Trans Rights Are Your Rights

The state cannot be allowed to determine who is, and who is not, a person

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

A recently leaked memo from the Trump administration revealed a plan to define the gender binary at birth, which would eliminate legal protections for transgender and gender non-conforming people. Such a proposal ignores the medical fact that gender identity and biological sex are two distinctly different concepts.

Approximately 1.4 million Americans would lose federal recognition of their identity if this executive action were allowed to proceed. A mass vanishing, care of our government.

Trans and gender non-conforming people would be forced to surrender civil rights all cisgender Americans enjoy — rights like nondiscriminatory access to healthcare, employment, and education. To make matters more dystopian, the government would require DNA proof of gender.

But this kind of state-supported prejudice is not new. Trans people already suffer from a general lack of protection from the law every day. Earlier this month, a transgender high school student was denied shelter in both the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms during a mass shooter drill. She was left outside, unprotected, as if she were simply disposable.

In writing about this, I risk two things. First, that I am making this memo all about me, a white heterosexual cisgender man. I cannot deny that I am, in fact, doing just that. I have been groomed to be heard and seen. I am the center the of the universe. What is the point of that kind of inherited power if I do not make it quite clear that denying any person their basic fundamental right to be who they are is non-negotiable?

If my neighbor — he, she, or they — has fewer rights than I do, then my rights are conditional. And my rights are not, in any way, conditional.

I want to live in a fair country. I was raised to believe this was true but it is not. In fact, it is unfair for one group to enjoy privileges and for another group to be denied them. It is wrong for those in power to define their humanity by obliterating the humanity of those not in power.

I have come to realize that I am, as a cisgender white man, defined more by what I do not know, than what I know. But here is some of what I know: A trans man’s civil rights are my civil rights. A trans woman’s civil rights are my civil rights. A gender non-conforming person’s civil rights are my civil rights. They are my rights, your rights, our rights. Not to mention the rights of trans people of color. Their ability to work, love, and live freely in our society as they are, and not as another group would have them be, is essential to my ability to do likewise. If my neighbor — he, she, or they — has fewer rights than I do, then my rights are conditional.

But imagine if the rights of white cisgender men were conditional. Seriously. My dudes go bananas if they’re openly criticized about video games. Now imagine the government swooping in and announcing they could be fired or refused medical care just because someone in power hates them.

That’s what’s happening. I have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and while I understand white men wrote those words about other white men I must insist, in 2018, it apply to everyone. That is only fair.

Look: I don’t think I’m in danger of losing my rights. I’m not. I’m a white cisgender man. My kind are running the show, and have been running it, for thousands of years. But I’d like to go to my grave thinking I had some principles in this life. That I stood for something bigger than just “me, me, me.”

One of those principles being there are rights all Americans share. Rights that were ours the moment we were born. This is the one fundamental thing we all have in common. If this is, for some reason, upsetting to your own identity, I suggest you have your existential crisis on your own emotional property and leave others alone.

I am a political ally of the LGBTQ community, and not because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside to march with marginalized people fighting to be treated fairly and equally by the law. I am a political ally out of self-interest because allowing the government to dehumanize one group of people is the path to ruin. If it can happen to them, it can happen to you.

My evidence is the past 241 years: America has a long history of legal segregation and discrimination based on superficial differences. It is a cruel and corrupt legacy. If the Trump administration uses the force of law to kidnap identities and consign them to a kind of social oblivion, then any administration can do that — and more.

I am not a perfect ally. I struggle. A cursory audit of my social media would reveal that I am, largely, a self-involved individual. There are rare times in history when the selfish thing to do, and the right thing to do, are the same. This is one of those times. The state cannot be allowed to determine who is, and who is not, a person.

The second thing I risk in writing about this topic is being accused of “virtue signaling” by the (mostly, but not exclusively) men who get very angry when their identity is challenged. “Virtue signaling” is a popular taunt that means “stop showing off your moral compass.”

