California’s School Success and Opportunity Act (AB1266) Will Save Lives

Earlier this week, California governor Jerry Brown signed the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB1266), a bill designed to protect the rights and well being of transgender students in the state of California, into law. The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, co-authored by Senators Mark Leno and Ricardo Lara.  Only 392 words long, this new law amends the state Education Code to ensure trans students are given the same opportunities their cis counterparts have.

The bill ensures that transgender students don’t have to opt out of playing sports, and won’t have to face some of the stresses that go along with transition (in an already stressful time of anyone’s life). Really, though, this bill does one very important thing: it lets trans and gender nonconforming students know that they’re normal, that they don’t have to feel like freaks, that they can be themselves.  41% of trans individuals have attempted suicide at some point in their life, compared to the general population at 1.6%. There is no doubt in my mind that the feelings of shame and hopelessness many young trans people live with factor into the obscenely high rate of transgender suicide attempts.

As someone who hid who she was throughout grade school, high school and even college, I know how hard it can be to concentrate on anything other than surviving from day to day, worrying that something was horribly and irreparably wrong with you. I hated every minute of high school, but not for the typical “I hate high school reasons.” I hated high school because I needed to go through it as someone I knew I wasn’t. When people would say, “these are the best days of your life,” I’d ask myself, “whose life?”

I felt wrong changing for gym in the boys’ locker room. I’d hide behind a locker, change as fast as possible, then get out of there. I just knew I didn’t belong there. There were bullies who physically assaulted me at the first instance of showing anything less than a super masculine personality. Additionally, members of the school football team once urinated on some food I was going to eat, and they would yell things like “field fairy” and “field f*ggot” at me.

I was dead inside. Any picture of me from high school or college will show the same thing: deadness in the eyes. I was rotting, decaying away. Based on how I was treated as a “boy,” I couldn’t imagine how bad it would be if any of my classmates knew that mentally and in my heart, I was a girl.

Every night I would pray to be “cured” of these feelings. I’d pray to be magically transformed into a girl. I’d pray to find harmony as a boy. I’d pray to die and never wake up in the morning. I just wanted anything but what was. Point being: I did not choose this. I did not choose my gender any more than you did.

I didn’t have the courage to tell anyone of my transness. I couldn’t. I was afraid of what the reactions might bring. Would I be locked away? Would I be treated like someone who was mentally ill? Would I face physical violence?

It wasn’t until I was 26 years old that I truly accepted who I was and began taking the steps necessary to be myself.

What this law does is let K-12 children know that being trans is not a sign of being “broken,” that it’s not something you need to lose your life for. These kids can lead a happy and normal life, just like any other student. Knowing that the adults in your life support who you are, knowing that they will accommodate you, that’s such an unbelievably powerful thing.

I didn’t know if the adults (teachers, parents, etc.) would support me or accommodate me. For that reason, I stayed so extremely closeted that I actually believed that was who I was.

Had I known that being transgender was an actual thing, that it was just another way some of us are, maybe I wouldn’t have put off transition so long. Maybe it wouldn’t take crushing depression to get to the point of transition. I might have had the courage to transition at a younger age, experience a happier and healthier childhood, experience better results from hormone replacement therapy.

And maybe, for some other students facing this sort of conflict with their gender identity, maybe they could have been saved from bullying, assault or suicide. This is why the conservative outrage to this new law makes me angry.

Don’t these people, these grown adults, realize that their words come with a body count? Don’t they realize this is a genuine issue that thousands of kids deal with? Don’t they care?

Apparently, it’s more important to keep “traditional” values in place, which seemingly include the “traditional” trans suicide rate of 41%.  Apparently, what used to be called, “providing basic human decency,” is now, “political correctness run amok!” Apparently, it’s more important to indulge ridiculous hypotheticals like, “what if a boy just says he’s a girl one day so he can go in the girl’s bathroom?!” Really, what cisgender boy is going to go through the trouble of getting clinically diagnosed as trans, face the ridicule that being trans brings just to go into a bathroom or a locker room?

Claims and concerns brought on by conservative talking heads are not based in fact. Sadly, though, the trans suicide rate remains all too real.

Thank you, Governor Jerry Brown and the California legislature. You have, without a doubt, saved lives.

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