Originally Published in Harpers Magazine
A Diary of Gender Under Trump
November 2, 2016
Who affords privacy? Who gets to come out and who is outed? There is no gay progress without trans backlash. There was no gay marriage victory without hundreds of anti-trans bathroom bills. There is no protection of the private without criminalization of the public.
I read today about how “LGBT” foundations and nonprofits like the Gill Foundation have decided to back nondiscrimination legislation that excludes public accommodation protections. It is decisions like this that make so many trans people like myself believe that we should just say “trans” instead of “LGBT”: when you look at the policies, when you look at the experiences of violence on the ground, it is gender non-conforming people who are experiencing the brunt of the backlash. Many of the “victories” that the gay movement has enjoyed (marriage, state protections, etc.) have come from campaigns that distanced “LGBT people” from gender non-conformity. “Love” becomes something that happens in private whereas “gender” becomes that thing that haunts the public.
Trump is not anti-LGBT. He is anti-trans. There is a difference.
November 7, 2016
A trans woman in Tennessee had her car spray painted “TRUMP” and then torched on fire in her driveway.
I am horrified. While it has been encouraging to see so much mobilization by young feminists against the rampant misogyny of his campaign, I am dismayed that the presumed subject of Trump’s vitriol is always already seen as a white cisgender woman. I worry for my transfeminine sisters and siblings who are always gendered as perpetrators and never victims of patriarchal violence. It’s not a question of if violence against trans people will increase under this administration, it’s a question of how we are going to respond once it does.
I worry because I know that we will be bashed, attacked, harassed, assaulted, and I worry because I know that we will be blamed for it. I worry that there will be no movements to rally for us because we are not desirable victims. I worry that there will be no feminists to rally for us because we may not identify as women. I worry that they will be able to get away with this because the one thing that bonds liberals and conservatives is their ingrained hatred and suspicion of transfeminine people.
In times of heightened nationalism: borders are erected, fortified, and militarized. Some will talk about the border between the United States and Mexico, but few will talk about the border between man and woman. How there are walls that are being erected there, too—and, how if you cross them, you are punished.
I consider enrolling for self-defense classes. I ask myself why it’s taken so long.
November 8, 2016
I am sitting in the living room with two non-binary friends of color as the election results come in. We sought out each other’s company on this night because we wanted to be somewhere where we were affirmed for our cynicism. We are not surprised when Donald Trump is declared the next president. Just like we were not surprised when we were harassed on the street on the way to my apartment. Just like we were not surprised when we had to leave our hometowns to be safe when we were younger. Just like we were not surprised when we weren’t safe in New York City, either. Just like we are not surprised when we read that fifty-seven percent of white women who voted went for Trump. We have experienced firsthand white women screaming at us on the streets. We have understood that white women’s allegiance has always been to racism and money.
The news anchors ask: “What happened?” And we want to shout, “You didn’t consult us.” You never consult us.
November 9, 2016
I have never seen so many people cry in public before. It’s as if the entire city is in mourning. There is a possibility in this tragedy. Will this pain propel rage against the system and not just an individual?
But in the streets, they are already chanting that Hillary should have won. And I remember how much easier it is to believe that something is broken, and not just working the way it was supposed to.
November 10, 2016
Eight transgender youth commit suicide after Trump is elected. Many are saying that this data has not been “confirmed.” But what they do not understand is that violence against trans people is rarely confirmed. We do not have the data about what you do to us because you misgender us after it happens. To be a trans activist is to learn the art of believing people over publications.
My inbox is full of journalists asking questions about trans issues and mental health. I wonder why they only reach out when we are under attack. I think about how the only space trans people have in the cultural imagination is as entertainers. I close my laptop and I go have dinner with my trans friend. They are sixteen years old and they are much stronger than me. I tell them to text me when they are getting home. They tell me to text them when I wake up.
November 11, 2016
I am walking home with another transfemme after a party in Hells Kitchen when an older white man starts screaming, “GRAB HIM BY THE PUSSY!! TRUMP!! GRAB HIM BY THE PUSSY!!” I laugh in his face and call him a patriarchal pig. I go home and post a Facebook status discussing how transfeminine people will be uniquely targeted by this state-legitimating of misogyny and how we will be erased nonetheless. Multiple white cis women comment and tell me that I am a man masquerading as something I am not. That feminism isn’t for me. That I should shut up. I am only supposed to be afraid of the man on the screen (Trump), but I find myself just as afraid of the cis feminists afraid of him.
November 12, 2016
There are hundreds of thought pieces going around with everyone’s attempt to understand how the unthinkable happened—how did Donald Trump win? The white liberals keep on blaming people like me: Why did Hilary spend so much time campaigning to transgender people? Why didn’t people take white working-class men’s rage more seriously? I can’t tell whether I’m more hurt by this election’s blatant endorsement of white supremacy, or by white liberals’ continual denial of it. It’s such a strange feeling to witness something so simple be theorized into oblivion.
November 15, 2016
I am giving a poetry reading tonight at Hamilton College in upstate New York. The organizers emailed me a few days ago expressing concerns about my safety. They said that there had been pro-Trump rallies in town. I thank them for letting me know and tell them that I think it is more important than ever to keep events like this going. During my rehearsal, the tech supervisor introduces me to his daughter. “I just wanted my daughter to see someone like you. You are like what America should look like.” I know it’s supposed to be a compliment, but it feels like a slur. I am tired. I don’t want to be a symbol of anything other than myself.
November 22, 2016
I am back in my hometown of College Station, Texas, visiting family. I read online about trans people choosing to go stealth (pass as cisgender) in light of the Trump election. I look outside and see Trump signs everywhere. I see American flags everywhere. I see churches everywhere. And I understand. I hate how we romanticize people “persisting despite the odds,” and don’t allow people to do what they need to do to survive. To truly love trans people would require you to accept our ownership of our bodies and safeties. I often wonder whether being your inspiration matters more to you than our safety. Being stealth and “invisible” (whatever that means) doesn’t make you any less real, any less trans.
