Over on Pharyngula, PZ has a post up unequivocally supporting trans* persons equality with any other human where rights are concerned. As PZ and many, many others have put it: Trans rights are human rights.
In the thread, helpfully titled, “Arguments are closed, I’m not going to argue with anyone about trans rights”, someone showed up who wanted to argue about trans rights. You’ve really got to hand it to some folks, y’know? And on the one hand, this person (so far) doesn’t seem remotely as bad as some others who have commented on Pharyngula opposing trans* persons human rights. On the other, did they even read the post title?
I mean, seriously.
Nevertheless, aspleen did want to condemn the use of the phrase “trans rights are human rights” and also to ask, what is up with all these so called “rights” trans* persons want. Surely, aspleen asserted, it’s not like any normal human rights have ever been violated when a trans person was attempting to exercise them. In the midst of this comes the relevant excerpt:
I have no idea because no one here has actually bothered to list even one right that applies to trans people in particular. It’s not like it’s the right to vote, surely.
I listed a number of rights in that discussion. I probably shouldn’t have. The post specifically says “arguments are closed”. There’s a good case to be made that regardless of my particular stance, this was not the thread to make any arguments about trans* persons’ human rights, that in that moment in that thread the valuable thing to do was to simply treat our rights as beyond question. Nonetheless, I took the bait and wrote about the phrase trans rights are human rights.
What I didn’t do is make it personal. aspleen may or may not find me credible, and I’m just a voice on the internet with no way for aspleen to judge my credibility (I might, after all, be a cisgender Black South African who has been lying to everyone about living in Cascadia and has no knowledge of trans persons’ experiences whatsoever). So I wasn’t interested in putting my personal story up for display there, but I do think it’s important to recognize that trans* rights are and have been for decades (if not longer) routinely denigrated and often denied.
So here I want to say that this bit that aspleen thought so ridiculous that it just couldn’t happen? The denial of voting rights to trans* people? Yeah, that was so rampant in the 80s and early 90s that when I came out older trans* people specifically told me that I needed to register to vote absentee so I wouldn’t have to face prejudiced poll workers convinced that I was a man in women’s clothes trying to commit voter fraud.
And yet, I didn’t take that advice right away. But during the spring election in 1996 a poll worker did turn me away. I waited several hours and then returned to the same polling place. I ended up speaking to a supervisor because the worker who turned me away had recorded some kind of note or asterisk warning people that someone was trying to fraudulently vote under my name. Yes, I was ultimately able to vote that day. In legal terms, my right to vote was disparaged. But I was lucky, I was persistent, and I lived in liberal Portland, Oregon. Many people who warned me about this problem had been entirely denied from voting in earlier years, and in the same year but in other countries or other states my persistence might have been more likely to result in arrest than successful voting. With how widespread the opinion was that trans* people should register to vote absentee, it’s impossible that people weren’t frequently denied the vote in the mid 90s, and however much better it’s gotten since (and Oregon has moved to entirely mail-in ballots so this isn’t a problem there anymore) I’m sure it still occurs.
While one of the better responses to my new ID after changing legal gender and legal name was from the woman who helped me change the name on my voter registration, this is another site where violations of voting rights occur. If someone registering you to vote believes your registration is suspicious, it may be held up or denied for fear of fraud. Changing a name from one overtly gendered feminine to one overtly gendered masculine (or vice versa) will easily arouse the suspicions of the bigoted. While I’ve done no research on this topic, I find it implausible to believe that no trans* persons voter registrations have been held up or denied in this way.
To make a long story short, the violation of right that aspleen considered impossible has in fact been common, and even more commonly have trans people been dissuaded from voting, either entirely or merely dissuaded from participating in the public ritual and forced to vote absentee.
There may be some rights which you might hear discussed in relation to trans* persons more frequently, such as public accommodations in the context of public restrooms, but the violations of right are systemic. People have been denied food stamps and other public benefits because officials thought it suspicious that a single social security number was associated with both a feminine and a masculine name. Literally any exercise of right that requires showing ID has been threatened and abridged on account of trans status, experience, or appearance.
Some issues become more prominent in some moments or some political contexts, but if you find yourself imagining that some form of discrimination simply doesn’t affect trans* persons, you really need to think again.
And if you have a personal story to tell about having your rights violated on account of trans* status, experience, or appearance or about witnessing that happening to another person, please feel free to tell that story in the comments so that readers can have an idea of just how many different ways trans* persons rights are violated. aspleen’s failure of imagination should be taken as a rallying cry for ever more and ever better education.