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For a community that represents such a small percentage of the population – less than one percent – trans people have occupied a strikingly large portion of public and political discourse.
2023 was a record-breaking year for anti-transgender legislation. Five hundred ninety-one anti-trans bills were introduced in state legislatures across the U.S. with 86 passed into law, roughly a three-fold increase from 2022. These bills target every facet of transgender rights, from access to gender-affirming healthcare and public bathrooms to inclusion in athletics and school curricula.
As a transgender person, it has been exhausting to watch my community’s basic rights put into jeopardy and framed as subjects for debate: Should trans people be allowed in public bathrooms? Should we be allowed to play sports? Should we be included in school curricula? Should we have access to healthcare? We are treated like a question to be answered, a problem to be solved.
This approach, produced by a broader societal culture of transphobia, is deeply flawed.
To cast trans rights as a “debate” suggests that the opinions of all parties — however ignorant of the reality of trans existence — are equally deserving of merit and consideration. It implies that there is a trans “question,” that it is not yet answered, and that the right answer may indeed be denying us our rights and refusing to let us participate in society as our complete, authentic selves.
Such rhetoric is dehumanizing and reprehensible, and it does not manifest by accident. Rather, it is part of a deliberate political strategy promulgated by the right.
Republican politicians have chosen trans people as the issue that will rile up their religious, conservative voting base. To do so, they rely on pseudoscience and outrageous falsehoods that generate mass hysteria, including that trans women cause sexual assault when allowed to use women’s restrooms and that babies and children are being “mutilated” by gender-affirming surgeries.
These politicians don’t want people to know that research fails to demonstrate a link between trans-inclusive restroom policies and sexual assault, or that most major medical associations recognize gender-affirming care as medically necessary and existing guidelines ensure such care is safe and developmentally appropriate.
They don’t want people to know that their claims are false because if they can use disinformation to whip the American public into a frenzy, then they can swoop in and play the hero. They can secure votes by promising to solve the trans “problem” with anti-trans legislation, or with our very elimination from society.
Harvard is no safe haven from anti-trans rhetoric — I’ve witnessed it myself. I’ve seen student organizations reject trans identities with celebrations of “Real” Women’s Day, or by inviting transphobic speakers like Riley Gaines, a vitriolic opponent of trans inclusion in athletics who belittles trans people and touts the same alt-right propaganda. I’ve heard my own peers express their frustrations over the “fad” of “mentally-ill” transgender people as they sat across from me in the dining hall.
Trans people exist. We have always existed. Like anyone, we deserve dignity and rights. We deserve to exist freely, without caveats or restrictions.
Ultimately, the framing of trans discourse as a debate will never result in productive discussion because it calls these truths into question — this is where it fails us.
So what’s the answer? We must reframe our conversations.
I recognize that people have concerns about trans inclusion. How can they not, given the ubiquity of anti-trans disinformation? But concerns alone are not necessarily harmful or illegitimate — they can play a valuable role in guiding conversation about positive solutions. The problem occurs when people use their concerns as pretexts for blanket bans on trans people and advocate against our existence.
So, please, raise your concerns, but raise them respectfully. Raise them without villainizing trans people or denying the reality of our experiences.
Rather than calling for the complete removal of trans athletes, let’s discuss how they can be effectively and fairly included in sports. Instead of expelling trans issues from school curricula, let’s talk about what age-appropriate, trans-inclusive discussions of gender in the classroom can look like. Let’s have respectful, nuanced conversations.
This kind of dialogue has long taken place in the trans community, but our reach is limited. We cannot be left to advocate for ourselves alone — we need active investment in trans rights from cisgender people, too.
A better Harvard is within our grasp. I envision a future where I can discuss transness in academic circles without being met with blank stares, where searching “transgender” in my course catalog returns a wealth of responses, where cisgender people on our campus engage meaningfully and consistently with trans issues.
I envision a future where one of the world’s most powerful and well-resourced institutions of higher learning, a leader in so many fields, can be a leader in trans inclusion too.
Harvard needs to start talking about transness. I hope that, by writing this column, I can play a role in catalyzing that positive dialogue. I hope that I can refute the falsehoods being peddled by the right and ease the concerns of those who have fallen prey to propaganda. I hope that I can shine a light on the important issues impacting my community — fundamental ones at play right here at Harvard.
I’m not up for debate, but I can’t wait to start having conversations.
E. Matteo Diaz ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Grays Hall. His column, “Transcriptions,” runs bi-weekly on Thursdays.
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