A Political Primer to Being Trans in the US of A
Congratulations! You have recently joined the trans community, have a loved one who’s come out as trans, or are just reading this article for entertainment value. Any way you got here, know that trans issues are complicated, and the mainstream has a really skewed view of what we, as trans folk, should and should not be.
But fuck those people. Here’s the basics of what you should know, particularly prior to speaking publicly as an ambassador for the trans community (as, let’s face it, most of you will probably have to do this at one point or another in your lives).
1. Trans people deserve love, respect, and equal access to services
This is first because it’s the most important thing in the world for trans people. Every trans joke, trans panic scandal, and mainstream query about the legitimacy of trans identity is an attack on the community you are now openly a part of. Most of those attacks don’t land on a conscious level, but instead serve to undermine your developing self-esteem and identity. Just like how racism seeps into everyone in weird and unconscious ways, so too are we marinating in a stew of heterosexist (i.e. assuming everyone’s straight) and cisnormative (i.e. assuming no one is trans) bullshit.
Luckily, it is bullshit. You will be loved. You will be respected. You will find a community that accepts you for you. You will find willing sex partners who do the things that get you off. These truths can’t be changed by all the anti-trans propaganda in the world. As long as there’s been society, there have been trans folk, and as long as there have been trans folk, there have been people who loved trans folk. People who respected trans folk. People who worked alongside trans folk. Just because the narrative hasn’t always included us, doesn’t change the fact that we’ve always been here.
There will be dark days, because many of the people you know from before you came out will be unable or unwilling to grapple with all their subconscious shit. Family can be particularly bad on this front, because there is an underlying entitlement to your affection that many family members often assume. You can walk away from them, though. Keep open channels if it’s healthy for you to do so, but if you need to sever all ties, do it. You can always reevaluate down the line, when you’re in a better place; in the meantime, poisonous people have no claim on your love.
The truth is a powerful tool. Now that you’re being true to yourself, you have the power that comes from new beginnings. Do not hesitate to use it.
2. Readjustment is a pain in the ass
Shockingly, men and women are not born with an innate knowledge of the many gender-related differences specific to a given society. Most people have this knowledge hammered into their heads during the school years; unless you’re super lucky, you were being hammered with all sorts of counterproductive bullshit during that time. The result is that survival strategies that worked for you when you were presenting as a man aren’t going to work as you live as a woman, and vice versa. You’re going to have to adapt to these norms to some degree (though hopefully not totally, as plenty of those norms are hella fucked up).
It takes time to figure this shit out, and it can be more embarrassing than anything else you’ll ever experience. Think about how high school was for people who didn’t fit in, and then magnify that awkwardness tenfold. For trans women, this means going out in bad makeup, or weird clothing choices, or being told you’re too aggressive in the way you speak, and so on. For trans guys, this means acting insufficiently masculine. As many of us know, men have fewer tripping points than women in our patriarchal society.
It’s like a circus. Learning how to be a woman in our country is like being a clown on a high-wire, while learning how to be a man is more like being a strongman who is also a horse trainer. Both have their pitfalls, but the clown has farther to fall.
Does this sound terrifying? It can be. But the good news is that all the awkward is more than balanced out by two factors: you get to be true to yourself, finally, and you get to craft your presentation and identity in ways that most cis people don’t. You are a butterfly in your chrysalis during this process, and you will come out stronger, better, and (frankly) more attractive for your efforts. It’s a necessary evil, but it usually only takes a year or two to get the bulk of it over with.
You will make it through to the other side.
3. Surgical choices do not determine who is “trans enough”
When I was a tadpole, I did a fair amount of lurking on trans message boards. Incidentally, I would advise against this most of the time; I only found one message board that wasn’t explicitly toxic, and that message board, while now dead, was hella aggressive (if ultimately uplifting). When I was lurking, I bore witness to a fair number of cracked discussions about what it takes to be a legitimate trans.
Some people say you needed to get genital reassignment surgery, trying to draw a distinction between trans folk and “transsexuals,” who are for some reason better. Some people say you needed to be sterilized… I am not making this shit up, btws, that is a thing that someone went on at length about, albeit in vaguely euphemistic form. Some people push plastic surgery, face work, or all sorts of cosmetic procedures. Everyone is wrong.
