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Everyone Should Be Allowed To Speak on Trans Issues

Transcriptions

By E. Matteo Diaz, Crimson Opinion Writer
E. Matteo Diaz ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Grays Hall. His column, “Transcriptions,” runs bi-weekly on Thursdays.

Harvard has not stopped talking about free speech — more specifically, our ostensible lack of it.

Who is to blame for our campus’s failing speech culture? Some fault institutional DEI initiatives and the advocates who champion them.

According to critics, by drawing sharp distinctions between the oppressed and the oppressor and policing who is entitled to speak on matters of identity, DEI allows identity politics to impede discourse.

These characterizations are extreme and generalized, but they are not entirely wrong. As a transgender person, I’ve seen these dynamics play out within my own community and the dialogue that surrounds it.

When opponents express measured or well-intentioned concerns of trans-inclusive policies — questions about trans participation in women’s sports or gender-affirming care for youth — trans advocates are often quick to shut them down, rather than engage with the nuances their arguments present.

But you shouldn’t need to be trans to speak about trans issues.

It sounds cliché, yet it’s true: more speech is better than less. When we start drawing lines around who can speak and what they can or cannot say, we enter dangerous territory.

In the wake of legislation that directly restricts speech on gender identity, one would expect the trans community to understand the paramount importance of a culture of open inquiry. Even ideas that we find highly disagreeable or offensive can inspire us to better articulate our own ideals. The best response to such speech is engaging in conversation ourselves, rather than promoting censoriousness.

More importantly, dismissing the views of skeptics is detrimental to the well-being of our own community. Trans people represent less than one percent of the population — we cannot afford to be the only people speaking about our needs or the challenges we face. It is in our best interest to engage cisgender people in our struggles for freedom and self-determination.

But the reality is not so simple. Transphobic violence has been on the rise for years. Anti-trans legislation has swept the nation. Coalitions of religious conservatives are leading an all-out assault on trans rights, and on many fronts, they are winning.

Of course, most people fall into a middle ground, somewhere between transphobic crusader and unwavering ally. Many levy criticisms of specific policies in good-faith, without denying trans existence writ large. Some may ignorantly perpetuate transphobic rhetoric in doing so, but this does not mean their concerns don’t warrant serious consideration.

However, in the face of the virulent political attacks against trans people, it can feel nearly impossible to engage with any form of nuance. What makes conversation difficult is not the people with whom we disagree — it is the highly politicized climate in which speech must transpire.

We must confront a very credible fear that if we acknowledge anything short of the most expansive vision of trans liberation, our words will be twisted, rendering us token voices who justify attacks against our community.

In many communities, trans people are few and far between. Too often, those of us who are visible are regrettably expected to serve as representatives for our entire, diverse population — an unachievable goal.

When you’re the only trans person in the room — as I often am here at Harvard — your instinct will always be to fiercely defend your community first, before making space for a nuanced array of perspectives.

This does not mean that we should stop striving for more open discourse. But to get there, we must recognize the uphill battle that trans people are fighting. Because when the stakes are as high as they are — when you are being asked to debate your very existence — remaining perfectly tolerant and open-minded is a tall order.

Trans people should not exclude cis people, even our critics, from conversations about our community. But we can still ask that they engage respectfully and in good faith — while giving credence to trans perspectives.

Identity politics are not perfect, particularly when we let them divide us. But when you are trans you don’t have a choice: The world politicizes your identity for you, and having others recognize your perspective as uniquely informed by lived experience is crucial.

I yearn for a world that is neither blind to my gender nor defined by it. I yearn for a world where I can speak about my community without being treated as its mouthpiece. I yearn for a world where disagreements concern policy, not my existence.

But trans people do not yet live in that world. We live in a world where our identities are constantly debated and attacked, and the stakes could hardly be higher. I understand how dangerous and futile it can feel to converse across disagreement in these conditions — but it is for this very reason that we must persist.

Because it is easy to defend speech when our fundamental rights aren’t up for debate. But that doesn’t mean it is any less important when they are.

E. Matteo Diaz ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Grays Hall. His column, “Transcriptions,” runs bi-weekly on Thursdays.

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