'It Hurts Me at My Core': Trans, Intersex, and Nonbinary Teens Have Words for Trump

After news broke that the Trump Administration may try to define gender by "genitalia at birth," we spoke to trans and intersex teens to see what they make of the latest attempt to erase their identity.

by Leila Ettachfini
Oct 24 2018, 3:46pm

On Sunday, The New York Times published a story detailing a new Trump Administration memo that attempts to legally define gender as a "biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth." If put into effect, the memo's policies would eradicate federal recognition of transgender people and any distinction between gender and sex. After the Times story broke, trans, intersex, and gender non-conforming people, along with allies, voiced their discontent with the memo through the hashtag #WontBeErased on social media.

As we at Broadly contemplated what this memo means, both the fear it has caused as a looming threat and the harm it will inflict if it becomes law, we wondered how young trans and intersex people are coping with this news—news that comes from an administration they were too young to vote for, but whose anti-trans rhetoric, threats, and legislation they are certainly affected by. An estimated 1.7 percent of the population is intersex, and, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 75 percent of trans youth already feel unsafe at school. The memo, for now, is just a memo, but it does shed light on the intentions of this administration, whether they become written in the law or not. After news of the memo broke, Broadly spoke to trans, intersex, and gender non-conforming teens about how they've been coping and what they want people to know. Here's what they have to say.

Ose Arheghan, 18

I remember having to go to school the day after 45 was elected. I was overwhelmed, tired, and I couldn't stop crying. My well-intentioned friends and allies tried to console me by telling me our nation has survived worse, and checks and balances will ensure our individual safeties and liberties. As a trans person of color, I knew their words may be true for them, but as a member of multiple marginalized communities, I'd always be on the chopping block first.

This leaked memo is just one of many attacks this administration has made against trans bodies. It pains me to see memos like this that are based in bias and hate, rather than scientific fact. My gender is a fluid and chaotic mess that just so happens to be different from my sex assigned at birth. I deserve leaders to acknowledge me as valid.

During the Obama administration I saw trans people in the White House, I saw Title IX protections; I saw hope. That hope seems to be dwindling, and it terrifies me. Now, I see Black and brown trans bodies fighting in the streets for our lives and I implore our allies to join us because this is not a fight we can win alone. Many of my peers are using this memo as another way to galvanize people to vote without acknowledging the very real barriers that are in place that oftentimes bar trans individuals from doing so. I hope this energy to fight for trans folk doesn't [stop] when news of this memo eventually fades to the background. I hope allies will continue to support our movements.

Kenna, 16

I personally didn’t find out about the memo until Monday afternoon. When I did find out, I was completely and utterly horrified. We have apparently come to the conclusion that something so individual and unwritten as gender has to be dictated by the rules of and regulations of a white male Christian government that is attempting to force people to conform to the standards of THEIR religion and their beliefs about how humans should be in the US. Learning about the history of our country in one of my classes, it doesn’t surprise me that a government built on Christianity and white male supremacy would do something like this. I stand with my fellow intersex people, and I stand with my fellow trans people whose entire identity of who they are is being targeted by the single minded bigots of our government. You can try to erase our very existence from history—which you have done—and you can try to erase our very identity and ignore the beautiful complications of the human body. Go try and whitewash us with your heteronormative gender standards. I assure you we will never give up. We will never disappear, no matter how hard you try to do that.

Mack Beggs, 19

I first saw a couple posts on Instagram [about the memo], and at first I was like, No, no way, it's got to be some fluke. That would be totally messed up if that were to actually be proposed and for it to happen. Then I saw a bunch of articles coming out, and I was like, Oh my god, this is actually gonna be a thing.

I don't understand what's so hard about being a decent human being—trying to wipe out someone's existence, what they identify as? We have always been here. I don't know what they're trying to accomplish here. If this were to get proposed, I don't think it would go through. There are too many influential leaders around the world, too many organizations internationally and nationally. They can talk all they want about it, but I don't feel like it'll go through.

I'm mostly around male wrestlers, so we don't really focus on a lot of politics and social media in general. As athletes, we try not to voice our opinions on politics. In my case, being a trans athlete, I have more fluidity in what I say and speak about. I don't know what that would do if it were to go through. That would mean that I can't get my gender identity changed, which I'm trying to get done when I come back [home] during the holiday. I'm from Texas, where it's hard enough to legally get my gender changed.

I'm not necessarily taking it hard. I have a lot of other things that I'm worrying about, like getting to full recovery on my top surgery and getting back on the mats. My plate was already full enough, and, right now, I can't think about it. I'm definitely trying to do what I can, like voting for the right people in office in order to stop this from happening. I'm trying to handle it from an optimistic point of view, rather than trying to think about it in a way that it'll affect me negatively. Having an optimistic view on anything definitely allows you to cope.

