Support trans rights beyond the bathroom

by Casey Macphail / Beacon Correspondent • March 23, 2017

In late December, I woke up around 4 a.m. on a Wednesday from a night terror. In it, the upcoming New Year had taken physical form as an old woman who hid in my closet and then crept up to my bed as I laid there, paralyzed. At the time, I joked that it was a premonition, a representation of the imminent end of days. 

We’re only a quarter of the way through the year, and three months into a presidency with approval rates that have dropped to an appalling thirty-seven percent (our previous presidency’s lowest approval point was forty percent, six years in). In such a short time, President Donald Trump’s administration has built a precedent for open displays of violent bigotry. This starts with policy and ends with expressions of violence, like murders triggered by anti-blackness and xenophobia, desecration of sacred Muslim and Jewish spaces, and assaults on transgender people, like me, as punishment for daring to exist in a public space.

Recently, I’ve woken up every morning with my heart pounding.

At the end of February, when I heard that Trump withdrew federal protections for transgender students and gave states the power to bar trans kids from going into bathrooms that fit their genders, I was devastated. But I was not surprised. We had to fight hard to reach that level of protection with the previous administration. If there’s one guarantee these days, it’s that if you had to scream to be heard before, there’s no chance you’ll be treated with any consideration now. 

Something that did surprise me was a text from a close friend, shortly after Trump rescinded the policy. She wrote, “I think Trump’s decision to reverse transgender rights is a good thing. Getting lots of people vocal.” 

I waited. She followed up with, “I’m just glad to see outrage and support for you.”

I love this person very much. I know that, since the election, she’s devoted an enormous amount of time to active bystander training. Her words hurt because I knew she meant them earnestly. Though I understood the intention behind them—she’s glad something has gotten the masses riled up about trans rights—it was discouraging that it took something like this to put our rights on the radar of cis people. 

In the days directly after the election, crisis-prevention hotlines reported an uptick in trans suicides, causing fear of suicide contagion within the trans community. The life expectancy of a trans person is about 30 to 35 years. At least seven trans women of color have been murdered this year alone, and 2016 had the highest rate of murdered trans people on record. It’s important to recognize the numbers are likely even higher due to those misgendered and incorrectly named in death or simply never found.

I’ll admit that the support the trans community gets doesn’t always feel real. As soon as whatever event that triggered the public’s sympathy fades away, or is overshadowed by something else, people move on and continue to use microaggressions that perpetuate violence towards trans people.

Trump removing protections for transgender students is not enough to get cis people talking. Cis people should’ve already been talking. They should listen to what trans people have been trying to tell them for decades and uplift our voices, instead of waiting for a tragedy so they can ride the popular wave of righteous anger.

A lot of public discourse about trans people currently revolves around bathrooms. Without access to a public bathroom, we can’t participate in any of life’s activities. As Laverne Cox expressed on MSNBC, “When trans people can’t access public bathrooms, we can’t go to school effectively, go to work effectively, access health-care facilities—it’s about us existing in public space. And those who oppose trans people having access to the facilities consistent with how we identify know that all the things they claim don’t actually happen. It’s really about us not existing—about erasing trans people.”

Trans people are screaming to be seen, to be heard. Listen. Support us. Protect us, even when the state does not condone it