A friend I’ll call G recently wrote an impassioned post about the experience of growing up female, that this is a unique thing that trans women somehow dilute. Her post included also argued that the sheer average size of biological males argues against their right to occupy biological female space. They are incapable of knowing the fears and joys of being female, from the perspective of being biologically female from birth in the world.

As cisgender humans, G and I are incapable of occupying the spaces of other genders. Our experiences don’t allow for that – nature or nurture – but we can empathise with others’ experiences. I can start to imagine the fears of women making their way through public spaces where they’re catcalled – fears that as a cis-presenting male, I don’t live with. I can imagine those fears and be with those who have them in their space without, for example, denigrating their lived experience. Stating it this way is, I admit freely, very harsh to my friend’s position – possibly harsher than it needs to be. With that empathy I can try to a better human, advocate, partner, and friend.

I also didn’t grow up suffering any kind of gender dysphoria, but I can empathise with those who experience it now – who spend every moment with the feeling that the space they occupy, the space assigned to them, the roles society puts them in are wrong – and argue to make their existences easier and more aligned with who they are. I don’t need to live their experience to trust their lived experience. I was reading today about Brianna Titone, a trans woman in the Colorado legislature. Her childhood dream was to work for the FBI and she remained closeted until she aged out of admission to the Bureau at the age of 37. I can barely imagine the pain that cost her.

From my perspective, it matters what those initial experiences imprint on a person, but those experiences are both internal and external and shouldn’t be legislated back into the closet.

Paraphrasing from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan: We can’t know the inner experiences of other people, but we can know our own hearts and by this know the hearts of others. Not what their desires and needs and fears are, but the nature of desire and need and fear. (Hobbes presents this idea in the introduction to the Leviathan. The syntax is very old-school, but it’s four paragraphs worth reading.)

This is possibly the key to the argument. G knows the nature of her fears and needs and desires as she grew into womanhood – or does if she examines her own heart, just as I know mine. We can use that self knowledge to examine the fears and needs of those who grow in a body that doesn’t feel right. Or with desires that don’t align with what the so-called majority posits are the only legitimate paths for desire.

How do we make things equitable in the public square in the face of state after state legislating against trans existence? It’s truly fascistic, in my view, and sets the stage for a full rewrite of the sexual freedoms Americans have had since Griswold. Women are already suffering as a result of restrictions on procedures and medicines that are associated with abortion even if the mother’s ability to further bear children should she survive complications of a pregnancy gone awry. It’s a demonic state of affairs. A few years ago there was a case in Dublin where a woman’s pregnancy went septic – she was denied abortion and died as a result. In response, Ireland legalised abortion and at the time was seen as a latecomer to abortion rights in general. Since then, the US has gone backwards with alarming speed.

What does all of this have to do with trans rights? Good question. Affirming that a person has the right to determine where and how they are most comfortable in their body is one place – bodily autonomy is another. Gender affirming care is a phrase, like ‘woke’ and ‘political correctness’ that has been twisted out of all recognition. G has also argued that drag in general mocks femininity rather than embraces and exalts it. Was Barry Humphries, or Ian McKellen for that matter, mocking women? Do panto dames mock women by their very existence?

G has shared a point about drag being men in ‘woman-face’ and she’s not the only one of my friends to do so. What makes drag different than minstrel shows – Al Jolson singing Mammy in black face? The sidestepping of discrimination and thereby making fun of an underclass group is partially at the heart of each one. But drag has always seemed to me more celebratory of those things that make women different than men.

In considering the arguments against trans people, I’ve wondered if autism in a similar category as gender dysphoria? In both cases, societal and medical changes developments should make it more possible to live comfortably and successfully in the world than was possible ten, twenty, thirty years ago. I can hear a case that these are totally different – one is something that you can show in a medical diagnosis and is historically identified. And the other? Very much the same.

The main problem I have with my friends expressing anti-trans or anti-drag sentiment is that trans folks and queer people in general are in the legislative crosshairs in the US and elsewhere. And the last couple of years have seen a massive uptick in these things.

There are eight trans legislators in US statehouses. None in the US Congress. The silencing and outlawing a class of queer people is happening in at least half of the states with very few voices able to stand up on the other side. And when they do stand up, they’re often silenced. The case of Representative Zooey Zephyr in Montana comes to mind. She was ousted from her duly elected seat for speaking against an anti-trans bill and is still unable to return. The bill passed and was signed by the state’s republican governor.

I read the papers everyday and above the virtual fold, always, is something about the targets on the backs of gender non-conforming people. There’s the bill in Texas trying to legislate that people working for government dress to match the gender they were assigned at birth. (This is nothing new in Texas – I had a housemate 20 years ago who fought her previous employer, the Houston office of the Internal Revenue Service for the right to wear trousers to work. If I recall correctly, she had to take them to court.)

And the BBC reports that the Proud Boys (yes, the source of five seditious conspiracy convictions this week) are now targeting drag shows.

I’m not sure of the answers and I think my lack of certainty is me being played into a more fascistic position. I’m not active in drag (though I once dated the first drag queen to run for president, Joan Jett Blakk), and I’ve never watched Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Are a bunch of queer men dressing up and making their faces exaggerations of femininity problematic in ways that I as a queer-adjacent male can’t comprehend? Are we really that different, men and women (and all human points between and beyond), that we can’t bridge this divide without othering and criminalising a valued (or any) segment of the population, without devaluing any of us? It’s the devaluing of humans for something that’s inherent (heck, even if it’s for something as harmless as drag, that’s chosen) that gets me first, whereas othering people at all takes a piece of my heart and incinerates it while I still breathe.