I hope the other teens you talk to are okay. Let's support them as much as we can and do what needs to be done.

Leo Lipson, 15

On Sunday, when I heard about the memo, I experienced all the usual feelings I get from hearing new bullshit the Trump Administration is pulling: sadness, anger, fear. It sent such an obvious message that was impossible for me to ignore: a blatant you don't belong here. I have a “Protect Trans Kids” shirt that I generally don't like to wear to school because it gets me into unwanted conversations about my gender identity, but that Monday, I decided to wear it, if not to make a statement, then to make myself feel a little better. I ended up not taking off my sweatshirt for the whole day, though—I felt embarrassed that I was fitting the “angry trans person” stereotype that I try so hard to steer clear from. Looking back on that, I regret it. I am trans. And I am angry.

Marc Roy, 18

I read the memo Sunday night, and it took a while to hit. I almost couldn't wrap my head around the gravity of it. I know it's just a memo, and I shouldn't be as scared as I am, but it still hurts me at my core. Reading the words honestly made me feel like I was burning up; like the center of unwanted attention.

Although I got my anger out at a rally in Washington Square Park the night before, it was really hard to endure class without anyone bringing the memo up in any regard. Even in gender studies class, while people presented on the writings of Sylvia Rivera and Leslie Feinberg, no one connected trans issues to the memo. I'm the only trans person in that class, and even though I live in an inclusive space, hearing other 18-year-olds use terms like "transgenders" and "natural women" (as opposed to trans women) made it clear that we still have a long way to go in educating and fighting back, even among our progressive peers

S.E. Montgomery, 18

Gender is so much more than words. Gender is an experience, and in each individual person, it presents itself differently. To divide gender in strictly defined words, so many people would be alienated.

In saying that someone’s sex “as originally listed on their birth certificate” defines their gender, what is to be done for intersex people, who may have a more complicated birth certificate? What is to be done for transgender individuals who have [worked hard] to have their original birth certificates changed?

In this memo, it was also insinuated that there would be “genetic testing” to determine what someone’s gender is, which raises even more questions. Some people who have identified as cisgender their whole lives may figure out that they have differences in chromosomes and internal anatomy that they would have never guessed—such as the man who discovered that he had a uterus at age 70 and the woman who discovered she had partially male chromosomes.

I cannot, however, say that I am surprised by these attacks directed at transgender people. I have been personally involved in politics for a majority of my life, and it seems that, unless the LGBTQ community is making the headlines every day, that it’s par for the course for us to be erased. I ask everyone around me, regardless of gender, to stand up against these attacks. It is easy to throw transgender people out, even though it shouldn’t be, but I ask those who think this won’t affect them: How sure can you be that they will not come for you next?

Theo Cortez, 19

Mr. Donald Trump,

My name is Theo Cortez. Oh, excuse me! That’s my preferred name—my dead name is [REDACTED]; For all intensive purposes, my birth certificate says I was born with a pussy. All I want to say in this letter is fuck you. Fuck you, because for 19 years, I lived life as a Latina woman just to placate people like you and your soulless “children of God” administration.

I will never deny my Ecuadorian roots, under this administration nor the next—I followed through in having a quinceañera when I was an egg (like that in Demain by Hermann Hesse) because it was more of a celebration for others then a celebration of myself. For 19 years, I tried so hard to hyper-feminize myself. I became the soft, silent, and demure daughter that my mother wanted. Makeup. Check. Push-up bra. Check. The will to live? Nowhere to be found. [Like in Demain,] I fought my way out of the egg. I destroyed the old world to create a new one. I ran away from my mother’s house and killed off the girl that I was forced to be so I could live my truth. Never has there been a day I mourn that. The only thing I mourn is the fact that I forced myself to live that lie so long.

Do you understand what it means to me to finally, finally live my truth? You’ve never had to face the fear of stepping into a bathroom and someone harassing you, or looking you up and down. To have someone straight-up say to you, “Niñas no deben estar aqui,” or, “A female in the bathroom—wow, we doin’ this now?” You’ve never had to constantly correct someone about your pronouns at least once a day. You will never feel the pain I deal with in having worked on this goal for 19 years, only to have it potentially snatched away. You’ve created your own rhetoric of the “dangerous transgender"—you are what Kate Bornstein wrote in Gender Outlaw: The Next Generation. Fuck you for trying to take away what little peace of mind I’ve finally allowed myself to have.

Some responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.