You need jack shit in the way of surgery to be a legitimate trans person. Any policy that requires a certain type of surgical intervention is a bullshit policy, and it should be resisted with all the power of our community… which is, admittedly, not a ton of power.
That having been said, you should get all the legitimate surgeries you want (but not pumping, never do silicone injections, seriously). Just make sure it’s you that wants it.
Changing your body for someone else sucks, and it double sucks if you’re changing it to fit in. There is a ton of pressure on trans people, particularly trans women, to look like a goddamn avatar of gendered expectations. While many people build up a resistance to these demands during their high school years, you were probably socialized differently during that part of your life. Having gone through a different socialization process you may lack the appropriate defenses against the ways in which expectations of gender perfection will wear you down.
In our community, that often shows up as body dysmorphia. That’s a fancy term for having a skewed perspective on how you look in the mirror. Plenty of people, myself included, are psychologically incapable of having a neutral perspective on how they look. You see it around eating disorders or that obsessive gym thing, but in trans people it often shows up in surgery. People get told that surgery will make them feel better about what they see in the mirror, but it’s a rare psychological issue that has a surgical cure. Most people will still have issues looking in the mirror after their procedures, and that’s where people can fall into a surgery addiction. Surgery addicts are people just like anyone else, and deserve just as much respect as the next person. Full stop. But! It’s an expensive habit with long term physical consequences… in short, it’s an addiction. Best to avoid those before they get their claws in.
And honestly, it is straight up not in your best interest to shoot for perfection unless you’re already there. There’s no surgery that will fix your bone structure, your interests, and your history. Work with what you’ve got. If you’re a chubby girl, don’t feel like you need to be a skeleton to catch a dick, flesh or silicone. Just be a zaftig beauty! If you’re basically a tomboy who got incorrectly raised as a cisboy, maybe high femme isn’t the presentation that’s best for you. Get a stylish short haircut! If you’re a femme dude, don’t think you suddenly have to butch it up to be taken as a man. Flaunt your fashions with your head held high!
One of the major reasons to come out is because living a lie puts a tremendous strain on your shoulders. If you let other people govern your style and your body, your freedom is still constrained. Be true to you.
4. Feminism is a good way of looking at the world, but some feminists suck
The problem with movements is that they move. Over time, mandates grow and shift, leadership turns over, and the social context for the movement changes. All of these things are why it’s not a great idea to put your faith in Feminism the Movement, i.e. White Feminism (as named by the black women whose interests have long been shoved aside). Movement feminism has a long history of leaving women by the side of the road when it was no longer convenient to fight on all the intersections… women of color, queer women, and trans women all saw their issues dropped as being a “distraction” from “serious issues” that plague “all women.”
Don’t get me wrong, things like Equal Pay laws are important to support, but your average woman is in a profession that’s seen its compensation decrease wholescale in real dollars. This is particularly true of socially beneficial positions like nursing or teaching. Given that, making sure all the high-end office women make as much as the dude in the next cubicle doesn’t really serve the interests of all women. Now, universal childcare, a crackdown on wage theft, and an end to austerity policies are all different things that would uplift women across the spectrum… but as we’ve seen in the queer movement with gay marriage, the people with the money to buy political organizations don’t give two shits about the lives of those of us who have not been comparably blessed.
That having been said, feminism is a great lens through which to see the world. No human can see everything, and we’re all soaked in bigotry, hatred, and disdain as Americans (although that’s probably true for most cultures). But feminism gives us a tool to make sense of the perspectives of others, while showing many of the reasons we should avoid knee-jerk subservience to a social order that demands obeisance. If you start questioning why men should have disproportionate power in this country, it’s easier to ask the question about race, sexuality, gender identity, or ability. After all, “because divine law” and “because tradition” are both shitty arguments that dissolve under the slightest of scrutinies.
That’s why the best type of feminism, by far, is intersectional feminism. (Some trans folk also like trans feminism, but that’s just a more specific place within the intersectional umbrella.) Intersectional feminism is all about recognizing that most people are not just one thing. A white woman like me is also trans, queer, fat, vaguely gender nonconforming, and crazy. A trans woman of color has to deal with racism on top of taking shit for being a woman and being trans. It’s a fairly simple level of analysis, but it has proven difficult to adopt by those who are only one thing (mostly straight white cis women).
