Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Transgender Rights (HBO) (youtube.,com)
What’s next for gay Americans after same-sex marriage ruling? (cbsnews.com)
Mike Huckabee: I wish I pretended to be transgender to shower with girls (politico.com)
Last year I had to stop shopping at Kroger. At the store that I usually went to there was an employee who ran the self-checkouts (which I always use whenever possible so I don’t have to endure awkward small talk with cashiers) who apparently decided that she just didn’t like me and was going to make me miserable every time I shopped there. On more than one occasion she stopped my register from running for over ten minutes, leaving me to just stand there and wait for her to free up my checkout while she helped every other station. People who weren’t even in line behind me when I started checking out were already back to their cars while I was kept standing there, feeling increasingly humiliated as I was made to wait and wait and wait. Eventually I had to leave in the middle of one order because I had to get to another location and I wasn’t getting any service, forcing me to leave behind the tote bags I’d brought for my order that I’d already packed with the groceries I never got to take home. When I contracted Kroger’s national offices about what had happened to me, not only did they refuse to take serious action against this employee but they also refused to reimburse me for the lost bags (or even just mail them back to me). If they’re going to let that happen to me at that store then I assume that employees can do the same thing to other customers at any of their other stores, and so I boycott Kroger now because that’s not the kind of company I want to do business with.
I’d like to shop at locally-owned stores, but I just don’t make the kind of money to let me do that right now. Since I still boycott Walmart like all good liberals do, that basically leaves me to shop at a regional big box store chain called Meijer, and at my local Meijer there is one greeter in particular who is friendly to literally everyone else who walks through the doors, striking up long conversations with them, but whenever I come in he looks at me like he wants me to kill myself. This is something I would like to push Meijer harder about, but at this point it feels like something I have to put up with just so I have somewhere where I can shop in relative peace.
The key word in that last sentence is “relative,” because every month I’m practically guaranteed of having some parent pull their kids away from me as I’m walking in a store, no matter how far away I am from them, because they assume that anyone who isn’t heterosexual and/or cisgender is a dangerous pedophile. This is something I’ve had to deal with in various degrees for the past fifteen years or so, but it used to be something that was fueled silently by the lingering transphobia (and homophobia, since so many people see no difference between sexual orientation and gender identity). Even in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country, though, and even with a broader acceptance of transgender people in America than I can ever remember, open and overt transphobia is also stronger than I’ve ever seen.
A lot of what’s going on is simply a shift by the forces that have been opposing non-heterosexuals; with support for same-sex marriage nearly doubling in the past dozen years, and increasing non-heterosexual visibility making it harder for homophobes to portray non-heterosexuals as a dangerous “other,” transgender Americans are an obvious target for these people because despite the recent successes of Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner in increasing visibility and acceptance of transgender people, there isn’t the history of widely-reaching transgender advocacy that there is for the gay and lesbian community. This is, in part, due to the community pushing aside minorities within the community — not just transgender people, but bisexuals and pansexuals and others — to appear more “marketable” to the broader American public, something that is still going on to a lesser extent, but it’s a historical reality that we now need to make up for by working harder in the present to push for inclusion of all LGBT* people.
It’s one thing, however, for transgender Americans to have to deal with the lingering homophobia and transphobia in this country. When a national political figure like Mike Huckabee is making national news saying that you are a threat to America’s children, though, this is something that has an immediate effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of transgender Americans. (Don’t even get me started on the Duggar family.) When political groups air commercials that portray all transgender people as pedophiles trying to get into the “wrong” bathroom to molest little kids, that’s something that can turn a routine shopping trip into a dangerous, even terrifying, experience. With right-wing media pushing these stories harder than ever, it’s nearly impossible to go out in public as a transgender American and not be afraid for your life.
If the recent fight over same-sex marriage has taught us anything, it is that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right when he said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but that it bends towards justice. The Onion got it right when they said that the Supreme Court justices who voted against same-sex marriage will eventually be the villains of an Academy Award-winning movie. For too many transgender Americans, who are already disproportionately the targets of assault and murder, this new tide of transphobic rhetoric, especially as it’s bolstered by increased right-wing paranoia about America and President Obama, is bone-chilling.
As many have pointed out after the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, this is a dangerous time for complacency to set in within the LGBT* community. There are still too many battles to be fought, from employment and housing protections to defeating all the odious “bathroom bills” popping up in states across the country. Although working legislatively may be a necessity when it comes to effecting long-term change, there is still a lot that can be done, and needs to be done, in the here and now to make things better for transgender people. Crafting and proclaiming a strong counter-narrative to all the transphobic rhetoric being bandied about right now by right-wing America, and standing up when transgender people are attacked in ways both large and small, are just two small steps that need to be taken immediately, before this new wave of transphobia has the opportunity to take root in America. This is one of those times, much like when some of us fought for same-sex marriage when it was still wildly unpopular in America, when we have to push America faster along that moral arc, so more Americans can get true equality and justice before they become the victims of another American hate movement.