What’s Going On
There are three, count ’em, anti-trans bills that recently passed the UT senate. They are on the way to be debated in the UT house.
S.B. 16 bans gender-affirming care for trans youth, including surgeries, puberty blockers, and HRT.
S.B. 93 bans those under 18 from changing their name or gender on birth documents.
S.B. 100 prevents teachers from changing a student’s name or gender on school records without the parent’s explicit consent.
One of the things these bills make clear, though this was already obvious, is that policies like these were never about making sure kids make healthy choices or protecting children from grooming or abuse. Two of the bills specifically target ease of social transition. Changing one’s name or gender marker, formally or informally, can be bound up with bureaucracy but is hardly irreversible. One bill, in fact, opens children up to the possibility of harassment and abuse, by forcing exposure to parents who the child may or may not feel comfortable with.
S.B. 16 does not prevent all gender-affirming care. Procedures where intersex are surgically altered to conform to binary body standards are explicitly protected by the bill. Cosmetic surgery for cis youth, such as breast implants, is also not forbidden. These bills do not prevent children from changing their bodies, they explicitly allow that, as long as that changing fits within established, “acceptable” modes of alteration.
I write this less to own conservatives for their “hypocrisy” and more to clarify what exactly is happening here. These policies explicitly target trans kids and are not made to protect children, cis or otherwise, from anything. These bills do the most obvious harm to children and teenagers who are gender non-conforming now, but they also harm those who do not have the language to explore themselves or who are frightened into silence by fear mongering and violence.
What You Can Do
If you are in Utah, you can call your state representative. You can use this tool to find them.
You can join protest or actions in the state, such as this one on January 24.
You can donate to the many orgs doing work supporting queer folk in the state. For this particular instance, I would recommend:
- F.A.M. Utah which supports educators in creating queer-friendly spaces in school.
- Genderbands raises money for transitions related costs.
- Rainbow Club creates community and resources for young queer people.
- Queer Community Allies supports high school GSA clubs and other youth organizations.
Feeling It Out
Being trans, in my experience, ties one to alternate selves. It’s easy to imagine what I might have had if I had known what being trans was, the experiences I could have had with other women had I not been seen as a boy. Political realizations I could have come to earlier or friendships I might have made. While I have largely accepted and embraced the life I’ve lived, I sometimes mourn the child I never got to be and the girlhood I never had. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to think of my childhood, even up to my early adulthood, and not think of that heartbreaking ache.
One of my favorite movies as a child was Babe. I wore out the VHS tape, in a bulky plastic case my parents have long since thrown out or given away. The movie’s a fable for children about a young pig, named Babe, who becomes a prize-winning sheep herder. As Farmer Hoggett begins to train Babe, and signs him up for a sheep-herding competition, the young pig discovers that humans eat pigs as meat. Babe is despondent and refuses to be comforted. Not knowing what exactly is wrong, but desperate to help the pig, Farmer Hoggett sings a song to Babe and dances for him. This restores the pig’s belief that the farmer cares for him. I have no memory of this, but my mother often recounts that I would dance like the farmer as a child, duplicating the sounds and moves. It’s still a scene that moves me, perhaps because of this intimate connection to when I was so young.
Recently, after a link was posted to the song in a discord I’m in as part of a joke, I began to hyperfixate. The original version of the song Farmer Hoggett sings in Babe is a pop reggae tune called “If I Had Words”, performed by Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keeley and written by Jonathon Hodge. The song charted throughout Europe and in Australia (where Babe was filmed). “If I Had Words” takes its melody from the maestoso section of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3. The melody is bright and readable, but takes brief detours into dissonance, lending it a complex beauty. The song is a simple loop, singing the same melody over and over again, alternating between Fitzgerald and Keeley, and adding a choir, before they all sing the melody together again
Since Babe’s re-popularization of the tune, it’s been covered a few times by various musicians. Joanna Wang pulls on its symphonic roots, contrasting an orchestral grandeur with her plaintive voice. Keali’i Reichel offers a more balladic, but still reggae-tinged, version and adds a bridge in Hawaiian. There are too many to individually review all of them, but its many versions are proof that the song has some lasting power, and that it resonates across various personal circumstances.
In my research, to put an overly grand word on it, some folks called “If I Had Words” a love song. This is technically true, but I think calling it that belies what the song’s power is. It’s very clearly a lullaby. The duet is two parental figures singing to a child, promising at least the wish for a better day tomorrow. I’m biased, of course, because this is how it is used in Babe. Farmer Hoggett does not know what’s wrong and means to help and encourage. However, the message Babe receives is “Yes, the world is cruel. Yes, it wants to eat you. But I love you. If I had the power to make things right, I would.”
Learning the hundred-plus year history of this song was like watching a mountain slowly form, a glacier cutting through the earth, revealing layers of strange and particular meaning. For me, these things chart a chain of being. A melody that has undergone strange and fascinating transformations, that itself dives into dissonance to emerge triumphant, that I once sung to an imaginary pig when I bore a different name.
That imaginary pig is a boy. But Babe is voiced by a woman, Christine Cavanaugh. Like many female voice actors, she played a lot of young boys during her career, including Dexter from Dexter’s Lab and Chuckie from Rugrats. Women voicing boys is one of the arenas of genderfuckery that we just collectively tolerate. Just as it is hard for me to think of myself as a child and not grieve a little, it’s also hard to not imbue this fact with emotional weight. As a child, I sang and dance to an imaginary creature who was both a little boy (like me) and a grown woman (like I would eventually become).
I don’t know why this moment resonated with me as a child. Even if there was a “deeper” reason, I doubt I could have said why. Nevertheless, that child was/is me. I now imagine singing the song to my younger self. The day I would make for her if my words could make it. Even in that imaginary world, I could not make choices for her, I could not decide who she would become. But I could make room, I could make a “morning,” golden and new with possibility.
That is what I want for young people, trans or otherwise. That is what these lawmakers are trying to take from them. These bills are not only a war against young people, though that would be cruel enough, they are a war against the imagination of alternate selves and beings, the belief that our destiny is not bound up in how we are made. Whether or not the bills pass and do whatever harm they were made for, we do not have to believe that things cannot be different. Though words cannot make it, there is a new day waiting. I felt its shine when I realized that I could love myself and believe I was worthy of that love. Every child deserves to feel the same.