A chilling post this weekend from the US underlining how rights will not be enough to protect that country’s trans community from the vile bigotry of people who have taken a message of universal love – love God, love your neighbour – and turned it into very public hatred and persecution.
I cannot begin to get my head around the idea that they and i allegedly share a religion. But this is not about that. Not today.
Non-discrimination is not enough
It is about how it can be possible to live as trans in the US of A after the present froth subsides. After the latest wave of hateful law-making subsides and is overturned by Presidential decree and the Supreme Court. Because while the legal threat may depart, the aftermath will be a changed hostile world for trans people.
A world in which the negative right not to be discriminated against will not be anywhere near enough.
The post set out a simple observation from a trans woman in a Target store in a state WITH trans protections. While in there she observed a couple of men watching the women’s loos, occasionally going in and out of the men’s loos to “check” on who was in there.
The bathroom police are alive and well and in the stores.
And even if they do nothing (and does anyone trust them NOT to make comment, NOT to take pictures for subsequent online publication?) they will soon be omnipresent. By which i mean not that they will be everywhere: because let’s face it, the actual physical presence achieved by the anti-Target store demonstrators probably intersected with the real world for a very few hours in a very few places.
Headlines made: but a message and a statement out of all proportion to numbers. Though that was always the way with direct action: minimal physical presence, but massive psychological impact.
The bullying begins
I still remember my first tentative steps in transition: the nervousness with which i pushed open the door to a women’s loo for the very first time. The trepidation. The fear of rejection – or worse. And that, of course, was in the relatively more trans-friendly UK. Remember, too, the vanishingly few instances when this was an issue. Twice, i was stopped by men (not women): in one instance by a man who threatened to beat me up.
In order to protect the women and children. Of course.
I cannot imagine how it would be if, on top of all that, was loaded the more constant fear of abuse, outing, violence and well… just the fact that performing a simple bodily function is no longer that, but a supposedly suitable topic for the highest of the high, national politicians and senior judges, to concern themselves with.
(Again, i had a small taste of that with my first overseas trip post transition. Unfounded, of course: the Swiss and the Italians really couldn’t give a damn where i peed. Well, within reason!)
And as i thought about it, a prickling awareness. Does all this sound familiar? Ah yes: the ultimate walk of shame, for women entering abortion clinics. A decision never taken lightly: a decision that should be, always, for each individual woman and her own conscience to make. Yet in the US, again, turned into public spectacle by these same Christian bigots. They may not “throw stones”, though violence seems never far below the surface when it comes to anti-abortion exhibitionism.
But the motivation is clearly the same: public shaming, when they turn up; and fear of that shaming even when they don’t. Because who knows who is watching: what hidden cameras; what cleverly concealed spies are lurking to out them.
A constant paralysing intimidation.
Which is, in the end, is how “sinners” get “saved”. Rarely, i suspect, because they have a change of heart: far more often because of the climate of fear created.
Healing will be needed
In the UK, we are lucky that (outside of Northern Ireland) our bigots are less assiduous: are, themselves, more sensitive to the fact that such activity is as likely, more likely to result in arrest and prosecution for the persecutors. We have hate crime legislation: imperfect; but it makes clear which side the police are on, should be on.
And that, it seems, is what the US is going to need when all this subsides (and my apologies to all, there, if my Brit-centred view misses out some subtleties of how your systems work). It was great that this week, a security guard who hassled a trans woman in a woman’s restroom was, herself, arrested and charged with assault.
That sends a message. A very necessary one.
But – back to the beginning – that arrest was in a state where trans is already broadly accepted: where trans protections are deeply embedded in the law.
When the froth subsides, if this is not to turn into another long-running saga of intimidation posing as free speech, the US will need to take action similar to that taken in the UK. To arrest and prosecute the perpetrators.
Because only then will people be able to start feeling safe once more.