The simple truth: A message of support for trans youth

Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. Like the rest of you, I’m incredibly disappointed in the Trump administration’s recent decision to withdraw federal guidance recommending that schools allow transgender students to use the restrooms and facilities of their gender. This guidance was significant and so meaningful at a time of ongoing conflict over this issue – it was a message from the very top declaring that trans students are to be recognized and respected at school. Thanks to the Trump administration, we no longer have this crucial support in our corner. (Public schools should be aware, however, that even though the guidance has been withdrawn, the existing case law still stands. If you discriminate against your trans students, legal groups defending our rights can and will sue you for this – it will be very expensive and time-consuming for you, and you will likely lose.)

Let’s be clear: the reasons offered by the White House for doing this, like claiming that this is a “states’ rights issue”, are sheer nonsense. The Obama-era guidance explained that trans youth are protected from sex discrimination in schools under Title IX – a federal law, not a matter to be left to states. There is simply no reason why the decision of whether or not to discriminate against transgender students should be decided by individual states or cities. Think about it – what possible purpose could this serve? Why would San Antonio have a need to treat trans girls as boys, and Baltimore have a need to treat trans girls as girls? Why should whether or not their gender is respected vary by state lines, city limits, and district boundaries? These aren’t decisions regarding local curriculum standards or taxation or zoning – this is a matter of basic human rights.

There’s no excuse for forcing trans students to navigate an ever-shifting patchwork of local policies just to go to the bathroom. Cis people aren’t expected to find their way through a continually evolving legal labyrinth before they can use the facilities. Why should trans people be burdened with this? This is exactly the kind of absurd and completely unmanageable situation that guidance at the federal level can clarify and resolve: trans students should be able to expect that they won’t be forced to use the wrong bathroom at school, no matter where they are.

Instead, the withdrawal of the guidance means leaving kids at the mercy of the whims of whatever state, city, and neighborhood they happen to live in. Saying that this is a decision for states reveals exactly how this administration sees trans youth: as people whose genders are less than fully real and authentic. They’ve given an unambiguous thumbs-up to the status quo, confirming for jurisdictions across the country that our genders are not our own, but are rather subject to public opinion and approval. It means telling cis people that they’re entitled to dispute our genders and determine this for us and overrule who we know we are, in ways that cis people themselves are never subjected to. It is insulting and humiliating to leave our lives in limbo as an eternal subject of public debate. This is an issue where we need clearly established protection nationwide, not abandonment to the capricious decisions of our neighborhoods.

Trans kids are a vulnerable group and a captive audience. Children can’t simply decide to pick up and move across the country to a jurisdiction that, for the moment, has decided that they’re allowed to use the right bathroom. We know that social support and affirming treatment of trans youth leads to better health and life outcomes for them – and experiences of harassment and discrimination directly impact their well-being. Obstructing these children’s lives and trying to strip them of their very gender when they enter the schoolhouse door is plainly harmful to them. This is a group that is desperately in need of protection against discrimination on the basis of their gender. That’s exactly why the Title IX guidance was necessary in the first place: because schools were failing to protect their transgender students.

To trans kids, I want to tell you this: Some “debates” don’t need to happen at all – sometimes, some things are simply right, and some things are simply wrong. Who you are is not wrong. That simple truth is clear as day – which is why so much nonsense has been heaped on top of it to try and disguise this. Know that you are not a threat to anyone because of who you are – do not let anyone convince you that your classmates need to be protected from you. This is how they teach you to hate yourself – but there is not a grain of truth in it. Know that your existence as your genuine self does not take away from anyone else’s privacy or safety. A person’s prejudice against us does not mean they are in danger from us – it means we are in danger from them. And know that there is no excuse for adults, who ought to know better, to cultivate any environment where people feel entitled to treat you as a safety concern. Know that you are a full human being, you are real, you are equal, and you deserve to be recognized and protected as such. Period.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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