I am always one to loathe hyperbolic ranting and spurious comparisons. So when people start calling everything fascist when it’s not, communist when it’s not, a war crime when it's simply a crime, I roll my eyes. The one that always makes me grind my teeth is when people say America is a police state.
When Donald Trump got elected some people started breaking out the 1984 references, which was annoying mostly since the George Orwell novel is about communist totalitarianism. Which most certainly is not Trump's thing.
However, when Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, a man with the kind of name you find in a first draft of a William Faulkner novel, announced that the Department of Justice would no longer use Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to defend the rights of transgender people from discrimination, I paused.
Trump, through Sessions and others, has begun the process of “unpersoning” transgender people. Unpersoning, a term first found in 1984, is the process of not only eliminating a person but removing them from existence, as if they never existed at all. By saying it's OK to deny us employment, education, and health care, Trump is starting the process. Without money we couldn't fund further activism and build networks, much less not live in poverty and survive only through government assistance or sex work. A trans sex worker = double unperson.
By denying students protection under Title IX, we’re driven into the shadows at schools and if we are out, we can face cruelties of which bathrooms are only one aspect. When the DOJ declined to appeal a court order halting access to transgender health care under the Affordable Care Act, it took away our rightful access to not merely hormones and surgery but mental health care and exposed us to discriminatory treatment by medical providers.
When the Department of Housing and Urban Development withdrew policies to protect homeless LGBTQ people, it was making efforts to deny those of us, far too many of us, who simply need a shelter from the weather; it was relegating the most marginalized of us to the streets and underpasses.
Trump then took the step of trying to remove transgender people from the military, a place where even the most down and out can find a stable career. It's the place where the post-World War II civil rights movement began, with desegregation.
Yet the greatest example of unpersoning transgender people is the most overlooked and the most nefarious. The U.S. Census Bureau retracted its plans to clearly include LGBTQ identity in the 2020 Census, which would give the greatest opportunity to know the true number of people in our community. By refusing to even count us, it can deny we even exist in numbers worthy of noticing.
While I would not go so far as to say that the people behind all of this would prefer it if we were all rounded up and sent away to camps in Wyoming and Alaska, to be put out of sight and out of mind, I have no doubt many on the right would be fine with this. It would be morally outrageous to all but the most cruel and bigoted Americans to do such a thing, but many would be perfectly fine if we simply weren’t seen or heard.
By removing us from the workforce, relegating us to the streets where the marginalized are already ignored, denying us access to medical care, education, government service, and refusing to count us, we become an issue they can ignore. With suicide and homicide taking far too many of us already with no great interest from law enforcement, these numbers would only grow. It’s much easier for them if we die by our own hands or can be waved away as a criminal; their consciences can be clear of guilt.
It’s easier to create a permanent underclass out of us as we slowly kill ourselves through drinking and drugs to ease our despair and devour ourselves with crime committed through desperation than to do it themselves. Then when we do gain their attention, they can point to all of this as a moral failing because of our identity and culture, perhaps even something in our genes, a flaw in our birth that makes us clearly an inferior people. It would justify the harsh treatment we would receive from the justice system and the violence directed against us when we get out of line.
I wonder where I’ve seen such a thing before. I know there is something familiar about such an unpersoning of an entire group of people, but I can’t seem to put my finger on it. Maybe if such a group existed I wouldn’t know, since they’ve been erased. Relegated to the margins and forgotten down the memory hole.
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @Amanda_Kerri.