You can use this insight in a variety of ways. The first, and by far the most important, is to come from a place of empathy for others. Even our enemies have a context for their actions, and while we don’t have to like them, it certainly helps to understand the conflicting pressures that motivate them. Another involves interrogating your own assumptions. We’re stewed in a morass of bullshit in this country, and kept overstimulated and busy. That’s the perfect context for our minds to take shortcuts without us realizing it, and those shortcuts often materialize as assumptions or stereotypes. Now, maybe you’re into being a racist, sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, ableist, and otherwise unexamined asshole. Some people are! But if that’s not you (and it shouldn’t be), you need to be willing to grapple with what what going through your head whenever you do something problematic.
That’s even more true if you get called out, by the way. It’s embarrassing to have a flaw pointed out in public, but doubling down is rarely the right play. Take these interactions as opportunities, and know that the people calling you out aren’t intending it to be an attack.
It’s just that hurt people just don’t always have the nicest ways of phrasing their frustrations in response to a perceived insult. That’s just basic humanity. Since you hurt them in your inadvertence, there is literally no reason to expect that they’ll engage with you in a polite and submissive fashion. That’s on you. And it’s been on me too in the past. It’s part of belonging to a fractious movement that cuts across all identities, and when you step on someone’s toes you need to think about that. Check your shit, and then give a genuine apology that puts the focus on what you did, and not on how what you did made other people feel.
But there are parts of the feminist movement explicitly attacking other women. For us trans folk, this is going to be most relevant with TERFs and SWERFs. TERF and SWERF are descriptive acronyms, referring to Trans and/or Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists. TERF and SWERF are broadly decried as slanderous by the people most accurately described by these terms, but that’s because we live in an era of white fragility and outrage culture. Since Americans like to root for an underdog, even the people in power like to pretend that they’re being hounded by all those powerful trans people, sex workers, and other miscellaneous outsiders. Objectively, though, that’s bullshit. If you’re a white woman using your media access to attack a group of outcasts trying to survive in a harsh world, you’re not the David to our Goliaths. You’re a bully, no matter how hard you try to spin it.
Here’s a brief taxonomy of these often-overlapping types:
TERFs are the ones you see writing NYTimes op eds about how trans women aren’t women at all because of some complex justification that cuts against our lived experience, typically in rather flagrantly obvious ways. They also have a nasty habit of resorting to abusive tactics like doxxing (exposing a person’s personal information) or SLAPPing people down. SLAPP, by the way, refers to a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation; it’s a rather fancy term for suing someone poorer than you are to force them into compliance, typically regarding getting them to remove accurate information. It’s a dick move, but TERFs aren’t known for their empathy.
SWERFs tend to be a little more insidious, because we’ve been taught all sorts of terrible things about sex workers. The favorite play of the SWERF is to play up all anti-sex work measures as being tailored to stop human trafficking. Having seen a fair bit of the underlying data upon which these assumptions are built, let me tell you… it is flagrantly unreliable. While there are a percentage of people in the sex industry who are slaves in the sense that most people understand the word, they are exponentially outweighed by women who have some degree of agency in their particular career path. And even if the issue wasn’t primarily hype, none of the anti-sex work laws these people promote are targeted at ending human trafficking. If you actually give a shit about the women whose lives you’re using to reinforce your moral panic, you would be a defender of full legalization of all types of sex work; human trafficking only works when sex work is kept in the shadows. So you have a strain of feminism that’s based on false statistics, moralizes the shit out of them, and then promotes policies that make the lives of all sex workers worse. Scummy fucking people, them.
At least TERFs have some defenses for their bigotry; ambiguity aversion is as American as cherry pie. SWERFs are either evil or stupid, as they promote statistics and policies that dissolve under the slightest of scrutiny. In that, they’re like Republicans.
Don’t be a Republican.
Anyway, the open secret that all sorts of folk try to keep from you is that your average sex worker is a wonderful human living a life by his, her, hir, or their own terms. While some women, particularly trans women, engage in survival sex work, none of those women are benefited by the bullshit “fallen woman” narrative that our society is so invested in pushing. You can be against sex work in your own life, and it’s fine to want to never do it yourself… but don’t dick over the other members of our community just because you have a (probably reasonable) personal objection to doing sex stuff for money.
