We Won't Let Anyone Slip Through the Holes in the Grates

I woke up one morning to find out⁠ that my government was trying to erase me.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced something like that, like the pressing knowledge that your right to healthcare, education, and your right just to take up space might be gone soon, but it’s alarming.

I reached out to my trans and gender nonconforming⁠ friends online that morning, joking and laughing about “Daddy Trump taking away our rights." What are you supposed to do when everything you have fought for, a place in society, spaces you claim, and labels you can apply to yourself, are all just a whisper from being taken away from you? While I know there’s lots of talk about “slacktivism," sometimes it is empowering just to see others’ outrage and assure yourself that we won’t allow this to happen; to retweet to express your fury.

Queer people have known silence, for centuries we’ve known it, and we know that it only leads to pain. But, of course, when fear manifests itself as anger, that anger will never be a balm for the fear.

That's how I found myself refreshing and refreshing my timelines, angry at cisgender⁠ friends who said nothing, but also angry at those who did for making me look at it, like scratching an open wound, raw and bleeding in the cold air, where all my parents could ever say was “Don’t think about it.”

Offline, there's small talk and laughing and all things terrifyingly normal. I want to scream, but it’s not polite. Online, though, I was running with my mouth the way I tend to do. I was writing like I’ve just finished a marathon and the words are about to run out and give in; grasping for something that would make me feel that everyone else was drowning like I was.

That night there was a protest in Washington Square and going there was like a brief breath of air, and there we all were shouting that we will FIGHT BACK. I grinned with hopeless abandon, while people took pictures of my sign. I gave hugs. It was so cold out. I felt dizzy with the weight of it all. I walked up to Adam Eli with my friend. “We’re gay⁠ and Jewish too!” she shouted, and we hugged, and I was laughing as he gave me M&Ms. It’s hard to explain such a space and what it means aside from what probably sounds like too-simple examples. We walked up to some people jumping in the cold. “I’m Steph!” my friend yelled. “I’m Sam!” they replied. “What are your pronouns!” Lovely, lovely, lovely.

The night ends of course, and we wake up to the Twitter hellstorm, and the UN documents, and everything, and of course I am still furious. I still feel terrified, but I have embraced my community in the bitter cold, and I have devoted myself to my people, especially those unlike me, the people of color, the broke, the unsafe.

There’s no way to end this on a good note, but maybe we can just face the bitter cold, and hope for the best. This is not to say we are not fighting; we will, we must. But I am allowing myself to grieve and be scared and hug my friends and let them know I am here for them. I remember there are better times and there are worse times, and I do what I can, but mostly I try to reach out into that infinite nothing to recklessly scream.

I do this because the moment I stop is the moment I am dead.

It’s hard to talk about this kind of news, especially to try to make cisgender people understand it, but I am trying to translate that pain into words for you. Hopefully you can understand that we are reeling, but not because we are weak, but because even the strong need a hug sometimes. I wish into the big blue universe for the gift of empathy and understanding. I wish that while it might seem easy to just accept or ignore it, and to keep doing your thing despite what the government says, you see and care that every fiber of my being says that it isn’t right.

What it means, if the final nail in the coffin wasn’t apparent enough, is we are living in Susan Faludi’s Backlash. I know to get better sometimes it has to get worse, but sometimes it’s bad enough. Sometimes it’s really bad enough. But every morning I still wake up, still pull on my binder⁠ , and my armor, and my coat, and I go out into that world that wishes I wouldn’t, that I would lie back down in bed and be quiet. I even let people hate me, even when it pokes at my soul like the holes in my pocket where things fall through. Because I know there are those who I can hold in warm embrace who know my struggle, and those who can love me in spite of it. Even if I must hug myself and be my own life jacket, I will, and even if I must make myself small in the face of life sometimes I will never allow myself to truly disappear.

I know that’s not what you want to hear from me: you probably want to hear a slogan, an indeterminate statement of strength, but it’s not what I can give you. I can give you my honesty, though, and honestly? I am terrified. But the fact that I keep stepping into that fear is proof that I will not give up, and those stronger than me especially won’t. So while the cold encroaches where I am, I hope we can all hold tight. It might be howling down 10th avenue, or wherever you are, but I pray you hold tight.

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  • Ellis Schwamm

I’d like to have a frank discussion with you about where these anti-trans bills come from, what you can do to be informed about the rhetoric surrounding them, and how you can affirm yourself and practice self-care while you may hear and feel so many people being non-supportive or outright hateful about trans and gender-nonconforming people.