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Why I Don’t Feel Safe Visiting My Mother

Clara Barnhurst on the fear of travelling to the United States to see family when you are transgender.

The other day, the second to last document I have to change to complete my official transition came back to me: my residence permit to live and work in the UK. Along with it came my passport; a necessary part of the application. It was a relief: my family are all fine but I kept going over scenarios where I would want to fly out there to be with them for some event – funerals, births, etc. I felt cut off, unable to travel, while the Home Office handled my application to change my name and gender marker on my visa.With the practical limitations lifted on those eventualities, I still feel cut off. I have the right to travel to and from America at will as an American citizen, but I find myself hoping I never have to. I certainly hope I never have to spend an extended period of time there. And not because I don’t want to, though I confess England is my home and I have no desire to leave it for good.The last eight months have solidified what we already knew: it’s not safe for me to go to my former home. It’s not just Trump’s doing, though he’s empowered the people who would have me erased. The most recent spark – which is by no means the start of this – is North Carolina’s (successful) attempt to enforce gender by law in toilets among other things. A number of other states have followed suit, though I’m unaware that my native New Hampshire has done so.

“AND IT IS A POGROM, MAKE NO MISTAKE: THESE PEOPLE WANT TO ERASE US FROM THE WORLD.”

At the time of North Carolina’s ‘bathroom bill’, as they’ve become known, I wasn’t out and largely unaware that I wanted to transition. I had my moment of discovery, but not decision. It was a strange thing, to discover I needed to make a change in a direction that was being actively placed under a pogrom. And it is a pogrom, make no mistake: these people want to erase us from the world. They want to make our state an illness to be reversed; to force us into the mould that was killing us in the first place because God or science demands it.Luckily, I live in a country that remained largely above this debate. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the UK doesn’t have a gender problem ‘cause it certainly does. It just runs in a slightly different way, and we benefit from important legal protections that stem from the European Convention on Human Rights, such as the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Human Rights Act 1999. To my knowledge, there was never anything placed before Parliament suggesting we enforce bathroom use, though I’m fairly certain it was discussed at some point.

Trump’s ban on transgender soldiers has given us some positive backlash: suddenly we’re people and have value, at least in the context of the armed forces. There is sympathy, though for me it actually reinforces that we are worthless in the eyes of American society as a whole. Chattel. People deserving of pity but not respect. It hasn’t stopped states from debating over whether we even exist or deserve basic human rights. It hasn’t stopped evangelicals from speaking out against us as abominations. Our voice is still mostly unheard.

“THAT’S WHY I AM TERRIFIED OF VISITING MY OLD HOME.”

That’s why I am terrified of visiting my old home. It’s a place where I have no recourse. No access to my medication. No way of challenging those that would harm me. No right to a job. And it’s painful for me because America is a place I care about; some of my nearest and dearest are there. I spent my childhood there. My family homes are there. Some of the land is sacred to me. It’s part of my heritage, yet I am unwelcome.

In the event of some calamity, none of this will stop me from going back to support my friends and family. But it scares me. Though my last trip went without any serious opposition from the American border control people – and that was with my male documents – I just know that all it takes is one empowered bigot to create potentially life changing problems for me. I know that if something like that happens, I have no means of reprisal. No refuge from the people who are meant to be protecting me.It slams home the value of invisibility. While that strategy has allowed so many of us to survive, it’s also what’s letting them kill us. I could become invisible; I have that kind of passing privilege. But I don’t. It’s important to stay visible; to challenge people by existing. I could hide as I travelled – I probably would – but I hate that I have to.I can only hope that I don’t have to travel until someone more compassionate towards transgender people is in power, but I don’t see an end even then. State governments and institutions will continue with or without Trump fueling them. In the end, it’ll be the regular people that make America safe. It’ll be the local people that ease my fears and make me feel welcome. For now, I just watch in horror.

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