What Waking Up Transgender in America Feels Like


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I’m going to be entirely honest. I’m so damn tired. I have been sitting here, staring at a blank computer screen trying my best to muster up the energy to write. I want so badly to explain to you the anger, sadness, pain, and fear that I feel as a transgender person after the news that the Trump administration will likely release a memo later this year effectively denying the existence of trans people.

I know I need to write. I need to have my voice heard. I need to speak out, to yell, to demand action, to ask for your support. I don’t really have any choice not to. To remain silent on the cusp of my civil rights being taken away feels tantamount to giving up. But honestly, it took me four hours to find the mental wherewithal just to write that paragraph.

Perhaps it’s best for me explain how I got here. Let me give a glimpse of the emotional cycle a transgender person goes through in this country today.

Saturday was perfect. Braving the scorching LA heat, I was privileged to be able to moderate a panel for GLSEN at “Models of Pride,” the world’s largest LGBTQ youth conference. That evening, I got to play the proud girlfriend for my partner, a board member for GLSEN’s LA chapter, at a professional mixer. As our hectic day wound down, we went home, cooked some pizza, changed into pajamas, and turned on the latest season of Daredevil. I fell asleep curled up next to the love of my life, content at all that I had accomplished.

After such a long and exhausting day, preceded by an even longer work week, I was ready to use my Sunday to finally relax. I would spend a couple hours cuddling in bed, catch up on some video games, and watch even more of Vincent D’Onofrio’s amazing performance as the Kingpin.

I didn’t get to have any of that.

Instead, I woke to my girlfriend telling me to look at the news. Popping online, I learned that the Trump administration will soon enact a policy defining away the existence of transgender people. I read that the most powerful man in the world believed that I had been, as The New York Times put it, “wrongfully extend[ed] civil rights protections.” Thus began my Sunday.

At first, I was curious. What would this policy actually entail? When would it be implemented? As someone who is post-gender confirmation surgery and has changed all her gender documentation, would this affect me? What does this mean for intersex people? What would the ramifications for my daily life be?  Which of my rights would be affected? As my brain swirled with questions, my girlfriend and I sat on opposite sides of the bed, lost in our own worlds of worry.

Then, I was angry. How can Trump’s administration say I don’t exist!? I’m right here! I just want to live my life in peace! They can’t take away my rights, my gender identity, everything that I have spent so hard fighting for these past few years! I spent my morning shower and breakfast in a sea of red.

Then, I was vocal. I posted on all my social media feeds. I Instagrammed, I tweeted, I shared articles. I wrote a short video for my YouTube channel describing my feelings about the news. I filmed, edited, and posted it up online. A few hours of my “lazy” Sunday lost to work.

Then, I was defensive. Scrolling through all the comments on my video and social media, I passed by all the support and love, because all I could see today was the negativity. I locked onto all the posts saying “transgender people just want special treatment” or “trans people are already given protections because they’re mentally ill” or the always eloquent “THEIR R ONLY TOO GENDRS” comment. I clapped back, writing away as I pointed out all their ill-conceived arguments and thinly-veiled transphobia, all as my Sunday afternoon slipped away.

Then, I was worried. I met some friends at a local street fair but found myself ignoring the group’s conversation. Instead, I watched the people walking by, wondering if any of them shared my online harasser’s transphobia. Did my obviously transgender appearance make me an “other”? Was I out of place here? Was I just being tolerated as I walked down the street? I could feel their eyes staring at me as I walked by, taking an extra minute to try to figure me out. This was by no means new. I deal with that every day of my life as someone visibly transgender. Yet today, it felt more hostile and otherizing that usual. I left the fair early because I suddenly didn’t feel comfortable in such a public space.

Then, I was scared. As I drove home, I began to think… is this really my country? How can there be this many people who believe that I shouldn’t have the right to live the life that I choose? I have the right to narrate the story of my own body, but will I legally have that right? What if I got into a car accident right now? Would some doctor deny me care because I’m transgender? What if I tried to take a vacation in another country? Would my gender marker prevent me from coming back home? What about my future? Will I be legally allowed to become a parent, like I so desperately want one day? That last question hit me hard, and I began to cry as I drove down the freeway, the sun setting in the distance.

Then, I was heartbroken. I got home, fed my cat, warmed up leftover pizza, and turned on the next episode of Daredevil. Despite being in the same place as I had been just 24 hours earlier, everything felt completely different. I just want to live my life. I just want to know that my future is mine to define. Yet, I don’t know if that will ever be the case again. And I don’t know if I can stop that. Suddenly, my best friend, who also happens to be trans, texted me. They were scared for their future, just as I was. I couldn’t respond. I had no comfort to give. Instead, I turned off the light and climbed into bed.

In just 24 hours, I had run the emotional gamut. I felt exhausted, desperate to recharge. Yet, lying in the dark, I couldn’t sleep. My fear kept me awake, hours after I normally would have fallen asleep.

Those were all the emotions I went through upon hearing the news Sunday morning. And I’m an upper-middle-class white person living in Los Angeles, an area filled with supportive friends and communities. Imagine hearing that news while being the only trans person living in your rural community. Imagine hearing that news as a trans woman of color, who are consistently the most at-risk minority in the United States. Imagine being a young, scared teenager who just wishes to share their deepest secret with someone, anyone, and then hearing that the government meant to protect you is actively trying to deny you rights if you came out.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to go through this entire cycle. I went through it after the 2016 election. I went through it after the transgender military ban announcement. I went through it after Betsy DeVos pulled Obama-era guidances that protected trans students. I went through it after being told I would die from AIDS by a woman in the grocery store. I went through it after being chased around the mall by a man yelling, “It’s a man. It’s a man.” I went through it when my gender non-conforming sister attempted suicide. I’ve been here numerous times before. And heaven knows, I’ll probably be here again. I’ll go through this whole damn cycle at some point in the future.

Don’t worry. I’ll find myself again. I promise. I will continue fighting the fight for the brighter future I know will come. But today, I honestly just can’t.

Today, I’m numb. I can’t feel anything. I just want to sit here, and do nothing. Yet, I can’t. I have to write this for you. I have to make you understand.

Today, more than any other, I need you. I need you to feel everything that I can’t. I need you to feel my anger. I need you to feel my sadness. My worries. My fear. I’m asking you to have what appears to be in short supply these days in America. Empathy.

Then, I’m asking that you fight for transgender people, just as we have tried our best to be there for you. I’m asking you to be my ally.

I’m asking you to feel what I feel. So that I don’t have to feel it all alone anymore.

JESSIE EARL is a video producer for The Advocate.

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide Trans Lifeline can be reached at (877) 565-8860. LGBTQ youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

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