Last week, I was browsing for a fitted button down in the men’s section. I was looking through the hangers, trying to find something that piqued my interest, when a gruff voice behind me said “Is this the women’s section?” I froze. I turned around and looked back at the man who had posed the question to me, my breath catching in my chest. “What was that?” “Is this the women’s section?” He repeated to me. I could feel fear creeping in, sending chills all through my body and making my heart skip a few beats. Was this stranger about to attack me? Berate me, yell at me for being in the “wrong section”? I live in the south, in the home state of the notorious “Bathroom Bill” from several years ago. The onslaught of anti-trans rhetoric and legislation is living in the front of many people’s brains, but whether it’s a source of fear for their own safety or validation for their beliefs I wouldn’t know. Not for strangers. I grip the shirt in my hand tighter and respond, “No… this is the men’s section.” He points to something behind me, and I follow his finger to the sign on the rack reading Woven Shirts. I take the words in and turn back to the man as he lets out a laugh, explaining that he misread the sign and grew confused. I laugh quickly and head to another rack, trying to slow my heart rate. The interaction was insignificant. It was just a stranger who was asking for clarification, for help. But the fear I felt when he asked those words was so real, so immediate. It’s the same fear I feel whenever I get a look in a public restroom from a woman who is trying to determine if I’m supposed to be in there or not. These experiences are mild compared to those of my other queer friends, or those that I’ve seen shared online from others in the community. Experiences that are growing in numbers thanks to fearmongering and GOP lawmakers and politicians.
This year - not even half over - has seen the introduction of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, mostly directed at transgender youth. Just last week, a GOP lawmaker in Florida called transgender people “mutants, demons, and imps.” Equality Florida, one of the most prominent organizations in the state dedicated to eradicating anti-LGBTQ+ hate, declared a travel advisory to the state. It’s the first time in the org’s 25-year history to have ever issued a travel advisory.
Last weekend on Saturday Night Live, Molly Kearney (they/them) took to the stage during the Weekend Update segment to address this uptick in anti-trans hate. They shared words of hope for the trans community, specifically for transgender kids. Weekend Update co host Michael Che brought up the 14 states that have recently passed bills restricting healthcare for trans kids. Molly responded, “Restricting healthcare for kids. For some reason, there’s something about the word ‘trans’ that makes people forget the word ‘kid.’ If you don’t care about trans kids’ lives, that means you don’t care about freakin’ kids’ lives.” Because trans healthcare isn’t just about gender affirmation; it’s also mental health care, suicide prevention. It saves lives. If you want to save children, the threat isn’t from puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy. It’s from people armed with weapons of war coming into their schools, their places of worship, their movie theaters, their concerts. Trans healthcare saves lives.This is hard. It’s scary. It’s exhausting to wake up each day to news of more legislation being introduced, more words of hate being spoken against the community, worrying for my friends in Florida and other similar states, and having an ever-present fear for my own safety when I’m in public. But we have to keep fighting, for ourselves and for our community. For trans kids, who are kids first and foremost. Right now, we aren’t fighting for trans visibility, or even trans rights. We’re fighting for trans existence. To be allowed to exist, live, and thrive in an increasingly hostile society. We must protect trans kids - protect kids.