The Uphill Battle of Being a Transgender Woman in America

Published: Mar 2, 2023  |  

Transgender film and TV critic

Transgender, USA

As unfortunate and frustrating as it is to write this, it is not easy to be a transgender person in America in 2023. Surprisingly, when you compare what the trans community had to deal with during the Trump administration, things are much worse today. But this is not because of the Biden administration: most of the frustrations in the trans community come from what’s happening at the state level with the banning of gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

By February of this year, we were already looking at more anti-LGBTQ bills being filed in state legislatures than all of 2022. According to legislative researcher Allison Chapman, the numbers for this year’s legislation are broken down into the following:

  • 91 gender-affirming care bans
  • 39 sports bans
  • 44 “Don’t Say Gay”/Forced Outing Bills
  • 27 Drag bans
  • 12 Defining trans people out of law

The fact that the number is over 300 is not good for anyone’s anxiety level, though if last year is any indication, some 91% of them will probably not get signed into law. Even if these measures are not passed into law, they have a chilling effect on making transgender people feel safe and welcome at large, which hinders our ability to live and work freely as we choose.

I have experienced this fallout firsthand. Not only am I transgender, but I’m also a traveling film critic. This means that I commonly travel to film festivals for work purposes—mainly the bigger fests: Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and Toronto. But I haven’t stepped foot in Texas since leaving SXSW 2019 because of the attacks on transgender rights. I did not attend SXSW in 2022, when the festival returned to in-person programming, nor will I return in March for this year’s festival.

I almost didn’t attend Sundance this year because of the trans athlete ban in Utah. (The ban was mostly overturned except for the part where a committee now gets to decide who gets to play school sports and who doesn’t.) 

Venturing a bit further into film and entertainment-adjacent, I also lost out on visiting Walt Disney World for the 50th anniversary because of Ron DeSantis and the attacks on transgender rights, including a trans athlete ban. Having enjoyed a magical experience at Disney during its 40th anniversary in 2011, I had been looking forward to attending the 50th, but with transphobia being legal in Florida, I could not justify the expense.

Almost as soon as I came out in late 2015, the conservatives started attacking transgender rights. They started with the bathrooms before moving onto preventing us from playing sporting events in school. Currently, they’ve reached the point where they are doing a solid job at preventing us from getting gender-affirming care as minors, saying that such healthcare is considered a form of child abuse or mutilation. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommends hormone blockers at age 14 and some surgeries at ages 15 or 17. While there are always risks to medical interventions, providing gender-affirming care is better than the alternatives of depression and suicide.

According to the ACLU, politicians do not care what medical providers or families of transgender children have to say. When they do bring in a doctor to testify, they usually bring in somebody who ignores common guidelines and says something that they want to hear. Whatever happened to “First, do no harm”? Such actions are going to force blue cities in blue states to become a sanctuary for transgender youth. But people are fighting back against transgender discrimination: the state of Tennessee is currently facing a lawsuit, as is South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.

Where does all of this place me as a transgender woman? Well, we’re currently looking at a country where there are safe states and dangerous states. Unfortunately, the dangerous states at the moment are the ones where the biggest film festivals are held. After Utah Governor Spencer Cox vetoed a bill on preventing trans people from playing sports, I was shocked when he signed a bill that banned gender-affirming care. Utah is home to the Sundance Film Festival, a festival that I was still attending in person when the hammer came down. But unless the law gets overturned in courts, I will not be attending the festival next year.

One thing I’ve noticed is that all of the threats to boycott from professional sports leagues, musicians, and corporations are nowhere near what they were when North Carolina signed HB2 into law in 2016. The NCAA relocated championships in 2016-17. Moreover, the NCAA released a statement on transgender participation in 2021. Since then, they’ve hosted numerous tournament games in states with anti-trans laws on the books. Despite releasing a statement, they haven’t done much on this front. 

To me, it feels like the only people who really care about trans rights outside of trans people themselves are parents and the loudest allies. You know, the people who are no longer buying JK Rowling books or want anything to do with the Harry Potter franchise. And yet, this is not stopping Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav from wanting to do business with Rowling. He knows how profitable that the franchise can be. If the posts I’ve seen on my own social media are any indication, there are people that cannot quit the franchise even when they know it would show that they’re an ally.

When I see a state attacking transgender rights, I immediately do my best to avoid stepping foot in those states. It’s not just because of personal safety concerns in the restroom—which are not fun. I’ve had the experience of sitting on the toilet when the janitor knocked on the door to point out that it was the women’s bathroom, and this was at a major tourist site in Chicago! 

Thankfully, Navy Pier apologized as soon as it came to their attention, but it’s a very demeaning experience. I cannot run the risk of this happening in a red state where the consequences could be much worse, if I were visiting SXSW in the city of Austin in Texas, for example. What happens if the wrong person sees me go to the restroom at a non-festival venue and they end up throwing a fit? This is not a risk that I’m willing to take.

For transgender people to thrive in this country, we can’t be relegated to safe states only. All people should be free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. But until our culture, society, and laws can agree, transgender people like myself will be limited in how we can live our lives, which is something we all should care about. How am I able to do my job when I can’t attend a film festival because of the state in which it is located? Things need to change and quickly.

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