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How Texas's Transphobia Is Rooted in Misogyny

"We seriously just [want to] live our lives unbothered. Please. Stop bothering us.”

Katelyn Burns

Mack Beggs at the Texas State Wrestling Championships. Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Norah Williams spent election night trying to read the political tea leaves. With overwhelming Republican victories across the nation, Williams feared oncoming legislative reprisals against trans people like themselves—a fear confirmed when Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick began talking about the state's new transphobic bathroom bill.

"It wasn't supposed to be voted on until February, but I decided I wasn't going to be their prejudicial plaything," they said. "In North Carolina, things got bad. Anyone who wasn't 100 percent [passing] was targeted, often harassed. I didn't want that to happen to me. I didn't have the money to move, so I started a GoFundMe, and due to the kindness of mostly strangers I raised $3000 in three days."

"I had left Texas exactly twice," they continued. "Once when I was 12, and then ten years later I went to my friend's wedding in Oregon. But I left Texas on February 3rd, and I don't know if I'll ever go back, even to visit."

Last week, the Texas State Senate held a day of public hearings before passing their bathroom bill, SB6, by a 21-10 vote. SB6 explicitly bans transgender women from using public women's bathrooms on state property, but doesn't affect trans men (because "men can defend themselves," as Patrick infamously put it). The bill is the latest example of legislative harassment in the Lone Star State—and one thing that sets it apart is its transmisogyny.

After all, it was Texas that led the lawsuit of ten states against the Obama administration's Department of Education directive on trans students, which decreed that trans students should be able to use school restrooms consistent with their gender identity, and it was Texas that led the charge against an Obamacare rule banning discrimination against trans patients. The same Texas-based federal judge, Reed O'Connor, issued nationwide injunctions against both rules.

Texas is also one of three states with policies that explicitly force trans high school athletes to compete as their assigned sex at birth, according to transathlete.com. Texas's guidelines, proffered by the University Interscholastic League, which presides over the state's high school athletics, was brought to the fore when a transgender male wrestler assigned female at birth, Mack Beggs, won the state's girls wrestling championship in February. The furor that ensued has brought national attention to the delicate issue of trans youth athletics, one that will no doubt come to a head over years to come as states with discriminatory regulations, that lack regulations, or have middle-of-the-road policies encounter similar situations.

Rules such as Texas's are implicitly misogynist in the way they discriminate against transgender women. A long, humiliating history exists of sports organizations that are baselessly fearful of men masquerading as women in competition. And the impulse that accompanies rules like those that miscategorized Beggs is at least partly rooted in the misogynist impulse to protect (cis) women. But if Beggs is "cheating" by competing against women, as the parent of a wrestler competing in the boy's division at the championship told the Washington Post, then it's clear that nobody benefits from making trans men compete against women in the first place. Fears that trans girls might have an unfair advantage over cis girls are rooted in a basic misunderstanding of how hormone replacement therapy works, which nullifies much of any said advantage. That's why organizations like the NCAA recommend that trans women assigned male at birth but transitioning to female be on hormones for at least one year before competing in women's divisions. 

Before SB6, it was already clear to trans women like Williams that Texas, at least legislatively speaking, was a transphobic state, but what SB6 and Beggs clarify is how deeply that transphobia is rooted in misogyny. And Williams is far from alone in their desire to flee the state. Nadia Morris, a trans woman from Houston, plans on moving her family out of state should SB6 become law, "I know not everyone has the option to move, and part of me wishes I would stay and fight to reverse it, but in the meantime, if it passes, I will fear for my personal safety," she said. "I transitioned full-time over 10 years ago, and have no plans on ever taking a step back. If that means moving my family out of Texas, so be it."

Morris points to the bill's pure transmisogyny as reason enough to leave. "People do bad things, and there are plenty of laws on the books that say you cannot do those things. That doesn't stop them," she said. "I think the 'it's just common sense' argument I hear from pro-SB6 folks is correct, ironically. It is common sense that men shouldn't use the women's restroom. Where we disagree is on the fact that transgender women are women and transgender men are men."

Therein lies a key distinction: what makes a woman? The argument over whether trans women are women has raged for decades. But let's take a step back and look at Texas, specifically: While SB6 has been up for vote, the state has also advanced a bill allowing doctors to lie about the health of of a fetus to a pregnant person (the vast majority of whom are cis women) in order to discourage abortion. The state has also led the charge in attempting to shut down Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of both women's and trans health services in the US, within the state. Transmisogyny is simply the flipside of misogyny—where one goes, the other is soon to follow. And if Texas doesn't respect women enough to give them accurate health information or access healthcare, it's clear the state's larger conception of what constitutes "womanhood" may be a bit flawed.

Trans women have been the butt of horrible movie jokes. They've been demonized as predators by both religious conservatives and radical feminists. They've been harassed, beaten, and murdered. And now, they face discriminatory state and federal legislation—few examples of which go as far to target trans women specifically than Texas'. All that hatred is rooted in transmisogyny. And whether it's Beggs, who simply wants to live and compete as a man, or trans women who simply want to live as (and use the restroom of) the gender they feel is right for themselves, these trans people simply want to be the ordinary people that they are, going about their daily lives. Patrick and the University Interscholastic League don't just want to make that harder for them. Slate's Christina Cauterucci put it best: "when anti-trans activists say they want trans women out of the women's room, they mean they want trans women out of the public sphere, period."

"Trans people just [want to] live in peace," said Williams, the now-former Texan. "I know the GOP doesn't care, because it's not about trans people, it's about power and control. But for anyone out there who might read this and think they're on the fence about it, we seriously just [want to] live our lives unbothered. Please. Stop bothering us."

Follow Katelyn Burns on Twitter.