I was where just about every other queer person in the state of Vermont was on the night of the election – an Ani DiFranco concert. The show began with Ani excitedly describing how we’d be together in community to celebrate the election of our first female president. I seemed to be the only one punctiliously checking my phone as the results rolled in, my stomach falling further each time a state was shaded red. I felt like someone had kicked me in the chest as the room started spinning and a sense of impending doom settled deep in my bones. Somehow it felt like the world had been turned upside down and inside out, and I knew something was wrong. I don’t remember how, but I ended up alone on my bedroom floor staring blankly at my computer screen and praying it was all a dream. It wasn’t.
As a transgender person living in 45’s America, I wake up each day and brace myself for the news – which piece of my identity will be under assault today? In what ways will my basic human rights be decimated or denied? I’d like to let readers know that I am not an expert on the trans experience and I in no way speak for the entire trans community; I am only an expert on my personal experience being trans. The energy it takes to face each day is exhausting, though I must acknowledge the privileges I hold that make it a little easier to bear. I can only imagine the feelings of my trans siblings of color, transfeminine folks, poor trans people, trans people who do sex work, trans folks with disabilities, and other people in our community who hold multiple subordinated identities and face compounded, intersectional oppression each day.
The threat of revoking protections for trans folks feels like a shadow that follows me everywhere, even in the dark. The current political climate has taken a toll on my mental health in such a way that I no longer feel able to engage in social justice work like my pre-election self – a sense of hopelessness that I have never felt before is suddenly my baseline. To cope, I’ve tried to focus my energy on what I can personally do to positively impact the trans community. On a large scale, that’s planning the largest conference focused on transgender identities, issues, and intersections in the Northeast; on a small scale, that looks like mentoring younger trans folks and checking in a little more frequently with my queer and trans friends who I know are likely struggling. I know that I can’t move the needle towards a more trans-inclusive and queer-radical society if I’m not taking care of myself, so I’ve found my way back to weekly therapy and medication – there is no shame in asking for help, particularly not now.
In Tr*mp’s America, I am simply unable to have meaningful conversations with folks in the ways that I could before. Simply put, “I don’t know how to explain to someone why they should care about other people.” As an out transgender person often navigating trans-exclusive or trans-hostile spaces and systems, I no longer have the time, patience, or physical or emotional energy to engage in arguments about my humanity that shouldn’t exist in the first place. My mental health over the last eleven months has been at a new reference low; I’m not suicidal, but I can’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind more than once during the past year. I don’t know many trans folks who haven’t had the same thoughts - upwards of 40% of trans folks will attempt suicide in their lifetime, nine times the national average (a statistic based on pre-Tr*mp surveys that I imagine will unfortunately rise in the current climate).
I believe it is important to show up authentically in this work, and finally owning the ways in which this election has affected my mental health is a way for me to not only allow my community to acknowledge their own collective hurt, but to hopefully humanize these issues for folks who may not be willing to learn about trans identities and issues. When I first fell into my post-election depression, there was so much guilt around what I was feeling – I constantly felt guilty that perhaps it was all in my head or that things weren’t that bad, and I felt terrible that I was too depressed to be on the front lines of protests and teach-ins. I wish I could go back and be gentler with myself and honest about what I needed in those moments. This is hard, and this is real.
Through the love and support of the incredibly compassionate, adaptable, and fierce transgender community, the dark hopelessness that consumed me this year is finally being driven out by their light. I feel empowered to stand on the front lines, share my story, and fight for the rights of trans folks across the nation and around the globe. Let Tr*mp know this – the transgender community is, has been, and will always be here, and we’re ready for whatever comes next. This is what resilience looks like.