The art of misdirection is how magicians pull off tricks. It’s deception, right under your nose. Performers draw attention to one subject, using a gesture, noise, or distraction while simultaneously performing another larger trick. It’s all laid out right in front of us; yet by design, we miss the whole thing.
Anti-trans legislation is the misdirection in a larger play to undercut the rights of all people.
The arc of history is a repetitive one. We know that freedom is a constant struggle as political activist and scholar Angela Davis reminds us. That our liberation is all tied together. Unfortunately, we often fall for the same dirty tricks.
Currently, 18 states ban transgender athletes from competing in sports that match their gender identity, but I have to say, I don’t think Republicans actually care about trans athletes. It’s not a real problem. When Republican Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah was presented with a bill to block trans children from competing, it didn’t take him much digging to see the truth:
–75,000 high school kids participating in high school sports in Utah.
–Four transgender kids playing high school sports in Utah.
–One transgender student playing girls sports.
Spencer vetoed that bill on March 23. Three days later, the Republican legislature overturned the veto, signaling to a vulnerable group of children that they don’t belong.
I know from deep personal experience, Republicans do not care about women’s sports. When was the last time they attended a WNBA or NWSL game? Have you heard them propose funding to help grow youth girls’ sports? How many of them could even name 10 women Olympians?
What they do care about is simple and allows for singular, relentless focus. The consolidation of power. And they’ll use women’s sports as yet another quick gesture to trick people into giving them that power.
Public fight turns personal
We have to see beyond what’s right in front of us. In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and federally granted same-sex couples the right to marry. The tide of public opinion had shifted and it was clear acceptance of same-sex couples across the nation was inevitable. People started to have sisters, cousins, co-workers and children come out – that made a public fight suddenly feel very personal.
For a moment, it felt like maybe the LGBTQ community was making hard-fought progress that would continue.
Then the Republicans pivoted.
In 2017, HB2, the first “bathroom bill,” emerged in North Carolina. We watched in pain as the same strategies were applied to a different facet of the LGBTQ community. We watched in horror as people once again fell for them. The dangerous fictitious lesbian “villain” from the locker rooms of the past, the one parents were supposed to fear, had been recast into a trans super villain who wanted to use the restroom with your daughter.
It didn’t matter that none of the fear they were selling was real. The way same-sex marriage wasn’t an affront to anyone’s union, trans people aren’t a threat to womanhood – and it doesn’t matter.
Fear sells, it spreads. It morphs and shape shifts to one size fits all, and Republicans are seasoned magicians creating new tall tales under the guise of unity, fairness, and protecting women.
In 2020, while the country shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, the first anti-trans sports legislation passed. The “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” was signed into law in Idaho in March under the guise of protecting women and girls. A shiny misdirection that had people staring one way, while in the other direction laying the groundwork to strip away much more.
The fine print of this legislation, and another that recently passed in Ohio, would allow an unspecified adult to inspect not only trans kids but your cis straight daughter’s genitals should there be a “dispute” – one that isn’t hard to imagine for women who grew up playing sports, hearing how they were “a boy” running up and down the soccer field or basketball court. These attacks are not only targeted at the trans community. Republicans want us debating the merits of trans people in sports while they pass disgusting bills like this that affect everyone’s children and everyone’s rights.
All rights are at stake
Of course, it doesn’t end there.
In Texas, loving families are being investigated by the government for how they’re choosing to support their child. Yes, the state’s child welfare agency actually went to homes to inspect and interview them. Some have even included surprise visits to children’s schools. All for affirming a child’s existence.
Make no mistake: Republicans are coming for all of our rights. Yours, too.
It’s not lost on me that all of this is happening while we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX and mourn the ever-eroding access to reproductive freedom in this country. Title IX is inclusive progressive policy. It gave access to millions of women and girls who just one generation before were banished to the sidelines. It opened doors, and women came bursting through.
Freedom starts in your own body. It begins in the walls of a home. If we aren’t free to decide what’s right for our own flesh and the same for our children, nothing beyond that is true freedom. Stripping those freedoms starts with our bodies, too.
It starts at the margins, chipping away slowly – at access to hormones, what can be inside your body – and builds, like a pot of boiling water to a destructive roil that consumes: birth control, condoms, who you can love, how you can raise your children, what can be taught in schools. These aren’t secret ambitions. Republicans have said the desire to overturn Loving v. Virginia, granting interracial couples the right to marry, Roe v. Wade, which made abortion a right and was overturned on June 24, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed gay marriage.
Returning power back to the states is their argument. One fraught in the ability to strip people of their bodily rights, their ability to vote, and a guaranteed way for Republicans to consolidate power.
They’ve tipped their hand, gotten sloppy perhaps or have just gotten bolder to see what they can get away with. Jan. 6, 2021, the ultimate attempt in consolidating power. We witnessed in shock people storm the capital, with odd precision, to not let an election be codified. The hearings are currently underway, and we recently learned of six Republican senators who asked for pardons under then-President Trump. Six. Where will they stop? What incentive do they have?
It took both Loving and Obergefell to make the union between me and my wife legal. Two protections under the law so a black queer person and a white queer person could marry and have access to the benefits it grants under the law. It took Title IX to allow me to step on a court. Freedom requires constant vigilance and it requires intentional protections.
So trust us that we would know first when it’s slipping away.
Layshia Clarendon is the first openly non-binary, transgender player in the WNBA and a staunch advocate for the LGBTQ community. Follow them on Instagram at @layshiac