The news came out Sunday morning that the Trump administration may take discriminatory action against America’s transgender population by “narrowly defining” gender as something determined by “genitalia at birth.” As the New York Times noted, this will have far-reaching impact in terms of transgender rights:
The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into…
...The move would be the most significant of a series of maneuvers, large and small, to exclude the population from civil rights protections and roll back the Obama administration’s more fluid recognition of gender identity. The Trump administration has sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military and has legally challenged civil rights protections for the group embedded in the nation’s health care law.
This is going to renew some of the old battles we’ve seen about public facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms, and may have far-reaching effects on insurance coverage for counseling and medical procedures.
But even if the memo never becomes law, it’s going to have a more immediate harmful effect on the trans population, and especially trans youth. In a Paste feature that ran earlier this month, I wrote about how the historically high rate of anti-trans legislation in America damages a vulnerable population even when the legislation fails. Not only does it give tacit permission to bullies—both personal and bureaucratic—to unilaterally make life worse for trans people in big and small ways, but it aggravates stress, anxiety, and other mental illness for a group of Americans that already attempts suicide at a 40 percent rate. Dr. Michele Angello, a Philadelphia psychologist who has worked with trans youth for 20 years, told me she had more clients hospitalized for “mental health issues and suicidality” in the six-month period after Trump than she had in her entire career.
That’s the power of fear—of wondering whether the people in power will try to strip you of your humanity, erode your rights, and make it harder and harder to exist as a trans person in a hostile society. Even before it takes any practical effect, that’s what the memo exacerbates: The fear. There are people out there in America who are existing in a tenuous psychological state, struggling with their identity and society’s broader acceptance, and this will put some of them over the edge. It is a certainty that in the 24 hours since this story broke, some of the U.S. estimated 1.4 million trans people have been admitted to the hospital and even attempted suicide as a result of the stress. For countless others, it will increase anxiety, depression, and other illnesses in ways that threaten to one day lead them to a breakdown.
And for what? For the dominant party’s religious convictions of what “gender” should mean? What is the point of this policy? Who does it help, and why must it be enforced in the first place? Who, we should ask, was being hurt?
And finally, what kind of worldview must Republican lawmakers hold that prompts them to introduce this kind of political cruelty? What kind of person looks at the vulnerable citizens of American and decides, time and time again, to punish them? What sort of instincts are those?
This is an outrage, but it’s an expected one. We’re being ruled by a political party that thrives on bringing pain and suffering to those who need government help the most. We saw it with the child separations at the border, we saw it with attempts to slash healthcare, we saw it with the tax bill, and we’re seeing it again with this attack on transgender people. If we have any collective goodness as a country, it’s being lost in the moral vacuum of the representatives we’ve chosen.
How can anyone support a policy like this, much less advocate for it, and still think of themselves as a good person?