November 29, 2016
My mom and I walk around our neighborhood as we always do in the evening. She tells me that she is worried about me living in New York as a gender non-conforming person during the Trump era. I tell her that I’m afraid of her and our grandparents living in Texas as Indian immigrants. We tell each other to be safe. I wish I could believe that was enough.
December 3, 2016
I’m in Saigon connecting with LGBT activists and artists for a few days. Tonight I am at a bar run by local artists that serves exquisite teas in little petri dishes. It is all very quaint. My hosts tell me about how when President Obama came to visit Vietnam a couple of years ago, their government put all of the political artists under house arrest for several months. They spoke about it so matter-of-factly: how they organized meals for one another, kept each other company inside. Being abroad is a constant lesson in how limiting U.S. exceptionalism is. People across the world have been living under surveillance for a very long time.
December 5, 2016
Today was supposed to be a day of celebration. A new HBO documentary called “The Trans List” was released, and I’m one of the interview subjects in the film. After of slew of congratulatory texts from my friends, I get a text that feels starkly different. “Are you okay? I just saw your Facebook.” I log online and see that there are hundreds of comments on my photos from people telling me to kill myself. I am used to things like this, but not in this concentration and intensity.
Every time I participate in a mainstream project I get vitriol like this. The current moment of trans politics is that trans people are somehow supposed to courageously declare ourselves (with little to no support from anyone else) and then weather the backlash—looking fabulous throughout!
Later that night I receive a message from a young Indian trans person telling me that I was the first person they had ever seen who looked like them.
January 20, 2017
Today, the day that 45 is being inaugurated, I am with my family in Kerala. My uncle looks out at the Indian Ocean from the beach near our family home. “I wish everyone got a vote in the U.S. election,” he says, “They don’t understand that what happens over there affects us over here the most.” I nod my head. Later that day, we eat a big lunch. We do not watch the news.
January 21, 2017
They say that the Women’s March in the United States had over 600 locations with over four million protesters, making it perhaps the largest protest in U.S. history. As I look at all of the photos from the march thousands of miles away, I think about how I wish there was more space in our movements to hold contradiction. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I am inspired by the sheer mass of people who took to the streets. This is an unprecedented testament to the power of direct action. But on the other, I wonder: would as many people have mobilized if this was a march for refugees, a march against Islamophobia, a march for trans people, a march against incarceration, a march against white supremacy? Why “women?” When the majority of white women voted for Trump what does it mean to march for “women?” I think about who is not invited to speak at marches – I think about how absence isn’t a passive process, it’s an active one. Is the future “female,” as they suggest – or is the future beyond essentialist ideas of gender to begin with? It is much easier to march for women, then it is to march against misogyny.
There are so many photos of white cis women wearing pussy hats from the march. Everyone wants me to write a thought piece or a response about how this prioritization of genitalia is misguided. But I’m exhausted. It feels as if the only political space we have to express critique anymore is to perform a narrative of trauma, is to say: “I [insert identity] felt erased because you [insert identity] erased me.” The critique has to be articulated as a minority speaking to a majority. The critique has to be articulated as an individual speaking to an individual. What would it take to get people to realize that trans feminism isn’t just about trans people, but about everyone? A critique of vagina-centered feminism is a critique that expands the horizons of what is possible for all people, of all genders.
February 3, 2017
Everyone is celebrating because Ivanka Trump and her husband convinced the president not to pass an anti-LGBT executive order. But all of the other executive orders were anti-LGBT too. Last time I checked, LGBT people were Muslim, were poor, were black, were incarcerated, were undocumented, were not just rich, white, and cisgender.
February 22, 2017
I am in London for a performance when I read the news that 45 has repealed protections for transgender students to use the restrooms of their choice. What this election has made very clear is that an “LGBT friendly” administration is one that is ruthlessly anti-trans. That in fact the current moment of trans politics in one in which the symbolic act of saying “LGBT” is actually how trans violence gets pushed under the rug. They don’t know who we are; they don’t know what we go through. This becomes evident to me when I see people post statuses that it is “time to stand with our transgender brothers and sisters.” I appreciate the effort, but I can’t help but roll my eyes.
Where do those of us who are gender non-conforming go? Those of us who are neither brothers nor sisters, neither men nor women, neither girls nor boys? Those of us cut out of LGBT nonprofit campaigns for public accommodations, those of us ignored by the trans movement for being complicated, those of us most directly scapegoated by the rise of racist nationalism. I want to post statuses online telling transgender youth that I am there for them. But where is there? What does it mean to be ‘there’ when I am actually over here?
February 23, 2017
My achamma (grandmother) texts me from Kerala saying that she is worried about my father’s safety after reading that Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian engineer, was murdered in Kansas. I don’t really know what to tell her that wouldn’t involve me lying. But isn’t this what love is about? Lying so that the people you love don’t have to worry anymore. I tell her that everything will be fine.
February 28, 2017
Today I receive the news that Jaquarius Holland, an eighteen-year-old black trans woman was murdered in Louisiana. This makes her the seventh black and/or Latinx trans woman pronounced dead in 2017. I am devastated. Last year at least twenty-six trans women of color were murdered. The ongoing genocide of black and indigenous transfeminine people is relentless.
I remember how easy it is to understand this Trump moment – with all of its tumult and terror – as unprecedented. But then I remember how important it is to resist that temptation. Our country was founded on this kind of violence. “Shock,” then is already always racialized and gendered. Who is surprised? And why? For many this is just a continuation of what has always been. There is something sobering about this recognition: not just a president, but a system.