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We are visibly human: An essay for TDoV

On this Trans Day of Visibility, let's resolve to stop spreading the “tall tales” of transphobia.

Karleigh Webb posed for this selfie with Connecticut high school track stars Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller.
Karleigh Webb posed for a selfie with two champions: Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller in 2019.
Karleigh Webb

It’s Transgender Day of Visibility, so why do I feel like I need a cloaking device?

The scoreboard shows 29 states where legislation targeting transgender people are either passed or going through the legislative process. Young trans people are catching the brunt of this through banning kids from playing sports in their schools or threatening to slap handcuffs on their doctor.

Imagine throwing healthcare professionals in jail, during a global pandemic, for doing what every major medical organization says you should do in regards to affirming health care.

Loving sports as a competitor, fan and journalist, the sports bans are the biggest punch in the mouth. It’s the way that its portrayed that sticks in my craw.

“Do you want to see some 6’4” 250 ‘trans woman’ beating up on your little girl?”

“Seeing some oversized ‘biological male’ stealing a scholarship away that a “real girl” needs!”

“It’s trans athletes versus women!”

I think the people who are pushing this watched too many of those late-night monster movies. Trans Athletes vs. Women? Thats sounds a lot like Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla
This is the way it seems some people see transgender people... as monsters.
Photo by LMPC via Getty Images

Yet to certain types that is how people like myself are seen — by design.

But dehumanizing the victim makes things simpler. It’s like breathing with a respirator. It eases the conscience of even the most conscious and calculating violator. Words can reduce a person to an object, something more easy to hate. An inanimate entity, completely disposable, no problem to obliterate. — “Language of Violence” by The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, 1992.

The high-powered anti-LGBTQ lobbies, some of them classified as hate groups, employ exactly what this verse discusses in the open. Marching lock-step with them are the much- discussed TERF — Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist — brigades, and various internet/Twitter transphobe clickbait bandits.

“Those transgenders are gonna take over women’s sports.”

“Your daughter might lose a scholarship to a trans!”

It’s the same unflattering pictures of the same targets over and over again across the social media sphere. Each one another stabbing wound. Each one sending the same, transphobic fear mongering message.

Chelsea Mitchell Terry Miller Connecticut
High school girls racing down the track. Some people want you to be afraid of one of them.
Photo by Christian Abraham, Courtesy of CT Post, Hearst Connecticut Media, used with permission.

Barbara Erhardt, the Idaho Republican state legislator who first put through the Alliance Defending Freedom-engineered ban on school sports last year, wilfully demeans a transgender woman athlete with the term “biological male.” She has done so in every testimony she has given to spread these bills nationwide. The mainstream media has yet to even begin to push back on this, even though from a journalistic and scientific standpoint, it is an erroneous, offensive term built for a specific political purpose.

Even people who claim to be dedicated to a “middle ground” engage in the tactics best suited to Tucker Carlson and his ilk. Can I believe that Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the head of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, when she says she supports inclusion, but engages in the same dehumanizing terminology?

Let’s be honest with ourselves. This sport-ban issue is squarely about transgender women, femmephobia, transphobia and misogyny. For the so-called “defenders” of women’s sports, the real issues that need to be talked about in women’s sports aren’t on their radar.

There was no press release or calls to action from the ADF, or Save Women’s Sports regarding last week’s “Weightroom-Gate” at the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championships in San Antonio.

A major reason why this onslaught plays out as it does? A good friend gave me an understanding. Her name is Shelly. She’s a trans woman who spent the last year going nose-to-nose with the Covid-19 crisis working in a vocational rehab facility. Many of the patients there are elderly and high-risk.

She thinks sports are tribal and daft, but this greater issue matters just the same to her. She told me, “The problem here is that people hear the tale, but they really need to hear the story.”

This is not directed to those who are open adversaries. They know who they are. They know what they do and why. I am not human to them. I accept this fact and I respect their honesty.

This is directed to those trying to make head-or-tails of all this. This is especially directed to cisgender people in my profession.

Stop spreading the tales. Go seek the story.

You have a quite a few people who truly believe this tall tale for example:

The Sunday Times

Contrary to the Martina Navratilovas and Piers Morgans of the world, the real story is I’m certainly not dealing with dysphoria, discrimination and the possibility of being a victim of physical and economic violence for being trans because they believe it’s a road to win some local 10K. That tall tale needs to die.

The tale is that CeCé Telfer rose up from the sea and devoured the hurdles. The story is that a college kid found her truth, found a pathway within the rules, got support, bounced back from a disappointment, and when the opportunity was there, she was ready to win and inspire.

The tale you all need to stop telling is all those random pictures of trans athletes without context, especially when those pictures are being used to foster ugly, pointed discrimination. Don’t fall for the same old clickbait.

That same picture of Mack Beggs with the same misinformation is something nobody should be repeating after three years! The story is he’s in college, he’s still speaking out and he’d like it if you would stop it with the fake news.

Fallon Fox has dealt with dishonest detractors for years. Outsports recently had an feature that laid down the facts, not the “tale”.

Oh, and Fallon Fox, the winner of our first-ever Outsports Pioneer Triumph Award, would appreciate it if you stopped engaging in the fake news tales about her, too.

The tale is that transgender boys don’t exist in this realm. Outsports recently told one of those real stories: A trans boy out of South Dakota who just wanted to play football, and said being able to play made a difference. It saved their life.

I’ve heard that often as a Trans Lifeline operator. Inclusion is not just a life changer, it’s a life saver.

There are a lot of similar stories out there. In January, the Outsports podcast, The Trans Sporter Room, beamed up trans nonbinary writer Britni de la Cretaz, who told a number of those stories.

“The power of words, don’t take it for granted when you hear a man ranting. Don’t just read the lips, be more sublime than this. Put everything in context.”

The lyrics Michael Franti was laying down in 1992 seem even more important now. The best way to gain context is to understand on this day of visibility and every day, that transgender people like me are visibly human.

When you hear the slurs, especially backdoor misgendering like “biological male”, “trans-identified”, when they erase transmasculine people, and when they erase nonbinary people, that is the “monster movie.” That is the tale being employed.

The story involves listening to transgender people and taking note of the fact that we know our lives, our struggles, and our hopes better than you. It’s insulting that on most issues surrounding transgender people, a cisgender person’s commentary on our lives is more respected and honored that a trans person’s direct testimony. That is an example of the dehumanization. History shows that such is often the first step to extermination.

Looking forward to racing again — coronavirus permitting.
Karleigh Webb

I am a Black transgender woman who loves her sports and considers athletics to be a beautiful form of kinetic art. I also stand firmly for human rights and I have no tolerance for bigots.

I go out into world proudly because of what a mentor of mine, an older trans person who was a vocal educator and activist said: “We have to be out in the world to let other people know that we are in the world.”

That is what I encourage from those who do support us, or may support us, and sense that the tales aren’t the reality. Go seek the story. Listen to transgender adults, trans men, trans women, and trans youth. Get the facts from people who are living those facts.

This goes double for people with press passes. My people are not some esoteric newsprint “debate,” some nebulous “issue.” or some faceless, nameless target.

Right now, there are transgender people out in the world. We’re off to work, learning at school, some of us are helping govern our communities, and others could be out there defending the country. And some of us are playing sports at the highest levels, and the not so highest.

We have names. We have hopes. We have dreams. In the current landscape, we have a lot of justifiable fears.

Understand that we are human, and we are not going away.