And that bleeds into the next point.
5. The bastards win when they can set trans folk against one another
While you’ll often see trans folk trying to drive the sex workers out of the community fora for respectability reasons (which is a dumb strategy, ask W.E.B. Du Bois), the biggest schisms in the trans community fall upon two main axes. Unsurprisingly, these correspond to major fault-lines in American society: race and gender.
Have you ever seen the speaking lineup for a Trans Day of Remembrance event, particularly ones around psuedoliberal places like college campuses? Literally every one that I’ve seen has been a bunch of cisgender queer folk, three white trans dudes, and one older white trans woman. Your experiences may vary, of course, but the point remains the same.
There is nothing wrong with these people wanting to help out with remembering the names of our dead (although, what a fucking morbid holiday), but dead trans people are almost all from the same subset of the trans umbrella: young, poor, trans women of color. The tremendous amount of risk those women have to suffer through will not find a solution until we can stop trying to diffuse the danger across the rest of our coalition. Trans people of color are significantly more at risk than white trans folk, and having an event that uses the names of the fallen to benefit primarily white, male, and/or older trans people is fucked up. People of color in our movement are disproportionately pushed to the outskirts as is; this murder memorial was never for their benefit. And this is just one example of the racial schism in the trans community: a bunch of white folk publically trembling in fear while doing nothing to decrease the real risk to our trans sisters of color.
Now, it’s worth taking a side note here to soften some of that last paragraph. For many white people, particularly privileged white people, risk of hate-based assault is a new thing. Going from 0% risk to 5% risk is scary for those folk. But 5% risk is nothing compared to the 50% risk that our trans sisters of color face. We, as white people (while not all readers may be white, I am), need to get our fear under control. It’s terrible that we’re now in a position of less privilege than we were prior to transition, but any solution must first specifically raise trans women of color from the shark-infested waters before we can start working on raising the tide more generally.
Lost privilege brings us to our next major schism: gender. Now, most Americans are taught that America is a place where men and women have equal opportunity, and that any variance in our representation in Congress (less than 20%), in the board room (less than 5% of Fortune 500 companies), or in the tech industry (less than 25%) is due to the personal failings or innate disabilities of women across our society. This is bullshit, and should be rejected as such. Other democracies have higher percentages of women in government than we do, and the tech industry started out majority woman-identified people before schools started to teach that women weren’t good at code. Shockingly, teaching children about women’s inherent inferiority diminishes the probability of future success for said women. And, with a few minor exceptions, all trans folk spend some time in our lives as women.
But trans guys don’t stay that way. As such, trans dudes are often granted access to places on both sides of the coin that trans women are not welcome. The bullshit women’s music festival that was proudly transmisogynistic until its last breath was always open to trans men. This lead to absolutely infuriating situations when protesting the event when some dude with a full beard would say some shit about how I’m not a real woman in his eyes… usually because of some imagined universal childhood that has literally never been true for women of all colors and socio-economic statuses. Trans dudes have kept trans women out of sex parties because “bio cock” might be triggering to people, as they mosh about with their lifelike packers hanging out of their pants. And to this day, women’s colleges are only slowly coming around to letting in trans women, while they’ve had trans male students living and graduating from their facilities since trans people could come out. Simultaneous to all this, trans dudes are also getting the benefit of male privilege, particularly if they pass as cis. In short, while trans guys take a hit in their privilege on the basis of being trans, beyond that they are guys, and that means a broadening of the spaces they can access.
Of course, the counterpoint to all those listed sins of the trans guys is that trans guys see trans women as crazy raging bitches who take up too much space in the communities because of an entitlement learned in childhood. Trans women come at trans guys for language infractions, trans women try to blow up their cozy spots in women’s colleges, and trans women push for equal representation in ways that cut against the fact that trans dudes are less influential or recognized in the broader culture, even as they are more celebrated in the queer world.
And I’m not even mentioning all the ways in which the binary-identified push out the nonbinary and genderfluid people. When you’re fighting to have your gender recognized, someone who’s blurring the lines tends to look like a speedbump, and goes under the bus in the same exact way.
