For Trans People, America Has Become A Place To Flee From

Dorothy S. Bass


The text from a trusted friend in the transgender community, someone I’ve known since before either of us came out, was direct and succinct: She and her family are fleeing the United States.

She said the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade signaled the time to run had come, especially given all the cards already stacked against us: laws and policies outlawing gender-affirming care and banning trans student athletes from sports, lawmakers once again targeting our use of public bathrooms, and a new poll showing that most Americans think we are not really the gender we say we are.

That’s not even all of it. The conservative shift on the Supreme Court, and the growing expectation that congressional Democrats will lose their narrow grip on power in this fall’s midterm elections, were also factors. As my friend saw it, the best option was to move her family to Canada now, before it gets worse.

And it is getting worse. But can we describe all this animus as violence?

Opponents of several bills targeting transgender youth attend a rally at the Alabama State House on March 30, 2021, in Montgomery.
Opponents of several bills targeting transgender youth attend a rally at the Alabama State House on March 30, 2021, in Montgomery.

Julie Bennett via Getty Images

In 2019, the American Medical Association took a public stand against what it called “the epidemic of violence against the transgender community, especially the amplified physical dangers faced by transgender people of color,” and the discrimination faced by LGBTQ people in general. It’s only gotten worse since then.

When the toll of murdered trans people climbs to 19most of them women, most of them Black ― and the year is only half over, it’s violence. That number in 2021 was 57; the year before that, it was 44.

When the FBI’s most recent figures for national hate crimes (2019) show an increase in bias attacks based on gender identity year over year, it’s violence. There were 227 such attacks in all that year ― and while they only accounted for 2.7% of all hate crimes in 2019, that’s still 175 Americans attacked just because they’re trans, and another 52 for identifying as nonbinary or gender-nonconforming. Compare that to 2013, the first year the FBI tracked gender-identity bias, when the number of victims numbered just 33 and gender identity bias crimes amounted to only 0.5% of all hate crimes. It’s getting worse.

When I am confronted by TERFs while doing my job as a reporter, and they challenge me about what bathroom I use and the fact that I consider myself a mom, that too is violence. I came face to face with nine women and the father of a swimmer who lost to NCAA DI Champion Lia Thomas, and although nobody laid a finger on me, I haven’t felt bullied like that since I was surrounded on a schoolyard and beaten for being who I am.

When death threats arrive in the mailbox outside my home, and when they fill up my voicemail and my social media DMs ― all because I dare to write about the issues affecting our community, and I contend that trans women are women ― that’s violence as well.

When I am wearing a “Protect Trans Kids” T-shirt at a festival in my hometown, and a white nationalist gets in my face, first demanding that I prove the Jan. 6 insurrection actually happened and then threatening to kill me, that is most certainly violence.

When a conservative member of my town’s Human Rights Commission argues in a public meeting that trans rights are “special rights,” and when bigots oppose a curriculum that offers “social and emotional learning” ― a curriculum that teaches children it’s OK to be different ― that’s violence.

And when a relative tells me they prefer to call my trans daughter by her birth name, and then proceed to misgender her, saying “It’s who and how we have known him all his life,” that is violence too.

I don’t actually need you to agree with me that misgendering, anti-trans legislation and court rulings that invalidate bodily autonomy are forms of violence. I’m the one experiencing it, and I am not alone.

Maybe that’s what’s at the root of all this. Most people seemed to be OK with the spectacle of celebrity trans people, coming out and living their lives in the spotlight: tennis player turned ophthalmologist Dr. Renée Richards, former child star Chaz Bono, actress Laverne Cox, Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, TV journalists Eden Lane and Ina Fried, “Survivor” contestants Zeke Smith and Jackson Fox, “Big Brother” contestant Audrey Middleton, All-American athlete Chris Mosier and actor Elliot Page, to name but a few.

But when our neighbors, our relatives and ― oh no! ― even our children started to come out as trans, in ever-increasing numbers, that seems to be when many people, particularly those on the right, shifted from seeing us as a curiosity to perceiving us as an existential and ideological threat.

And what politician doesn’t love to seize upon some poorly understood quantity and turn it into a rallying cry for their base? We are the aliens about to take over the world in countless sci-fi flicks, the monsters from the “Godzilla” movies ready to wreak havoc on the city, the communists from the 1950s hiding in plain sight and seeking to destroy the American way of life. We are, to these people, perverts, pedophiles and groomers, and in Texas, any parent or health care professional who supports a trans child is considered a child abuser. That is violence of a kind that is beyond reason, beyond fixing, I fear.

Lia Thomas, left, of the University of Pennsylvania stands on the podium after winning the 500-yard freestyle as other medalists Emma Weyant, Erica Sullivan and Brooke Forde pose for a photo, March 17, 2022, in Atlanta.
Lia Thomas, left, of the University of Pennsylvania stands on the podium after winning the 500-yard freestyle as other medalists Emma Weyant, Erica Sullivan and Brooke Forde pose for a photo, March 17, 2022, in Atlanta.

Justin Casterline via Getty Images

I sat in horror at the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in Atlanta this past March, as moms and dads and coaches paused in their cheers for the amazing competitors to boo one young woman. Lia Thomas didn’t win everything, but she competed fairly, and even now she is still being reviled, targeted and misgendered.

The backlash to her success in the pool has led sports agencies to enact new policies that will prohibit other trans athletes from competing in future events. We may have witnessed the first and last transgender Olympians of our lifetime. And when opponents of trans inclusion suggest creating a “trans only” league or contest, or requiring that trans athletes compete only in the gender they were presumed to be at birth, that is most assuredly violence.

“I support trans people, but it’s different when it comes to sports” ― that’s something you’ll hear many so-called allies say on this topic. Substitute another term in there and see how it sounds. “I support Black people, but it’s different when it comes to sports.” “I support gay people, but it’s different when it comes to sports.” “I support Latinx people, Jewish people, Muslims, women… but it’s different when it comes to sports.”

Different how? Do they mean it’s “acceptable discrimination?” Yes, I’ve heard that, too. That’s violence, because no discrimination should ever be “acceptable.”

That is where America is heading as we prepare to celebrate our Independence Day and say farewell to another Pride month. The flags and rainbow logos will be taken down, boxed and shelved for another year, while our rights are whittled away and compromised and erased.

My friend and her family ― including her trans son ― will be putting down roots north of the border soon. My queer family and I will stay to fight, for now. But my duty as a mom is to protect them at all costs, so it may come to pass that we flee, too. Not out of fear, or even the threat of ever-growing violence against our kind, but because I want them to live in a place where they can find joy, build families of their own and live in peace.

I fear the United States will no longer be a place for trans Americans, given the current trajectory. That is surely the most violent thing of all.


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