As a middle-aged transgender woman who transitioned during the 1990s, I have something to say to you, Donald Trump.
Regardless of what you, your administration and your supporters do to try to make us feel less than human – take away our rights or try to separate us from the rest of society – we are not going away. It’s important transgender adults stand up right now, to support trans kids and help them to live their truth from a young age.
You see, the problem with you, Mr Trump, and many of your peers, is you see the world from your own perspective: “I don’t feel that way, so how can it be true?”
Unfortunately, many conservative politicians have an inability to walk in other people’s shoes. Party policy dictates it.
I hold a TAFE diploma in community welfare. I had a very good teacher who taught our class all things political. We learned that Liberal Party policy dictates that the system is always right and people need to change in order to fit into the system. Substitute Liberal Party with Republican Party and their policies are pretty much one and the same.
Trump proved the above policy was alive when he tried to ban people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, people who had done nothing wrong, from entering the United States.
I’m sure President Trump and his Vice-President, Mike Pence, would also like to see transgender people banned. As though we are less than human and are not entitled to the same basic rights as others.
Simply because we are the T in LGBT, they wrongly sexualise and sensationalise us, treating our issues as matters of a sexual nature, rather than what they really are about – our gender identity, the identity we realise and feel from our earliest years, regardless of the bodies we are born into.
— Caitlyn Jenner (@Caitlyn_Jenner) February 24, 2017
They tell the world that trans women are really no more than “sick men” trolling bathrooms for sexual gain, when in reality we are anything but.
Those discriminatory state bathroom laws such as North Carolina’s HB2 legislation, which demands that people use public restrooms according to the sex designated on a birth certificate, are sold off this lie.
Their exclusionary policies also validate the views of right-wing, conservative and religious groups such as Transgender Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) in the States, as well as individuals in Australia like Lyle Shelton, Cory Bernardi and George Christensen. These people aim to push back our rights, hoping we become largely invisible, as we were in the past. Somehow, they believe our very existence threatens their way of life.
I still struggle to understand how or why?
Trump’s presidency and subsequent rolling back of transgender protections, although on the other side of the world, emboldens and empowers these and other right-wing conservatives in Australia to feel they can ramp up their hurtful rhetoric, their hateful rhetoric.
During the 1970s and ’80s, as a young boy attending an all-male catholic boarding school, I battled with myself, as this conservative and religious rhetoric affected me. I wondered how I could have these feelings of being intrinsically female when I was physically male.
(Photo: Just a regular schoolkid – with a secret. Caroline pre-transition. Family photo.)
It was so hard to make sense of, and, with no internet or education on these matters, I thought I must have been the only person in the world who ever felt this way. I tried to shake it off, turning myself into the most masculine boy I could be, in order to please others and not be judged. But it was to no avail, as it was always there, lurking in the back of my mind. It wasn’t just a thought; it was who I was.
When my mother caught me dressing up in female clothes (there was plenty of opportunity, as she owned six ladies’ fashion boutiques at the time) during my teen years, she told me, “All you can hope to be is a female impersonator.” My heart sank, as I was given a stern lecture. Then we would then pretend it had never happened … until the next time I was careless and caught out again. At the time my mother mistakenly believed my gender identity issues were of a sexual nature. Years later, when I transitioned, she did educate herself and she now totally accepts me as her daughter: there is hope for everyone. Well, maybe everyone.
I feel Trump and his VP, Mike Pence, are caught in a time warp and their mindset is stuck back in the 1980s when it comes to gender identity issues, as they simply aren’t, and don’t wish to be, educated on such matters.
Trump’s rhetoric and stance on Executive Order IX, whereby he removed Obama’s bill protecting transgender children and inclusive bathroom laws, shows how ridiculous and uneducated his and other conservatives views are. When transgender boy Mack Beggs, who identifies as a male, wanted to enter the 2017 Texas state wrestling championships in the male competition, he was told he would have to wrestle in the female category. The reason given was that Mack had a female birth certificate and he had to fight in the gender category of his assigned birth gender. It didn’t matter that he’d been having testosterone injections for two years and had transitioned some time before.
The fact Mack presents as male – and identifies that way – did not matter one iota to the conservative University Interscholastic League (UIL) which made up those rules. There was only ever going to be one outcome and that was Mack winning the tournament – which he did, in the process causing negative feelings from parents of girls about the transgender issue in general.
An article published in conservativetribune.com (the name says it all) explained to the public that this incident showed “this entire transgender issue” had got way out of hand: “Perhaps, instead of trying to figure out new rules to accommodate these people, we should focus more on what the heck is causing them to think they are something they aren’t.”
This media article, and those who agree with it, imply our gender identity issues aren’t real; we simply imagine them. They think we can be “cured” – such an ignorant and outdated notion.
In Texas, they’d also like to send out transgender women to play against men.
(Photo: Caroline post-transition – Sydney 1st XV Women v Queensland Women, 2007. Photo by Paul Seiser, www.spaimages.com.au)
I can speak about this from personal experience, having played sport both pre- and post-transition. I lost about one third of my strength (maximum bench press 115kg down to 75kg) and I was 2.3 seconds slower over 100 metres (11.20 as compared to 13.54) after being on hormone therapy for a substantial time. My maximum vo2 (velocity of oxygen) test, which I voluntarily undertook in consultation with Athletics NSW, measured 35.5ml O2 in my bloodstream – well within the female range (men have higher levels of oxygen in their blood, which gives them greater endurance, speed, power and strength and aids recovery). Of course, we won’t talk about my weight gain.
As a 20-year-old, pre-transition, I played club rugby for Eastern Suburbs and I even briefly played first grade during the 1986 season. I was also a state finalist over 100 and 200 metres in the under-20s.
As a 37-year-old female athlete post-transition almost two decades later, I played women’s rugby union and rugby league, representing NSW, and I sprinted track again. There were challenges, but my post-transition sporting career playing women’s sport was for the most part enjoyable. It would have been ridiculous for me to play rugby against men post-transition but, if I were born in Texas, that is exactly what I would have had been made to do.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a case like Mack Begg’s, or that of a transgender woman forced to compete against men, ends up in the courts, as this conservative policy is a downright abuse of a person’s civil liberties and human rights. Trump’s rhetoric was not directly linked to the wrestling rules debate, but his rollback of Executive Order IX has emboldened people with a less enlightened and evolved mindset.
Caroline as silver medalist in the 4×200 metres relay at the World Masters Indoor Athletics Championships in Kamloops, 2010, with team member Ranelle Hobson. Photo by Kip Hobson
Noël Wise, a California Superior Court judge has recently argued that the conflict of gender laws with modern science is far more complex than conservatives would have us believe.
“Deep seated religious beliefs, cultural constructs, the regulation of sports (such as those confronted by Texas high-school wrestler Mack Begg) and recent laws are premised on the bedrock belief that each of us is either a man or a woman,” he wrote. “Yet the reality is in the United States alone there are approximately one million people who – from the moment of birth – cannot be clearly defined as male or female.”
The US had come so far under Barack Obama’s presidency. Obama understood the science surrounding the complexities of gender. It’s such a shame America has already regressed under Trump and his buddy, Mike Pence, who has supported conversion therapy for LGBT people.
I can do little more than speak up and say this to trans kids everywhere: You are loved and you are not alone. Follow your heart and don’t be afraid. You have done nothing wrong than to simply be true to your selves.
It may get rough for a while with what is happening in the America and we see the ramifications of it at home, but remember: the pendulum will swing back our way again and there will be a fairer society for all down the track. Because, unlike Donald Trump, we are here to stay. – Caroline Layt
Top photo by Jasmine Motti for Hatch.