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Trump Cannot Erase Me and My Transgender Community

“We are as real as the soil of this Earth and as valid in our existence as everything else in nature.”

Photo of Autumn Trafficante by Baris Barlas

When I decided, in 2016, to finally acknowledge that I was transgender — something that, in retrospect, was plainly apparent to me from the time I was a toddler — I did so without consulting our Constitution or any of the sprawling laws that govern our nation. I did know, however, that doing what I had to do to escape the endless cycle of dysphoric depression that stems from forcing oneself to live as the wrong gender — a cycle that would undoubtedly lead to me taking my own life — would fundamentally alter my relationship with society and strip me of the security and privilege granted to me as a man.

So, while the success of my transition surprises me endlessly, the most recent action taken by Trump and the Republican party to redefine gender does not: As reported by the New York Times, a widely circulated memo from the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed that “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.” Their efforts to deprive my community of roughly 1.4 million U.S. citizens, who identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned to at birth, protection under the law is grossly predictable — and it will have devastating consequences.

“Having to prove your humanity day in and day out is a uniquely dehumanizing experience,” says Sarah McBride, the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign and author of Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality. “Having to explain the fact that you are a person worthy of dignity and fairness is harmful, difficult and exhausting even outside of systemic and institutional barriers to employment, housing and public spaces.”

Julia R. Raifman, Sc.D., S.M., an assistant professor of health, law, policy & management at Boston University who studies LGBTQ populations, adds: “Transgender children and adults already experience high levels of stigma and are eight times more likely to attempt suicide over their lifetimes.” For the government to formally deny acknowledgement of transgender people’s identities, she emphasizes, “brings further stigma that will likely exacerbate existing health inequities.”

Living publicly as a transgender woman, especially online, my life is routinely threatened and every aspect of my appearance is picked apart with nauseating levels of vitriol. For example, last week, while at work, I received an email that reads: “You will never be a woman…what you are doing is futile and 20 years down the line you’re going to be looking through a noose or a bottle of pills.”

Truthfully, I have been sent more messages like this than I can keep track of, but whatever edge they once had has dulled over time and dwarfs in contrast to the overwhelming support I’ve received since coming out. A girl wrote me the other day to say, “Thank you for putting your pictures out there. I’m also trans and struggle with my body image, so seeing you gives me hope and inspiration for the future.” Providing others what eluded me on my own journey motivates me to push onward, to face and challenge discrimination, threats of violence and savage efforts to erase my identity from this world.

HRC’s McBride sees a silver lining when politicians attack our personhood: “When anti-equality politicians come for LGBTQ people,” she says, “we end up having a conversation with the country that opens hearts and changes minds and uproots the seeds of hate that these elected officials seek to sow.”

We cannot be erased. We are as real as the soil of this Earth and as valid in our existence as everything else in nature. I did not choose to be transgender, just as flowers do not choose the colors of their petals, but I am choosing to live and to do so authentically.

Dru Levasseur, the Director of Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project, stresses that all of us as citizens are at risk when minority populations come under government attacks: “This is important for all Americans,” he says, “because this is another example of the Trump Administration targeting our most vulnerable, trying to rid marginalized people out of existence. They can come for you next.”

But, I am not daunted by Trump’s assault on my community. Like McBride, I am energized and galvanized to show the world that our humanity is strongest when we recognize and celebrate our many differences and combine our efforts to improve everyone’e betterment. I believe in a united America. I believe in us. And while certain is our failure if divided, limitless is our potential when united as one.

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