On This Transgender Day of Visibility, We Won’t Be Defeated

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Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Take a look at me, and you’ll see more than I probably want you to see, even with a mask covering my nose and mouth.

I’m overweight, but then, who hasn’t put on a few pounds in this pandemic? I’m white. I have blue eyes, freckles and, I am not afraid to boast, great legs. Yes, I am a woman. But some will notice that I’m a different kind of woman: a transgender woman. You might even notice something different about my hair—and I call it my hair, because, hell, I paid for it, so it’s mine. It doesn’t matter that it didn’t grow on my head but came home with me in a box.

Trans People Are Not Beaten, but We Are Feeling Battered

All these facts come from just looking at me, in person, or in a little box on Zoom or social media.

And yet none of these details define who I really am or why today, the Transgender Day of Visibility, is relevant to my being. What happens today around the world is that trans people like me will flood your timeline with photos, videos, memes and the hashtag #TDoV as well as variations on those themes. We’ll wear the pink, blue, and white colors Monica Helms combined to form the Trans Pride flag. We’ll speak, sing, shout, and there’s not much you can do to stop us.

Well, unless you’re a Republican governor hell-bent on erasing us from sports and affirming health care, that is.

Look at what they’ve done just this week:

In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem signed executive orders that will ban trans girls and women from school sports, from grade school all the way up to college.

Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Lee banned trans athletes without a single word in the new bill calling them “trans” or “transgender.” Instead these girls are misgendered as boys.

Arkansas is on a tear. In addition to signing a law banning trans girls and women, Gov. Asa Hutchinson also gave health-care workers the right to discriminate, by refusing to treat anyone if they have a moral or religious objection. And now headed to his desk is another bill that would make gender-affirming treatment a crime. ACLU attorney Chase Strangio correctly labeled it “the single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.”

Earlier this month, Mississippi got the ball rolling with its trans ban and we’re still waiting for a federal judge to decide the case of Idaho‘s law banning trans girls and women from competing in sports according to their gender identity.

These laws and the bills in the works in more than two dozen states threaten not only our visibility but our very existence. That’s not me being overly dramatic, which, as a former child actor, is certainly a valid criticism for some things.

No, laws that stop any trans child, student athlete or adult from living authentically in every way a cisgender person can, that is the very definition of discrimination and erasure. Not being able to do the things every other woman can, would mean I, Dawn Stacey Ennis, am not able to exist. Who else in the United States is at risk of being denied their very existence by a right-wing, religion-fueled political machine that finds itself creeping toward extinction and oblivion?

We don’t have it anywhere as bad as the migrants fleeing oppression huddled at our southern border, but sometimes it feels as if we are just as unwanted. As if our transgender identity somehow cancels out our citizenship, our rights and even our humanity.

Nearly every news report singles us out as something “other:” The headlines scream about “trans athletes and women” and “girls vs. biological boys.” Those lopsided mainstream accounts treat our identities as ratings fodder, as if debating our rights and our existence is somehow fair, while at the same time giving credence to those who claim it is unfair for us to compete as we really are.

The time has come today to be what they accuse us of being: unbeatable.

The truth is, trans women and girls don’t always win. In fact, like every other athlete, they lose more times than not. Just because the media doesn’t cover those results doesn’t mean they aren’t searchable. But if the reputation that trans athletes are unbeatable is already ingrained in the public conscience, then I say let’s show them we cannot be beaten in court, in the statehouses, and in the streets.

We face some mighty fierce political forces who are opposed to transgender rights, aided and abetted by the likes of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation and The Federalist. They are loud but they are outnumbered, and so they are fighting harder than ever, mainly because we are succeeding in being seen.

The proof that days like today are effective is in their bigoted and hateful efforts to outlaw us and strip us of our right to life-saving medical treatment and prevent us from being protected equally according to the law by failing to support the Equality Act.

It’s like that old proverb that says hate exists so that we can know what love is.

But I don’t need to hear old clips of Bobby Riggs to know what a sexist is. I don’t need David Duke to tell me what a racist is. And I especially don’t need Louis Farrakhan to explain what an anti-Semite is—don’t even try: I’m Jewish, and I’ve seen him preach hate in person.

By that same token, some cisgender gay and straight men need to stop presuming to tell me, a transgender woman, who is and who is not a transphobe, and what is and what is not transphobic. They do not know. I do, all too well. Seven of them come to mind: Ben Shapiro, Jesse Singal, Dan Savage, Jonathan Kay, Piers Morgan, Bill Maher, and worst of all, Tucker Carlson. I don’t care why they have a fixation on us. I just want them to stop.

Instead of paying attention to these clowns and creeps, here are eight awesome writers, journalists and prolific advocates who trans folks and allies alike should be following:

· Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl and so much more

· Gwendolyn Ann Smith, creator of the Trans Day of Remembrance, journalist, and the subject of an excellent biography.

· Chris Mosier, trailblazing athlete and advocate, manager of transathlete.com

· Tre’vell Anderson, journalist, social curator and “world changer!”

· Raquel Willis, writer and activist

· Chase Strangio, writer and attorney, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project.

· Jennifer Finney Boylan, author, scholar, college professor, columnist for The New York Times

· Karleigh Chardonnay Webb, journalist, athlete, actress and advocate

What all the forces allied against the transgender community really want is to set us apart, which I concede TDoV aids somewhat in their evil effort. My own brother-in-law once asked me, “Isn’t the goal of being trans to blend in and be accepted as just another woman, or man? So what’s the point of this display?”

The point is to raise awareness that we are not now accepted as women and men. Whether we should be or not is currently a hot topic of debate, and until that is no longer the case, Trans Day of Visibility exists to counter those who would erase us, outlaw us, discriminate against us, or tell us so-and-so can’t be a transphobe because they say so.

And because I choose to be visible, unfortunately, I make myself a target. The onslaught on social media, in email, and even in the mailbox that hangs outside my home has been something awful. I changed our home phone number to stop the harassing calls and for safety my youngest has been instructed to no longer answer the door, which we now keep locked at all times, day and night. My visibility has threatened my family and that scares the shit out of me.

So I take precautions to safeguard them and myself, but I will not cower. I am fortunate to be white, and conversations I’ve had with Asian American trans people these last few weeks remind me how much worse it is for them, and has always been. One of my closest friends is a Black trans woman and I worry for her every single day, too, even here in the bluer-than-blue state of Connecticut, because hate knows no borders.

It’s not only a record year for hateful legislation, according to the Human Rights Campaign, but already at least 12 trans or gender non-conforming Americans, most of them Black and female-identified, have been murdered because of who they were.

It is for them we must be visible today, and not just seen but also heard. Contact your U.S. senator today (allies should do this, too) and tell them you want them to vote for the Equality Act. Identify yourself as trans or an ally. Reach out to your governor and tell them you want them to veto anti-trans legislation. Share these links on your social media and encourage your friends to do the same.

We need to be visible, not just for us but for the closeted and the stealth who fear losing everything if they are seen as transgender. Well, I’m someone who already lost everything I held dear: my marriage as well as the woman I loved, my career (and the six-figure income that came with it), and my male privilege. I shed all those things, and except for the pretense of being male, not happily.

But losing the caterpillar shell and emerging from the chrysalis is the price of becoming a butterfly. And I have never been happier, or more visible, than I am today. Just try and stop me. You cannot, because I am trans, and therefore I am unbeatable.

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