Op-ed: Denied the pursuit of happiness: being transgender in 2023

Op-ed: Denied the pursuit of happiness: being transgender in 2023

Photo: Dylan Rhoney/Cardinal & Pine

By Elim Craighill-Middleton

December 21, 2023

It’s the end of 2023, and it’s time for that common refrain again: “What’s your resolution for the new year?” For some, it’s weight loss, others a new job, even more for love, money, moving — we’ve all heard them said throughout our lives.

Mine is a bit more straightforward this year: Not to be forced out of the state I was born in, returned to, and love dearly. 

I’m not alone there; other transgender folks living in North Carolina likely share this sentiment with me. Reflecting on the tumultuous year 2023 has been, it’s not hard to look back and see where we’ve been and where we could be going. 

We’ve seen the rise of the so-called ‘Slate of Hate’ this year: House Bill 808 (a ban on gender-affirming care for minors), Senate Bill 49 (a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill), House Bill 574 (a ban on transgender youth in sports) These laws restrict our children and penalize them for simply trying to be who they are. 

We’ve fought hate groups demanding to see books pulled off of shelves in several counties, and even witnessed one county trying to ban ‘Banned Books Week’. We’ve listened to gubernatorial candidate Mark Robinson tell us time and time again that we either don’t exist or are subhuman. More than that, we’ve watched the rise in extremism against our relatively small population. It has, in a few words, been a weird year for us.

It’s easy to say ‘well, you’re an adult! These new laws don’t affect you at all.’ To that I’d say yes, by the letter of the law, you’d be right. But ask yourself — where do they stop? At what point do the sentiments behind that law become more impactful than the law itself? At what point does a person see these laws and decide to themselves that if one part of a marginalized group is seen in a bad light, all of them are bad? The theory of trickle-down works here — when someone with power claims someone or something is unsavory, true or not, there will always be parts of the general populace that reflect it.

We’ve seen it happen in our past and acknowledge that we’re a better society now. A more enlightened society, perhaps. We certainly don’t segregate buses, bathrooms, and water fountains today, do we? Women are allowed to vote in 2023, which is more than widely accepted as a right now. Love is love and adults that wish to marry no longer have to live knowing they won’t be able to. The very nature of our country is malleable, as it should be. Governance is in itself a growing, living organism designed to nurture and serve those who live under it, in an ideal world.

That’s not happening to my community this year, though. Living here is a choice, and it’s beginning to look like one that isn’t ideal. Spurred on by politicians and their vitriol, we’ve gone backwards. I can’t speak for all families, but I can speak for mine when I say that anti-transgender sentiment didn’t even approach this fever pitch in March of 2016 when House Bill 2 (the so-called ‘bathroom bill’) was filed. Just counting the last six months, we’ve had vandalism, littering, and slurs screamed from car windows in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable afternoon. 

It’s not surprising that on a recent trip through the state, it felt so unsafe for me to use the men’s restroom — or the women’s, for that matter — that I ended up with a bladder infection. It’s not illegal for a man to use the restroom. It is, however, uncomfortable to be trans in a public restroom given today’s climate – we face the real possibility of injury. Historically, when police are called, we are the ones who end up arrested. It’s one thing to see a law and try your best to exist within it, regardless of how morally bankrupt it is. It’s another when the law spurs on and encourages harmful or violent actions.

Beyond that, the small aggressions have increased as well. I’ve never been shy about who I am, and thus it’s generally known that I am transgender and have been transitioned for nearly a decade. This wasn’t a problem when I first returned to my hometown, those that knew me adjusted over time and those that didn’t had no idea, as a beard, flat chest, and masculine voice don’t exactly scream ‘girl’. 

Why, then, am I having to adjust to being called ma’am? Why, during a job interview, did the hiring manager tell me that he’d done some looking and began to refer to me by a name that hasn’t been legally mine for years? (I didn’t take the job.) The simple act of existing while transgender has been transformed into a difficult, even radical act every single day. It’s exhausting not just for me, but for my entire family. 

Like I said, it’s been a bizarre year. 

I invite you to share a resolution with me, as we look back at what 2023 has given us — the good, the bad, the ugly — and look to the future. I resolve to be a part of the change we need to see for not just my community, but most communities in our beautiful state. Help us keep bad actors and outdated, anti-LGBTQ takes out of office. Vote, volunteer, even take a minute to look up a question you’ve had about us and learn for a moment about what it is we’re going to lose. 

Politicians like Mark Robinson want you to believe that we are “sick, deranged, sexual degenerates.” People like my partner and those around me know that we’re just people, going about our lives, and certainly not trying to ‘convert’ folks. We’ve lived feeling like we were in the wrong body. Who would choose to inflict that pain on someone else? The road from illegitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is much shorter than we think, but we’re still capable of turning back and righting the ship.

I’m resolving to choose kindness over that sort of blind hate and to keep working to keep families like mine safe. Hopefully, we’ll see you next year.

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CATEGORIES: LGBTQ | POLITICS
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