I remember when I was about 3 years old, watching my mom change my little sister’s diapers, I first realized that there was an anatomical difference between what my parents referred to as “girls” and “boys.” I understood that they considered me the latter, but it had never made any sense to me until that moment.
We were a Catholic family in 1960. I was precociously aware of things little children usually are not, like the way that parents responded to male offspring as opposed to female ones. I was the oldest “son,” and I was constantly told how important that position was in the family even as a toddler, probably because even as a toddler I already had two younger siblings with another on the way. Intuitively, I understood that what I knew about myself was not something I could share, so I kept it hidden.
But I knew how to pray, so every night I prayed that the extra part that stopped me from being like my sisters would vanish by morning and I would be able to just be one of them. It never did. Neither did my compelling understanding of who I am. I tried my hardest to bury it, to live the life my body dictated I “had” to, but ultimately I simply couldn’t. At age 40, I transitioned, almost four decades after I first understood that I needed to.
Transitioning thrilled me: I was finally getting to be myself. It was also a terrific risk; I was a high school teacher and that had never been done before. But I got lucky and my school supported me, making some history along the way. I recall a lot of fears and concerns in those early years along with my joys, but mostly the joys. And four years later, my son, who had struggled with emotional issues all his young life as a girl, came out as TG, and I got to experience the thing from a parent’s perspective. It was a lot harder watching him go through it than going through it myself. He was the first in his school too, and we fought for any kind of acceptance; it took until his very last choral concert before they finally let him wear a tux instead of the silky white shirt the girls wore.
That was the early Bush era. I thought those days were history.
I mean, the Alliance group at my school, in recent years, has had a significant contingent of genderqueer and TG kids in it. Some were open about it in the hallways too. A couple had changed their names officially with the school; others were waiting for college. It seemed to be a completely new level of acceptance. But then came the backlash.
It didn’t start with North Carolina, but that was certainly the most noticeable place to point to. And then “bathroom bills” became the focal point of anti-LGBT measures across the country, as if the vicious “religious” conservative groups finally gave up on gays and needed a new marginal group to lash out at and had just discovered us: someone smaller and weaker. But, thank goodness, Obama was President. He stopped them in their tracks by letting schools across the country know clearly that they needed to protect trans kids and pushed for trans protection with all of the authority of his office.
But now he’s gone and we have The Orange One.
It’s no shock that he has acted the way he has in stripping rights from us. Most of us were shouting that he would do this long before the election. He owed us nothing; he owed the “religious” conservative people a lot. And he’s a bully by nature: he has already attacked other marginal groups, most notably immigrants and Muslims; we were clearly on his radar.
The loss of the Gavin Grimm case is particularly disappointing, as it removes the chance to undo some of the damage he has done. A positive SCOTUS decision could have cemented protections for our kids into the law. Perhaps a quick Appeals Court review will put it back there this session. Perhaps. And perhaps my cat will become a youtube singing star.
The thing is, though, that two different dynamics are going on with trans people in this Age of Trump:
On the one hand, we’re definitely down from where we were and where we ought to be. We’ve lost Obama and Biden, who were our champions. We’ve already lost protections under the law. We continue to see more and more erosion in states that see us as “other” and buy into the “predator” myth. (The latest example is New Hampshire, which abandoned its long-standing claim of supporting individual freedom – “Live Free or Die!” – to screw over trans people this week.) We are stuck (at least for now) with an Attorney General who hates us and a Vice President who doesn’t believe we even really exist. (We’re just sick people to both of them.) And maybe Betsy DeVos is on our side, but she clearly isn’t strong enough to stand up to the triumvirate of Trump, Pence, and Sessions. And who knows about Bannon? I don’t know where neo-nazis stand on transgender people, but I suspect it isn’t good.
But despite all of this, and the prognosis for so much more damage that these self-righteous bastards now in power can cause, there is something else happening as well that is potentially very positive and far reaching. If you google images for trans kids, you find hundreds of loving family photos along with photos of protests for their rights. You have to scroll through pages and pages of them before alighting on a single one that is anti-trans. (It’s a stupid one too: some idiot advocating prison time for parents who put kids on harmless puberty blockers.) The overwhelming feeling is one of love and support.
Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts (Boy Scouts!!!) have shifted their policies to allow trans members. The military allows trans service people. Pro-trans children protests routinely make the news. Trans actors, characters, and personalities are more and more visible in films and television. Some, like Jazz Jennings and Laverne Cox, have become well-known. Jazz Jennings even has a doll that looks like her. A TG doll!
There is even a kind of positive shift in the most horrible things, like the brutal hate-murders of trans women: these unconscionable crimes were often either unreported or unnoticed just a few years ago. Now they are national news. And the killers, if they are caught, a few years ago might have gotten off with a light sentence; now it’s a hate crime. Some day we may see the horror stop altogether, but that will require a shift in national attitude: of course there are going to be a few a**holes who act this way when their churches, their friends, their congresspeople, their freaking President, tell them we are less than nothing.
In all, the first two months of the Trump era have clearly been a huge step backwards for trans rights in America, as they have been for almost everything decent and good about America. But there are signs that hope is not lost; it resides, as it always has, in the hearts and souls of the people themselves. And so far, it appears that the more he throws at them the more they want to fight back.