These trolls are my fellow cisgender brothers and sisters. Maybe some of these siblings are friends: If they are, I’m guessing shame has kept them from sharing their toxic opinions with me. Most, if I know the internet and I do, will be anonymous. I feel compassion for their panic. I, too, have failed to be the best version of myself.

Public displays of principles really make these particular humans cranky. I guess I’m prepared? They’ll try to bait me into nonsensical pseudo-debates that cannot be won because their only purpose is to exhaust. Then they’ll switch tactics and claim they are rational. That science supports their prejudices, despite actual research. I have strong memories of bigots telling me it was scientific fact that AIDS could be transmitted via toilet seats and handshakes, and that this was how they came to the reasonable conclusion that homosexuals should be quarantined. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

If they’re feeling especially clever, they’ll try to equate race and gender, because apples are oranges and oranges are apples in their nightmare dimension. These dishonest word games are entertaining and can fool nervous USDA-certified men or women into thinking they can control that which they cannot.

This civil rights struggle is not about me. Not ultimately.

American cisgender men, especially, have mostly become an angry rabble of mimics, performing their overly precious vision of masculinity in front of the mirror — and the computer screen — for applause and clicks. This, of course, boggles my mind; I grew up believing men did not have opinions on how other men lived their lives unless those men were directly hurting themselves or others. They minded their own bathroom stalls.

Here is something else that I know: This civil rights struggle is not about me. My personhood is not at immediate risk. I will benefit, of course, if liberty prevails. Everyone benefits when fundamental rights are reaffirmed. But I am, at best, a very special guest star in this particular episode.

I tell people I met a trans person for the first time two years ago. That story is a bit of woke bullshit. The true story, the honest one, is that a trans man—a fantastically talented artist with biceps like grapefruits—met me, the millionth cisgender man he’d met who was meeting a trans person for the first time. He was polite if exhausted.

The universe is just moons spinning around planets, planets spinning around stars, stars spinning around galaxies. Infinite spinning. What’s at the center is unknowable. But it’s not me.

I had met other trans men and women, of course, but I didn’t know it at the time. I had met them, been friends with them, and loved them, but I had no idea who they were because I was, at the very least, historically and emotionally nearsighted. This community has always existed, currently exists, and will, forever, exist. I think, in some ways, I am the one who has been invisible, without even knowing it. But, now, there are trans and gender nonconforming people who see me, and I hope their lives are better with me in it, and that, one day, all of the rights I enjoy will be theirs, without question.

I met this particular trans person at a birthday party for my romantic partner. She is queer and her chosen family are a diverse, closely-knit, clan of people who support and celebrate one another. She and I had recently started seeing each other and I was finding myself in situations where I was the only white cisgender man. I was falling in love with her, by that point, and was very careful not to be a thoughtless oaf. Which, I’ll have you know, I am perfectly capable of being.

We all sat around a table and said our pronouns. I had never been asked to say my pronouns. Life is full of new experiences. One person said “she/her,” another said, “they/them,” and another, “he/him.” A few hours later, I would find myself deep in conversation with my new friend, the artist, by the pool. He patiently answered my questions about his top surgery and showed me his scars and then we went inside and played old Nintendo video games.

Eventually, it was my turn to share my pronouns and I paused and said, softly, “he/him.” I felt proud to say that and I looked around, and everyone either nodded or smiled at me, and the person next to me shared their pronouns, and around it went until it was over, and then the cake was cut, and jokes were made and the dancing started. I sort of fit in. It’s not important that I fit in — I fit in enough places. Not everything is for me. But I fit in enough, at that moment, and watched these human beings enjoy their freedoms. Then I danced with them.

It was a good night, though, and I want more good nights, and honest days, true victories and small moments, with him, and her, and them, and all of us, together.

Written by

Editor, Humungus. I won two James Beard Awards once for an essay about Taco Bell. Let’s be friends.

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