On February 25th, 2022, hundreds gathered at the Utah State Capitol in protest against H.B. 11 Student Eligibility in Interscholastic Activities and H.B. 127 Medical Practice Amendments, Utah’s most recent attempts at violently transphobic legislation.
H.B. 11 would incorporate a state-based commission to “establish a baseline range” of “physical characteristics affected by puberty” (bill text lines 230, 240). It further defines those characteristics as the following:
“The physical characteristics described … may include height, weight, body mass, bone density, flexibility, wingspan, hip-to-knee ratio, stride, oxygen saturation, or the extent of physical characteristics affected by puberty, giving consideration to the practicability of considering the physical characteristic when making an assessment of an individual student’s eligibility”(bill text lines 238-242)
In other words, all student athletes, cis and trans, will be subjected to invasive, violating, inspections of their bodies to determine if they are “boy” enough or “girl” enough as determined by a commission created of, by, and for, reactionary, petite-bourgeoisie politicians.
H.B 11 is essentially phrenology for gender. Phrenology, of course, being a standard practice of Nazi Germany during WWII.
“Phrenology is a pseudoscience that uses measurements of the human skull to determine personality traits, talents, and mental ability.”Regina Bailey
Going further, this legislation would also classify all communications between state-sanctioned gender inspectors and the children they’re violating as protected state records under existing Utah law. Any communications between the gender inspection commission and other organizations, such as athletic associations, are also similarly nonpublic:
“Any record of the commission, including any communication between an athletic association and the commission, that relates to a specific student shall be classified as a protected record under Title 63G, Chapter 2, Government Records Access and Management Act.”(bill text lines 243-246)
Title 63G, Section 2 of Utah State Code has a lengthy list of records types for each of the classification classes defined by itself. A “protected record” under current Utah law includes trade and governmental secrets, intra-governmental communications and proposals, civil and criminal enforcement records, and many more. In other words, H.B. 11 makes it as hard for a member of the public, like a concerned parent or a decent sports association (“decent” meaning here one acting as an actual ally to kids, especially trans kids) to access communications regarding their own children as it would be to access classified government secrets or corporate / trade secrets.
Even worse, the following lines create a form of qualified immunity for those acting as gender police:
“Members of the commission are immune from suit with respect to all acts done and actions taken in good faith in carrying out the purposes of this part. The commission has no authority in relation to eligibility questions other than participation in a gender-designated interscholastic activity under this part.”(bill text lines 247-250)
It is not enough for Utah Legislators that this bill legally codifies the creation and maintenance of a modern, gender-based, “science” that echoes Nazi race “science” in form. They had to go further and re-create qualified immunity for their newfangled gender police. Worse, the records regarding what the gender police do to children in these state-sanctioned and state-mandated genital and body inspections (also known as sexual harassment and assault) for all children into classified state secrets.
“My queerness is not a vice, is not deliberate, and harms no one.”Natalie Clifford Barney
Coupled with H.B. 127, H.B. 11 would effectively criminalize trans youth existing in the public sphere. H.B. 127 bans gender transition related-care for all children under the age of 18. To be clear, “gender transition related care” for youth, regardless of what it’s called and how it is sensationalized, is reversibly delaying natal puberty for a small number of years. There’s no such thing as irreversible surgeries for trans youth, in the sense that no medical professional is going to perform them under current international standards.
“Our identities matter. They help make us who we are and shape our outlook. Existing in them is a radical act, one that requires, in many instances, courage, hard work, and determination. I am a better person because of the experiences and insights that I’ve had because I’m transgender. I’m a more compassionate person than I was before I accepted that part of my identity.”Sarah McBride
Utah is dead-last in the nation for mental health care. We don’t have the resources for people to lead mentally-healthy lives. Kids often cope with a lack of mental healthcare through extracurricular activities like sports. These bills say to trans kids: “No you aren’t valid, no you can’t have bodily autonomy and free yourself from the flesh cage you were born in through medical care, and, most of all, no you can’t even play with your friends to try and take your minds off how horrible we are to you and how, above all, our society wants you extinct.” These awful sentiments are being wielded against the very kids already at a far higher risk of suicide than their peers.
We are not a “social justice issue”, we are humans desperately trying to simply exist. The world built by cis people who have generally held global power since global colonialism is structured to be as inhospitable to us as possible. Trans people have been a part of humanity’s makeup since humanity existed. Yet, the hostility and violence directed at us every second of every minute of every day makes our prevailing survival a radical, revolutionary act.
“The first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man.”Huey P. Newton
Where does that leave those of us who are queer? Whether trans or not? We didn’t choose for our lives, our joy, to be revolutionary. We, however, fully deserve lives filled with joy, dignity, and liberation. This is true for trans kids, trans teens, and trans adults. What legislation like this does, regardless of the claimed intent, is increasingly force us back into the shadows. These bills are not the product of a reasoning, compassionate hand. They are the soft power move of reactionary, bigoted politicians who fear losing power and their brand of normalcy.
