Trans Rights Are Human Rights
Veronic Esposito on the Very Human Cost of Identity Denied
When I began transitioning from male to female earlier this year, I had a ton of fears about what lay ahead. I was afraid that my medication wouldn’t work as intended, or that I’d never be able to eradicate my gender dysphoria (the sense of acute distress that comes from being in the wrong body, which transitioning is meant to heal). I was afraid my friends would never get used to my new pronouns and name. I was afraid I’d be too sad over losing my old life, or I’d wake up one day and realize transitioning was a mistake. I was afraid people would harass me on the street, or that I’d be kicked out of women’s dressing rooms, or that I’d never figure out how to put together cute outfits.
No matter how many things I found to be afraid of, I never thought that my own government would try to force me into not existing. Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening right now. Extraordinarily powerful people in the Trump Administration are working very hard to either force me back into the wrong gender, or to make my transitioned life so hard that I wish I had never had existed in the first place. This is the only possible way I can read the recent decision of the Trump Administration to consider “narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” It will make it easier to deny transpeople social services and passports, to kick us out of the correct bathroom, to fire us because we happen to be trans, to deny us an education, or to charge us exorbitant rates for dearly needed medical care. It is part of an effort on the part of Republicans in the federal government and numerous state governments to make our lives so miserable that we go back to being our assigned gender, or just don’t transition in the first place.
First of all, let’s get one thing clear: the Trump Administration says that this move is “grounded in science,” but this is no more scientific than its denial of climate change or its bizarrely inflated count of attendees at Trump’s inauguration. The practice of forever defining a person’s gender based on a snap decision made by a doctor in an infant’s first minutes of life is an outdated method that has nothing to do with science’s current understanding of gender. We now know that a person’s sense of being male or female is subject to a variety of genetic and environmental variables and does not form in sync with a fetus’s developing body as it begins differentiating toward one sex or the other. It is very possible for these two to diverge, and, unsurprisingly, scientific studies have shown that transpeople’s brains more closely resemble that of their desired gender, not their assigned gender. We also know that there are intersex people who are born with inconclusive sets of genitalia—efforts to assign them one gender or the other via surgeries before they can speak for themselves on the matter have a very bad track record.
If it’s entirely possible for a person’s inborn gender identity to be completely different from what their body and society has determined them to be, then for many of us the proper solution is changing our body and societal place to fit our correct gender. That’s precisely what I did, but it took me a long time to do it. In fall 2014, after 30-plus years of a closeted life, I published an essay in which I publicly declared myself transgender. At the time many of my friends assumed I would soon begin transitioning from male to female, but at that point I had no intention of doing so. It took my nearly four more years to finally decide in the spring of 2018 that I needed to see if living as a woman was right for me.
I wish I had done it earlier. Transitioning has not been an easy process, nor has it followed a straight trajectory, but I’ve never regretted that decision, and more and more I’ve come to see that it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. Very soon after I began transitioning, my friends began telling me that I was smiling way more than they’d ever seen. (I still smile a lot.) Not long after that I began making long-needed improvements in my life, and I now have the healthiest lifestyle at any point of my entire life—my mental health has improved greatly, I eat healthier than ever before, I care more about myself, I am taking charge of parts of my life that I neglected for years, and I have stronger, more rewarding relationships. Best of all, a lifelong sense of unease, anger, and melancholy has entirely left me.
It’s hard to express just how impossibly good this process has been for me. You should really ask my partner, who has gotten extremely tired of me telling her how incredibly good it is to finally be the woman I always knew I was. I wish everybody reading this could see how, virtually every morning, I feel the biggest sense of gratitude and sheer joy that my transition happened, and that a woman who had been suppressed, silenced, and gaslighted for her entire life can finally proclaim her truth and exist.“It’s hard to express just how impossibly good this process has been for me.”
This is how powerful transitioning can be, and thousands of medical professionals would not devote their careers and expertise to helping us transition if it wasn’t a profoundly life-improving experience. And from reading trans memoirs and talking with other transpeople, I can tell you that I’m very much not alone in this experience of transitioning being astonishingly good. I can also tell you that detransition rates are very low, typically around one percent—is there any other major life decision that only one percent of people regret? Furthermore, the vast majority of detransitions are caused by the social ostracism, stigma, and persecution, not a sudden revelation of not really being transgender. Beyond the tiny rates of regret, multiple studies have also determined that transition improves a transperson’s mental health. WPATH, the international organization that determines best practices on transgender care, recognizes medical transition through hormone replacement and surgery as a medically necessary therapy for treating individuals experiencing gender dysphoria.
The decision of the Trump Administration to define gender based on genitalia observed at birth is contrary to scientific evidence, best medical practices, and the lived experiences of countless transpeople. In choosing to pretend that facts are not facts and that transpeople don’t exist, the Trump Administration will cause many transpeople to self-harm, commit suicide, fall into depression, and otherwise lead more desperate and unfulfilled lives than they need to. It’s a very sad day when hateful people in the government are rewriting our nation’s laws in order to harm a minority that is already among America’s most fragile and persecuted.
Make no mistake: these decisions will directly lead to early deaths and increased misery among trans Americans—and they will also harm non-transpeople. This hate-filled rhetoric, these falsehoods, will make it that much harder for confused and shame-filled parents to reconcile with their trans child; it will pressure employers to fire talented employees who just want to live in dignity as the people they are; it will erode trust between students and teachers in schools; it will weaken our military, which currently has thousands of transgender servicemembers; and it will damage communities as everyone is forced to participate in the charade that transpeople don’t exist. But we do exist, and everyone knows it. It’s 2018, and there are trans celebrities and TV shows, plus juries are siding with us and our rights are being recognized in more and more places. Transpeople are here, and it’s far too late to try and pretend otherwise.