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There’s no more fundamental human right than deciding what happens to your body. It’s your vessel for soul and vehicle for Earthly experience; the only thing you truly own. Yet people are always trying to tell you what you can and can’t do with it.
It’s part of living under capitalism, where bodies and minds belong to the machine, only valuable insofar as they can work and consume and produce more workers and consumers. The struggle is represented by the war on drugs and repeal of Roe v. Wade, which, as many feared, set a dangerous precedent; at the 2022 National Association of LGBTQ Journalists conference, Axios’ Ina Fried called it “an attack on bodily autonomy for all of us, period.” Today, we’re in the midst of an all-out assault on queer and trans rights.
There’s an inherent violation in being queer and gender-diverse in “modern” society, your most private affairs suddenly the personal business of strangers; it’s like a sick fascination, everyone picturing what’s in our pants and who’s in our beds. From anti-sodomy laws to conversion therapy, lawmakers all over the world have always policed the queer experience. Yet it has reached a new low, attacking not only the bodily sovereignty and legal personhood of gender-diverse people, but targeting our communities’ most vulnerable members: the kids.
Bills are sweeping the (largely Southern) U.S. that block and restrict essential medical services for queer and trans people and especially youth: “Don’t say gay” bills prevent teachers from talking about gender identity or sexual orientation in schools, while others ban minors from accessing gender-affirming care, some even legally designating it “child abuse.” Yet these treatments are not merely affirming, they are lifesaving: 56% of young trans men and 48% of young trans women considered suicide in the past year, according to the annual survey by nonprofit The Trevor Project. Meanwhile, majorities of queer youth say these legal battles are harming their mental health, but can’t access the help for these issues they need.
Lawmakers in Texas alone introduced more than 140 bills in 2023 aimed at taking rights and protections from the LGBTQIA+ community—more than any state has introduced in a single year, and almost double the amount of similar legislation that was proposed in 2021. (And here I thought I’d made peace with the place.) This legislation does not represent the will of the vast majority of the people—75% of Texans oppose it—but still, they elected the leaders that are dragging the entire American nation back into some kind of Orwellian hell-realm. Even the dreaded “bathroom bills” have re-emerged, forcing people to use the facilities for the gender they were assigned at birth.
We literally can’t even take a shit without some straight, cisgendered white guy in a suit telling us how to do it.
So, why is this happening now? Perhaps the pandemic opened the door, a time that normalized everyone policing everyone’s bodies under the guise of public health. Or maybe it’s just the natural backlash that comes when long-oppressed people finally claim their freedom. There is a sea change washing ashore, and it’s being led by generations raised to believe things could be different. More than half of Gen Z find the gender binary outdated, and they identify as queer in record numbers.
Why do so many find this so threatening? Maybe it forces them to confront the notion that even that which seems most fixed is actually malleable; that if we realize we aren’t who we thought we were, then maybe they aren’t, either. It’s a normal reaction, as we’ve all been conditioned by capitalism to fear uncertainty, but freedom often lies in the unknown.
“Transcend and include” is a philosophical and spiritual concept that says no way of thinking or being is fixed, no truth absolute. Everything is continually adapting and evolving; when we take what we like from what we’ve learned and leave the rest, we work with the flow of life. The prefix trans- doesn’t mean to switch from one thing to another, it means to rise above. And to me, the term “transgender” doesn’t just (or even necessarily) mean changing your biology. It means transcending the very concept of gender while encompassing them all.
I recently saw Tatenda Shamiso’s incredible one-man show, “No I.D.,” at London’s Royal Court Theater, chronicling the first year of his transition, and I have never felt so seen by someone looking into a darkened room, my chest cavity feeling opened up as if for surgery. I didn’t exchange a word with the person next to me besides asking if the seat was taken, but they were mmm-hmming, laughing, and full-body sobbing along with me at all the same moments. A group consciousness emerged and merged with Tatenda’s, transporting us to another realm where we were not only seen and known, but normal.
This body isn’t mine, but it is. These parts that don’t fit belong to her: the Holly I never mourned. She’s gone, yet still dwells deep within me and the quantum realm. There is a loss there, but she was so miserable; it was exhausting, as Shamiso described, keeping up with all of those appearances. Maybe this is why I feel like time is always running out: I spent so many hours in front of the mirror, putting a mask on. The most free I’ve ever felt was when I cut off my hair, lost the cat-eye liner, and stopped padding my chest. After more than three decades of wanting to claw off my own skin, I’m finally starting to like it in here.
I want to transcend the parts of her that are no longer me, but include the positive ones, parts like listening and presence, softness and empathy, creativity and nature-connectedness. It’s a practice for the whole culture: transcend the woman and man, but include the feminine and masculine; transcend the certainty but include the knowing; transcend the body but include the somatic; transcend the self but retain our identities.
Transcend the labels, but use proper pronouns.
We’re not these bodies, but we are; they’re where we live, and we must protect our home. There are places in the world that affirm people like me, and there are those where the dominant powers won’t stop until they’ve seen everyone who is different prostrated before them. I’d say vote, and you should, but the more of the world I experience, the more I think the answer is coming together to build our own spaces and places; ones where we aren’t only seen and known, but are the norm.
Some things in this reality aren’t worth saving, but you are one of them.
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