I am a Utah parent of a transgender daughter. My child wakes up every day in a world awash with political rhetoric that calls her a groomer and worse.
Here are some facts about being transgender, even as many queer people celebrate Pride a little more tentatively this year, wondering if they will targeted by the fierce backlash that has arisen against LGBTQ+ Americans:
• Trans people make up less than 2 percent of the entire U.S. population; you can be forgiven for thinking that the number must be closer to 35 percent given the wall-to-wall coverage the trans panic has received.
• Transgender people are many times more likely to be the victims of violence and sexual assault than perpetrators.
• Children are statistically far less safe at church, at a relative’s house, or in the presence of any politician than they are around a trans person.
• Children are astronomically more likely to be shot with a gun than hurt by a trans person.
• Transitioning is a years-long process involving many barriers. The problem isn’t that transitioning is too easy; it’s that it is far too hard, and states like Utah are determined to make it even more difficult.
Trans people are real. Trans people exist, and they should not have to defend that existence to us. If we take away their health care, they will still exist. They will just exist in more pain and more fear.
It’s OK to be confused. It’s OK to wonder what on earth is going on with gender these days. I’m not judging you. I get it — I promise. It will take all of us time. The myth of the militant trans person ready to chew your head off if you use the wrong pronoun is just that: a myth. Trans people know that people need time to acclimate. Trans people don’t need you to tell them that this is a major cultural shift. They know. They get it. All they want is kindness. You don’t have to understand something for it to be valid.
When all is said and done, if you can’t get on board, OK. If your religious beliefs forbid you from openly supporting trans people, fair enough. How about choosing then to not be actively harmful to some of the most vulnerable people in society? Saying nothing costs you precisely zero dollars.
You could use the time you might spend to be mean to trans people to watch a video of a puppy instead. You could turn on a baseball game. You could eat a snack. There is literally nothing easier than not posting harmful content online or, worse, verbally attacking people in public. “Jokes” (and I use the term very loosely) about identifying as a Corvette or an alpaca are lazy, mean and dumb.
We used to have “the Negro question.” Then we had the “LGBT debate.” Now we have “the trans issue.” Except people aren’t issues. They aren’t questions. They aren’t up for debate. Culture clashes and moral panics make it easy to sound reasonable by placing yourself in the middle of whatever the latest controversy might be. But there is no middle ground when it comes to fully recognizing another person’s whole humanity. If you can’t do that, then you aren’t an ally and you aren’t some reasonable moderate just trying to stay above the political fray.
When it comes to trans kids, we hear about “concerned parents” an awful lot. But what that really means is “parents who disapprove of transgender children.” It’s not unlike when we hear about “working-class voters” when what political pundits really mean are white working-class voters. I’m a concerned parent, too. I’m concerned for my child’s safety and well-being in a world that has chosen to make her a villain so that the Republican Party can have another wedge issue to divide us.
My voice as a parent matters, and I know my child. I know that this is who she is. I know that she struggled with her identity for many years and that she didn’t wake up one day and decide she was transgender because of — what? Pride merchandise in Target? The nefarious queer agenda to … exist?
Underestimating teenagers is a time-honored human tradition, but believing that any sort of queer visibility will make kids want to be trans is harmful and absurd. It’s time to listen to people when they tell you who they are. Transgender Utahns are telling us who they are and it is our job to ask them how we can support them, not to question them and certainly not to demonize them.
John Hatch is an editor with Signature Books in Salt Lake City.