In May 2016 I got a text from a friend who told me to find a TV or livestream and tune into an address by then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
She was discussing why the U.S. Justice Department was suing the state of North Carolina over its disastrous HB2 legislation. And then said she wanted to speak to the transgender community directly.
“We see you,” Lynch said, “We stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”
Staring at my phone, my knees went weak. I sank onto my bed, and wept. It’s hard to describe the impact of that moment. For years I’d been fighting for trans people on every front I could manage. Many nights I’d go to bed exhausted, defeated, swearing I was done. But morning would come, and with it, a little more hope. And then I’d read of another murder of a young black trans woman. Or see another primetime show make a trans woman the butt of a joke. Or hear of yet another suicide. I’d think of the trans kids I’d met, how they just wanted to be kids and were confused, and often terrified, at how the rest of the world seemed so opposed to what was to them a a simple and obvious matter. Then the rage would kick in and I’d get back to work.
When the White House said, “We see you,” I found myself breathing a little deeper, and feeling a little less tense. After all these years of relentless work, after never really indulging in the hope things would improve, here was a promise of support from the most powerful people in the world.
Yesterday I felt the opposite.
I got on Twitter after a long day of travel and read that President Trump had officially rescinded his predecessor’s directive, the one that directed schools to let students use facilities corresponding with their gender, regardless of their assigned sex.
Legally, Wednesday’s announcement means very little: A case that tackles the underlying legal principle, whether Title IX applies to gender identity, will be argued in front of the Supreme Court next month.
Practically, however, it is a powerful message to some of the most vulnerable students, their parents and teachers, and the world at large. The message is that the health and safety of those students don’t matter.
Think back to high school and to that kid who was a little different—maybe a girl who was a little masculine, or the boy who was a little sensitive. Think back to how they were shunned, bullied, harassed, beat up, and mocked. Think of how other students watched and laughed. Or how teachers turned a blind eye. How principals said to the victims, “Well just avoid those kids, stay out of trouble.” How parents said, “What do you expect when you dress and act like that?” That kid who could find no one like themselves in the books they tried to escape into, who could only see themselves mocked in media.
As an artist, I know that child has the potential to make a great contribution to society. As an adult who has developed compassion, a sense of moral responsibility to protect those with less than me, and a belief that all people are deserving of basic dignity, I want to protect that kid.
The Trump administration? They basically just said, “Fuck that kid.”
And so I find myself again in a near constant state of rage. Several times a day, every day, I find myself recoiling at the absurdity that despite my many skills, I spend a great deal of energy defending my basic humanity.
There is a difference now, though, something I honestly never expected in my lifetime: As I look through social media posts, essays and news reports, I actually see more cis people speaking up than trans people. Sometimes when I’m attacked online, a cis person steps in with a counter argument before I can. A well-informed argument. There are several writers whom I know can defend my rights as well as I can, and they are on it.
It’s as if my wider community is finally saying, “We see you. We stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”
And when the brilliant, strong, resilient trans people who have led this fight for many years get some of the support they need, it becomes a fight I know we can win.