The bald truth is that we’ve all been shitty to one another, and it needs to stop. Trans guys need to use their access to spaces to bring in trans women, and trans women need to recognize that the reduced cultural profile for trans men is actively baneful to their well being. Nonbinary people need to understand that their allies are invested in gender, and make sure to be clear when advocating for themselves that their gender fluidity is not evidence of the illegitimacy of binary identification. And the binary folk need to stick up for our genderqueer family, and avoid pulling HRC-level bullshit like bargaining them out of the coalition for short term gains. There’s more uniting us than dividing us, and the unfriendly world can’t tell the difference between all the different flavors of trans. We need to back each other up, even when it comes at a price.
That’s the next point.
6. Survival is the most important thing, but don’t throw others under the bus
Survival in the trans community is a funny thing. Because of the low incidence of trans people in the general population, many trans people come out to a social group with literally no experience in interacting with a trans person. The stuff that seems simple to us often takes some time for the ignorant to rederive. I say ignorant here because I believe that for the vast majority of people, once they get to know a couple of trans people they get significantly better about this shit; a lot of the struggles you will face with people you care about is due to them simply not having the frame of reference to handle it. One of my college friends, when I asked him why the fuck he was being weird around me, told me that he placed everyone in boxes, and he was weird around me because I didn’t fit into any of them. Two years later we roomed together in the same suite, and he was the one at that school who knew me the best. He wasn’t evil, he just didn’t know his head from his ass on this issue. Once he did, he was the best friend a girl could have.
Unfortunately, that ignorance of trans things means that you’ll often have to cut through a tangle of stereotypes and really weird hangups to get someone to come to their senses. And the more often you have to do that, the more tiring it’s going to get. It is easy, then, to focus on yourself when you’re doing this disentanglement. Instead of getting a friend to actually consider trans people as a class, and to become chill with the very underlying idea, it’s often easier to get whitelisted in their brain. They’ll still think some awful things about trans people in general, but they have a special cutout just for you, based on whatever affection made you friends in the first place. There will be temptations to reinforce this by making a differentiation between “good trans” folk and “bad trannies” (and while I fucking hate that term, that’s probably how at least some of the people are going to see you).
Ultimately, this is self-defeating. We’re at a point in our culture where we can see that “I have a black friend” isn’t a defense against racism. Even where it’s true (and it’s not always true when used), holding one person apart from the horde of humanity doesn’t mean you can’t treat the rest of those people like trash. Given that, being whitelisted by a transphobe doesn’t make you particularly safe in the long run. There’s always the chance, if you’ve legitimized the concept of people who are bad because of how they trans, that you end up doing something “bad” yourself. And in that case, you’ll end up with someone turning on you, and all that potential energy that’s stored up with your exemption will snap back like a rubber band.
Even if it wasn’t a risk, though, it’s still a dick move to throw other trans folk under the bus. You are now a member of a minority group. You may be familiar with this, you may not. Either way, we’re all struggling, we’re all pointed in vaguely the same direction, and the only way we end up winning, by which I mean full acceptance and support from society, is if a critical mass of us can stick together and show the mainstream that we’re to be taken seriously. It’s hard to do that if we keep making things easier for ourselves by making it harder for the next person. College housing is a good example of this. It’s far easier to get an individual exemption to gendered housing, but that means the next person through is going to have to wade through the same shit. By challenging them on gendered housing altogether (to allow for self-identification, and to allow genderqueer folk to basically choose) you will be ensuring that the next person has one less gate to break through.
But you’re not always going to be in a position where it’s safe for you to take a stand. Trans people are discriminated against in the workplace, we’re at risk of harm from a hate-filled world (with the caveats mentioned above), and we carry the strain of lying for survival for years; that all leaves a mark. In those cases, it is enough to keep from making things worse, while making a positive difference when you safely can.
You can do a lot without coming out as trans. Bigotry thrives in situations where people feel obligated to play along for the sake of harmony. Often you can do a lot of good just by speaking up, so that others, who are not comfortable enough with us to stand up for us on their own, have a space to talk about their experiences with the trans community. Even our cis allies should be doing that, so we don’t have to come out to do it.
