Holding Trans Pain from Trump’s Announcements: It needs to be deeper than “Let’s hope it doesn’t pass!”
Content warning: Suicide, graphic transphobia, internalized transphobia
I’ve expected my life and basic needs to be challenged since the moment Trump was elected into office. Not because of Trump, though I knew he wouldn’t help, but because I knew a lot of people have right-under-the-surface transphobia ready to bubble up. The people who think really well of me generally still throw a lot of accidental microaggressions my way, and nervousness relating to me, oversexualizing me, or ignoring me because they’re scared of saying something wrong. I can be gracious for these actions most of the time, partially because I wouldn’t have many friends if I didn’t offer them grace, partially because I’m a consultant and workshop facilitator to try to improve the way people like this interact with trans people, and partially because I’m way more scared of the people that don’t think I should exist, and that I should die or want myself dead. Who think I’m just traumatized, and that’s “why I want to be the way I am,” or that I just want to be special. And these are the people that I was sure would come out of the woodwork as Trump got louder about wanting to erase trans rights. I was sure that more of us would be attacked and discriminated against, but I also knew that there were so many of us already in crisis regularly or ready to commit suicide, and I feared that it would get worse.
I was right. Shortly after Trump was elected, my friends and I were in deeper states of crisis almost immediately. I started hearing more about friends and acquaintances who were attacked. I was followed around by drunk people on the street, followed in stores or by cars late at night. I was spat on. Trans friends of mine were threatened and spat on. I started holding people more and more in their trauma, their suicidal ideation. I was asked to do trans and white supremacy education work more, to step up, to speak more, but the lashback I got was way more intense, and I was exhausted. I was so grateful for a friend who gave me a massage — I hadn’t slept well in months, and I fell asleep crying on her massage table as I felt my body relax for the first time since the election.
Both before the election and since then, Trump has announced many times how he plans to dehumanize transgender people — and by dehumanize, I literally mean he wants us to be treated as less than other humans, alongside other marginalized groups he wants to dehumanize — as he announces that we are no longer going to be allowed to serve in the military, that gender marker changes for passports will become more difficult to obtain, that trans people will be able to be fired at work for being trans, and now, most recently, that discrimination against trans people getting the healthcare they need will be welcome once again. Some of these measures have passed and become actions, and some of them just remain threats, but regardless, they’ve had real, traumatic impacts on trans people, and that matters.
All of these issues have much deeper impact than how it appears on the surface. To me it feels like an earthquake in the middle of the ocean — at first it feels barely noticeable to me, maybe even ignorable, but then tsunamis arrive to the islands and coastal regions and destroy lives and wellbeing. There is impact far beyond where the initial hit was. Each announcement brings up so much for me as a trans person — fear of more harassment, more discrimination. Trauma of dehumanization. Pain around the amount of trauma in our community already. And the endless questions that are difficult to find answers to: will I still have access to healthcare? I already face so many challenges in healthcare. How will this make it worse? What else will they try to do to us? Why don’t people want me and my trans family to survive, let alone thrive? Why don’t more people care about us?
The most important thing to say for me, is that all of these things were already true before Trump’s announcements — healthcare for us is already traumatizing and challenging, discriminatory and dehumanizing. Workplaces already discriminate, and bosses know how to hide it. If we complain about transphobia in workplaces, frequently we are the ones to be let go in the next round of layoffs. We get called aggressive or “hard to work with” when we name transphobia. If we are fortunate enough to own a business, discrimination usually means we are always financially struggling. We are already used to being poor and having our avenues for financial security being cut off, but when it is legalized, I watch our financial security get worse — along with our trauma, our mental health, and our wellbeing, as well as the hate crimes against us.
Taking away our economic security and independence is the number one way to ensure that we will be unsafe in this capitalist society. Trans people are more likely to stay in abusive relationships (which happen often for us) if we don’t have a way to be economically independent. We are more likely to stay in abusive workplaces, and in touch with or living with abusive family members. Financial independence and well-being are crucial to us being able to escape domestic violence and workplace discrimination. Taking away access to the military, one of the easiest ways for impoverished people to access independent, financial stability for a long period of our lives, means that the lowest income trans people are more likely to remain poor for the rest of our lives, and less likely to rise out of it. (Regardless of your or my views on the military, it is definitely one of the ways that low income young people access a way out of poverty.)
