This past weekend, the New York Times acquired a memo from the Trump Administration defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth. This would prevent transgender people from being recognized as their authentic gender identity in homeless shelters, locker rooms, bathrooms, and dormitories as well as other government services.
While many of us in the LGBTQ community and our friends are rightfully horrified, this isn’t the first time the government has tried to erase transgender people. We have never been welcome in the U.S., but we have always been here. We have never been part of the American dream. We were never considered human unless we were able to blend in, undetected.
We were never respected until we fought back. We were never given our rights until we demanded them. Until 1969 when Stormie Delaverie resisted police harassment at Stonewall Inn and Marsha P. Johnson threw the first brick, we hid. We remained unseen, unheard. We lived in the shadows because it was the only way to survive.
We weren’t respected in California until 1966 when drag queens revolted against police at Compton’s Cafeteria. A transgender woman being harassed by the police threw coffee in the officer’s face. Until then, transgender and gender nonconforming people were mostly invisible on the streets of San Francisco.
It wasn’t until the early 1970s that we were even given a name to call ourselves. Transgender, meaning to move across gender. An umbrella term attempting to contain all that we are as gender diverse people. Fluid and beautiful in our infinite masculine and feminine expression.
This was far from the first name we were given and far from the beginning of our existence. We were here when Christopher Columbus stole land on Turtle Island. We existed in the time of the Egyptian Pharaoh and in the mountains of Mexico where the Muxe lived as third gender people.
We have existed throughout all of human history.
As the U.S. government attempts to erase transgender people, many might be left to wonder: why would you want to define nearly 2 million people out of existence? The most direct answer is that transgender people directly threaten the patriarchy and white supremacy.
Men cannot remain in power if binary gender roles aren’t enforced. The arbitrary idea that men are entitled to power is threatened when the infinite fluidity of gender is revealed. When gender isn’t based on genitals, power is shared collectively based on merit, not entitlement. The destruction of traditional gender roles also destroys male privilege.
If your power and wealth are based on gender, taking control of gender is a priority. This was true in the days when Columbus murdered indigenous two-spirit people and it is true now. Creating rules about how people express their gender is necessary to create rules that oppress. Transgender people need to be erased to maintain these systems.
The transgender community is, again, left with no choice but to fight for survival. To defend our existence. Again, we must throw the first brick. We must throw coffee into the face of authority. We must fight. And we will.
The first thing we need to do as a community is support each other. Trans people can’t afford to fight each other. We can’t afford to be divided. The LGB community needs to stand up for transgender people and stop using our struggle as a platform for fundraising.
We must vote. We can’t afford to sit out election cycles. Yes, transgender discrimination happens across party lines. No, voting is not a magic bullet that will solve all our problems. This system is flawed but we can make changes, especially locally and statewide. There are a record amount of women, trans people, and people of color running for office. If you can’t vote for them because you don’t live in the area, donate to their campaign.
Donate time and money to transgender led organizations. Look for organizations in your area and support national transgender led organizations like NCTE, SONG, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and Trans Lifeline. They need support now more than ever.
We as transgender people are at constant risk of physical and emotional violence. This violence increases when bigots are emboldened by discriminatory legislation and political statements. We need to learn to defend ourselves and surround ourselves with people who will defend us physically and emotionally.
We also need to be aware of the emotional trauma that we sustain when news like this comes down. We must take care of ourselves emotionally and not be ashamed to reach out for help. We must build support systems to help ease the emotional blows. The Trans Lifeline is available 24/7 (877-565-8860) and is run by transgender people.
We as a community need to stand up. Disrespect authority. This attempt at erasure is no different than the police raids of the 70s. If we allow them to happen, they will only get worse. The transgender community is going to stand up. We are going to fight because we have no choice.
We can’t do it alone. We need our cis allies to become traitors to systems that are oppressing the transgender community. We need the LGB community to stand up for trans femmes, who are the most vulnerable. We need to stand up together and remember that an assault on one of us is an assault on all of us.
This time we need to throw bricks together. Cisgender men need to throw coffee in the faces of authority and remind other cis men that when power is shared, we are stronger. Cisgender women need to march with us and remind their cis counterparts that trans women are women and trans men are men.
We have survived erasure before. We have overcome oppression. We will do it again.
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