As a child, I knew that I had a gender incongruity; what I didn’t know was how to address it. My first addiction was food, and as I eked my way toward adulthood, the effects of that addiction became undeniable. Eventually, I was the fattest kid in school. Inevitably, this made me an easy target for bullies.
By the time I hit 10th grade, I was torn between shooting my bullies or shooting myself. I’d been suicidal since as long as I could remember, but things were getting out of hand and I had occasionally succumbed to trial runs of suicide. I’d sit in my room, holding my dad’s old revolver to my temple and squeezing the trigger. For a moment – when the hammer snapped – I would feel some release, as if the gun were loaded and my soul was escaping my body. The moment was fleeting, and eventually I would have to go back to school and suffer another day with my bullies.
My mom did what she could to bring the matter to the administrators, and I would report these matters, too. As is the custom with school admins and bullies, however, complaints were dismissed as kids being kids and a character-building thing. I began reaching out for help outside of school. What ultimately changed the paradigm was when I sent a letter to the Leeza show. Before long, I spilled the beans on my bullies and the school’s lack of response to a national television audience.
Afterward, everything changed: I don’t ever recall being bullied after that, and, if memory serves, the school principal ceased to keep that title. It tells me that with the right attention, some very bad situations can be turned into a huge positive.
What is truly best?
By now, everyone has heard about the 12-year-old transgender girl from Achille, Oklahoma, who became the target of some very disturbed adult bullies. One of these adults went so far as to suggest that, “If he wants to be female… A good sharp knife should to the trick.” When I read that, my stomach sank, and my heart ached. I can’t fathom that any adult could speak about a child like this. That was the most heinous comment, but there were many more. Some advocated that she be beaten by the other children till she stopped coming to school.
As a transgender woman myself, I feel a degree of kinship with others in transition, especially those youth who are living with affirming parents and are able to transition before their body becomes altered by a natal puberty. So, it goes without saying, that I want what’s best for this child. But what can I do, and what is truly the best action, are questions I cannot answer.
Attention not equal to protection
Since this story has received national attention, not much has changed. (One parent, a pilot for Frontier Airlines, has been suspended as of Aug. 13 for their comments.) While the school addressed the issue, the adults who could be complicit in instigating a hate crime have not been charged. This is an upsetting development, because it would appear that, once again, the transgender community cannot count on law enforcement for protection.
I’m compelled to believe that the reasoning behind the lack of arrest or charges boils down to these comments being levied by white “Christians.” If the authorities stepped in and did their jobs, the Achille controversy would become some heated political debate framed around “liberals taking rights away from the Christian Right.” Those siding with the original comments would turn a blind eye to the fact that free speech isn’t protected when it advocates for violence, and that the word of Christ cannot support these horrific statements. I have no doubt that, had a person of color and/or a non-Christian made these statements, they’d have been arrested without hesitation.
The lack of action to protect the child creates a great deal of concern for her safety going forward. Getting this massive attention might place a blanket of protection over her, just as my Leeza appearance did, but the vitriol surrounding trans people steeps me in much greater concern.
‘Outing’ considered to be an act of violence
Every Nov. 20, we observe Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day when we take time to remember those who have been killed as a result of living openly as their authentic selves. Unfortunately, as time passes, I have to worry that this beautiful child may become one of dozens we mention on that day. I go cold just thinking about it.
I tend to consider transgender visibility to be a very good thing, but, because of the actions of a handful of bigoted individuals in Achille, this girl has effectively been outed to the entire world. (For those of you not in the know, outing a transgender person without their consent is often considered an act of violence. The reasoning here is that by exposing a person’s transgender status, you invariably create the very circumstance that might make them a target for harassment, assault or even murder.)
Because of the safety concern for this child, a GoFundMe account has been setup to facilitate the move of her family to a more accepting and less bigoted town. As I write this, that fund has exceeded its goal by nearly three times as of Tuesday evening.
Is any place going to be any more safe than Achille?
While this is absolutely enough to rescue the family from the dullards in Achille, I am left deeply conflicted. The court of popular opinion has already largely weighed in on the child’s behalf. With the bigots firmly in their place, moving away from the town after what appears to be a victory for trans rights does nothing more than show the world that even when we win, we still lose. Conversely, those good-ol’-boy bigots get to stomp around like victors while remaining nationally lambasted losers.
Make no mistake about it, safety should always be the primary concern in the life of any transgender person, but what’s the message we’re putting out if we don’t hold the line after we’ve already come out on top? Wherever the family goes, I hope they land in a place of acceptance and love. With their child already nationally known, however, is any place going to be any more safe than Achille?
I can think of dozens of reasons to leave and one reason to stay: to look evil in the eye and proclaim that, “We will prevail.” Then again, I’m not a 12-year-old, and no child should fear walking into the lion’s den on the daily. That’s a feeling that still sits with me. I will always remember my bullies — and the pistol on my temple.
No child deserves that.