You really don’t need me to tell you that 2023 has been a challenging one for those of us who are transgender. We have seen nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills make their way through the statehouses of this country, with a majority of those being trans-specific.
At the same time, right-wing lawmakers and pundits have latched onto anti-trans animus as their big cause célébrité, using this as a cultural wedge issue to, they hope, drive people to the polls and vote for conservative candidates. This has gotten so bad, and so obvious, that right-wing attack ads in a battle over an abortion-rights amendment to Ohio’s constitution are not focusing on abortion itself — a hot-button issue that has caused the right to lose a lot of elections since the Dobbs ruling — but instead deflects to the outside possibility that the amendment could allow for gender-affirming care for transgender people.
Even in this early part of the presidential election, you have the leading GOP candidates — Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis — trying to paint themselves as the biggest anti-LGBTQ+ voice. DeSantis’ camp has gone so far as to release an attack ad focused on Trump, claiming him to be a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, to try to turn people off of him.
Meanwhile, right-wing pundits and activists are going after brands and other organizations showing support for LGBTQ+ — and in particular trans — rights. The Dodgers were pressured to initially drop support for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, but later brought them back. Bud Light has ended up the shorthand for costly fiascos after they provided trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney a single can with her face on it, causing a nationwide right-wing performative boycott of the brand.
Target, too, has faced an ongoing series of attacks for the crime of providing a swimsuit for adults that has an easy-tuck option, some shirts and other objects with a design by a trans artist, and even simply offering trans and other flags as merchandise.
In the midst of all this, too, has been attacks against transgender people in sports, largely still drummed up from a single trans swimmer — Lia Thomas, who had a single good outing, winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle at the 2022 NCAA Division I national championship. That singular victory has remained at the forefront of the debate over trans people in sports ever since, eclipsing stories about long-distance runner Caster Semenya. Semenya, while not transgender, was still attacked as such due to her unusually high, natural testosterone levels.
In the midst of all of these things, a Gallup poll found that support for trans rights has been slipping over the last two years. Fifty-five percent of the 1000 or so Americans they surveyed declared that it was “morally wrong” to “change one’s gender,” with 69 percent declaring that transgender athletes should only be allowed to compete against members of the sex they were assigned to at birth.
For comparison, their 2021 poll showed only 51 percent opposing transition, and 62 percent having an issue with trans athletes competing against members of their gender.
Now, I’ve mentioned a couple times here about how it is the right who is continuing to keep trans rights in the news, still focusing on Lia Thomas more than a year after she won in a competition, still focusing on Bud Light months after the Dylan Mulvaney endorsement, and Target stores long after their Pride displays were supplanted by the back-to-school shelves.
The right continues to talk about how trans rights are being crammed down their throats, even though they are the ones doing the cramming. Indeed, from many of my trans contemporaries, all I hear is that we just want to be left alone to live our lives in peace, having no desire to be the political football that we are.
I totally get that myself. I’ve had to watch the right’s cynical attempts to use trans rights as a ‘culture war’ scandal. I’m wary, by the way, of using the term “culture war,” given that it’s truly only one side that is attempting to mold the culture, while another just wants the right to exist.
Let’s take a moment, however, to consider something that might be a touch radical.
When Target, Anheuser-Busch, and the Dodgers faced right-wing attacks, they pulled back. This didn’t win them accolades — it just meant the attack became even more vicious, and the right demanded more. Likewise, the International Swimming Federation voting to bar all transgender athletes from competitions against members of their gender didn’t end the debate on trans athletes, and didn’t stop Lia Thomas from being their punching bag. Far from it.
We have spent 2023 being called the worst names they can throw at us. They have called us the groomers and the pedophiles, even while countless religious leaders, conservative politicians, and others from the right have faced sexual abuse claims.
We need to be bold. We need to be brash. We need to push for everything we want, and then some.
We need to demand the government pay for our gender-affirming care. We need to demand that trans rights be an expectation, not a demand. We need to ask for everything we could want, and then a little bit more.
We need to be the ones pushing the brands and companies to go farther, to be bolder, to show some backbone. A single can and a quiet endorsement? No, it’s time to make transgender people the face of your campaigns, and promote products both by us and for us.
It’s not the time to hope to be left alone. It is the time to demand it: they won’t let us have an inch, but we must surely take a mile.
Gwen Smith has never been exactly good at being a nice, quiet woman. You can find her at www.gwensmith.com.