A lawmaker called me a mutant

Art depicting actress MJ Rodriguez as X-Men’s Psylocke, posted by Rodriguez in response to Rep. Barnaby’s remarks comparing transgender people to mutants. Photo courtesy: Art by Instagram user @artecco

With numerous bills making their way through Florida’s 2023 legislative session which target the rights and livelihoods of transgender residents, my fate lies in the hands of state legislators. While those in favor argue for the dissolution of our liberties under the guise of “public safety,” it becomes increasingly clear with each new bill introduced that their goal is the systemic eradication of trans people.

Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona, ripped the mask clean off at an April 10 committee meeting on the Safety in Private Spaces Act, a bill which seeks to criminalize the act of using a public restroom which does not align with the individual’s assigned gender at birth. In response to several testimonies made by dissenting community members, Barnaby likened trans people — including those who spoke before him — to “demons and imps,” claiming that “we have mutants living among us on planet Earth.”

“I’m looking at society today, and it’s like I’m watching an X-Men movie,” he said.

While Barnaby’s demonic characterization of trans folk is reprehensible, his “mutants” remark is an interesting comparison. However, Barnaby seemingly hasn’t watched an X-Men movie in quite some time, for he fails to realize one crucial detail: The X-Men were the heroes of their story.

In the same vein, I am the author of the graphic novel that is my life, and I am the hero within these panels. My transness is my superpower. My ability to decide for myself who I am, my determination to live a life of which I have always dreamed, my capacity to critically assess my role within society, my endurance in the face of unrelenting, ever-growing villainy — these are the forces which give me strength. If that makes me a mutant, so be it.

The world certainly does its part to remind me of that, too.

I felt like a mutant when I went to pick up lunch the other day, only to become a fly on the wall to a public discussion in the dining room where the subject was “transgenders,” with local community members — some of whom I recognized — laughing along to jokes at my expense and sharing misconceptions of trans livelihoods, alienating me from what had become one of my favorite local businesses.

I feel like a mutant when I wake up every morning and read about a new development in a story about bomb threats made to a company for endorsing a trans woman, or how lobbyists spent years in the shadows constructing their crusade against trans livelihoods, and, of course, an elected official launching an unprovoked, bizarre diatribe against an innocent group of citizens, rebuking Satan and name-dropping Marvel Comics on the legislative floor of the state I call home.

In fact, the X-Men comics which Barnaby so confidently invokes have served as an allegory for the civil rights movement since their inception in 1963 and have evolved in the decades since to represent the struggles faced by the LGBTQ+ community, as we seek our rightful place in a society that has largely refused to embrace us.

Perhaps not watching “X2: X-Men United” in 20 years has clouded Barnaby’s memory — either that or his VHS tape skipped — for he must not recall the scene in which the visibly mutated Nightcrawler asks the shape-shifting Mystique why she doesn’t simply live with a human disguise to avoid the persecution inherent to being perceived as a mutant.

Her response: “Because we shouldn’t have to.”

A similar dichotomy between blending in and standing out has always existed within the context of transness, but her point remains true — we shouldn’t have to conform to either side. Whether or not a trans person actively seeks to fit society’s perception of their gender does not determine their worthiness of respect, nor should it jeopardize their liberties and access to resources such as gender-affirming care which allow them to pursue the life of their choosing.

In recent years, various academic studies, such as this examination published by the Public Library of Science, have shown the positive impact that access to gender-affirming hormones can have among adults and adolescents who seek such treatment, finding decreased rates of depression and suicidal ideation among participating recipients.

What Barnaby and like-minded legislators seek to accomplish through the anti-trans bills on dockets around the country is to attack us from both sides; criminalizing and endangering people for raising even the slightest suspicion of being trans, while cutting off access to gender-affirming medication which, in addition to its noted mental health benefits, is often a major contributor toward an individual’s ability to avoid the persecution that can come with being perceived as trans.

In the minds of people like Barnaby, the mission is clear: detransition or disappear. Some of his colleagues on the committee floor expressed shock at his remarks and commended the bravery of those who offered testimony, but no number of gentle slaps on the wrist would change the fact that the committee passed the legislation, advancing it alongside several other anti-trans bills to be decided on by the Florida House of Representatives in the coming weeks.

Actions like this have caused my faith in the ability of local politicians to represent the people they serve to diminish by the day, just as my rights as a trans woman have. Yet still, I can only hope that our elected officials make their decisions in the best interest of human — and mutant — kind.

Dedicated to Rachel Pollack (1945-2023), a proud trans woman, author and DC Comics writer, credited with creating the first transgender superhero, Doom Patrol’s Kate Godwin, in 1993.