Some people will be able to make a difference by getting their place of employment to adopt an anti-discrimination policy which includes trans folk. Some people are in cultural industries, and can use their access to these spaces to get the creators to stay away from trans tropes. You can make sure another trans person’s identity is correct in your database, you can get your coworkers to stop making trans jokes, and you can provide make sure the bathrooms in your facility are open for trans people to self-identify. Again, none of these things require you be out as trans because these are all things we should expect from our cisgender allies.
Now, I’m lucky in this regard, because I have passing privilege. I get to be viewed as cisgender in neutral spaces, which gives me a choice that some others don’t have. But no matter how well you pass as cisgender, the key is to figure out the way in which you can most effectively benefit the community without risking your physical, mental, or emotional health. Survival is priority number one, but “not actively making the lives of trans people worse” is a fairly close priority number two.
7. Get your house in order before you speak for the rest of us
But what if you are out whether you like it or not? What if you choose to be out? What if you want to make an active difference for other trans folk?
You can! But here’s the thing. When you’re newly transitioned, you’re like a foal: uncertain on your feet. That’s the point where you’re most susceptible to being manipulated or used in a way that ends up hurting trans folk. One common example when I was younger was the way in which trans women who were doing video interviews would commonly let the interviewer get B-roll of them putting on their makeup. This, then, would be played (often as an intro), which implied a host of negative things including that trans identity is something that’s put on like makeup, and that all trans women are going to be inherently high femme. Plus, it’s just fucking demeaning. It’s like a woman political candidate being asked about her hair, only the trans version: irrelevant to the point at hand. I thought we had moved away from that one, but that’s how Caitlyn Jenner’s high-profile special began.
Now, the more privilege a person has the longer they’re going to be able to put up with living a lie. Obviously there are outliers in all directions, but in general, if you have nothing to lose there’s no reason to avoid transition, whereas if you’ve been ill-prepared to live without your privilege, losing it is going to be a real fear. Unfortunately, this leads to some fucked up shit, because when a privileged person transitions, there is a period of time in which they still have a tremendous amount of social capital and are looked upon as trans geniuses, all while they’re still spouting Gender Studies 101-level misunderstandings of the trans coalition.
It’s most notable in famous trans people, though it happens on all levels. Chaz Bono transitioned, got famous as soon as he came out, and then he said a lot of ill-advised, often transmisogynistic jabber. Caitlyn Jenner followed a same trajectory, being hella privileged and famous prior to transition, and then being embraced by society as a nonthreatening trans avatar while she said some idiotic bullshit, like claiming membership to a Republican party that responded by calling her a man. Like endorsing the presidential candidate most actively disgusted by trans people.
Again, don’t be a Republican.
Laverne Cox, on the other hand, had a different path. She wasn’t a particularly privileged person prior to transition, and her early media experiences were low-profile enough such that if she said anything idiotic in her intro period, it has been lost to time. Instead, when she hit it big time, she had her thinking in a row. She used her media power to help out an unjustly imprisoned trans woman (see Free Cece, whose experience is also a documentary thanks to Laverne), and she promoted other trans folk like Janet Mock. She didn’t have to do any of that, but she chose to make people’s lives better, and she thought about it long enough to know the best ways to do it.
In short, Chaz and Caitlyn were used as tools while they were still new, still figuring their shit out, and still fresh in the public consciousness. Now they’re on tape, forever, saying things that Chaz has already disclaimed and Caitlyn may one day realize were abhorrent. Laverne, on the other hand, got her shit together ahead of time. Every time someone asks her about the state of her genitals or tries to diminish her accomplishments because she’s trans, she effortlessly redirects the conversation to why that’s a fucked up question to ask, or about how there’s a state of emergency for young trans women of color. In the long run, Laverne Cox is going to be remembered as the patron saint of our community, while Caitlyn and Chaz fade to obscurity like Alexis Arquette.
It’s bad for you, and it’s bad for the community. Talk to other trans folk, figure out where your politics are still roughly hewn, and then polish them into something that reflects well on all of us. It’s okay to say no to the attention. It’s okay to wait.
8. Fuck the police
As trans people cut across all demographics, there are going to be trans cops and trans people who love or care about members of the police forces. Even if you’re not in one of those categories, Americans are taught to respect authority, and police officers are the most apparent avatar of the power of the state. We, as a culture, are goddamn terrible at putting a leash on the fellow citizens we empower to protect us from internal threats. Unfortunately, the police have become the biggest internal threat around.
