By Katelyn Burns
As this year’s state legislative sessions begin taking shape, conservative politicians have renewed their regular attacks on the legal personhood of trans people. Buoyed by their success in banning transgender girls from girls and women’s sports in their last session, dozens of state legislators have renewed their attacks on gender-affirming care for minors and have even expanded into bans for adult transition care.
Alongside the care bans are sweeping restrictions on drag shows, which, if interpreted broadly, could be construed in some cases to ban transgender presentation in even everyday life situations The utter despair caused by this wave of legislation is reflected in a recent VICE piece, which discussed how some trans people in the US are considering applying for asylum abroad in order to flee the conservative onslaught here.
I understand the instinct to flee to safety, and I don’t think it’s a bad idea for those who can manage to do so, but I think Americans rushing to apply for asylum right now is a mistake. For one thing, seeking asylum is an arduous process and you’ll spend years in a camp or government facility, unable to work while the paperwork is processed.
For another, Americans would be taking time and valuable asylum spots away from trans people from even more dangerous places on this planet. Trans people in the middle east, for example, are regularly hunted by local police forces who then forcibly try to convert them to cisgender heterosexuality while in prison. I’ve heard many stories of trans women who were arrested, their heads forcibly shaved, and released only when they promised the government they will live as men for the rest of time.
Don’t forget that there are currently trans women in Central America and the Middle East who would gladly take a residence spot in the US even today.
We are not yet close to that point in the US, though there’s no doubt that there are American conservatives who would salivate at making life here even more unsafe for trans people. Despite the Twitter rhetoric, the US is not in a “Germany circa 1929” scenario for trans people right now. Making people panic over bills that we have no way of knowing will pass can cause real harm.
If you must flee a conservative state, I would suggest looking at a safer blue state like California, New York, Illinois, or even somewhere like New Mexico. The move itself will be much cheaper than going through the asylum process and the culture will be much easier to assimilate into.
But no talk of fleeing dangerous states is complete without mentioning a great many people who simply cannot leave where they live. It may be because of money, or lack of a support system elsewhere, or just downright geographic inertia, but most trans people simply do not want or have the means to escape.
According to a recent Harvard study, 60% of all young people live within 10 miles of where they grew up. This is likely also true for many trans people despite our propensity to often run away from unsupportive family environments toward greener—and queerer—pastures.
When others ask us trans pundits what to do, and our only answer is to move away, how are people who can’t move supposed to react to this? Many respond with absolute despair and hopelessness, which is a dangerous combination for a community that’s no stranger to suicidality.
The trans community has had it much worse than this even within my own lifetime as a millennial. For example, Black trans women have lived under worse conditions than white trans women for as long as I’ve been alive.
Instead of suggesting people seek asylum in strange lands, we should be organizing to support trans people through the worst of these bills’ effects. That includes mutual aid for trans people who can’t find work because of their identity, which means working to keep trans sex workers safe, which means maybe organizing elicit underground HRT supply systems. What we need more than anything else is community defense. We can’t just abandon each other as soon as the pot starts boiling around us.
Katelyn Burns (she/her) is a freelance journalist and columnist for MSNBC. She was the first openly transgender Capitol Hill reporter in US history.