Transgender people have grown accustomed to mainstream media treating us as lesser beings. We are political bargaining chips or points of debate used to sway voters who are still ignorant of our existence or want to strip away our rights. Like homosexuals before us, our rights are being torn to pieces with dwindling healthcare options and bigoted legislation that demonises us, making life harder and crueller to navigate. Things aren’t getting any better, so any and all support from those outside of our circles is essential. But even that is rare, with comedians and corporations seeing us as quick punchlines or expendable pieces of representation with a clear capitalist incentive behind acknowledging us in the first place. I am very tired, but Jon Stewart has given me hope.
The Problem With Jon Stewart’s latest episode went hard on the gender debate currently dominating the sociopolitical landscape. The War on Gender tears apart any and all arguments aimed at transgender women dominating sports, anti-trans legislation emerging in myriad states eager to take healthcare options away from trans youth, and the generally outdated view we as a society have on sex and gender as constructs. As Stewart puts so eloquently, there is an awful lot of non-binary shit in the gender binary we put so much faith in, both in how we might describe women as tomboys or men as lacking in masculinity because they fail to portray themselves in a certain way. It is all conservative bullshit thrown out under the guise of progress when it does little more than wrack up political brownie points ahead of election season. Parents want to protect their children from trans healthcare in the same way they want to protect them from vaccinations, wearing masks, and school shootings. It isn’t about rights, it isn’t about safety, it’s about ignorance. Stewart doesn’t stand for any of it.
Mainstream support like this conducted with ample research and a willingness to pick apart conservative arguments as the pathetic excuses for righteousness they really are shouldn’t be a rare exception, but it is, and thus is worth celebrating until it catches on. Stewart has always used his platform to fight back at hypocrites in office pushing flawed arguments and lies. He sits opposite Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who recently passed a bill forbidding transgender youth from accessing puberty blockers and other treatment relevant to gender dysphoria until they turn 18, believing that it will prevent misinformed doctors from experimenting on children under the guise of spreading a woke agenda. There are no examples of this ever happening, and every single medical association in the entirety of the United States stands opposed to this nonsensical argument.
Rutledge doesn’t have a leg to stand on, nor any evidence to cite as Stewart tears her to pieces. She digs her own hole, this ignorance becoming clear within moments as Stewart brings forth suicide figures, comparisons to cancer treatment, and a very sobering reality of how hard it is finding support in this country as a trans person, let alone a kid still trying to figure things out in rural Arkansas. Rutledge claims she would do anything to treat her child’s health problems, but the second this concerns the possibility of gender transition, it is seen as something they aren’t ready to contemplate. Parents are seen as manipulative, or minors aren’t invested enough in their own wellbeing to know what’s best for them. Stewart has evidence for that too, showing that the moment a social transition begins and support is shown, transgender youth are almost like different people, so much happier and able to find hope in a life that once had them contemplating suicide. Rutledge recommends parents find a second opinion before subjecting their children to this apparent cruelty, but this is impossible when states outlaw treatment in the first place. Trans people know who they are.
He talks with a panel of parents, doctors, and lawyers who offer a heartbreaking yet necessary look at the current reality. At the same time, it also provides hope and validation to trans people wanting support across a wide gamut of professionals. Of course the usual jokes made by hosts like Stewart are present and accounted for, but the laughs are never put above the information being relayed. Everything here matters, and Stewart clearly understands how important it is to fight back against right-wing legislation that is going to kill more children than it saves if states continue to increasingly support it. Politicians have no right to police the bodies of trans youth, just like they have no right to control the autonomy of women’s bodies or the legality of gay marriage. But in the past they have, and in the present many of these issues are political chess pieces made to capture votes instead of making the world a better place. As a trans woman I am used to fighting for my rights and seeing them pulled away, but that also makes standing up for something and cheering on unlikely allies that much easier. Jon Stewart is going to bat for us, and others should stand up and join him.
The shallow nature of right-wing gender critique comes to pass throughout the episode. It turns out more anti-trans legislation relating to women’s sports have been passed than actual trans athletes have dominated the field in history, because the problem has been overblown as conservatives use trans athletes as punching bags to claim the woke agenda is making the world a less traditional place and needs to be stopped. In reality, we are just trying to live our lives, and now exist in a landscape where that progress is possible. One of the most poignant moments is when religious fundamentalist parents reveal that they were able to change their views in response to finding out their child was transgender. Some on the panel lost contact with friends and family, uprooting their lives to accommodate a child they knew needed treatment to find real happiness.
It was worth it, and questioning their own biases and understanding where their prejudices sit and how the system had done trans people wrong was worth examining if the end result meant not having to bury their own offspring. A happy kid is better than a dead one, especially when your personal actions are capable of enacting that change in perspective. If Jon Stewart can convince even one parent to accept their children, I consider this a success. Part of me thinks this won’t be nearly enough to enact government change, and will only stoke the fires further because Republicans are bitter little monsters, but we need to keep pushing. Facts don’t care about your feelings, Rutledge.
I want worthwhile queer characters and stories in the media I love, but I also want cis creators and celebrities I admire to make some noise about all the anti-trans bullshit out there that shows absolutely no signs of slowing. Don’t show up to tweet a hashtag and donate pennies to a charity once a year, make it a continuous part of who you are and what you stand for. Enough paving over the cracks and pretending there is nothing you can do, because there absolutely is. If Jon Stewart can do it, what is stopping so many others?
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