I Am You, We Are Human [An Essay by Skylar Bauer]

I Am You, We Are Human
Written by Skylar Bauer

“Sometimes, I wish that I could just live,” 
-Ryan Cassata, “Hot Springs, Arkansas”

On Sunday, the 21st of October 2018, I woke up in AD’s bed to my phone alarm, but my phone was wedged between his bed and the wall. I stuck my arm in the tiny gap and felt for the buzzing while the “Morning Flower” tone chimed repeatedly. It was enough to give anyone a headache. Awake for not even 30 seconds and having to search for a phone in this dark crevice? No thanks. I’d rather stay asleep.

Eventually, I found it. I pushed it around, unable to grasp it for a bit, but I slowly found a grip and pulled it up carefully. With grim satisfaction, I turned off the alarm, rolled over to bury my face in AD’s chest, and said, “Well. Good morning, I guess.”

With that, we were awake. It’s funny that sometimes you can turn off an alarm without ever waking up. I know the panic of realizing you’ve slept through an alarm only too well. That morning, though, I wished for a quieter alarm.

AD and I lazed around for a bit, but we had a lot planned for the day, so we reluctantly dragged ourselves out of the warmth of his brand new blankets and went to the living room. He gave me a pumpkin muffin and made instant coffee as I dove for the blanket on the couch, already shivering.

“Ba-abe,” AD dragged out the ‘a’ sound in a fake-annoyed singsong. “You have to eat your muffin.” He picked up the muffin and shoved it into my face, and I laughed and took a bite. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to feed me, and it hasn’t been the last, either. We sat next to each other on the couch for a while; he turned on one of the Netflix John Mulaney specials, and I ate my muffin and drank my coffee.

After the Netflix special was over, we got ready to brave the cold outside. We each bundled up as much as we could, and we went out to my car for errands. I drove us to Goodwill first. I was working on minimizing how much *stuff* I have, so I had a trash bag full of clothes in my backseat to donate. Next, we went to Half-Price Books, avoiding the traffic cones from the marathon on Lane Avenue. AD brought the books I wanted to sell up to the counter and gave them his ID. I didn’t want them to page me over the speaker when they were done looking through my books because they would’ve called for the name on my license, a name I don’t respond to.

We looked around as we waited, him in the travel section, and me in the African American nonfiction section. I was scanning for interesting-looking memoirs. He wanted a book about Peru–we’re planning on travelling to Lima together. Neither of us found anything we really wanted to purchase, so we collected the receipt for $15 and the bags we brought the books in, and we went to the front register, got the money, and left.
Next was haircuts. I parked back at his apartment, and we walked up to the shop on High Street. We checked in, and, for the first time that day, I pulled out my phone to check social media.

I was sitting in the black, hard plastic chair, scrolling through Twitter when I saw it. I can’t remember exactly what the tweet said, something about how if you’re trans and need extra support today, that tweeter is there for you. I showed it to AD. “Hey, do you know what this is about?”

“Oh, there’s a New York Times article today about ‘redefining’ trans people. I didn’t actually read it. I just saw the headline,” he said in a muted voice. I don’t know if he was quiet for the benefit of those around us in the little salon or if it was out of sadness at the news. Most likely, he didn’t even mean to be quiet; that’s just how he normally speaks.
One of the women cutting hair called for him. He got up and went to her chair, leaving me to find and read the article. I pulled it up and started skimming. My eyes devoured the text, not really believing what was in front of me. It wasn’t sinking in. It seemed fake, like something that doesn’t happen today, or in real life.

“For the last year, the Department of Health and Human Services has privately argued that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity or even homosexuality, and that the lack of clarity allowed the Obama administration to wrongfully extend civil rights protections to people who should not have them.” That’s what the article says. “People who should not have [civil rights].” Is that even a possibility? That anyone should not have civil rights?

I was furious, not about the implications of this article on my life or even my boyfriend’s, but about this idea that anyone could be stripped of basic human respect. Even death row inmates are given a last meal. Even the dead are left intact if they haven’t checked off “Organ Donor” on their ID.

A nameless man interrupted my reading. “Hon? Skylar?” Time for my haircut. I was so angry that I just closed the article. I didn’t want to finish it. I was happy to lose my place.
This haircut was big for me. It was the haircut that I meant to use as a way to start maybe passing as a man sometimes. It was even more important in light of the article. As I sat there with the razor to my head, though, instead of being excited, I was thinking back on some of the things the article had skated over.

By creating no legal space for a transgender person, the article said, transgender people have no protection under Title IX. If Title IX doesn’t apply to me, anyone could rape me. Legally. Sexual assault against a trans person might no longer be officially labelled sexual assault. Sound familiar yet?

After the haircut, I was on a kind of a high. I briefly forgot about the article in light of my much more masculine hairstyle and AD’s nearly endless stream of soft screams and exclamations that, “you’re so cute!” and, “what a handsome man!” We walked across the street to Taco Bell, and we both doubled our normal orders. We ate ravenously, but we were talking about the article again by the time we were done. As much as we wanted to, we couldn’t suppress the fear the article inspired. That conversation felt nervous and hushed, like we were in a dystopian novel, hiding from the powers that be.

Is this our lives now? Will they try to force us to say we’re women? The scariest part isn’t what they’ve done or are trying to do. The scariest part is wondering what’s coming next.
* * *
Monday afternoon, in my poetry class, we discussed the article. The majority of my classmates spoke up, angry. On the 17th, we had gone over a poem I wrote about being trans and the hatred I’ve experienced because of it. People were citing my poem, calling the bio-essentialism of the article “utter bullshit.”

Kevin, the professor, passed around a copy of a similar memo, taking all civil rights from trans people. Any guesses where the memo came from? Nazi Germany. Kevin predicted that’s where this country is heading, especially if we don’t vote.

The people who spoke up were furious. For a moment, I was even able to stop being afraid. I got angry with them. Nobody can just define us out of existence. We will always be here; we will always be fighting. Marsha P. Johnson threw the first brick. We will follow her example, and our voices will be heard.

If you’re trans and comfortable being out, don’t back down. Be as loud as possible. We need each voice. 1.4 million trans Americans sounds like a lot until you realize that’s less than half of a percent of the population. Each voice means so much. No contribution or person is too small.

If you’re cisgender (not trans), join us in speaking up. We need all the allies we can get. Your voice matters, too.

And if you’re trying to take our rights away, remember: You can’t erase us.

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