Trans people have worse outcomes on every level of the criminal justice system. Hell, we get pretty boned by the civil legal system as well, but civil lawsuits don’t raise the possibility of being interned in some rape camp.
Because we are sometimes ambiguous in our presentation, privileged cis folk are more likely to call the cops on us. This most notably happened in Iowa, recently, where hotel staff called the cops on some trans women. Their grounds were bullshit; the best thing they could point to was some inchoate fear of prostitution. That one gets thrown at trans women a lot, whether or not the woman in question has anything to do with capitalist sex.
Because of the power differential between the actors and the people forced through it, a particularly bigoted person at any level can cause a significant amount of damage. And while I think all trans people should be in favor of serious reform of the criminal justice system, the ones with power, the ones that transition late, on the job, and have already established nice middle-class lives, they tend not to understand the full horror of the criminal justice system, even as they’re suddenly more susceptible to it. Caitlyn Jenner got in a car accident back when she wasn’t out, and word about it only made the news after she transitioned and the prosecutor decided to go after her. Now, she’s rich; she hired expensive lawyers to keep her from facing that, and she ended up clear of danger. But it’s telling that it was important for the DA to go after her when he knew she was trans celebrity, and not when he thought she was just a cisgender white male celeb.
The thing that makes this all the more tragic is that individuals acting within the system only have a minimal ability to change it. Every effort at change runs into a blue wall of silence, or worse. Because of that, it’s not “fuck the individual human beings that make up the police,” it’s “fuck the police.” They may be paragons of all that is good in our culture as individual people, but when they put on that uniform and take up the awesome power of the law, the individual no longer matters.
And, throughout history, that’s how you get good people to commit atrocities. So fuck the police.
Fuck ’em all.
9. Make art
So, are you angry? Learning about all the shit trans people have to face down is enraging for most people. It’s just so capricious and cruel! There’s only one way I know to cleanse that rage, and that’s to turn it into art.
Now I do not have particularly restrictive definitions of what constitutes art. If your thing is really cool Facebook updates, do that. Painters can paint, cartoonists can comic, and writers can go on for thousands of words about how angry this shit makes them. The point is, you know what type of creation makes you the happiest. Do it, and share it with people.
Art won’t stop a bullet, but it’s one of the most powerful tools we have against broken political systems. Protest art has made a difference in the world, which is why propagandists are typically such a fan of it.
By sharing your art, you’ll let other people know how you feel. You may even sway some of them to your point of view. While there’s little you can do to control it, sometimes an idea captures the imagination of the world, and it passes through our social networks like a retrovirus. Viral content can touch swathes of people.
You don’t have to share your art, of course. If you are instead content solely with the process of creation, and the cleansing that it provides, feel free to keep it all yours. But you never know what will catch fire. You never know if this is the pebble that starts a landslide. And you never know when a piece of your art will touch another trans person, offering a mote of representation in a world clouded by dust.
Finally, art reminds the world we’re here. It’s so easy to overlook trans people due to our relatively wan numbers, and it’s in the interest of a lot of biased people to keep us from having any voice at all. Junot Diaz once said, “if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” The only way we stop them from turning us into a terrifying “other” is by letting them know what we’re really like underneath the stereotypes and hate.
10. Make change
This has been some heavy shit, no? After seeing all that, it’s easy to despair. But here’s the secret the world doesn’t want you to know: it doesn’t have to be like this. We can fix it, working piece by piece. Even if you can only make a small change, every improvement makes the world a little better, and makes the people who want to keep us down look more and more unreasonable. Their ability to look reasonable while promoting terrible policies and hatred is the only thing that keeps the haters from self-marginalizing. Shatter it.
Time is a river of shit in desperate need of a dam. Wade in as deep as you can and make the changes you can make, and the next person downstream will have a little better go of it. We can’t live forever. We can’t let fear control us. We must make these changes because we have always been here and we will always be here, and for the first time in millennia we have the communications technology to show the world we’re not alone. We do this for our sisters and brothers. We do this for the next generation of trans kids. And we do this for ourselves. Claim your power; make a difference.
The world is a better place for having trans people in it. Be loud, be proud, and go out there and kick some ass.