human rights

What It’s Like to Be a Trans Teen in America Right Now

Photo: Yana Paskova/Getty Images

This weekend, the New York Times published a disturbing report about the Trump administration’s latest assault on the rights of transgender and nonbinary Americans — a memo from the Department of Health and Human Services which would restrict the Title IX definition of gender, defining it as something that is determined by one’s sexual organs at birth, and unchangeable. Any disputes over this definition, the memo proposes, would be resolved with genetic testing.

These guidelines would essentially erase all federal recognition of trans and nonbinary individuals, affecting their access to health care, housing, legal protection, and basic public services.

Following the report, the Cut spoke to three trans and nonbinary teens about what it felt like to learn about a policy aimed at erasing them, and what they think this means for the future.

“I was more disappointed than I was shocked.”

I was at my girlfriend’s house when I read about [the report]. I’m in a group chat with some of my friends who are also trans, and one of them sent it because I’m the only one in the group chat who isn’t fully transitioned. So they were kind of worried about me because I haven’t legally changed my name or anything yet.

When I clicked the link that they sent, I was more disappointed than I was shocked, because it seems that the trans community is often targeted for being who we are. And it’s just disappointing to know that I live in a country where my life doesn’t seem to be as valued as a cisgendered person’s life. And it hurt knowing that the president of the United States is putting out there that he doesn’t care about trans youth or trans individuals at all. It’s … inconsiderate isn’t the right word, but it’s inconsiderate that this administration is trying to make such a drastic change to the normal lives of people who are just trying to be who they are.

For me personally it scares me that I won’t be able to change my name legally, and change my gender marker. That scares me because I live in Texas, and it’s a pretty Republican, conservative state, and it will affect future job opportunities and housing opportunities for me, because I know that Texas doesn’t really have any non-discrimination laws against that. So taking that away from me, and having to live with my birth name and my birth gender will really be detrimental over the years for me if that’s how I’m forced to live.

—Jaden, 17

“I didn’t think they would ever just try to write us out of existence.”

My mom and I were in Denver for the weekend for the Matthew Shepard Foundation Bear to Make a Difference Gala Saturday night. Sunday morning, I woke up and my mom told me that the story about this memo had come out. I had been feeling really happy and full of hope for the trans community after the gala, but when I heard this news, my stomach dropped. I immediately started reaching out to friends on social media who were panicking. I tried to stay positive for them and give words of hope, but inside, I wasn’t feeling very hopeful.

I don’t think I really processed the story until around lunchtime Sunday. I focused on trying to support my friends. Once I really processed the news, I just felt depressed. I didn’t think I could be surprised by this administration when it comes to anti-trans positions, but this really surprised me. I didn’t think they would ever just try to write us out of existence.

For trans and non-binary rights, this is a setback. But it also lights a fire under us to keep fighting for equal treatment. In just the past day, the community has really come together to support each other and speak with a unified voice. I’m going to keep being part of that voice and never give up hope, because really, there’s nothing else we can do but keep fighting.

—Drew, 18

“This would place many of us in constant danger socially and physically.”

I first heard about the Trump memo when I saw a post from GLAAD on Instagram. I clicked on the hashtag #WontBeErased and soon found the link to the New York Times article detailing the Trump Administration’s intentions to redefine gender to fit the narrow, incorrect and purely ideological and fundamentalist interpretation of gender to be binary and based on reproductive organs, effectively erasing transgender people.

I initially felt fear. I was scared, I was confused. What did this mean? Would I become subject to genetic testing, would my passport become invalid, would I have to get a new one with the wrong gender printed under my name? What would this mean for every other trans and nonbinary person?

It would mean our individual freedom to self-identify would be abolished by the federal government. It would mean that the government is trying to define who is human and who deserves human and civil rights and that trans and nonbinary people aren’t and don’t. This would place many of us in constant danger socially and physically. This is evidence to me that we have entered a tyrannical religious fascist state. It would mean we are not free.

However, the law remains the law. The medical truth remains the medical truth. Gender exists in the brain and on a spectrum, depending upon your own body’s endocrine system. It is not binary. It doesn’t always match reproductive organs. Everyone is different. People’s identity remains individual. The federal government cannot and should not be allowed to decree who is worthy of human rights and who is not. Despite this administration’s efforts, in the past 48 hours, rallies and social-media takeovers have been organized. We have and continue to make our voices heard online and in the streets. We definitely are not erasable.

—Sage Grace, 18

What It’s Like to Be a Trans Teen in America Right Now