The impacts of the administration announcing these open welcome letters to hate and discriminate have already had impacts within our LGBTQ family — I still cry for Jamel Myles, the 9-year-old whose peers — also 9 years old — bullied him and told him to commit suicide after he came out as gay. I’m also sitting with the statistics in the CNN article that announced this latest development in systemic transphobia. Trans people are 9 times more likely to attempt suicide than cisgender people. Almost half of us will attempt suicide at some point — not just think about it, but actually try to take our own lives. That’s not just a number to me. I’ve held so many of my friends dear to me as they’ve struggled, or waited to hear from friends who have disappeared. I’ve been deeply held as I struggled to want to live. Being out and trans in this society is so much harder than I imagined — the discrimination and hatred is real. I’m not sure I know a single trans person who hasn’t dealt with suicidal ideation of some kind. I’m not confused that it’s not something wrong with us, but literally people and a system built on wanting us dead and teaching us to want ourselves dead. It is such an act of resistance and resilience to live every day, especially when oppressive violence like this Trump announcement comes up.
We haven’t had access to non-discriminatory healthcare for very long at all — it was an Obama-era bill that passed. It’s literally only been 3 years that we’ve had healthcare protection. And while I don’t doubt how resilient we trans people are, I’m heartbroken that it is already getting taken away from us.
I’m shaken by the idea that doctors will be able to “follow their medical judgment” more — there are so many false beliefs out there about trans people just being trans because we are traumatized (when in reality, most of us are traumatized because of how violent transphobia and gender norms are in our society, of being raised and socialized to be a gender that doesn’t fit us from infancy).Trans children allowed to use their chosen name are 65% less likely to kill themselves than those who aren’t. I can expand on this to guess also that having access to the medical we need is literally life saving. This isn’t just a statistic. Leelah Alcorn begs us to stay grounded and embodied in how urgent transphobia is, and on the importance of having access to medical treatment and validation of who we are.
I didn’t realize how much gender dysphoria I was suffering from till it got better. I didn’t realize how good I could feel in my body till it happened. I didn’t know hormones would feel necessary and life saving to me when I started them (some people do, and that experience is real too), but that’s what is true now. I can’t imagine my life without them, and I’m sure that people unable to access their medical treatment they need or want will definitely worsen the mental health and suicide rate of trans people. And as always, hate-based legislation will justify hate crimes against trans people more. I am not looking forward to that — that will happen wherever we live.
There is a lot I could say about this latest announcement from Trump. Mostly, I’m just once again deciding to hold the complexity — of my medical trauma, of the waiting period to hear how dehumanized me and my trans siblings will be. Of gratitude I have to be able to access the best healthcare I ever have at community clinics this last year through Medicaid (though I still have microaggressions and medical trauma surface every time I’m there), how much better it’s been than the very transphobic and expensive private insurance company that claims it’s the leader in trans healthcare. How I’m just this year beginning to think about the trauma and oppression of growing up trans and queer in a rural state that didn’t have visible trans or queer people, let alone adequate healthcare. I feel grateful I wasn’t out even to myself back then, because my trauma from the medical system would be even worse than it is now. I’m grateful I live in a state where I have access to many doctors that will give me care because their religious beliefs and scientific backgrounds don’t contradict my body getting the care I want. And I’m also holding how much I have had to lie to my doctors the care I need, how I still struggle to get my testosterone prescription filled every month. My heart aches for all of my rural trans siblings and siblings in more conservative states who will be so deeply impacted if this passes. I could use my white-encultured individualism to realize I’ll likely be fine in this case and forget about it, but I can’t forget or stop caring deeply about my other trans siblings who will be fighting to get the care they need.
I’m angry. I’m grieving. I’m grateful for the people holding me in it. May we hold each other gently, may we hold our trans siblings well.
What does it mean to be held well? Blessings to the few people in my life who have asked me that question. For each trans person it means something different. It’s one thing to read an article on how to think well of trans people and treat trans people well — it’s another thing to dare to be so close to a trans person that you’re willing to mess it up, willing to apologize, willing to advocate for your own needs and have boundaries, and willing to support the person how they need to be supported, and to be willing to grow your capacity for holding the trauma and pain of trans people as we are watching those in power to teach others to hate us, and fighting not to learn to hate ourselves.
For me, it means to be able to cry and cry without judgment. It means being physically held while I shout and grieve for the ways things are right now. It means you not spiraling out when I am feeling my feelings. It means just being with me, without the news having to mean something for you. It means not explaining to me why this news is transphobic to prove that you know something. It means not telling me I’m not being loving enough for isolating myself after experiencing transphobia. It means letting me be with my experience, and witnessing it. It means checking in on me when you know I’m struggling or suicidal — letting me know you care about me, even if you’re not able to give me more than that. It means being gracious when I have to cancel on you or am slow to respond to messages — I am generally surviving a lot in this world. But this is just my view — ask the trans people in your lives what it means to be held well. We are each unique humans in this world, doing what we need to survive and working hard to thrive.
Being held around my trans pain is a critical part of letting oppression move through my body so that it doesn’t become stored trauma. And I know that it’s not just trans people that haven’t been held well. May we all have the joy and wholeness of getting to feel held around our experiences in our lives, and may we learn how to hold trans people and other oppressed people well and in love.