. I kept the bench warm, and after one of my few outings onto the diamond, when my father asked me what I had muttered as the batter stepped up to the plate, as all the boys shouted “No batter! No batter!” I told him the truth. “I prayed to God, ‘Please don’t let him hit the ball to me!’”
While that was awful, sports taught me about teamwork, about sacrifice, about perseverance and most of all, I learned how uncoordinated I really am. But I never stopped trying out for sports teams. I persisted. And learned my strength was in writing about sports and athletes instead of becoming one.
Now I am a widowed, single mom raising my three children in Bluer than Blue State Connecticut, and even here, Republicans have set their sights on trans student-athletes with two bills before the state House of Representatives and State Senate. Our state is just one of two dozen considering similar measures, and our U.S. Senators have even tried to sneak anti-trans bills into the COVID-19 relief package the president just signed.
I should be able to celebrate Joe Biden’s efforts to turn back the clock on Trump transphobia, but instead I’ve had nightmares that I had to move to a Southern state where I had no right to be who I am, a woman, and had to go into hiding. I hear from the parents of children who are frightened for their kids who just want to play sports, and play in their authentic gender. Why shouldn’t trans kids get to experience the thrill of victory, and not just the agony of defeat; how to lose gracefully and learn from our mistakes and forgive our failures? My dad taught me all those things through sports.
So I asked my social media followers who are transgender people and cisgender allies to tell me what all this was doing to their psyche. I asked them for one word to describe what they’re feeling; several chose the words “angry” and “disgusted.” Here they are. Read them and realize there is a person behind each and every one.
Angry. Exhausted. Oppressed. Indignant. Frazzled. Furious. Abandoned. Disheartened. Infuriated. Disgusted. Dégoûtante (French for “disgusted”). Uncertain. Rage. Enraged. Pissed. RADICALIZING. Discouraged. Abhorrent. Scapegoated. Saddened. Frustrated. Tired. Misunderstood. Threatened. Crushed. Astonished. Fear-mongering. Cruel. Heartless. Livid. Erased. Assaulted. Unacceptable. Invisible. Persecuted. Flustered. Resolute. Inhuman. Emboldened. Unsafe. Dehumanized. Hunted. Provoked. Tears. Defiant. Disturbed. Resistant! Sorrowful. Unsurprising. Combative. Shattered. Brutalized. RedNeckRampageBuilding. Terrified. Disturbed. Un-Christian. Un-American. Politicized. Suicidal.
Those words resonate because we know Republicans are only getting started using trans rights as what Politico called “a wedge issue” to drum up support among its base. And even if every court in the land stops these transphobic laws from taking effect, or at least puts them on hold as in Idaho, we will still have neighbors and bosses and relatives who look at us and shake their heads, turn us away or worse. We are two and a half months into 2021 and already at least ten transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed because of who they are.
The point is: trans girls are different from cis girls. Trans women are different from cis women. Cis is not a slur. It just means, “not trans.” And being different, like being stronger, or having a different body, should not be something we look down upon or discriminate against. Being different is the most American thing you can be.
If you are considering suicide and age 24 and younger, contact the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and is available to people of all ages and identities. Trans Lifeline, for people who are trans, non-binary or gender-nonconforming, can be reached at 877-565-8860. All are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.