In 2016, I walked out of the voting booth thinking, Well, I know my vote doesn’t matter much, but it is pretty cool that I just voted for the first female president. That’s something I can tell my grandkids someday. I wasn’t even particularly thrilled about Hilary Clinton, if I’m being honest. She wasn’t outspoken about trans rights, and being a trans man, that’s very important to me. Obama had been the most trans-friendly president we ever had.
Afterwards, I was watching the electoral college numbers pop up on the CNN website, but only casually. I was more invested in writing my novel. (I never finished. I would like to blame the election, but I think I just lost the plot.)
The polls were showing a strong indication that Hilary would win, which lulled me into a false sense of security — something I think we all kind of realized too late. While I was sure Trump couldn’t win, I was still fundamentally opposed to him. I didn’t like how his platform was already based on exclusivity and how he was so openly misogynistic. His rallying cry of “lock her up” just disgusted me, along with the war chant of “build the wall.” I had called my mom, a Republican, a few days before the election and cried to her, begging her not to vote for someone who was already using his platform to hurt people like me. I knew that his running mate, Mike Pence, was devoted to an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. She voted for him anyway.
Aside from my Long Island family, who has always voted Republican, I truly thought that no one in their right mind would vote for Trump. Even those who lean right for fiscal reasons, I thought, still wouldn’t vote for Trump.
I didn’t expect him to win, because the people who usually voted Republican in the country always seemed strong to me. They wouldn’t be bullied by some obnoxious New Yorker who had no understanding of real blue collar work (Isn’t it ironic that blue collar workers vote for “fiscal reasons?”). I figured we would all rally against this person, regardless of our political alignments.
Then the numbers started to change. I was getting worried.
I texted my friends in a big group chat. I asked what they thought would happen; surely this was going to swing back, right? Spoiler alert: The numbers didn’t swing back. One of my friends, a Republican, said something along the lines of, “Let’s wait and see — he might do great things.” I tried to remind myself that Trump is from New York; surely he knows some queer people, I thought. Surely he has love in his heart for the vibrant, colorful heart of New York.
In the beginning, aside from his very conservative running mate, Trump signaled to the LGBTQ+ community that he had a connection with us. He touted out some queer friends — famously, Caitlin Jenner supported him. I felt betrayed by Ms. Jenner, but I also felt hopeful. If Jenner had his ear, maybe there was a chance that he was just pretending to be so conservative to get the votes. But, like the rest of Trump policy, it was all illusion. Trump likes to play one group of people off the other, gaining support by putting others down, which is a classic bully move. In an article for the New York Times, Maggie Haberman notes, “Mr. Trump is famously transactional, and the support he has given L.G.B.T.Q. people has usually been in connection with celebrity or support they have given him.”
The transactional friendship didn’t last long. “The reality is that the trans community is being relentlessly attacked by this president,” Ms. Jenner wrote for the Washington Post. “He has made trans people into political pawns as he whips up animus against us in an attempt to energize the most right-wing segment of his party.” This declaration was startling because it came from someone close to Trump. She helped me to see that the way Trump has positioned certain groups as less worthy of respect and rights is a disgusting misuse of power. It started the very first day after Trump was sworn in. The White House official website was scrubbed of any mention of the LGBTQ+ population. This was an active choice that set the stage early for LGBTQ+ erasure.
By erasing queer policy from the website, I can’t help but feel like he attempted to erase our existence — at least politically.
