Guest Columnist

Bills targeting transgender Iowans are harmful, even if they don't pass

Is our existence a larger threat than a plague that has killed more than 5,000 Iowans in a single year?

Incoming Hiawatha City Council member Aime Wichtendahl in the Council Chambers in Hiawatha on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. (T
Incoming Hiawatha City Council member Aime Wichtendahl in the Council Chambers in Hiawatha on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. (The Gazette)

I just can’t even with this Legislature anymore. It’s only been a month, but its fundamental awfulness continues unabated. One would think that with the pandemic emergency now entering its second year that our government would take an all-hands-on-deck approach to helping COVID-19 go the way of polio.

But that is clearly not a priority for our government. You know what is though? Trying to make sure transgender Iowans understand how much their government disapproves of their entire existence.

And surely Iowa is not the only state where these atrocious bills are being introduced, but they are being introduced at an exceptionally alarming rate — as if our existence is a larger threat than a plague that has killed more than 5,000 Iowans in a single year.

To be sure, these bills thrive off misinformation. When more Americans claim to have seen a ghost than know a transgender person — it seems like we’re always having to walk up hills both ways in the snow just to go through our daily lives without a legal hassle.

So, in an effort to change that: Hi, I’m Aime Wichtendahl and I’m transgender. Hopefully, now you can say you know at least one person.

The first thing to know about trans people, is that no, this is not a phase. This is not something you outgrow. I was assigned male at birth and I knew that I am female at the age of 9. Fifteen years of trying to deny this didn’t work, and I began my transition at 25. It’s 16 years later and I have no regrets. Transitioning saved my life.

If I had the ability to transition as a teenager — you better believe I would have. Alas, such resources didn’t exist for me in 1995. But now young trans kids have the option to get the health care they need and transition to become the people they’ve always known they are, saving them untold amounts of pain, depression and heartache. And yet, our Legislature wants to stop it.

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As a thought experiment — women, I want you to imagine your own teenage years. Imagine growing facial hair and thick body hair. Men, same thing, I want you to imagine what it would be like to menstruate and have your first period.

Pretty horrifying right?

That’s what these bills intend to do to trans kids throughout Iowa. Take personal medical decisions away from families and doctors and put it in the hands of politicians. Forcing kids to endure the horror of puberty and forcing their bodies to change in the wrong direction. A direction that is not easy to undo.

Let’s keep this rolling.

We also have bills to stop trans kids from playing sports. Why?

There is no great undoing of women’s sports. As many other articles have pointed out, the International Olympic Committee has allowed participation of trans-women in Olympic sports and not one has won a gold medal yet. And that ruling is going on 20 years.

From personal experience I can tell you a case of testosterone poisoning does not a great athlete make. I played indoor soccer in an employee league when I worked at AEGON. And while it pains me to say this, I was easily the worst player on the team. Because weirdly my hormones couldn’t make up for the fact that I am generally uncoordinated and have knees that hate me.

Let trans kids enjoy the thrill of sports and competition. You’re trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist and hurting people along the way.

And Iowa legislators, what is the deal with you and bathrooms?

This unhealthy obsession with bathrooms didn’t work out well for North Carolina who lost billions of dollars to, again, fix a problem that did not exist.

Lastly, there’s been an effort to strip a gender identity out of the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Let me be clear, if any legislator can behold the Iowa flag with the words “Our Liberties We Prize and our Rights We Will Maintain” and still file a bill to strip their fellow citizens of their natural rights, they have no business serving in the people’s House and should immediately resign.

To be sure, they only want to remove protections from the Civil Rights Act so they’ll have an easier time passing the rest of the garbage legislation above.

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Now it is possible that none of these bills will pass into law. Certainly, they’re grossly unconstitutional and would likely never see the light of day. So why do I worry about it?

Because these laws have unintended side effects. From continuing discrimination against transgender people, to reinforcing stereotypes, to perpetuating self-harm and suicide among the transgender community. If can help stop those things by speaking out these bills, I absolutely will.

But also, as Iowans, you should demand better of your legislators and especially of the Republican Party. There was a time in my life where I identified as a Republican. I left because every time the GOP would talk about how much they believed in freedom there would always be an asterisk next to it. There were always certain groups of people that did not deserve freedom, whether it be Black people, immigrants, gay people, women, trans people, etc. Followed to its logical conclusion, only a few people are truly deserving of freedom and equality in this American life.

That ideal is the central tenant of authoritarianism and it’s not hard to find it in the modern GOP. But authoritarianism does not have answers to the problems facing our state or our nation. It only offers scapegoats. It hopes that you won’t notice they’re not doing anything to make your life better but hope you will join in making other people’s lives worse.

The answer is clear — if you want a government that focuses on putting you and your family first, if you want a government that is committed to fighting COVID and improving health care, if you want to rebuild rural Iowa with something more than CAFOs, if you want businesses to set up shop and create jobs — it means we have to stop electing people who file bills like this.

It means pushing back when your Legislature wastes time on these laws and as of now it means removing the burden of governing from the Republican Party in 2022.

Aime J. Wichtendahl is a member of the Hiawatha City Council.

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