I read an amazing article recently by Amanda Kerri, a trans woman living in the United States. It was a desperate plea to the LGB and Q community, begging them to not forget about their trans sisters and brothers at a time when their entire existence has been threatened.
I was so moved that I simply had to reach out to her and see if I could help to further spread her impassioned appeal beyond the LGB and Q communities. I hope that you will read her original piece published in the Advocate and I encourage you to share it to all of your friends, whether they be hetero, LGBTQ, or whatever. It is an important message that must be heard. I have linked to her original piece here.
As you will read, abuses of trans people, discrimination, and beyond are not only under reported by non-LGTBQ media, but it would seem that when many of these atrocities happen to a trans person, they go unpunished or largely unnoticed.
I wanted to do this piece for all of the cis/hetero individuals who actually do give a shit but may need an education, as I did, regarding the existence in which we relegate these living, breathing, loving, caring human beings.
The silence and indifference must stop. The ignorance cannot continue. These are important members of our society who we as a whole community are not doing right by. It is a worldwide issue and it must change. It is time to do better at a time when so many are trying to make it so, so much worse.
SZ :: I was hoping that you could give me an idea of the trans appeal that you so eloquently expressed in the Advocate article. What would you say to the rest of the cis/hetero world that they might not understand about the current trans situation?
AK :: The trans appeal to cis people is not that different from the appeal I made to other members of the LGBTQ community. People tend to forget that transgender people are more than just transgender and are black, white, Latino, conservative, liberal, urban, rural, hippie peaceniks and soldiers. Being transgender is only our gender identity and while it may shape some of our world view, it’s not all that defines us.
Transgender people just happen to be what I have heard described by others, quite accurately, as “the canary in the coal mine”. We are such a small, poorly understood group of people that it is easy to marginalize us without drawing any particular attention from the public. For over a year the Right has been removing transgender protections by erasing us from government documents and eliminating what little protections we have with almost no commentary outside the LGBTQ media. What you see happening to us, is just a start of what happens to everyone else. For example, the cruel death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, the 7 year old migrant girl who died in custody of ICE from neglect was forewarned by the death of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriquez, a transgender migrant who was beaten in ICE custody and medically neglected until she too died from dehydration.
I hate to say that if people noticed Roxsana’s death and were as shocked by it as they are Jakelin’s, then Jakelin might still be alive, but it’s clear this sort of cruelty and neglect was already there, but no one noticed. If they do something cruel to a transgender person and no one cares, you can rest assured they’ll do it to someone else.
SZ :: What does recognition under the law of your sexual identity mean to you? Why is it important? How does it make you feel that your rights and recognition are currently threatened under the Trump administration?
AK :: Most people don’t realize that there are few Federal laws that actually protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. There are policy decisions and executive orders, but very few actual laws. Even fewer for transgender people. While many states have their own equality laws, they vary from state to state on what they cover. For example, in Oklahoma there are no Federal or State laws that allow me housing or job protections. Basically, I can be fired for being trans and then thrown out of my apartment for being who I am and have no real legal recourse.
Actual protection and recogniztion for LGBTQ people would be a national legal recognition to protect me from job, housing, and medical discrimination. As I said, most protections on the Federal level have come from policy decisions, and those can change at the whims of the administration. The Trump administration has rolled back the Title IX student protections afforded to transgender people, removed identifying us from the 2020 census, deleted info about us on numerous government websites which effectively erases us from the system, and is trying to remove transgender people from military service. However, in what is probably the grossest attack on transgender people, is that Trump has revoked an Obama era rule that prevented medical practitioners from descriminating against us. When you live in a system where medical access can be limited this can actually prove fatal.
SZ :: What have been some of the major milestones in trans right over the last 20 years? How will the Trump administration potentially set back those achievements?
AK :: Much of the great uniquely trans rights milestones sadly are cultural. As I’ve mentioned, the legal ones have come either on the state level or from policy decisions by the Obama administration. As we have seen, Trump’s loathing of all things Obama is so profound I’m surprised he hasn’t plowed under Michelle’s vegetable garden. As it stands now, Trump’s most egregious attack yet is the most fundamental in that it plans to make the definition of gender solely determinate based upon genitalia at birth, which will make it government policy that being transgender simply doesn’t exist. Of course every major medical organization in the world disagrees with that.
SZ :: What are some of the biggest obstacles to attaining full rights and equality for trans people today?
