South Dakota’s state Senate has put a bill before Governor Dennis Daugaard that prevents transgender students from having access to, among other things, bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. This “Bathroom Bill” is part of a string of legislative efforts that use paranoid obsession with trans bodies to justify discrimination against them. Most famously, Houston's attempt to pass a trans-inclusive non-discrimination policy, nicknamed HERO, was defeated with the help of an appalling campaign depicting trans women as men in dresses out to harass and rape cisgender women. That sort of ignorant and hateful thinking is what defeated HERO, pushed this bill in South Dakota, and has inspired similar bills in Tennessee, Nebraska, and Texas.
What infuriates and baffles me is that these legislators want to treat trans folks like some alien threat from a dark and distant star that is hell-bent on invading our … precious public restrooms? Governor Daugaard’s excuse is literally “I’ve never met a transgender person.” It sounds dismissive, but it’s really something worse. Cisgender people have the luxury of being able to ignore trans people, but trans folks encounter phobia and cissexism with cruel regularity.
Legislators can fabricate any paranoid delusion about trans people that they want, and cisgender people can choose to believe that transgender people -- wanting the same human validation with which cisgender people are blessed -- are somehow a threat to everyone.
Or? We can choose to believe something different.
We can believe transgender people. We can acknowledge who they are. We can educate ourselves about the struggles and experiences of trans people, without expecting every trans person to be our teacher. We can try to get it right, still get it wrong, and be grateful for those moments when trans folks are willing to guide and correct us. We can take a stand alongside them against “bathroom bills” and laws designed to erase their identities. Cisgender people don’t get to define transgender liberation, but we can refuse to sit idly by and be complicit in their oppression. We can start getting this right anytime now. We can start in South Dakota.