What Is Given Is Then Taken Away

The revocation of transgender rights feels violent because it is violent

In a democracy, rights are not earned, they are given. The Bill of Rights, voting rights, Miranda Rights – these are ethics determined by popular assent. The majority of the people can undo anything the government does, if the people vote.

In this system, it’s a fallacy that civil rights are “won” – minorities are only granted freedoms at the whims of the majority.

Slaves didn’t win their freedom; they were given it. Women didn’t win the right to vote; they were given it. Gay people didn’t earn the right to marry, they were given it. Transgender people didn’t win Title IX protections; they were given them. And now they’re being taken away.

The Obama administration loosened the legal concept of gender in Title IX interpretation and federal programs, recognizing gender largely as an individual’s choice and not determined by the sex assigned at birth. But when Democrats controlled Congress and the presidency, they did not pass laws to cement these protections.

With a change in representation, these civil rights are evaporating, as the government wants to keep a list of people’s genitals at birth to determine their gender their entire lives.

As the New York Times puts it, “For the last year, the Department of Health and Human Services has privately argued that the term ‘sex’ was never meant to include gender identity or even homosexuality, and that the lack of clarity allowed the Obama administration to wrongfully extend civil rights protections to people who should not have them.”

The problem of course is with a civil rights system that only awards rights for immutable characteristics — with gender and sexuality of course being quite variable beyond the scope of conscious desire. The inability of the world to see itself is rarely more apparent than when it chooses to analyze trans people.

American society already deeply penalizes people who do not conform to gender norms. There is nothing more threatening to masculinity in our culture than a man who acts feminine – sissies on the ballfield, men who have sex with other men, or men who deep inside aren’t men at all, but women.

In a world where the chain of Madea films is never-ending – as nothing is funnier than a man in a dress – it can be hard for people to have empathy for a trans woman, who is a woman, not a man in a dress.

Trans people make up less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, making them an easy target in the culture wars. After all, who fears the trans vote? But American society is much more of a threat to trans people than vice-versa.

Trans people in America are much more likely to be homeless, in poverty, bullied in school, and killed in hate crimes than any other racial, ethnic or sexual minority group, even in Washington State. We don’t even know the full extent of the inequality, because gender identity and sexual orientation have never been on the federal census.

The message here for trans people: The United States is not a place where you can be who you are. Americans will give you rights and take them away in the same decade.

In Washington, we’ve already lost one of our main champions for transgender rights, Danni Askini of the Gender Justice League. She sued the Trump Administration over the trans military ban, and the government took away her passport. She is now in Sweden trying to get asylum, because if she comes back to America, she will be put in a male immigration detention center.

It’s hard, because Sweden doesn’t normally grant asylum from the United States, a “functioning democracy.” But even in a functioning democracy, you can be in danger.

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