AK :: The immediate and obvious answer is that in numerous states and at the Federal level, the conservatives are in charge which means no laws are going to get passed to protect transgender people. However what I see as the greatest obstacle to full rights and equality is what I have come to call “trickle down equality.” Sure, in many of the blue coastal states LGBTQ people have obtained near equal legal parity with the rest of society, but as I said, that’s not true in all places. However, many progressives think that this is often good enough, or that equality will “trickle down” through favorable court rulings. People forget that the Supreme Court rulings that gave America Jim Crow and legally ended Jim Crow both cited the 14th Amendment as precedent for their decisions. Additionally, with the Trump administration now gaining two SCOTUS picks as well as expanding the number of Federal judges in order to pack the lower courts, there is a growing obstacle to having that equality trickle down. Thinking that some executive order written or a departmental policy is good enough clearly isn’t. It’s an attitude of far too many progressives that equality for transgender people can come about by a well written amicus brief or generous interpretation of existing laws is honestly lazy thinking and passivity.
The only biggest obstacle to LGBTQ people obtaining equality is a passivity on the part of progressives and the left to obtaining it. We need clearly written and specific laws passed to protect us.
SZ :: Where are we falling short as a society with how we treat trans people? What can we do differently?
AK :: Well, to start, quick pointing us with a stick. Seriously we’re not that odd and people quit going to freakshows decades ago because we realized they were kind of gross and exploitative. Now days that problem with the way society falls short in treating trans people is that we’re seen as objects of pity or lust and very little else. I swear, if Hollywood makes another “crying junkie tranny prostitute who just wants to be loved” movie we’re gonna set fire to the parts of Los Angeles that aren’t already on fire. You will be hard pressed to find a single transgender person who likes that shit. I got my break into writing by being a stand up comedian first, and my god I would love to be able to see a comedy featuring a transgender person where the gag isn’t that we “tricked” somebody into sleeping with us. You realize what a fantastic opportunity Hollywood has with making a sitcom staring a transgender person in transition that isn’t pathetic and whiney? You have an amazing opportunity to do some brilliant social commentary on society’s gender roles and norms by having them try to navigate their new lives.
Sorry, I got off on a rant, but this is a passionate subject for me. Quit seeing us as objects of pity and oppression and as dynamic people who have the same full range of experiences in life everyone else does. Also, quit expecting all transgender people to be a walking ball of feminine or masculine stereotypes. I mean, I love going out in a sexy dress with stockings and heels, and cry during sad parts of movies, but I can also shoot a moving target over open sights at 300 meters with an M-16 and hate chick flicks.
Also, I have to say this part too. Trans men exist and we don’t pay near enough attention to them and their unique social issues.
SZ :: Do you think that it is easier for a kid to identify as trans today vs 10 or 15 years ago? What has changed? What needs improvement?
AK :: Of course it’s easier! No offense, but that’s a stupid question! When I look back on my life, I recognize that I was clearly exhibiting gender non-conforming behavior before I was 10 years old. However, in those days it was the 19… It was a long time ago, okay? I grew up Irish Catholic in a small Mississippi town and the only exposure I had to transgender people was Jerry Springer and the occasional movie where we were treated as freaks and psychos. There was no internet and there certainly wasn’t any conversations about it. I first started to come to grips with who I was once I got to college and had access to the internet and started to figure myself out. The internet has been HUGE for helping transgender people find a community and healthy outlets of expression. I’m sure that the first website on the net was a porn site, but the second one was a transgender advice forum.
The thing the internet has to do now, especially in 2019, is to recognize transphobia as a dangerously toxic attitude and work to eliminate it. Facebook giving us 32 flavors of gender and sexual identity was great, now they need to protect them. Twitter adding deliberate misgendering and transphobic comments to it’s terms of service is a great start. Now it needs to enforce them. It also needs to recognize that Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists or TERFS are actually a hate group. They are. I said it and I stick by it. Come at me bro.
SZ :: What can allies do to advance the fight towards trans rights and equality?
AK :: The first LGBTQ panel I did when I first came out asked this same question, and in 10 years, my answer has never changed. “Speak up and stand up.” Of course non-discrimination laws are great, but black people have had non-discrimination laws on their side for decades and racism is still a problem, that’s why black people have for years told white folks if they want to be allies they have to speak up and stand up. This doesn’t mean you have to go to every march, you don’t have to go to every protest, but when you hear or see someone being shitty, you say something. Someone says something transphobic or hateful, you say something. You don’t have to wait for it to be to the trans person’s face, you can do it when people are huddled up and doing it in private. In fact, that’s the most important time to do it. Being an ally means that you’re an ally when it’s just you standing up without being asked to do it.