My state representative knows my transgender son by name. He makes it a point to shake his hand when we meet him, and pat him on the back. He uses male pronouns and calls him Max, instead of his birth name of Mary Grace. He also signed on as a co-author to HB46, a bill which would strip local municipalities like Fort Worth or Plano of any current non-discrimination ordinances, and prohibit other cities in the state to pass anything similar. This bill would make it legal to discriminate against transgender kids like my son Max, as well as veterans, seniors, and anyone not already protected by federal law.
I would like to believe that my representative cares about Max. But after seeing his name on that bill, my hunch is that he cares more about getting re-elected than he does about doing the right thing.
Those of us who have been following these “bathroom bills” (and I count HB46 as one, even though it’s much broader reaching and would have a much bigger, much more negative effect) all understand that this is nothing more than a political pissing match. Once marriage equality became the law of the land, the far right needed to find another target that would play into their politics of fear: the T in LGBT. Like marriage equality or desegregation, this has nothing to do with “common decency”– but it has everything to do with winning the primaries.
I had hoped that by introducing my transgender child to my representative, he wouldn’t buy into that politics of fear. He would see Max for exactly who he is: a freckle-faced 4th grader who dotes on his little sister and our rescue cats. Max is smart and funny and athletic and kind. And because he is transgender, he is also among the 75% of trans students who report that they don’t feel safe in school, and that maybe — just maybe — that might be something our representative would want to try to address. But the politics of fear is strong, and he knows it gets out the vote.
So he threw my son, and the estimated 145,000 transgender Texans like him, under a bus.
Texas is a heavily-gerrymandered state, and a case will soon be heard at the Supreme Court about this very issue. Governor Abbott refuses to make voter registration easier and more accessible with automatic voter registration (which already successfully exists in 35 other states, red and blue alike), and if you move, your voter ID card is not forwarded to you in the mail. If you end up not voting for a while, you’ll be purged from the whole system. Folks complain that voter apathy is to blame for poor turnout on election day, but that’s not the whole picture: the current political system in Texas is counting on these deliberate acts of voter suppression to stay in power. And when people don’t feel empowered, they’re going to feel apathetic on Election Day. The cycle continues, and things only get worse.
I still believe, however, that the power is in our hands — but only if we vote in the primaries. A lot of Texas politicians know that if they can get through the primaries, they’re pretty much guaranteed an Election Day victory. Ever wonder why the candidates listed on the final ballot are usually so extreme and unappealing? That vetting happened much earlier, back in the primaries, a time when a lot of us just weren’t paying attention. And with extreme groups promising tens of thousands of dollars to candidates if they take a hard stand on something like bathrooms, the allure of the politics of fear becomes even greater. But if we do our research and look at the facts: that there has not been a single case of a transgender person assaulting anyone in a bathroom, that there are already laws in place to protect us against predators in public spaces, and that the vast majority of sexual assault cases are committed by someone we already know and trust (and not by someone putting on a dress and walking into a well-lit public space) — we will come to see this for what it is: a trick to try and get the most extreme voters to cast ballots for the most extreme candidates, all because they have persuaded us to be scared of something that doesn’t exist.
It’s not hard to vote in the primaries — you don’t even need to be registered with a political party. But you do need to pay attention. Pay attention to the distractions that our politicians try to conjure up. Things like this bathroom bill. This isn’t about potties. This is about politics and power. But if we all show up and vote in the primaries, we might actually have a shot of turning this ship around, instead of just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic every November.