There has been no shortage of conversations *about* trans people lately. Generally coming from state lawmakers who feel compelled to legislate rules to deny and erase trans existence, these conversations have no doubt escalated the already widespread view that trans people are inherently fraudulent and inauthentic deceivers. It is this belief about trans people — transgender women in particular — that contributes to the climate that causes each interaction, each mundane task, each engagement with the world to be fraught and dangerous for so many in the trans community.
In our fight to challenge the vitriol coming from Presidential campaign candidates down to state legislators and local school boards, it is easy to relinquish the discursive terrain to the people fixated on shaming trans bodies and existence. I have watched myself become complacent in limiting our discussions to a framework that says, “we look just like you and should be able to pee in peace.” That is, of course, true but at the same time does not account for the range of trans experiences in the world. It does not give voice to people who face the most aggressive and dangerous expulsion from public space because they are Black, homeless, gender non-conforming or otherwise deemed inherently deviant in our systems of power that have normalized cis, white, able-bodied, skinny, gender conforming people.
Each day brings new horrors for trans people. From the murders of trans women of color, to the spectacle of injustice on trial in the case of James Dixon who killed Islan Nettles, to the seemingly unending barrage of anti-trans bills flowing through state legislatures. But in the face of all this awfulness, so many trans people continue to rise and center their art, their stories, their communities.
It is so important that trans people are able to tell their own stories in their own ways instead of just being the object of conversations about us.
With our largest media platforms often inaccessible to trans people and trans storytellers it can be hard to truly make space for trans voices in the dominant public discourse particularly in light of the power and platform given to anti-trans voices from Ted Cruz to Elinor Burkett to the countless state lawmakers all decrying the threats of trans existence.
So for me, it was such an incredible and inspiring experience to witness the development of the Trans Panic episode of The Daily Show that spanned the majority of this legislative session. What started as a piece about Meagan Taylor, a Black trans woman, who was arrested in Iowa after hotel staff called the police to reporter Meagan and her friend for simply being two Black trans women, turned into an entire themed episode with (not simply about) trans people. In particular, the episode centered and gave voice to amazing Black trans women who not only told their stories but shared their humor and added life to these conversations.
While so many reporters are happy to just report lies about trans people without questioning the distorted rhetoric that casts trans women as predators, The Daily Show, actually pushed back and exposed the ugly truth behind the fear and hate that animate our current political climate. But more than that, the show uplifted trans voices. From Meagan to Angelica to Peppermint to Miasha and others, the story was told by trans women of color. It was a take down of anti-trans language and myths that was driven by the experiences and voices of those most affected by those myths and the policies they engender.
Popular media is certainly not the vehicle to our transformation and survival but when so many are under attack, giving platform and humor to trans experiences can be critically invigorating. For me, the Trans Panic episode, inspired me to keep going in this fight and to be better. To not just find the easiest avenue for telling a story but to think creatively and expansively about how I could make space for the true leaders in my community who are often doing the hardest labor with the least support.
I came away from The Daily Show more in love with my community, more hopeful for the future, and more inspired to continue to support our visions for transformative change.
So to producers Stacey Angeles and Alison Camillo who spent (literally) hundreds of hours listening and learning and fighting to make this meaningful to correspondent Jessica Williams who brought her humility and humor and vigilance to this project and to Trevor Noah who welcomed viewers into this magical story, thank you.
It isn’t often that you get to witness powerful storytelling on such a large and mainstream platform.