It’s now considered impolite to call transgender people names in public, but we’re still treated like subhuman beasts.
Recently, as I was descending a long flight of stone stairs, an older colleague behind me stumbled, slipped, and began to fall. I heard the scrape of his shoe losing traction behind me, the awkward heavy step as he began his plunge, and I acted without thinking. I couldn’t see what was happening, but I twisted, braced my feet, opened my arms, and caught him an embrace. I stood him upright, then quickly let him go and took a hasty step back.
“I’m sorry,” I said hurriedly.
“Why?” he asked. “You probably just saved me from being seriously hurt or killed.”
I said nothing, but in truth I knew the answer. In the back of my mind, I can never forget that I am a monster to not just half the population, but to the people in charge of the legislative and executive branches of government and most churches. In 49 states, the fact that I can be killed for touching a cisgender person simply because I am transgender is a valid, viable, and effective legal defense.
In times past, those afflicted with leprosy were supposed to cry out wherever they went, “Leper! Outcast! Unclean!” Transgender women are expected to do the same, for the good of all the real humans out there, of course. In bathrooms, in school, on Match.com, in sports, we are expected to announce ourselves like bearers of a terrible plague or face the wrath of those fortunate enough not to be monsters for “tricking” them.
Those who see us as monsters do not care whether we act like monsters or not. They will thank us sincerely for our service and all those tours in the sandbox one moment, then condemn us even more fiercely the next when they learn we are transgender. It does not matter whether I go to church, pay my taxes, treat people the way they would want to be treated, and love my children and raise them well — I am a monster and will always be one.
There is nothing more dangerous and terrifying than us. We are the thing that lives under the bed and devours children in the night. According to the pope, our existence pronounces a doom upon humanity and is an existential threat to be eradicated, for the good of all the real and good humans. This is why the Southern Baptist Convention tells parents it is better to let their children die than to become a monster like me, despite the fact that we have existed in other cultures, side by side with billions of people, for millennia. This does not dissuade them; “natural law,” God, and their convictions are on their side.
They hate the young monsters the most, however. Because they don’t look like monsters. They don’t sound like monsters are supposed to sound. They don’t act like monsters are supposed to act. They live in mortal fear that naïve and foolish humans will think that these young transgender kids aren’t really monsters and might accept them into human society.
The real humans use their churches to mobilize armies to strike down the horrors that look, sound, and act exactly like innocent 7-year-old children. They are a righteous brigade bent on banishing a mighty and dangerous foe. It is their goal to drive all of us, young and old, into our troll holes, never to emerge into the sunlit world again.
They cannot be diverted from their implacable mission. They freely admit that nothing on heaven or earth can dissuade them from obliterating this transgender scourge. Nothing in science or religion will convince them that there is an ounce of humanity or worth in the life of such monsters. They are convinced that we exist only to be driven out or destroyed.
They are convinced that monsters are all liars as well, who will do anything to persuade people not to slay them. We are those who invoke science and point out the good things they have done; people who have families, live quietly and peacefully among the real humans for decades, and believe that all sentient life is equally valuable. What else would you expect, coming from beings of such pure evil? To the real, good humans these are obvious untruths designed to prey on the two human weaknesses of empathy and pity.
They are too smart for these tricks, of course. They have slain other monsters in the past and claim to now regret it. But this time, this time for certain, history will bear out the nobility of their deeds, for God and the fate of humanity are on their side.
No one seems to ask what it is we monsters fear, however.
It isn’t some creeping horror under our beds. It’s not something hiding in our closet; those were aerated and thrown wide open long ago. We don’t have to turn out the lights to imagine what scares us. It’s all around us, every day, all the time in our waking world. Our stuff of nightmares is in the news, in our schools, where we work, in the churches, and in our government.
We fear the real, “good” humans who outnumber us 200 to one. They have untold wealth, numbers, and power to throw at us. By their own admission, nothing in this universe can dissuade them from hunting down and eradicating all of us. They hate us simply for being monsters. They will never see us as another type of human. Nothing we can do or say will deter them or convince them of the validity of our lives and experiences. They are without pity or remorse, will never stop, and will never question the morality of what they have done until it is too late.
They are truly the stuff of nightmares.
When monsters look more human than the human monsters, all monsters are human.
Thank you to Brynn Tannehill for generously allowing us to reprint this article.
BRYNN TANNEHILL graduated from the Naval Academy in 1997 before serving as a campaign analyst while deployed overseas. She later worked as a senior defense research scientist in private industry; she left the drilling reserves and began transitioning in 2010. Since then, she has written for OutServe, The New Civil Rights Movement, Salon, Everyday Feminism, The Good Men Project, Bilerico, and The Huffington Post.