Content warning: suicide, self-harm.
The worst day of my life was when my younger sibling told me they had attempted suicide. No words can fully describe the immediate wave of emotion that crashed over me; I was overwhelmed by sorrow, fear and guilt. How could I have failed so badly at protecting my sibling that this was the result?
That day, we clung to each other in their bed and cried together. I was not a distant or neglectful sibling, but nonetheless, I felt like I had not done enough. My younger sibling was the most important person in my world, and I made a promise to myself to do better, to do whatever I could to keep from losing them. For months, I was barely able to reconcile myself with leaving my sibling to go to school for fear that I wouldn’t be beside them when they needed me.
I would never wish that experience on anyone. My younger sibling is the light of my world, and although I was barely an adult myself at the time, the thought that they had to weather such darkness as a child was devastating.
Children should be treasured and protected, yet we as a society fail them all too often. We live in a culture of violence: mass shootings, police brutality and lack of social safety nets are the normal of the world our generation has grown up in.
My younger sibling had a difficult time in middle school for many reasons, but one of the biggest was that they had been forcibly outed as nonbinary and then tormented by other students. While bullying and harassment may seem like small concerns against the bloody backdrop of more directly deadly threats, these low-level, sustained attacks are also part of this deadly landscape of violence that children are forced to navigate.
This landscape is particularly treacherous territory for LGBTQ+ children to navigate. Many children, even those from self-professed liberal families, have no idea how their parents or guardians will react if they come out, leaving them without support systems. In a culture so saturated with the internet and social media, nearly every child who identifies as LGBTQ+ knows the potentially negative outcomes of coming out, which can range from being rejected outright to being sent to conversion therapy.
When attacks from society come on the basis of identity, support from family and parental figures can be vital. But for many trans kids, found family is the only family that will have their backs.
The war on trans people is being fought against our most vulnerable population: children. And that’s unacceptable.
Children have always been central in the “transgender debate,” whether it be as potential victims of cross-dressing predators in women’s restrooms or as pitiably misguided creatures who falsely identify as trans. The latter is the main line of attack against trans rights in the current political arena, and it is one with deadly potential.
The bill recently voted into law in Arkansas denying gender-affirming health care to trans children is shockingly broad. Despite the voices of actual doctors who offer gender-affirming care because such care is known to save lives and is medically accepted as safe, the law outright prohibits any gender-affirming medical treatment for minors — even with parental consent.
Going so far as to ban benign measures such as puberty blockers, which are particularly beneficial in that they give children time to grow older and make informed decisions without the pressure of hormonal changes they aren’t ready for, is a targeted attack.
Hormones and puberty blockers are among the most common medical treatments for trans teens, and both are easily reversible. They may have side effects, but so does almost any other medication, and both parents and children often agree the benefits outweigh the risks. Gender-affirming surgery is rarely — if ever — offered to minors. However, even if such surgery was, cosmetic surgery is legal for minors with parental consent, and it seems counterintuitive that a rare subsection of cosmetic surgery for children would be singled out by law before critical issues with body autonomy and surgery such as intersex genital mutilation.
Going so far as to ban benign measures such as puberty blockers, which are particularly beneficial in that they give children time to grow older and make informed decisions without the pressure of hormonal changes they aren’t ready for, is a targeted attack. In a country with a health care crisis, most trans children wouldn’t be able to access this gender-affirming care even without the ban. Legal attacks are not only violent toward trans children; they also send the message that the voting populace is opposed to the survival of its transgender peers.
My younger sibling and I share the same favorite poem, “A Litany for Survival,” by Audre Lorde. It is a reminder of all the reasons we fear, and it is a reminder to speak out anyway, because “we were never meant to survive.” To Lorde, the very existence of those marginalized by society is a triumph.
Society does not want us to survive, and legislation such as the bills being proposed around the country serves as a constant reminder of that fact.
Children are our future, and that is why trans children are under attack. Even if you think this issue isn’t irrelevant to you, it could be your child, your sibling or your friend who is under threat without you even knowing. If you simply ignore transphobia (or transgender identity), it will not go away. In a fight for survival, you have to pick a side.
Contact Saya Abney at [email protected].