The Terrifying Stupidity of Erasing People

What must it be like to wake up one morning and find that you have been vaporized? It must be odd, to say the least. You’re there; you can’t help but be there. You’re still you, after all. But somehow you’re not there anymore. You’re not anywhere. You no longer exist.

That is exactly what happened to our transgender brothers and sisters. They woke up one morning and found that they had all gone poof, just like that.

“Trump Administration Trying to Define Transgender Out of Existence: NY Times,” ran the headline from Reuters. The reporter, Daniel Trotta, went on to explain how this amazing disappearing act worked:

“The government of US President Donald Trump is attempting to strip transgender people of official recognition by creating a narrow definition of gender as being only male or female and unchangeable once it is determined at birth, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

“The Department of Health and Human Services has undertaken an effort across several government departments to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex, the Times said, citing a government memo that it obtained.”

“That definition would be as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals a person is born with, the Times reported.”

Although I would like to try this vanishing trick on certain people, Donald J. Trump first and foremost among them, the whole thing is so patently stupid and yet so dangerous, so absurd and knuckleheaded, that I literally gagged on my morning coffee when I read it on Sunday.

“They are saying we don’t exist,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Rights, in an interview. Issuing this statement was a very difficult feat, considering that Keisling doesn’t exist and therefore cannot be expected to say anything.

If it wasn’t so terrifying, it might actually be funny.

But it is terrifying. To render a whole category of human beings nonexistent by way of an edict would be the first step to fascism, except of course for the fact that the Trump administration has already taken so many steps down that road that we’re already hearing the sound of jackboots.

Trotta explained the circumstances this way:

“A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declined to comment on what she called ‘allegedly leaked documents’ but cited a ruling by a conservative US district judge as a guide to transgender policy. Ruling on a challenge to one aspect of the Affordable Care Act, US District Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas found in 2016 that there was no protection against discrimination on the basis of gender identity.”

(Reed’s district court is the go-to venue for anti-LGBTQ litigation groups.)

One of the core concepts in gender studies is that sex is biological while gender is cultural, meaning — to put a gloss on a very complicated set of thoughts — sex is about genitals whereas gender is about practically everything else. We can change genders fairly easily; all you need to do is wear clothes that don’t conform to the expectations of sex. And not to medicalize the situation too terribly much (a gender studies no-no), sex reassignment surgeries have been performed since 1931, so there’s nothing much new with that particular concept.

The only light in this hellish story came the following day, when the ever-superb Jennifer Finney Boylan’s column appeared on the Times’ op-ed page.

“I was surprised to learn on Sunday morning that I do not exist,” she began. “This will come as sad news to my children, to whom I’ve been a mother for over 20 years now. It will come as a shock to my wife, too, to whom I’ve been married for 30 years. It would have been a disappointment for my mother, as well — the conservative, evangelical Christian Republican, who, when she learned I was transgender, two decades ago, said, ‘I would never turn my back on my child…’

“It is so disappointing, then, and more than a little embarrassing, to learn I’m imaginary — a creature no more real than the cyclops, or a hippogriff [Pssst — I had to look it up, too, having never read a single Harry Potter book]. President Trump and company should be prepared for the consequences of this decision — because the people most likely to be disappointed in this Glum New World will be themselves.

“They will be disappointed to find themselves — if they are men — standing in a men’s room with me. Even though I have breasts and a vagina and a clitoris (and I do thank you for asking), in the new world that they’re creating I’ll be right there in the boy’s room with them, checking my bra straps and putting on eyeliner — you know, because of the Y chromosome that they insist is the only gender marker that matters.

“Don’t like this world? Well, you could have left us alone… All it will do is make people suffer.

“Can any good come out of this miserable moment? Well, I can hope that this will inspire people, more than ever, to fight back — not just trans people — but our spouses, and our children, and our allies, too. Their numbers will include people not unlike my late mother — conservative Republican women who just can’t stand to see their children bullied by the one person in the country who ought to be most concerned with keeping us all safe.

“Don’t like this world? Mr. Trump, you could have left us alone.”

It has become increasingly difficult for me to write anything of value; I can say that our country has been kidnapped by stupid people only so many times before even I get bored. Trump rallies look like Nazi rallies; Trump’s lies — like the one about how the thousands of Central Americans trudging north through Mexico are doing so because of “the Democrats,” and on and on and on. They are so pervasive and so outrageous that they’re impossible to argue without losing your mind in the process.

I’m beginning to think that ostriches have the right idea.

A fun fact to know and tell: By this point we are all familiar with the name and gruesome fate of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and came out dismembered. Watching Trump flail around for a reasonable response to what was obviously a barbaric murder committed at the behest of his pals in the Saudi royal family has been like watching Maxwell Smart, the ridiculous detective in the 60s sitcom “Get Smart”: “Would you believe it was ‘a plot gone awry?’ Would you believe it was done by ‘rogue killers?’’”

But in all the coverage I’ve seen and read of the Khashoggi murder, I haven’t seen anything about the fact that Jamal Khashoggi was the nephew of the sleazebag arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. As Stephen Kinzer wrote in Adnan Khashoggi’s obituary in the Times on June 6, 2017, “His appetites were gargantuan, beyond the limits of vulgarity. At the peak of his wealth, he presided over 12 estates, including some in Europe and the Middle East; a 180,000-acre ranch in Kenya; and a two-floor Manhattan residence at Olympic Towers, next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, that was made from 16 existing apartments… He owned a 282-foot yacht, Nabila — used in a James Bond film and later sold to Donald J. Trump — and three lavishly refitted commercial-size jets. His parties were known for rivers of champagne, bevies of women, international celebrities and endless personal attention from the host, known to his many friends as A. K.”

Well, I remember that A.K. attempted to buy a little respectability in the 1970s by offering scads of money to Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford colleges to launch an Arab Studies center. If I’m not mistaken, Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr actually considered taking the money before being shamed into saying no thanks. Only Haverford, which attempts to run itself on nonviolent Quaker principles, made it clear right off the bat that an arms dealer’s millions were not enough to turn the college’s moral code on its head.

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