When the notorious anti-transgender North Carolina "bathroom bill" passed, my girlfriend, Johanna, and I decided to create a documentary project called Transilient to document others like us around the US.
My community, especially those whose trans identities intersect with other ostracized groups, was already reporting high levels of discrimination, harassment and violence at rates blatantly greater than the general population--and this bill only looked to heighten these feelings. So we saw a need to help end these issues.
After embarking on Transilient we were hopeful that by this time, this year, today, advancements for trans rights would've been made--that bills like HB2 would be overturned. But sadly, in a post- Trump America the advancements made for us are being stripped away right in front of us. And I write this article from a place of anger and deep sadness after learning that Donald Trump has rescinded Obame-era trans youth bathroom protections.
This action is not the only heartbreaking hate filled legislation to occur recently. In just the first month since the reality television star's inauguration over 60 anti-LGBTQ bills were presented across 29 states. Texas has proposed a bill even more strict than the infamous HB2.
And what I know more now than ever as our battle for equal rights, or any rights for that matter, seems to only grow in intensity is that accurate and honest visibility, like Transilient offers, can be groundbreaking and is needed.
Republicans and evangelical Christians notoriously walk around with unchecked trans and homophobia, and face the most focus by the left when they decide to fight for issues affecting LGBT people. However, as we've seen with much of the response against Trump, the very violence the left works to fight against for me is also used against the president to demean him.
Daniel, Danny & Forest (Ferndale, Michigan)from Transilient
Backlashes against the Trump administration have a far too regular tendency to exploit bodies using cis beauty standards and heteronormative ideas. Seeing the jokes about Trump having small hands or talking about his genitalia and how that relates to his maleness is a subtle, and unintentional, attack on trans bodies.
When I watch SNL skits depicting Sean Spicer wearing heels or when I see memes and art installations that portray Trump and Vladmir Putin as gay lovers it is evident,to me, that not everyone is as sensitive to certain issues and language as they could be. These anti-Trump actions are indirect forms of homophobia and transphobia. The left is basically saying, "That's gay" as a comeback to Trump's atrocious personality, policies and overall being. At this time, we need allies to really get with it.
We should be critiquing someone who is clearly a dictator, for just that, without being unintentionally transphobic, body shaming and upholding hollow patriarchal ideas such as "men have big hands" or "men have big dicks" and "real men have dicks" as a way to prove Trump as an unfit president.
These reactions most likely occur because people do not know a person living outside the traditional sex and gender binary. Most people probably don't even realize what they are saying is exclusive, limiting and upholding a harmful gender binary. Not having exposure to the trans community feels like a big issue--and that seeing lives like mine as legitimate or equal, matters.
The media is about to begin gushing out trans exposes in response to the the Trump executive order. Most of the stories will fall in line with a tired and typical trans narrative--one that focuses on people's bodies and what sex they were born as. These stories will not educate people or allow the cis community to share similarities with us.
I believe the right kind of exposure can transform how people interact with gender in their own lives by making them check their assumptions--by making us not so abstract, but real people who experience negative implications from hateful legislation and "funny" jokes.
Basil and Eris (Omaha, Nebraska) from Transilient
I think the best method we can contest hate with is by forcing society to look at us in the ways we want them to--by controlling our own narratives, like we do in Transilient, and allowing everyone to pay witness to the power of our lives. We show the world that there is nothing wrong with us and we belong here.
Visibility, like Transilient, can't work because we solely take up space in the world, but it's a start. We want to change the trans narrative in the media also by becoming a nonprofit and working directly with media companies helping them build better practices. In the long run, this will expose cis people to actual trans lives and existences. With those two factors, we believe that it will be easier to advocate for new laws and regulations and help end oppressive legislation. It all starts with us though.
The only way we'll win in Trump's America is by living. It's by celebrating ourselves, the youth, elders, those of us in between, and all of the splendor and strength we have to offer the world. And it's by acknowledging that we create change every day by waking up, breathing, loving ourselves, caring for our bodies, organizing and by refusing to let ignorance dictate any portion of our lives.
Because eventually, those who oppose us will see us too. They'll be forced to stare directly into so many beams of trans magnificence that'll they'll go blind.