Opinion: Imagining Trans Futures in a State of Emergency

No matter how hard the right tries to keep the “LGBTQ agenda” from children or eradicate trans people from public life, trans, gendernon-conforming, and intersex (TGNCI) youth will persevere because the LGBTQ+ community is here to stay.

Opinion: Imagining Trans Futures in a State of Emergency (Getty Images)

The alarming rise in  anti-LGBTQ+ legislation this year, with over 75 bills signed into law, more than double that of 2022 (previously the worst year on record). As a result, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released an initiative this month and declared a “National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans”

We are at a historic point where LGBTQ+ people —more specifically trans, gendernon-conforming, and intersex (TGNCI)  people— are most targeted by state laws in this country. LGBTQ+ people have persisted through decades, even centuries, of struggle for rights and against persecution, but at this point, who can determine what’s coming next?

I’m hesitant to admit it, but I’m afraid.  I’m a 19-year-old mixed queer and trans nonbinary drag artist, who belongs to a community that politicians and right-wing talk show hosts obsess over. Their discussion and degradation of us has seemingly skyrocketed in the past two years. I know we are going to survive, because we always have. No amount of legislation or suppression can eradicate our natural existence. 

That is a proven fact of history! 

Consider the presence of two-spirit people now, existing today despite being one of the first targets for elimination with the onset of European colonization. Queer and trans people have been targets for as long as they’ve been classified and othered, but we still exist and thrive today.

Although I can find comfort in knowing that we will always exist in some capacity, I can’t help but feel unsettled imagining the immediate future for me and fellow TGNCI youth, especially in red states. I have the privilege of living in California, even more so being in the Bay Area. Still, there are reports of a secretive anti-trans dinner taking place in San Francisco in early May. Around the same time, a 24-year-old Black trans activist, Banko Brown, was murdered by a private security guard for a Walgreens in downtown San Francisco, becoming the 11th reported trans person in the US to be killed this year

Black, Indigenous, and Latinx trans life is especially at stake, facing higher rates of anti-trans civilian violence and targeting by police and private security. What type of country will we be in a year and a half following elections and the installation of new mayors, governors, legislators, and a president? Can I trust that my state, city, or country will commit to protecting the lives of LGBTQ+ people even more so than they do now?

What scares me is how my transness will be perceived in the future. I’ve yet to take any medical action to affirm my gender identity, but part of me wonders if I do decide to begin medically transitioning, will it result in imprisonment or death in years to come? 

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in March 2023, speaker Michael Knowles said in his speech, “[f]or the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.” 

They don’t even mask their bigotry in dog whistles anymore! Knowles made an outright call for genocide and not enough people in power seem to be hearing the same alarm bells my community is hearing. If they are, where is the action?!

As a student studying LGBTQ Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Gender and Women Studies at University of California, Berkeley, I feel charged with revolutionary ambition backed by the legacies of resistance movements across all marginalized communities. At the same time, I have to reckon with my own power, privilege, and capacity to make systemic change at my age and status. I’ve involved myself in LGBTQ+ activism for the past few years: teaching lessons in my high school/middle school, taking an internship at LYRIC Center for  LGBTQQ+ Youth, being a fellow of End the Epidemics, participating in actions through the HIV Advocacy Network, speaking with lawmakers in drag, and organizing protest art for the 2023 SF Trans March. 

Education, health justice, and racial justice have been my gateways into fighting for LGBTQ+ equity, a cause I aim to dedicate my life and my drag to. After all, I’ve been a member of the LGBTQ+ community for as long as I can remember.

I was born a girl, but biologically male. 

My earliest memories are feeling like a girl in the wrong body, putting shirts over my head to simulate long hair, and regularly donning my mom’s nightgowns and heels in an attempt to emulate an innate femininity. I thought my parts would magically change as I got older and continued to play with dolls and relate more with girls than boys. Even as I was forced into socialization as a boy, I always felt different, never quite fitting into masculine spaces. By nine years old, I had accepted the label of gay for myself, observing the expansive LGBTQ+ community that I looked forward to accessing once I was older. 

I came out of the closet in fifth grade, and spent all of middle school and high school exploring queer and saw gender-variant identities. Discovering LGBTQ+ history and queer theory as an area of study at 16 was life-changing. I had never felt so much pride and joy derived from academics. With each reading I got a sense of validation and empowerment that fueled a passion for social justice. I was lucky to find my community’s history as a teenager and continue to expand on it in college. However, that is not the case for most LGBTQ+ youth in this country, especially so with the ongoing book banning and crackdown on LGBTQ+ inclusion in K-12 education in numerous states. 

What frustrates me most about this conflict is the undermining of our agency and autonomy as youth. We repeatedly play the unconsenting victim in a revolving flow of moral panics, and within that victimization is an assumed lack of understanding or ability to know for oneself as youth while positioning adults as absolute moral superiors. Of course children need guidance and parenting, but identity is an individual’s journey that adults aren’t capable of controlling in its entirety, or having a better understanding of what a youth is experiencing themselves. My sexuality and gender was a self discovery my parents had no control in preventing or initiating, nor any adult for that matter. Plenty of adults have far less of an understanding of gender and sexuality than the LGBTQ+ youth who are forced to grapple with feeling “not normal.” 

School was a place where I could discuss my identity with others and learn more about myself in return. Censoring LGBTQ+ material in curriculum won’t stop discussion of gender and sexuality at school. Students who are and are not LGBTQ+-identifying will still find ways to explore and discuss sexual and gender identity, it’s a fundamental part of growing up. Preventing access to gender-affirming care for youth won’t eradicate transness, because it lives beyond what the healthcare system can provide. Trans youth are the past, present, and future regardless of how hard fascists in power try to eliminate us. 

What inspires me is how threatened the right feels by our existence as trans youth and trans people. We scare conservatives because we represent the rejection of what’s been deemed “natural.” We delegitimize naturalized systems and institutions of power and oppression by simply existing. At the heart of this struggle is power. Racialized gender and sexuality roles enshrine inequality, but transgressing these binaries put the whole system into question. What is the ruling class supposed to do when a growing population of youth are questioning and challenging systems of power inspired by queer and trans identities? Consent to change or fight with coercion. We know what side certain governments are on now, but the youth represent the future. 

No matter how hard the right tries to keep the “LGBTQ agenda” from children or eradicate trans people from public life, TGNCI youth will persevere because the LGBTQ+ community is here to stay.

X Vazquez (they/she) is based in the Bay Area and studies LGBTQ Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Gender and Women Studies at University of California, Berkeley.

Edited by NaTyshca Pickett

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