Light In The Darkness
Sigh. Once again, I have to set aside my thoughts about winter squash (including some really lovely recipes) to address yet another national disgrace. Over the weekend, the ever-busy current regime revealed plans to redefine legal definitions of gender to make transgender identities illegal, and therefore invisible; if there are no legal definitions that include nonbinary categories, then there will be no legal protections for nonbinary people because nonbinary people won’t exist. Right?
Until recently, this issue might have seemed important yet fairly academic to me. Like most boomers, I’ve been immersed in struggles for human rights since childhood. Since my teen years, I’ve worked for equal rights for women, people of color, and the queer community, yet transgender people weren’t really on my radar one way or another. When my oldest came out as transgender a couple years ago, my world view expanded rapidly. Theoretical and rather vague concern for trans people became intense focus on learning all I could about the trans community.
Invisible And Divisible
What I discovered is that there may be no one less understood and less protected than transgender people. Even within the queer community, there are many who don’t add the T to the LGB cluster, since lesbian, gay or bisexual are all definitions of sexual preference, while transgender has to do with, hello, gender, not sexuality. Some LGB alliances formally refuse to include trans people, claiming that it’s hard enough to get acceptance for themselves and adding the even-less-acceptable trans community will tank their changes of getting public approval or keeping legislative protections.
But wait, there’s more; some lesbians (notably a subgroup called terfs, or trans exclusitory radical feminists) passionately hate trans women, claiming that they aren’t really women and sometimes arguing that it’s just one more example of men taking over. Some cis-gender women (identified as female at birth and considering themselves to be straight female adults) are also ardently transphobic and disrupt Pride events with hate slogans (if nothing worse). Most heartbreaking of all is the rampant transphobia within the trans community; if you get called a disgusting monster often enough, you come to believe that there must be some truth in it. Trans people make difficult and painful decisions about every aspect of their lives, often without the support of family or friends. On top of all that, they also have to live with the devastating effects of their own internalized transphobia. Small wonder that trans people suffer extremely high rates of depression and suicide. Nobody would ever choose to be trans. It’s not a choice, it’s a fact.
Embracing An Ever-Wider Spectrum
A recent memo from the Department of Health and Human Services reveals that they’re promoting a new legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender-based discrimination. According to a story in the New York Times, the broader definitions and protections developed under the Obama administration would give way to a one-size-fits-all binary definition of sex; male or female, defined at birth by genitalia. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”
However, even as our conservative and regressive regime seeks to erase nonbinary people, progressive people are expanding the gender spectrum with an ever-wider variety of categories. No matter how much conservatives want to retain their rigid and narrow definition of gender, the rich, complex and decidedly nonbinary nature of humanity is emerging all around the world. Though the kids get most of the press, people of all ages are exploring what it might mean to be gender fluid, gender neutral, or asexual/ACE (hint: it’s not at all what you might suspect).
Time To Grow (Up)
Our world is changing as our world view expands to include realities about human nature that have been ignored, denied and suppressed for millennia. Though regressive, punitive actions and hateful, fearful attitudes can make life far, far worse for many people right now, they can’t stop that change. I don’t know who first came up with the saying, ‘We didn’t come this far to only come this far,’ but yes. Today, for perhaps the first time in human history, a majority of people understand that basic human rights apply to all humans. No political party has the moral right to deny those rights to anyone. No political party has the moral right to tell millions of people they don’t exist. Millions of people are standing up and saying that they will not be erased. Will you help?