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Personal Essay: The reality of being transgender in today’s political climate

By Shadi Be

To be informed in 2023 means to be in a constant state of disappointment that festers into a hopeless acceptance of defeat. To be trans is to be seen as a groomer, unwanted, unnatural and to a degree, unloved. 

Routinely I wake up to my Instagram being flooded by THEM, an acclaimed Queer activist platform, sharing yet another anti-trans bill being passed in the United States. 

As I write this piece, Senate Bill 150 in Kentucky is forcing doctors to deny gender-affirming care to youth. It prohibits trans kids from using appropriately-gendered bathrooms in schools and bans any mention of sexuality or 2SLGBTQIA+ identity from kindergarten to Grade 6 classrooms. Two more bills are being finalized repealing the most basic of human rights, from protection against discrimination to gender-affirming healthcare. This year, there have been 450 anti-trans bills introduced in the U.S., according to Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary’s Twitterif we’re counting.

This has become the norm, waiting to see what will be taken next from our community in what is supposedly the land of the free. 

How can it be that Queer and trans rights are going backward at such a rate when a majority of youth and young adults that will inherit this society not only disagree but are actively fighting against it? 

To me it is almost laughable that International Transgender Day of Visibility is even a reality with a political climate that is banning books discussing Queer and Black history left and right across the U.S. in thousands of schools, according to CBS News. With no surprise, Texas and Florida are leading the charge with over 1,600 books being banned across 32 states. 

The books discuss topics of gender identity, sexuality and Black and Queer history; Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe is the most banned book with 41 different instances of it being taken off shelves. 

All of these measures are taken in the name of ‘fear’—that these books program the children of tomorrow to be Queer simply because they tell them we exist. 

People like me are being boldly dehumanized yet it’s the inhumanity that has the loudest voice

Transgender and non-binary people have always existed, that is an unarguable truth. Legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, that bans sexual orientation and gender identity from being discussed from kindergarten to Grade 3, is an attempt to control youth from acquiring the knowledge of history, as Queer history is everyone’s history. 

On March 31, The Associated Press reported the Florida bill was being expanded to ban discussions until Grade 8—at 13 to 14 years old—allowing staff and teachers to refer to students using improper pronouns. According to The Associated Press, the state house passed the expanded bill with a 77-35 vote. The bill now awaits being passed in the senate and the governor’s signature. 

“Don’t Say Gay” is an attempt to delay children from discovering who they are, trying to slow the progress that is inevitable to come. It is a bold act to remind us that even though it has been more than half a century since the likes of Marsha P. Johnson, one of the most outspoken Queer rights activists in history, walked the streets of the Stonewall Riots, not much has really changed. 

Although things may look very different today and there is a greater acceptance of Queerness in wider society, parts of me long for what it must have felt like to be in those underground spaces, like the ballrooms of ‘90s New York scene in Paris is Burning. Where there was a true freedom to just be even though it was fear and oppression that made those rooms solely our own. 

In today’s world, I find it hard to actually find spaces that aren’t made for the straight gaze to fetishize the entertainment that is Queerness—places that are just ours. Our existence feels as though it is merely tolerated, as if we should be grateful that we are even being seen at all. 

Yet, being seen has its price. Our narrative is constantly being argued by people who will never walk in our shoes but it may be our only chance to get a seat at their table. This however is not to be mistaken with a voice, let alone one that is heard or respected. We are people. We are humans simply trying to find our place and give love in a world that is cruel to ‘our kind’ far too often. 

We are tired of having our existence and our motives challenged and being spoken for by those who simply want trans people to be eradicated. 

I still won even when you created a world designed for me to fail

I’ll never forget walking into a women’s bathroom at a luxury resort in the Bahamas wearing makeup in a dress and being with another woman. I was stopped, followed by a security guard telling me I could not be in this bathroom while demanding I show the gender on my ID. 

Immediately, the woman with me started to go off on the female identifying security guard, a defense that I was grateful for but reminded me that being appalled by discrimination was not a luxury I can afford if I want things to remain ‘amicable.’ 

What followed was a calm discussion explaining my gender identity and educating the guard on the realities and the difficulty of being able to change one’s gender on their ID—and how some countries don’t even allow it. 

I was met with genuine curiosity and an apology before she left. I’ll never forget her telling me how she thought that it was ridiculous that the government has control over the gender one chooses to list their ID­—oh the irony. 

Yet what stuck with me to this day is how the conversation started, her telling me: “Well we can never be sure if you’re just some drag queen that wants to come to the women’s bathroom and is pretending so they can do things to women.”

There it was, the millions of dollars spent lobbying to create and push these bills is for one goal only, to spread the narrative that trans women and drag queens are supposedly these creatures of hyper-sexuality. That they’re simply beings unable to control themselves, leading to the harm and conditioning of children and the sexual assault of ‘real’ women. 

The power of being transgender is as resilient as nature itself

I am sick, I am exhausted and I am vexed that my existence can be seen by another human being this way. That people like me are being boldly dehumanized yet it’s the inhumanity that has the loudest voice in the room, being broadcast to millions of people. 

So, in honour of International Transgender Day of Visibility, I challenge its name. To be seen does nothing in an age of social media and content where my community’s largest stage is entertainment—as beautiful and valuable as it is as an art form in itself. 

To be heard is what is truly needed, to have our story told by us and the weight of our words to have the same gravitas as the cis-straight allies who have come to our defense time and time again in the political sphere. We are worthy of respect not simply sufferance. 

If the world thinks that erasing our history will stop us from existing, they will never succeed; the power of being transgender is as resilient as nature itself. I was born a woman even if it took me 18 years to realize that. I am who I am because it is who I was always meant to be.

I realized my identity without a role model, a teacher or even a story. So to anyone who opposes my existence, to the people pulling the strings of society’s narrative, I have one thing to say: all of your programming, from the cis-straight relationships depicted on every TV show, to the people using religion to say my existence is an abomination—I still won even when you created a world designed for me to fail.

I am woman, I am fearless, I am sexy, I am the divine.

1 Comment

  1. nikki pangbourne

    Incredibly powerful and well-written article, brought me to tears, it’s truly moving. Congratulations Shadi!

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