By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
Humans have a great ability to show empathy. When a pair of terrorists gunned down twelve people at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hedbo, people fell over themselves to declare “Je Suis Charlie.” When disasters like Hurricane Katrina occur, people pull together from around the world to lend a hand in ways big and small. Yes, not everyone seems to be so altruistic, but the majority seeks to help their Homo Sapiens compatriots when in need. We call such actions humanitarian.
We don’t always share the same feelings for non-humans. Without getting too far into an ecological rant, we are indeed omnivorous creatures who frequently partake in the flesh and/or fibers of plants and animals we share the planet with, and we spend a lot of time as a species in actions that may indeed harm the future of our planet.
More to the point, even though we have a strong habit of anthropomorphizing, we still view the majority our “things” as property, to be enjoyed, consumed, used and eventually discarded. That hot smart phone will eventually end up in the waste pile, our finest clothing will some day get tossed and nearly every other item in our possession will end up junked some day.
We care even less about items we don’t possess. We deface public property and treat items of our employers and acquaintances with less care than those we own.
Then, sometimes, we treat our fellow humans as things.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been seven known anti-transgender murders in the United States. Six of these are transgender women of color. It has been a particularly bloody, violent start to the year.
At the same time, anti-transgender violence has been an epidemic for decades. I’ve watched these numbers for a decade and a half, with no indication that it was any less in years prior. We can even go earlier: the 1922 book “The Female Impersonators” by Earl Lind references six then-recent murders in New York as being part of the reason for writing their book.
I am sure that the murderers of those days, just as today, claimed theirs were crimes of passion: that they were somehow deceived and felt that they had no recourse but to act. That’s not exactly true even in the purest of cases.
To me, it boils down to this: these murderers don’t see us as human. We are things. For them, they have discarded us in the same way they might toss a used aluminum can. Their remorse is over being caught, not over having taken a human life. In the worst cases, they may even feel they’ve just done the world a favor.
Is this a cynical view? Yes, but I come by it honestly.
Take, for one small example, the media’s current fascination with a certain former Olympian and current reality television celebrity. To date, we really do not know if they intend to transition, and all these reports — some with horribly Photoshopped images — are all based on hearsay and innuendo.
While we can, of course, argue that they signed up for this — one cannot invite the glare of television cameras into your personal life without expecting such a level of scrutiny — the treatment they’re being given is not from any place of compassion. Even those who claim to be supportive of the transgender community are more than willing to take their pot shots. As one example, Jill Soloway, the creator of the award-winning television program “Transparent,” recently shared an image labeled “Transdashian” on her Facebook wall.
Or let’s look at a House Bill 538 currently in the Florida House of Representatives, presented by Rep. Frank Artiles. This particularly onerous piece of legislation would make it a crime punishable by a year in jail, or a $1000 fine, for a transgender person to use a single-sex restroom, as well as give people within the facility the right to sue the violator in question.
Yes, another bill built on the notion of the “bathroom meme” claiming that allowing transgender people to use facilities congruent with their gender identities will somehow open the stall door for voyeurs, molesters, rapists and others who are already subject to laws against their actions.
Presumably, no one has considered that putting a transwoman in a mens’ restroom might put her life at risk, or that putting a transman in a ladies’ room might also be more than problematic. In reality, we all know that this bill is not so much about protecting anyone in the toilet as it is about legislating transgender people out of existence in any way that Mr. Artiles and his constituents can manage. Our basic biological needs are trumped by nothing more than an irrational fear.
Every time a transgender person is called an “it,” we are dehumanized. Every time we’re seen as undeserving of our basic rights, we are dehumanized. Every time the media strips away our names and genders of choice in favor of biological destiny, we are dehumanized. Every time the things we know as being true about ourselves and our lives are discounted and ignored, we are dehumanized.
When this happen, we become things. We lose our basic humanity. We are subject to being erased, being discarded and being killed — and when we are killed, we are further erased by an uncaring populace that strips away our identities and lives.
This isn’t about “accepting” transgender people. It’s not about some sort of half-hearted tolerance for our existence. It’s about accepting that we are humans. We deserve the right to exist on this planet just as we choose to be, with the same liberties as any other human.