The last decade has proven to be a complex time for the transgender community. Transgender and nonbinary people are becoming increasingly visible, yet vulnerable; socially acceptable, yet legally suppressed; outspoken, yet unheard. Negative representation in the media and a growing amount of anti-transgender legislation in recent years have made strides to undermine the trans experience.
This complexity has only increased since the internet started to be used as a source of discourse for human rights issues. Transgender people are constantly ridiculed and targeted in today’s society, which to no surprise has been exacerbated by popular media sources. The internet has made information more accessible, and with accessibility comes visibility. Visibility efforts that the transgender community has control of have been helpful in terms of mutual aid, connection, knowledge-sharing and gains in affirmative policy. For example, March 31 honors International Transgender Day of Visibility. According to the Human Rights Campaign, trans visibility is an effort to counter the invisibility of trans and nonbinary people, and to acknowledge that when trans people are represented, they are portrayed in a negative light, outsiders from mainstream society.
Past and present negative portrayals of trans people have severe consequences on us and our livelihoods, as it’s common that both transgender and cisgender people learn about the existence of trans and nonbinary people through the media. This representation impacts the security and well-being of members of the community in a multitude of ways, threatening physical safety, financial stability and mental health, to name a few. As transgender people are receiving more unwanted representation, it is no surprise that legislation has followed suit to match conservative sentiments. Anti-transgender bills target transgender and nonbinary people to discriminate against them by undermining their fundamental rights to personal safety, bodily autonomy and, overall, the right to live freely.
188 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in 2022 thus far. 188.
The term “record-breaking” has become common in anti-trans legislation reporting in recent years, as bills are being introduced at exponential levels. As of Dec. 2, 2022, the American Civil Liberties Union has recorded 188 introduced pieces of anti-trans legislation for the year. That is 57 bills more than in 2021 and 128 bills more than in 2020. This trend is not expected to cease anytime soon, given today’s worrisome sociopolitical climate. Proposed restrictions are disturbing, as they aim to strip basic human rights from the transgender community, including restrictions to healthcare, athletics, educational curriculums and access to single-sex facilities.
It is exhausting to think about how these thoughts and policies affect the trans experience. A little personal narrative feels appropriate to explain what these effects look like on a small scale. Hi, my name is Miller, and I use he/they pronouns. I am pre-hormone replacement therapy and top surgery, which, in some cases, are considered life-saving treatments for transgender individuals. I often feel disconnected from my body. This is common for trans people who deal with gender dysphoria. I should be able to look in the mirror and understand what is being reflected, yet every day I stand genuinely confused. If I were able to access masculinizing treatments, I am confident that this confusion would alleviate. But for now, the media and Catholic rhetoric have influenced my family’s perception and will keep me from safely accessing treatment. It is a scary thought, not knowing when I will be able to safely start my physical transition—and not knowing how long I can mentally last without it. I struggle to wriggle a binder onto my chest and throw on a baggy T-shirt most mornings to start my day. Over the years, this process has developed into it being hard to breathe with the binder on or off, as its use has affected my ribs and lungs. Though harmful, it eases my dysphoria in an almost euphoric manner, so the process continues. These are common experiences for trans males, and while a binder is one technique to masculinize one’s chest, many other techniques put the user at more serious bodily harm. Transness is beautiful, yet so very costly.
Being transgender is not just a fad or a phase as the media often paints it to be. It is not a sin nor a reflection of bad parenting. And it most certainly is not a choice. Why would anyone choose to live such an isolated life? To live in a body that feels like someone else’s, with no one able to fully understand those thoughts, almost seems like a curse. As if scrutiny from society wasn’t enough, the weight of 188 proposed bills attempting to dehumanize you surely would have you “choose” against it. And unfortunately, the weight can become unbearable. As I mentioned earlier, this kind of treatment can be life-saving. Data from the National Library of Medicine indicates that 82 percent of transgender individuals have considered suicide, with 40 percent having attempted. I introduce those numbers not as a correlation to treatment access, but to show how negative portrayal, legislation, interpersonal relations and mental health crises affect the trans community.
I await the day that my siblings in the transgender and nonbinary community—especially those from marginalized racial and cultural backgrounds—and I can live without fear. I await the day when stares turn into smiles. I await the day when no explanation is needed. I await the day when there are no hate-fueled killings. I await the day when our government recognizes us as people. I await the day when society stops beating us down and lifts us up. And I await the day to unapologetically be myself.