There is an ongoing increase in legislative attacks on the transgender community in the United States, especially targeting transgender youth. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2015 there were a total of 19 anti-transgender legislations placed on the table for consideration as law throughout the country. By 2021, there were a total of 117 nationwide, and by the first half of March 2022 alone, there were 24. This year has hardly begun and we find ourselves up against 130 anti-trans legislations still circulating in 34 states. These range from banning trans girls from participating in sports to allowing teachers to perpetually misgender students without consequence to condemning gender-affirming services as genital mutilation and/or child abuse. Under the guise of “protecting the children,” these bills systematically support and even enforce transphobia, deny autonomy to trans youth, silence their experiences, and place them in danger of self-harm, risk-taking behavior, and suicide.
There are approximately 1.4 million adults in the United States who openly identify as transgender, according to a study in 2017 conducted by the William Institute of Law at UCLA. While the number of youth that identify as transgender is not included in that 1.4 million, there is a growing number in the United States and this study acknowledges that youth aged 13-17 years old are far more likely to be out than their elderly counterparts aged 65 and up. As these numbers only include those who are out, there is no way to know the true number of people who are trans in this country, and we never will if states continue this trend of making laws that let trans youth know they are not wanted or welcome.
In the wake of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Idaho has proposed laws that equate gender-affirming surgery to genital mutilation and threaten supportive parents and doctors alike with life in prison. Louisiana has introduced a law that equally prohibits medical teams from providing any gender-affirming care to minors, as well as requiring teachers to report any youth expressing possible trans identities to their parents (should we call it the “Outing is the New In!” Law?). Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, Arizona, and Alaska want to ban trans female athletes from playing in sports unless they play on the team that aligns with their birth sex, effectively allowing those in charge to closely scrutinize the bodies of both cis and trans athletes alike. Alabama is still stuck on keeping trans people out of bathrooms, a place where they are more likely to be assaulted than pose any danger to cisgender bathroom users (Wait, who’s in danger here?). Tennessee is on a rampage trying to pass 14 anti-trans laws, including one that would give full protection to teachers who openly and persistently misgender trans students, another one that removes funding from any school that allows athletes to compete on any team that does not align with their biological sex, and one that establishes a $1000 fine to any doctor who provides hormones or puberty blockers to minors. And these are only a handful of the laws out there that are specifically targeting our transgender youth. Remember, there are 130 just like these, including ones that disallow non-binary identification of any kind and gender neutral language on legal documents, such as birth certificates.
Why cisgender people are allowed to govern the bodies of transgender people is a mystery. Not only does it restrict or completely erase any possibility for trans youth to have a say in important decisions about their bodies and lives, but it also alienates them from their cisgender peers. Normalizing the oppression of trans youth by governmental laws justifies transphobia in youth and adults alike and leads to indifference or even support of violence against the trans community. It also leads to transgender youth internalizing the hate they see around them, which can manifest in self-harm and suicide. On the other hand, gender-affirming care, whether it be surgery or hormones or puberty blockers or simply being addressed by the proper name and pronouns, is proven to be life-saving for transgender people of all ages. Attempting to make this care illegal proves that these lawmakers either truly harbor malicious intent towards the youth they are claiming to want to save, or they are incredibly ignorant and should not be making laws involving issues they do not understand. Neither possibility is good.
This law in Idaho — the one in which cisgender lawmakers equate genital mutilation with gender affirmation surgery — only shows how little lawmakers know and understand trans issues. For one, genital mutilation is a real and horrifying practice enforced without consent on people assigned female at birth as a means of oppression, obtaining complete submission and obliterating personhood; it leads to lifelong pain and suffering, both mental and physical. It is a horrible practice, one based in archaic, misogynistic, patriarchal systems and it should be stopped by all means necessary. However, this is not the beast that lawmakers are fighting when they throw trans adolescents’ affirmation and celebration of themselves in the same category as such practices. Moreover, interestingly enough, the act of “correcting” the genitals of intersex babies so that they conform to what is expected from the sex the doctor to them is still legally protected within this bill, even though such surgery is proven to have negative effects both physically and mentally on intersex people. Yet the transgender teens that seek gender-affirming services are truly finding life-saving medical treatment; they are finding that hurting themselves, placing themselves at risk, or trying to end their lives is not necessary when gender affirmation is possible.
Half of all transgender male teens, about 30% of transgender female teens, and about 40% of non-binary teens have attempted suicide, according to a study in 2021 by William Institute School of Law. The American Academy of Pediatrics performed a study in 2018 that openly appeals for greater care for transgender adolescents as they have significantly higher suicide rates than their cisgender counterparts. When you look at the statistics for suicide amongst transgender youth, you see very clearly that life without gender confirmation is not a life they wish to live. If these lawmakers were truly interested in “protecting the children,” they would look at the studies on suicide attempts in transgender teens to know that they are a vulnerable group that needs protection from those who would deny them services, personhood, and proper names and pronouns.
Already these children must endure so much pain just in the personal struggles that come with being transgender. Worrying about lack of acceptance from peers, loved ones, and society in general are very real concerns that both closeted and out trans youth face. Additionally, the threat of violence and homelessness often stands before trans youth and their true selves. It takes strength beyond measure to keep yourself hidden from the world and even more strength to show yourself despite all of the negativity and violence coming out can bring. When you add the stress of adult lawmakers trying to negate your basic rights, like using the bathroom or being called by your real name and proper pronouns or accessing medical care or simply playing sports in school, then the possibility of saving these teens from self-harm reduces further and further. The solution for these kids is not for lawmakers to stubbornly dig their heels deeper into a system that has proven detrimental.
Too often in history the wrong people are put in charge of making life-altering decisions for groups that they neither know nor understand. Men have decided women’s fate for centuries; heterosexuals have weighed in on so many issues for the LGB community; cisgender people have placed on the table whether or not trangender people deserve to exist. They truly believe that if no one talks about LGBTQ+ anything, then we will all just disappear; they truly believe that if discussion, visibility, and access to services is completely erased from existence, then we will be as well.
If silencing and erasure truly eliminated LGBTQ+ identities, then we would not be here. Cisgender straight people have been trying for centuries to deny and erase us. And yet we persist. We keep popping up and ruining cishet people’s lives with our existence. When will they realize that it is their own persistent procreation that, whether knowingly or not, continues to produce the children who are gay and trans and bi and every other identity? Little do they realize that all they need to do is keep having babies and we will crawl our way out of their nothingness into the light and find a way to make their straight, binary-serving selves uncomfortable.
If you wish to contribute to projects working against these legislations and toward equality for all, here are a few places you can donate:
Author: Cole Lopez (They/Them)
Copy Editors: Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He), Bella (She/They)