A transgender 10th grader from western North Carolina tells us what it’s like to live in a state with a hostile GOP-controlled state Legislature.
Note: Ash is a transgender 16-year-old in Western North Carolina. His last name is omitted to protect his privacy.
Content Warning: This op-ed discusses suicidal ideation and self harm. If you are thinking about hurting yourself and need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). And view additional emergency resources from the Campaign for Southern Equality.
It can be discouraging to live as an out LGBTQ person here in North Carolina.
Five years ago, our state passed HB2, before I was even really out to myself as the transgender boy that I am. But the anti-transgender attacks have kept coming. Just this month, some Republican legislators introduced a series of bills that would single out transgender young people for exclusion.
The recent extreme legislative attacks—which include a bill denying trans people under the age of 21 trans-affirming medical care and a bill prohibiting trans kids from playing school sports—brings me back to several years ago, when I was grappling with my transgender identity.
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There was a span of about two years when I wasn’t really alive.
From the ages of 12 to 14, my brain and the body that I refused to claim began to have thoroughly different ideas of what I was supposed to be. From the voice that was always deeper in my head to the wild fits of emotion that I constantly fought, nothing seemed right. No part of me belonged to me.
I would cry and beg at the feet of the universe for relief that I felt could never come. What little life I clung to was confined to the space between breakdowns—but even this was tainted, soured by a stinging inevitability. I wanted to escape via any means necessary, and it took all of my strength to stay.
I found freedom by coming out as transgender and changing my gender presentation.
Almost two full years ago, while in the eighth grade, I started hormone replacement therapy with the full support of my mother, and I breathed. Self acceptance remains a continuous conflict, but I’ve improved in that area exponentially. I know now that I am the only person who gets to define who and what I am. The dungeon gates have been forced open, and I’m lying in the grass and sunlight, breathing.
My state, thankfully, is changing in some ways, too. Several North Carolina communities have adopted LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances this year, and others are beginning discussions, too. Our local communities must pass these critical protections.
But overall, coping with North Carolina’s political climate has caused me an inordinate amount of stress. I’ve been afraid of the power that political changes can have over my life for long enough that it would seem strange for this fear to be absent. It’s like a deep, dull ache.
My anxiety around our state and national politics rose to a burning panic when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away in 2020. With some states attempting to pass bills that would make it illegal for doctors to provide gender-affirming care to trans youth, I worried about how the U.S. Supreme Court might rule on such an extreme measure.
I didn’t think I could handle having to again live the way I did before I began medically transitioning. That was one of my greatest fears.
I developed a backup plan in case an anti-trans policy like this were to become law in North Carolina.
According to my calculations, I would have a maximum of 22 days left on my medication at any given time. So I created a mental plan of how I would end my life if the ban on gender-affirming care was enacted because, as far as I was concerned, after those 22 days were spent, I would be put through the greatest torture I could conceive – being unable to live as my true self.
I no longer feel the need to have that back-up plan.
But that’s how easily this creeping, throbbing fear can boil over for trans young people like me. I wish that it was one of my many irrational anxieties, but it is far more founded in reality than I would like to believe.
Senate Bill 514 in North Carolina is impeccably tailored to arouse my deepest terror. It bans certain treatments for trans people under the age of 21 that would help them transition, regulating even the bodily autonomy of legal adults. If it advances, I will have no other choice but to move from this state, an option that not every trans young person has.
Local non-discrimination ordinances—and ultimately, protections from the federal government through the Equality Act—would loosen the cold fear that LGBTQ+ people have long faced.
These protections wouldn’t just establish concrete protections and allow me to grow up in a world where I would have the same opportunity to thrive as any other person—but they would also send a message to those who are needlessly hateful and those who do nothing to mitigate that behavior that they need to be doing better.
I just want to live. We just want to breathe. I’m only asking that my government representatives make it easier to do so by recognizing us as humans worthy of protection.