A case study on the impacts of the Supreme Court
By Gia Ariola
On July 28, Nikki Stone was brutally pulled off her skateboard and shoved into an unmarked van during a New York City protest. Nikki was physically accosted by cops who were not wearing masks and was forced to spend the night in police custody. As an 18-year-old transgender woman, this was not the first time Nikki had feared for her safety; her mother recently relocated the family from Dallas because of Texas’s “highly conservative” environment that she deemed unsafe. Today, Nikki is experiencing homelessness in NYC, and her reality is sadly not an anomaly. Transgender women have been excluded from mainstream society, the feminist movement and denied basic rights for the entirety of American history. The exclusion of trans women from the feminist movement promotes the idea that there is a correct way to be a woman, one that ignores the multidimensionality of femininity. The female experience is not a linear one and varies dramatically across race, socioeconomic status, family life, and many other factors. If we continue not to recognize this and only advocate for groups who enjoy proper representation in mainstream society today, then the experiences of wealthy, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied women will act as the benchmark for the female experience. This group, myself included, has had more than our fair share of social privilege at the expense of other women.
Growing up, children are constantly categorized according to their gender. If one strays from the ‘typical’ dress and behaviors of one’s assigned gender, they are constantly asked why they can’t “be more like the other girls” or are told to “toughen up and be a man.” This harmful language pushes children toward strict labels and allows for unwarranted pushback when it comes to expressing norms of the opposite gender. Today, transgender women not only continue to experience this societal-imposed shame but are also the victims of hate crimes and murder. Selena Reyes-Hernandez, Monika Diamond, Johanna Metzger, and Layla Pelaez Sánchez are among some of the innocent women who have been killed and persecuted solely for being themselves. Why do we applaud straight men in transgender roles (Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe, Jared Leto as Rayon, etc.) but are unaccepting of real-life transgender women offscreen? These women do not ask for the same attention and praise as movie stars, but for the bare minimum: to live in peace. Instead, the U.S. treats them with the denial of basic human rights, such as access to healthcare and social services, proper gender identification on legal documents, and housing due to their gender identities. Today, 30% of transgender individuals have experienced discrimination in the workplace due to their gender identities. This creates a lack of employment opportunities and thus increased levels of poverty and less access to gender-affirming health care and housing within the trans community. This fatal discrimination and violence disproportionately affect transgender women of color, particularly Black transgender women, who have experienced approximately 4 in 5 of all anti-transgender homicides. 2020 has devastatingly already seen violent deaths of 25 reported transgender or gender non-conforming individuals.
The first step in overcoming anti-transgender stigma and violence is changing the language used with children and advocating for more transgender women in executive positions to act as powerful and creative influences on girls. Phrases like “tomboy” and “girly girl” perpetuate the cycle of toxic masculinity, infringe on the notion of personal freedom and expression, and harmfully reject the concept of gender fluidity. Who would want to express their true identities if they believe they could be met with disdain and even death? Eliminating this language encourages inclusive gender expression practices and can reduce the number of transgender youth not being accepted by their families due to their identities. If the U.S. was more accepting of its trans youth, Nikki Stone’s mother might not have felt the need to relocate to a city where her daughter was violently treated by the police. Additionally, seeing transgender women in positions of power, leading policy changes, NGOs, media conglomerates, and more, can change the perceptions about which qualities are necessary to hold leadership positions and dismantle anti-trans societal barriers. Although more representation is imperative to breaking down stigmas against transgender women, not everyone responds positively to increased visibility of marginalized communities. In 2018, there was a 45% increase in transphobic hate crimes that coincided with an explosive year for trans representation in the media as shows such as Transparent and Pose became popular and more mainstream actors identified as on the queer spectrum. We must not view visibility as the singular goal, but as a means to an end.
We all have a chance to directly influence the transgender experience in the U.S. In November, vote for a presidential candidate who will nominate a Supreme Court Justice to vote in favor of trans rights. Although the current 5-4 conservative majority recently voted to protect gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination on June 15 and has voted with public opinion in most major cases this term, the Trump administration has an ugly history of reversing important trans rights rulings. In 2017, Trump revoked a landmark ruling that allowed transgender students the right to use the bathrooms of their choice. The current administration also introduced the Civil Rights Uniformity Act as an attempt to limit gender identity to biological assignation and block transgender individuals from federal civil rights protections. Although the Supreme Court has recently voted in favor of protecting trans rights, it is clear there are still many representatives, including the President, who would vote otherwise. The estimated 20-40% of the 1.6 million homeless transgender youth kicked out of their homes due to their gender identities could either increase or decrease due to future SCOTUS decisions. Don’t leave their fates in the hands of a Justice who won’t advocate for them.
It is time to include transgender women in the feminist movement and interrupt exclusionary patterns of white feminism. All women are beautiful creatures and deserve to feel the incredible power of womanhood and the ability to cultivate relationships with other women simply on the basis of femininity. The process of self-discovery is traumatic enough- stop judging and punishing people for figuring out who they are and start praising the bravery and courageousness of the transgender journey. Dismantle this country’s culture of violence against things it chooses not to understand. Challenge children’s expected gender norms. Question corporations and institutions which do not advocate for a trans-inclusive workplace and call them out. Do not vote for a racist, sexist, and transphobic bigot who only recognizes “biological sex” and works to overturn transgender health protections. Women are doing their best to survive and thrive in the patriarchy America has deemed inclusive; don’t deny transgender and gender-nonconforming women the right to live because our classification system falls short.