Trans visibility outside the narrative of violence

The movement for trans liberation will free us all — if we let it

Published March 31, 2024 11:56AM (EDT)

Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, author of the trans refugee bill hugged Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Thursday, April 27, 2023 St. Paul, Minn. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via Getty Images)
Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, author of the trans refugee bill hugged Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Thursday, April 27, 2023 St. Paul, Minn. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Today is International Trans Day of Visibility, a day when all of us are asked to recognize and celebrate the transgender, non-binary, and two spirit communities. I hope you will take a moment to do so. 

And if you do, you will probably recognize that our communities are in a familiar political spot. Trans people, especially our young people, are fighting for our lives against a conservative movement obsessed with trans eradication. Ten years after the Transgender Tipping Point, we remain on edge, balanced over the cracked earth of America’s cultural fault lines; our future uncertain but our hope steady that we can prevent falling into the abyss.

Republican-led states across the nation are making every effort to strip transgender, non-binary, and two spirit people of our civil rights. In 2024, we’ve already seen more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced nationwide, promising that we will near, if not surpass the record 500 introduced in 2023. 

Not only are the bills numerous in 2024, but the policies are more cruel and dehumanizing than ever. To be sure the classics remain: banning access to healthcare, blocking our right to the bathroom, erasing our existence from schools and public life. But we are now also seeing attempts to treat affirming parents as child abusers, and affirming teachers as sex offenders. We’re seeing a rapid escalation in prohibiting trans people from legally existing at all. Such violent legislation brings violent ends; in their triumphs our community dies.  The nation mourns the death of Nex Benedict in Oklahoma. In my home state, we lament the loss Savannah Ryan Williams; I am certain the trans folks in your state hold on their lips the names of lost loved ones.

We are living in a terrifying, violent moment for trans, non-binary, and Two Spirit people. There is no way to avoid that reality. In Minnesota we are using our DFL trifecta and Queer Legislator’s Caucus to build a refuge for trans people as best we can. But safety is always relative. Here, as everywhere, it is dangerous to be trans. And it is even more dangerous to pretend otherwise. 

This is the dominant narrative of trans life in America is violence. And for very good reason. But on this Trans Day of Visibility, please also see that the dominant narrative is not the entire narrative of this community. 

Our community is surviving, even thriving. There is data to support this. For example: Trans elected representation increases every year. There are now around 90 trans, non-binary and Two Spirit elected officials in the United States, across all levels of government. That’s amazing. Representation is an unqualified good for every community! But it is not enough. 

We also need healthcare. The National Center For Trans Equality just released their massive survey of 92,000 people across America, of whom 95% reported they were ‘more satisfied’ in their lives after transition. Again. That is amazing. And it’s happening literally everywhere.  In every corner of this country there are courageous and defiant communities living and loving and building a visionary new future, just by existing. THAT is the other narrative of trans life in America.

The political fight being waged over our small, weird and wonderful community is preposterously out of hand, friends. There is no logic or compassion sustaining the movement for our eradication. 

We are +/- 1% of this nation. We are trying to live. We did not choose to have our entire existence politicized. That choice was made by the conservative movement that message-tested for an enemy and found trans kids could be used as a potent political target in the quest for power. That’s why we are here. They did this. Not us. We are not the threat. We are the answer this nation has been waiting for.

We need your help to stay independent

Trans, nonbinary, and Two Spirit people are the artists creating a new world of possibility and joy and freedom. I am so grateful to be trans and alive; words cannot tell you what it means to be me in my fullness. And I invite you to come with us into this fullness. To quote the poet Andrea Gibson, “come, become beside me.” Walk with us into a new kind of future where individuals and communities can build something beautiful together rather than decimate and devour each other for the fleeting rewards of power.

Trans liberation does not require anything other than to let us be us. It is a simple yet transformational request from our small demographic to all of yours. Rather than continuing the effort to erase trans identity, use this moment to discover who you are, who you could be, what freedom might be found in doing so. You need not be trans for our liberation to be yours. In being who we are there is undoubtedly room for you to be who you are.

It is time to leave the old ways behind, and move into something brighter, and bolder than this tired political story. Let us put on our Easter eyes, and see an entirely new land of hope and possibility. Let’s leave in the past the subjugation, persecution and dehumanization of those who are different. There is no lasting virtue or good to come from holding power over the suffering of others. I speak not just for my community, but for every community that lives under this threat: Black, brown, Jew, Muslim, undocumented, gay, lesbian, Palestinian.

I hope you hear the power of this possibility. This isn’t the soupy liberal message of a yard sign. We are fighting for something more than feelings and ephemeral identities. We are losing our rights and our lives. On this Trans Day of Visibility, please see this moment of our existence not as an imagined threat to your freedom, but embodying democracy’s fullest realization: that one small slice of humanity can turn the violence upside down, turn power on its head. That we can claim for ourselves our own liberation, and through our liberation you can find yours. If you will let us.

By Leigh Finke

Leigh Finke is the Executive Director of the Queer Equity Institute

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Commentary Trans Visibility Day