While speaking about his top surgery recently, Elliot Page was asked what would happen if we do not stand up for trans children and their right to play sports.
“Children will die,” Page had said. “And it really is that simple.”
It really is.
In a 2015 Williams Institute study on the trans community, 98% of respondents who had experienced four instances of discrimination and violence in the past year thought about suicide, and 51% of those individuals actually attempted suicide.
Yet, that was a study only on transgender adults — the ones in our community who had, in my mind, always been at the forefront of the battle for trans rights… that is, until recently.
The world has changed a lot in the seven years since I transitioned to male. In those seven years, I have spent as much time discovering myself as I have spent learning about just how diverse my beloved community is, and how many countless ways there are to be trans.
For some trans people, their identity is intimately tied to gender expression, such as the right to paint their nails. There are other trans people who distance themselves from this, for example, feeling that someone may paint their nails regardless of what they identify as.
No matter how a trans person identifies or feels about their transition, there’s one feeling that is often shared, and it’s often the glue that holds our wildly diverse community together — it’s the feeling of having fought to become who you are.
Which is why there’s only one part of our big, beautiful trans community that I ever really struggled with.
Many years ago, I had the great pleasure of being introduced to Jazz Jennings, along with a few other trans youths.
In them, I saw myself from a different universe.
I remember being 4 years old and devastated that I could not, according to my confused mom, just be a boy. I still own a drawing from kindergarten that I had signed at the time as "Boy Bre," I refused to wear the color pink, and I was absolutely certain by the age of 8 that I would grow a beard and be six feet tall when I grew up.
Once upon a time, I was just like these kids!
And yet, when I was introduced to these children, I felt like we were worlds apart… and some part of me was bitter for it.
There I was, with two decades of memories of what it was like to be told by counselors that I should brush the long hair that I hated and keep those “weird ideas” to myself, or getting rocks thrown at me when I asked to play football with the boys on the playground. I thought to myself that these kids would never have a pre-transition face that’s doomed to lie beneath a tombstone inside their head, or the indescribable joy of rebirth despite losing their partner when they finally came out.
Basically, I thought, they could have the childhood that I never had.
Deep down, I was jealous. I justified it to myself by thinking that there were probably older members of the trans community who felt exactly the same way towards me, someone who was lucky enough to transition at the age of 23.
Yet here we are, in the year 2021, and when I look back, I’m truly ashamed.
Now, trans children are on the frontline, and they are making us damn proud. All I can look back on now is the shame of feeling bitter towards trans youths for a life that I thought would be so much easier than my own.
I was foolish.
Being trans should not require a fight for your right to exist. It’s a frightening, exhilarating process (no matter how much or how little you decide to transition). It involves standing up to a world that says “no,” and saying “just try to stop me.”
As I stood aside, feeling somehow indignant as a trans person who had suffered my “due traumas,” I ended up being as blindsided as the average cisgender person by the sudden onslaught of hatred against trans youth under the petty guise of sports. (If you need convincing on why it’s petty, I would like to direct you to the article by Scientific American, “Trans Girls Belong on Girls’ Sports Teams.”)
It should not have been a surprise to me that younger trans people would eventually be pulled into the fight, but now that they have been, I’ve finally learned that fight should not define who I am, nor what our community is.
After all, every fight has casualties — which is why any good soldier dreams of a day when the war will end.
Every time a trans youth is told to sit on the sidelines, to give up their chance at a normal childhood or stay at home, that’s the world saying to these children that they don’t belong… that they should go back to styling their hair the way they hate, or that they should keep those “weird ideas” to themselves.
If you’re not allowed to be who you really are, then ask yourself — what options are left?
Well, here’s your answer.
According to the second annual National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health by the Trevor Project in 2020, 52% of the trans and non-binary youth said they had considered suicide in the past 12 months.
These kids are being pulled into the same war that I’ve been fighting for as long as I can remember, and it’s painful to think that, despite all the battle scars we already share, we’re still so far away from victory.
If we give up now, children will die.
And sure, there may come a day when the battle has been won, and I no longer have anyone to commiserate with. A day when you really can just live your life in a way that feels right, and you won’t have to worry about your family kicking you out, your psychiatrist doubling your medication when you come out to them, or your school administrators “screening” your genitals before you can join the girls’ soccer team (as the state of Florida almost pledged to do in April).
Any person who lives their lives as authentically as possible should be celebrated and protected. Transitioning is scary, and it doesn’t matter how old you are… but it shouldn’t have to be a fight for your right to breathe.
I would gladly be the last to carry memories of the battles I fought if I knew I were the last trans person to suffer, but I know better now than to think I will be.
So if you’re reading this, keep fighting. Speak out to others who share their harmful thoughts behind closed doors, send letters to your representatives and vote them out when they refuse to listen. Do your research, learn to read between the lines whenever a specific community is targeted. And most of all, just listen to trans kids… let them live their lives in a way I never could.
Our community doesn’t need any more pain.
Brendon Lies (pronounced "Lease") is a 30-year-old trans man originally from Fargo, North Dakota, and the current Art Director of South Florida Gay News. In 2020 he moved to Germany, where he now also freelances. All he cares about is his dog. To see his artwork, visit www.DogFoxDesign.com.