For years I fought a brutal war inside of myself, struggling to suppress or run away from anything, internal or external, that didn’t conform to the image of the masculine, straight, cis-gender male that was accepted in my community at the time. I consciously distanced myself from anyone or anything that did not fit that mold. I trained myself to control my hand movements and the way I walked so that I wouldn’t be perceived as feminine, to turn away if I saw someone in drag, and to put down transgender people as “nothing like me.” There was no higher compliment than to hear “I never would have guessed” from someone after telling that person that I was gay.
I was blinded by my own self-loathing, and I was trapped in a place where I thought the more “macho” I looked, the more society would accept me, or at least ignore the one tiny thing that made me different from straight men—that I had sex with other men.
In my politics as well, I tended to leave transgender and gender non-conforming people out of my battles. As soon as I felt people resist the idea of accepting me because it could mean having to accept “them” too, I betrayed my trans brothers and sisters.
Years passed, and as this country became more tolerant of my sexual orientation, and people talked more and more about the LGBTQ community as a group, I stopped fighting so hard against the idea of being associated with transgender people. I started learning more and more about the crucial role that transgender women had played in the fight for my own rights. I learned that the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement only exists because of people like Martha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, and that it’s actually because of them that we celebrate LGBTQ Pride around the country and world with marches in the month of June.
By 2013, I had learned to “accept” my transgender brothers and sisters. I use the word “accept” because I still did not fully understand their humanity or their struggle, but I simply accepted the idea of having them be a part of my community and my rainbow flag. In the fall of 2013 I met Tanny at an immigration detention center in Arizona. Tanny was a transgender woman from Honduras who was asking the U.S. government not to deport her to a country where she had been raped, tortured, and almost killed for being transgender. As I laughed, cried and got angry along with Tanny, I realized that I had much more in common with Tanny than I had with any cis-gender straight man I’d ever met. I recently read a column by Frank Bruni that perfectly describe how I felt in that moment; we both had “firsthand experience of how unnecessarily rigid and tyrannical a society’s conceptions of manhood and womanhood can be.” We both “knew the pain of falling outside those conceptions,” and we both “appreciated the importance of freedom.” In both of our cases, it had been a matter of life or death.
How wrong I had been all of those years. I had betrayed my brothers and sisters, harming them in exactly the same way I was asking people not to harm me.
It’s 2017, and our president just announced that our transgender brothers and sisters cannot serve in the military in any capacity. Not too long ago, he eliminated all federal protections for transgender students attending public schools. Although he pledged to protect the rights of “[the] LG…BTQ community” as he awkwardly pronounced it in his convention speech, it is abundantly clear that Trump does not care about transgender people. To be honest, I doubt whether he cares about anyone in the LGBTQ community, but I think he has realized that, while there are many in our community that would fight hard against him for the rights of gay men, many of those same people will not speak up for the rights of the most vulnerable among us.
It is time to prove President Trump wrong. Our transgender brothers and sisters are as much a part of us, and of our community, as any white cis-gender gay boy. Discrimination against any of us is discrimination against all of us, and anybody who is an enemy of transgender rights is an enemy of all of us.
As Gavin Grimm, the transgender boy who sued the State of Virginia for not allowing him to be himself, succinctly put it when he was asked what ties the “T” to the L, G, and B: “[Transgender people] have as much in common with a gay or lesbian person as [they] have with anybody whose civil rights are under attack and up for debate.”
The LGBTQ+ community has a common enemy. His name is Donald Trump, and his administration is here to annihilate all of us. Lesbian, gay, bi, queer, and every member of our community needs to pick up a sign, go to the streets, and show him that we are one community, unified in the fight. Every day that he spends in the office of the president is a day that our freedoms are gravely threatened. Don’t make the same mistake I made for all those years. Unless we band together and fight him now, Trump’s hostility towards our transgender brothers and sisters will bleed into all of our lives.
Luis F. Mancheno is an Immigration Attorney in the Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo Law School and a Board Member of Equality New York.