He excluded us from the bare minimum protections we were only starting to live with. In May of 2018, the Obama administration was awarded the Ally Award by the National Center for Transgender Equality for their forward thinking around trans rights. The balloons had barely deflated from our celebrations before Trump ripped away our rights to health care in “a rollback by the Trump administration of a regulation put in place by the Obama administration in 2016 to mandate health care as a civil right for transgender patients under the Affordable Care Act.” Speaking of those celebrations, Trump couldn’t be bothered to even tweet support for Pride month in any of the Junes that he occupied his position, though he is famous for tweeting on well, everything else.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; a list of unjust rules were put in place shortly after. Haberman elaborates on how transgender people were consistently the target of unjust policy. It started with a tweet that rocked the LGBTQ+ community, when Trump stated that trans Americans will no longer be allowed to join the military. The implications were vague but threatening. Some trans members of the military wondered if this meant they would lose their jobs. While I am fast becoming too old to join the military, it was still a dark time for me. Knowing that my country wouldn’t accept my help if needed made me feel like an outsider. Members of the military should be respected for their sacrifice. It’s a brave choice to defend American citizens; knowing I wasn’t welcome to risk my life meant that my life was worth next to nothing.
Then the Trump administration went after school age trans children, with an attempt to block transgender students from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Trans children are at particular risk of mental health crises, which are exacerbated when their community does not support their rights. I had flashbacks to my own bathroom troubles throughout my life. There were snide comments in the women’s room when I wasn’t yet passing as a man. I happen to know that I posed no threat to anyone unless I accidentally ran into someone because I was sprinting to get out of there as quickly as possible. Trans people know better than anyone that bathrooms can be a dangerous place, but only because we are seen as intruders no matter where we try to go.
Additionally, trans students were blocked from participating in sports when the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights publicly moved to block transgender girls from joining female track teams in Connecticut high schools.
The list goes on in terms of ways that the Trump administration worked against the best interest of trans Americans. There were rollbacks of health protections by the Department of Health for trans people. This means hypothetically that a doctor’s office could turn away trans people for something as simple as a routine medical check. Considering the current state of American healthcare, this can be devastating.
There was also the move to end protections for transgender people who are incarcerated in federal prisons. Homeless shelters are allowed, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to deny transgender people access to shelters. This is rationalized by saying the single sex shelters don’t have to include trans people in their definition of the sex they are housing.
These momentous decisions affect the trans communities mental wellbeing. So it turns out, no, Trump does not hold love for the queer community, and he has no real interest in protecting our rights. He has shown, through actions, where his loyalty lies, and actions speak a lot louder than words — especially as trans people of color remain the most vulnerable group in america.
Even for trans people like me — privileged, white, middle class trans people — the effect is painful. I feel distrusted by my fellow Americans. It pains me to think of all the trans people who are homeless, or need access to basic necessities, or want to participate with their friends in school. It’s heartbreaking. I am being made out to be a locker room or bathroom-lurking predator. But, people are quick to remind me, we have survived worse.
Who is this “we” that is meant by “we’ve survived worse?” Not the thousands of Americans who died of AIDS under President Reagan. Not the homeless youth who were kicked out of their homes during the Covid pandemic, but that’s a whole different article. Or there are the disproportionate trans youth who die by suicide, they also will not survive descrimination.
According to the Trevor Project, the nation’s leading organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ people under 25, “Transgender youth reported significantly increased rates of depression, suicidality, and victimization compared to their cisgender peers. Notably, in the past year, one in three transgender youth reported attempting suicide, almost one-third reported being a victim of sexual violence, and more than half reported a two-week period of depression.” The truth is, though, these are intersectional issues. When you don’t look out for a large section of your population, tragedy will inevitably strike.
I have felt, even with my privilege accounted for, victimized by the Trump administration. With every protection rollback, I feel more vulnerable, and I feel afraid for my trans family. There’s only so much I can do as an individual to reach out and help those less fortunate than I am.
While I won’t have to worry about playing high school sports, I do still need to worry about going to the bathroom in public. I do have to worry about getting access to healthcare. Trans lives are saved by access to healthcare and housing and protections while in prison. Society should not be comfortable watching as only the strongest survive. I want to see soft, vulnerable trans people safe. I want sweet trans people to make it through their childhood. I want to see more trans adults who never had to worry that they would be attacked or turned away at the door. I want us to survive.