In a desperate ploy to villify the transgender community, conservatives across the country are trying to cast transgender folks as intruders into traditionally gendered spaces. In particular, they’re focused on engaging in a politics of fear which depicts transgender folks (inaccurately) as violent aggressors in bathrooms). Currently, seventeen anti-trans bills are being considered amongst ten state legislatures, including those in South Dakota, Kentucky, and Missouri.
What exactly do these “bathroom bills” accomplish? The doors to public restrooms and school locker rooms are certainly not monitored and blockaded by a person taking careful note of one’s gender identity or even genetalia. Bills such as HB1624 in Missouri and HB4474 in Illinois only serve to implement an increased level of hateful rhetoric in the public psyche. These bills support the practices of a society obsessed with gender policing and bolsters the disregard for transgender folks in our communities.
In policing the gender identity and presentation of transgender folks, we stand in disregard of their emotions, safety, and security. We also deny them of any basic level of human respect. The bravery of transgender students like then fifth grader Nicole Maines to stand before Maine’s highest court in 2014 for her right to use the female designated student restroom and the student physically assaulted by peers in a San Francisco school restroom is astounding. It has been reported that 75% of transgender students feel unsafe in their schools, and 59% have been denied entrance to a restroom in accordance with their gender identity. Over 50% of transgender youth will attempt suicide in their lifetime, and 55% of transgender youth report physical attacks based on their gender expression or identity having occurred in their schools. Reports from organizations and coalitions such as the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs present even more sobering facts on the homicide rates of transgender people, especially transgender women and transgender women of color. These are the people impacted by the hateful rhetoric of our state legislatures, rather than those harboring bigoted imaginary fear toward members of the transgender communities.
Where does our gender and body policing end? At what point is a student, transgender or not, perceived as too feminine or too masculine presenting to use a certain restroom in our public schools, and by whom? Where do we as a society allow one another to feel comfortable and secure, to express ourselves and choose our own identities as we so please? Rather than allow ourselves to be consumed by the fear of each other’s bodies, let us instead stand against rigid gender roles, body policing, and a culture which allows us to excuse hateful speech and action in the name of ignorance. As we’re reminded by conservatives’ attempts to pit us against each other, our collective liberation requires collective participation. Until cisgender people stand squarely against this attempt to castigate our transgender siblings, we will not ourselves be free. The reality of oppression and violence against our transgender community members necessitates that we do better. And we can. This past week, International Transgender Day of Visibility was celebrated around the world. We must stand with and support our transgender siblings on these important days of solidarity and throughout the year, in order to make the world safer for transgender people, and all people.