Amanda Wilson: HB2 is a matter of life and death

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 10, 2016

By: Amanda Wilson

Special to the Salisbury Post

I was born at 7:25 on March, 23, 1982 at Rowan Memorial Hospital in Salisbury, North Carolina. The nurse jotted down my time of birth: 7:25. With another pen stroke, she noted my biological sex: Female.

Dad says the official time might be wrong. It could have been 7:20. The nurse might have gotten it wrong. The “female” part, though, she got right.

The reproductive organs I was born with, and the biological sex marked on my birth certificate, all “match” my female gender identity.

And what is gender? It’s something hard to define, perhaps because we don’t talk about it enough in society. It is something social. It’s something personal. It is the combination of projections and perceptions that calibrate where society places us – and where we place ourselves – in the nebulous interlocking realms of what constitutes femaleness and maleness in society.

We all have gender, yet gender identity is unique to each individual.

Sometimes our expressions of gender align with society’s expectations, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes female and male gender identities “match” our reproductive body parts. For transgender men and women, they don’t.

And life just got a lot harder for transgender people in North Carolina.

On my birthday this year, a law passed in North Carolina called H.B. 2 says that transgender men and women have to use bathrooms that match the reproductive organs they were born with.

The law ignores the fact that people can be born with bodies that don’t “match” their gender identity.  Transgender people, just like me, have always had a sense of their gender. Like mine, their gender is so much more than the body they were born with.

Yet I can freely, without judgment, exist in my gender in North Carolina. They can’t.

Opponents of anti-discrimination laws that would give transgender people equal rights say those rights could make bathrooms unsafe. These supporters of H.B. 2 say it protects people. In fact, quite the opposite is true. It sets draconian terms for regulating and discriminating against people who are already likely to be victims of bullying and transphobic or homophobic violence.  It unjustly and brazenly assumes that a particular group of people has tendencies towards violence.

Yet transgender people are more likely to be victims of bullying and murder, and even take their own lives. In the case of a beloved transgender Charlotte teen who was elected homecoming king, he still faced such adversity that he took his own life.

Transgender people need our love and acceptance, not our judgment.

By reducing gender to the reproductive organs we were born with, the new law says our gender is nothing more than what was marked on our birth certificates.

I know in my heart that this is wrong. For me, my gender is so much more than just my body. It is the unique combination of tones, melodies, and rhythms that together, compose the unique song that is my life. It is there when I present myself to others. In my moments of solitude, it is there coding my memories, and when I sleep it runs in the undertow of my dreams.

When I die, long after my body is gone, my gender will remain, shaping the story of who I was.

H.B. 2 ignores the story of gender. It reduces the complex spectrum of diversity that makes our society beautiful to binary groupings of 1 or 2, A or B. It codifies gender into dualistic boxes, wiping out nuances, and leaves no room for the third gender, or androgynous people who identify as neither male nor female gender.

The law sets terms for who people should be, where people can go, and where people can show their true selves. It sets the public up to be “gender judges.”  Not only has the state sanctioned discrimination against transgender people, it is forbidding municipalities from passing nondiscrimination laws that protect the equal rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender people.

By setting limits on identity, and on protections for identity, the law doesn’t just discriminate against transgender people, it sets a dangerous precedent for everyone. It codifies ignorance and embraces simplicity. It chips away at the freedom we should all have to fully express who we really are in society.

And what will we tell our children? “Be yourself, except for this one thing – here read this law quick, you have five minutes.” Some lawmakers had only had five minutes to read the bill before they had to vote on it.

As a person with a gender identity, H.B. 2 terrifies me. For our transgender brothers and sisters, H.B. 2 is a matter of life and death. We owe them, and ourselves, the dignity of setting things right.

Originally from Salisbury, Amanda Wilson is a full-time writer based in Washington, D.C.