By Cam Ogden
The hearing rooms of the Ohio Statehouse are uncomfortable on their best days and this was one of their worst days. It was late May, the air conditioning was broken, and the room was packed shoulder to shoulder. I had been out publicly as a transgender woman for less than a year, and I was sitting in on a committee hearing for House Bill 454 (a ban on gender-affirming care for those under 18). The meeting only allowed supporters of the legislation to provide testimony. I wasn’t there to stage an elaborate protest, but I still felt it was important to attend.
I knew people that would possibly be forced to leave the state if HB 454 passed. Those kids and their families were paralyzed by fear. The child abuse investigations being levied against families in Texas had started only months earlier and sent a terrifying message to every family in the country with a trans kid. Any public action those families took risked putting a target on their backs.
Being at the hearing might not have made a difference, but I wasn’t willing to watch my friends pack their belongings and move away without trying to help. So when HB 454 was scheduled for a second committee hearing I threw an old blazer on my new body and took the bus to the Statehouse.
Before the committee hearing began, the hallway was filled with legislators talking to their aides, witnesses preparing to speak, and people like me standing around waiting for the doors to open. I met a few people who were also there to be a voice for trans youth. I spoke to some supporters of HB 454 as well, including one woman whose comments on my appearance stuck with me for the rest of the day.
After the woman began talking about the tragedy of detransitoners, I mentioned that I didn’t regret transitioning and most detransitioners didn’t regret it either. In response, I received a condescending smile, “Well right now you’re a beautiful woman.” She said in a voice laced with pity. “I hope you don’t ruin that.”
I battled through a moment of confusion and said something I hoped would come across as diplomatic, “Thank you, I’m a transgender woman and I don’t consider myself ruined.”
My response was unexpected. The woman’s face twisted and I realized she had probably thought I was a transgender man this entire time. My name is androgynous, and I wasn’t dressed in a stereotypically feminine outfit. Part of me felt like laughing, and yet I was frustrated. Moments earlier she had said my feminine features were beautiful, but now her lips were curled in disgust. My body hadn’t changed, only her perception of me. Our conversation withered soon after that, and we said our awkward goodbyes.
During the hearing, witnesses described transgender and detransitioners’ bodies as mutilated, broken, and incapable of experiencing pleasure. One particularly heinous piece of testimony compared puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy to the horrors experienced by victims of the holocaust. It was a torrent of obscene language mixed with misinformation. The language felt crafted to provoke disgust at the trans people sitting in the audience, which included the single detransitioner who gave testimony as a supporter of HB 454.
While listening to the detransitioner give testimony, my mind wandered back to my conversation with the woman in the lobby. The witness spoke about how she was driven to transition by a negative body image which she still struggles with.
Firstly, I thought about the woman I’d spoken to earlier who had implied that to be trans was to ‘ruin’ my beauty. We had just spent hours listening to testimony about detransitioners that repeated the same ideas about bodies that don’t fit into the gender binary. I could hardly imagine how upsetting it might be to willingly surround yourself with people who considered you damaged beyond repair. The onslaught was emotionally draining for me, and I wasn’t even the core focus of their disgust.
However, in the months following this experience at the Statehouse, I did find myself as the focus of a similar form of abusive language. In the process of giving comments at public meetings, I have been referred to as a pest and cockroach. I’ve heard people speculate whether or not I had a ‘wound’ between my legs as I walked by their group. This abusive behavior isn’t just aimed at adults. During this same period, a transgender high schooler was confronted (while they were alone) by an older man who asserted she was trans because she didn’t have a “strong father figure.”
Being treated like roadkill, disgusting, pitiful, and unimportant is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The detransitioners at these hearings and meetings don’t deserve to be treated that way any more than I do.
If I believed I should be dissatisfied with myself, I would have their approval. As it stands, my greatest transgression is not the feminine or masculine attributes I possess, it’s my happiness. When they call me mutilated, or broken, or damaged beyond repair, I say they’re wrong.
Cam Ogden (she/her) is a 22-year-old transgender woman who grew up in central Ohio and has a passion for technology and activism. She is currently a college student and enjoys working with plants and writing. Follow her on socials @camomileogden.