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Perspective: I will not ‘Disagree Better’ about transphobia

Editor’s note: This post contains references to suicide. If you or someone you know has experienced suicidal ideation, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or reach the Student Health Center at (202)994-5300 and ask to speak to a counselor.

Being transgender is exhausting and scary. As a nonbinary person, I advocate for my mere right to exist on a daily basis. 

Politicians are even trying to criminalize my existence by introducing over 496 anti-trans bills in 2024 alone. Transgender people are under attack, both with legislation and physical violence. Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died this month after they were assaulted in their school’s bathroom.

At the core of transphobic discrimination is a basic yet dangerous misunderstanding of who transgender people are. False and violent rhetoric spread about the transgender community does not protect children — it kills them. And yet, GW invited an openly transphobic politician to speak on campus.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox called gender-affirming health care “genital-mutilation surgeries” in a School of Media & Public Affairs event Wednesday. The event was titled “Disagree Better,” but I cannot disagree better with a person who openly denies transgender individuals the right to live.

Cox signed statewide bills last year that banned gender-affirming health care for minors and required transgender people to use the bathrooms that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. It is not a coincidence that Nex was brutally beaten in a bathroom in a state with identical anti-trans bathroom legislation.

Bathrooms are where I often face discrimination and harassment based on my identity. The idea that bathrooms only exist for women and men is just one sliver of the messaging I receive every day telling me I don’t exist. Either GW did not do its research on Cox, or the University deliberately ignored his transphobia. I do not know which is worse, but I do know that GW does not see, care for, or protect me.

That Cox equated gender-affirming care to genital mutilation proves how transphobia is rooted in incendiary fallacies. In 2022, 94 percent of transgender and nonbinary Americans reported being happier after they transitioned, and 30 of the leading medical associations in the United States support gender-affirming care. Cox also claimed that “no one” in Utah has died by suicide due to lack of access to gender-affirming care. But 61 percent of transgender students in Utah seriously considered suicide at some point in 2023.

Gender dysphoria is different for everybody. For me, it is an excruciating experience that weighs me down daily. My voice leaves my mouth and sounds like someone else’s. I feel forced to live in a shell that isn’t mine. And while I struggle with feeling detached from my body, I still wholeheartedly love my identity. It brings me such euphoria to shave my head and hear my they/them pronouns used. My life is richer and more fulfilling when I am embraced with the same love and affirmation for my identity as I hold for myself.

Gender affirmation is essential to my existence. Policies that ban gender-affirming care increase depression and suicidality among transgender and nonbinary youths. Rather than perpetuating the false narrative that transgender people are confused or coerced into irreversible body mutilations, understand that denying transgender people gender-affirming care denies them the chance to live a healthy, authentic and fulfilling life.

Gender-affirming care includes physical and mental resources that affirm one’s identity. A queer therapist saved me when I studied abroad and experienced the worst transphobia I ever have. Whether it is top surgery or seeing a queer therapist, gender-affirming care is not the dangerous weapon transphobes pretend it is — it is life-saving care.

Cox deliberately lied about my community and gender-affirming care. Transgender people are not advocating for nor experiencing genital mutilation, but the binary construction of gender does lead to Intersex Genital Mutilation. 1.7 percent of the population is born intersex — a combination of male and female biological traits — yet they are often subjected to nonconsensual surgery that changes their external genitals to fit into either the category of male or female.

Gender, as socially constructed and upheld by Cox, forces people into an oppressive hierarchy in which women fall below men and gender-diverse individuals do not even exist. Transgender people always have and always will exist, no matter how hard politicians try to use a binary to eradicate us.

Even if politicians do not acknowledge my identity, I just want to feel safe existing as a transgender person. The University deliberately contributed to violence and discrimination against my community. GW must take responsibility for giving Cox a platform to endanger transgender students and address the harm his words caused.

I am constantly engulfed in rhetoric that not only denies my existence but actively tries to eradicate it. People like Cox continue to paint gender-affirming care and transgender people as dangerous, but I am simply asking for the right to live.

Members of my community are dying while politicians like Cox claim they “care deeply about these kids.” As I mourn the death of Nex, I implore University officials to recognize that transgender students are people worthy of love and in need of protection.

Nex deserved so much better. May they rest in power.

Riley Goodfellow, a senior majoring in political science, is the contributing opinions editor.

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