• R E J Saunders

Being trans is a political act


When your very identity is defined by the state, at what point does it become political? As much as being non-cis is a personal journey from the city of security into the vast wilds of gender exploration, when your government bounds and borders it with laws, you invariably become a symbol of something political whether you desire it or not. To traverse genders is to enter into a realm of laws, social ideologies and cultural misunderstands, it is to put your life and wellbeing into the hands of servants of the State, to acknowledge that you, I, are no longer free to simple exist beyond the State’s touch.


By becoming political beings we are invariably tossed on the winds of whims and mimsy. Trans folk, from those in deep stealth to outrageous gender rebels, are squared against all the winds blowing in the media, on social, and in legislatures. At the most extreme we face state sanction murder, conversion therapy, a stranger’s full-throated malice, and death at the hands of people who have made us the enemy. All for simply living our authentic lives.


It gets better assumes that being a political being is somehow tempered by experience and coping mechanisms. Of course it gets better, at least or some of us, but the dirty secret of trans lives is that the better is always at the mercy of those who could flip the laws to make us reviled and outsiders once more. Our political actions are the everyday, the workaday, the mere walking into shops, playing sports, and raising children. To exist outside the cis city on the hill is to be one step away from a social landmine. At least with landmines you get empathy and sympathy in seeking to clear them.


Political bodies can be excised with the swipe of a pen. Hannah Arendt laid out eloquently in Origins of Totalitarianism just how ease it is for a country to backslide from assimilation into murder. No person is safe as long as their identity is considered political. My body is at the mercy of their whims, our trans identities depend on the political goodwill of others just so I can sleep safe at night. Not so long ago I could face imprisonment or worse. Not so long ago.

We hope our dreams will life us above the political, that somehow our trans lives will in fact transcend the blood and fists. Yet, peace is just a tweet away from shattering into dark spirals and depressive clouds. One does not need to push the knife to drive a death, and in this social media age identity trench warfare has uncounted political casualties. It is no longer just states that sanction, but the mob whipped up in digital form to hound and harangue.


Of course we survive, for how else could we not? Being political is as much as an act of resistance, rebellion, against those oppressive forces arrayed against us. For many trans folk our lives are calm with a modicum of chop thanks to those who arrayed against the State in years past, their political acts freed us from the worst of the storm. Yet. Yet, by stepping outside the cis city walls into this vast gender hinterland there is always the risk that the storm will whip up and rage once more.


Political acts take courage, and by forcing trans folk to be courageous society assumes that only the bravest will take that next step. By othering those who step outside cis boundaries those who cannot or unable to do so are the collateral damage, an acceptable casualty list to reinforce normality, whatever that means. Just because a thing is a certain way right now, does not mean it will be so tomorrow. By doing our political acts now trans folk fight back with the hope that tomorrow it flows into the new normal. Our threads run through society’s tapestry no matter how marginalised the State tries to make us, so until the day arrives where being non-cis is fully part of the weave we will always be political because they make us so.

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