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  • Talon Staff

Transphobia in Full Swing

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

On August 27, 1976, the United States Tennis Association banned Renee Richards from competing in the U.S. Open. After refusing to take a chromosome test to enter the women’s tournament, Richards was invited by friends to play in the South Orange Open in New Jersey. Over twenty women boycotted her participation, and the subheading for Sports Illustrated coverage of her play read, “Transsexual Dr. Renee Richards didn’t win the tennis week open, but she won some friends and influenced some people.”

Currently, female trans youth are explicitly banned from competing in sports in a number of states. To eliminate the “unfair” advantage of speed and strength possessed by trans women, the Mississippi Fairness Act banned their competition in women’s sports. In South Dakota, Senate Bill 46 (entitled an act to protect fairness in women’s sports) passed, barring trans women from women’s sports teams on account of “fairness.” Idaho, the first state to sign a trans sports ban into law, enshrined it the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. Summarily, many legislators assert their concern for the fairness of sports with the “complication” of trans individuals, though trans men are rarely a talking point.

It is clear, in that sense, that the complexity of trans identity is not of any interest to legislators presenting such laws. Notably, the average age of state governors is 58.7 years, the median age of a House Representative is 58.4 years, and the median age of Senators is 64.3 years; Pew Research Center reports that, of those aged 50-64 and of those aged 65 and older, respectively 41% and 32% of U.S. adults personally know someone who identifies as trans. An issue or experience that legislators are not immediately familiar with is bound to demand their attention, but it is suspect how fervently and aggressively some are pursuing trans rights and experiences.

Sure, there is a conversation to be had about the participation of trans people in sports (one that acknowledges their years of competition in the Olympics, perhaps). The goal of restrictive trans legislation, however, is not fairness. In March 2022, Governor Spencer Cox of Utah vetoed a bill banning trans women from participating in women’s sports, citing the openness of only four trans athletes in the state; “Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few,” he said.

The goal, in reality, is to be the most visible proponent of “traditional values” and protector of “women and children.” Rep. Debbie Lesko, for instance, proposed the Women’s Bill of Rights as a measure to “fight for women and their place in our society,” but she also voted against the removal of a deadline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment and a bill aimed to fight the baby formula shortage. Political discussions, infamous for their superficial nature, are no exception as they apply to trans individuals.

Further, legislation surrounding the lifestyle of trans people is a useful stepping stone for media coverage and political capital. President Biden designating a Transgender Day of Visibility did little to stave off anti-trans legislation, but it certainly appeared thoughtful. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, criticized earlier this year for not being conservative enough, placed an order for state officials to investigate trans children receiving gender-affirming care for child abuse. Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama, challenged in this year’s primary as “a Democrat in Republican clothing,” passed a law criminalizing gender-affirming care from doctors.

With trans people comprising an estimated 0.6% of U.S. adults, it is especially easy for representatives to speak for them. In fact, an estimated 238 bills were proposed to restrict LGBTQ+ rights by March 20 this year (with over half directed at trans people specifically), counting out to roughly three bills a day. It is an astonishing level of dedication to policy to observe across states—or, more simply, it is the stimulation of rage and fear that is far more compelling for media and political image than in depth or even satisfactory law.

Either perpetuating or addressing discrimination against trans people in law ensures attention. In a predominantly cisgender country, the newest—and boldest—stances on trans people are interesting to see unfold. Bans on sports participation or bathroom access are appealing stories for their straightforwardness, though a firmer position is required for political longevity. For example, state officials in Florida recently set in motion a ban on Medicaid coverage for trans people; after his “Don’t Say Gay” bill spiraled into a conflict with Disney, Gov. Ron DeSantis (and 2024 presidential hopeful) is seeking out another media and political boost.

Conversations about trans people, in this way, are likely to yield the caricatures of “conservative” and “liberal” efforts. The disproportionate homelessness of trans people, for instance, is unlikely to be identified in a broad discussion of the homeless crisis; trans people have their own political compartment. The mass news cycle isn’t known for touching on legislative items like Missouri’s HB 2086, which would prohibit changing the sex listed on your birth certificate, or Tennessee’s SB 2777, which protects the ability of public school staff to refuse using a student’s preferred gender pronouns.

The description in Sports Illustrated of Richards’s competition in South Orange began as follows: “At first, it seemed like a put-on. A transsexual tennis player? A 6’2” former football end in frilly panties and gold hoop earrings pounding serves past defenseless girls?” Years later, the discussion of trans people is not incredibly different; they are perceived (and legislated) from a distance, questionable yet intriguing.

Trans lives should not be dictated by ignorance and political ploys.

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