“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”Douglas Adams
Appeals to tradition, to sameness, have long been used by reactionary elements to galvanize support. In more recent history, the constant “debate” by cis folks as to the validity and acceptability of our existence continually undermines the recognition of our humanity. We’re seen as subhuman in the Western, colonial world. And it’s tiring at best, lethal at worst.
The progression of bills like H.B. 11 and H.B. 127 in Utah, as well as the bills in the other 29 states ramming through transphobic legislation of some variety, is built on the foundation of these “debates” and other insidious normalization of the false idea that trans equals lesser. The reality is, those who are trans had to navigate an artificially created minefield of traps, snares, and barriers, a “cis-tem”, if you will. In other words, we’re stronger and more resilient than the cis could ever be. Yet, we shouldn’t have to be.
When Tulsi Gabbard introduced legislation banning trans people from sports at a federal level, the “debate” was, as always, centered on cis misperceptions and feelings (like shock and outrage at our existence) rather than medical facts. For example, any “biological advantages” trans women have from natal, testosterone-dominant puberty, are quickly wiped out by our second puberty on feminizing, estrogen-dominant hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Our muscles atrophy, our bone density changes, and our bones reorganize themselves (in degrees based on age). But, cis folks don’t seem to care about medical realities. Instead, the cis collective belies bewilderment at our existence in an echo chamber of their own creation, designed to punch down at trans people until the mere concept of us is erased.
Today’s transphobic state-level bills are a direct result of debate bros and federal representatives normalizing our supposed sub-humanity. In rhetoric, one can see that the FARTs (feminism-appropriating radical transphobes) are already moving on to talking about how we shouldn’t be able to transition until 25 or later. And a common talking point of these same elements is how, once we approach 30, we’ll never see change from transition so we shouldn’t even try.
“When the majority of jokes made at the expense of trans people center on “men wearing dresses” or “men who want their penises cut off” that is not transphobia – it is trans-misogyny. When the majority of violence and sexual assaults omitted against trans people is directed at trans women, that is not transphobia – it is trans-misogyny.”Julia Serano
The cis male senator responsible for sponsoring and helping to draft H.B. 11 has been on the record making this bill about protecting cis females from trans females. He even went so far as to tell a constituent via email to provide him with a “solution that protects young women athletes from this unfair competition while addressing the trans-female athlete issue”. Senator Curt Bramble is literally pitting young women and girls against each other in a forced, violent, and cruel civil rights Olympics, rather than the friendly and fun competitions after school that they signed up for with their friends.
This is transphobia, yes, but more specifically it is transmisogyny. These kinds of bills and arguments frequently boil down to transmisogyny. To these fascists, trans men are just confused women and trans women are malicious predators. It’s the same dichotomy of patriarchy where women are helpless and men are ravagers, only repackaged to attack the most vulnerable people, those of us who are trans.
I could go on and on about statistics, and about our historical existence. I could offer the slur the Vikings used for trans people and contextualize the mythology behind their distrust of gender fluid people. I could include quotes from indigenous people about their varied and diverse beliefs regarding gender. I could bring up two-spirit people, even. I could tell you about the Roman “lord” who offered a great sum to any physician who could give “him” a vagina. I could make the argument that Pope Joan was trans. Trans people are being exterminated first, but we won’t be the last.
To answer Senator Bramble, the “solution” is to increase access to healthcare and break down cisnormative barriers in healthcare, education, employment, housing and every other aspect of our society. The answer is a cultural shift to the point where trans people aren’t subjugated to a never-ending debate as to our validity, rather respected and cherished as the beautiful humans we are. To resolve the “trans issue”, our society must let go of its violent, colonial nature and embrace a new identity as an enlightened, liberating society.
More immediately however, we need cis folks to end their passivity. We need you to get loud, to contact politicians to pressure them into abandoning transphobic legislation. We need the cis collective to make it clear in every scenario where we come up that it is not ok to debate about whether we exist and the only correct answer is that trans people deserve equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal access to outcomes as cis people.
As of March 2nd, 2022, public pressure has stalled HB 127 for this legislative session, but HB 11 remains likely to pass. Trans kids have another year where Utah legislators won’t rob them of healthcare, and can breathe a minor sigh of relief. However, the victory isn’t permanent. Nor is it complete until, at a minimum, sweeping protections and equitable reforms are passed federally and the majority makes transphobia no longer socially acceptable.
These attacks on our children aren’t enough. These elements would only be partially satiated by the complete extermination and erasure of all trans people at all ages. If for some reason this isn’t horrible enough for you to stand up and speak out, these kinds of elements, these reactionaries, these fascists, always move on to the next group that doesn’t fit their ever-narrower definition of “purity”. If you can’t be bothered to stand up for trans kids and adults out of a sense of justice, compassion, and morality, it is time to try on and use your sense of self-defense.