“The danger is greater because the voice is greater.” Alexandra Billings on the Rise of Anti-Trans Legislation ‹ Literary Center

Award-winning actress and LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS activist Alexandra Billings joins co-hosts VV Ganeshananthan and Whitney Terrell to discuss the flurry of recent anti-trans bills and American misogyny. Billings reads excerpts from his new memoir, This time for meand talks about her life as a trans woman, her teaching career and her experiences on the show Transparent.

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Check out video clips of our interviews on LitHub’s virtual book channel, Fiction/Non/Fiction YouTube Channeland our website. This podcast is produced by Anne Kniggendorf.

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Selected readings:

Alexandra Billings

This time for me Transparent Bad Nap Transparent The Connors How to get away with murder

Others

Monitoring trans legislationThe Phil Donahue ShowVladimir Putin: JK Rowling and Russia are victims of Western “cancellation culture”Arizona governor signs bills limiting transgender rights and abortion

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From the episode:

Whitney Terrell: It’s a bit difficult to count them. We’ve spent time trying to figure this out: 150 anti-Trans bills have been proposed in 35 states across the country. Some of these bills have been blocked. Others have been signed into law, such as the bill signed by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey banning transgender girls from playing on women‘s sports teams. Others are pending. Of course, American politicians have already deemed anti-trans sentiment a good policy move. So does this new state of legislation represent a dangerous acceleration of anti-trans sentiment? Or does he simply represent the status quo in America?

Alexandra Billings: Yes to both. This has been true for generations. I am 60 years old. I started my transition in 1980, and I’ve had the same conversations with the same groups of people for decades since then. I was actually on a show a million years ago called The Phil Donahue Showif any of you remember.

WT: We’re from the same generation, Alex, right here with you for Phil Donahue.

A B: I feel so much better now. So in this show, when I was with other Baton artists in Chicago, a woman in the back got up and asked us which bathroom we were using. It’s the same people, the same political affiliations – they’ve become more extreme over time because they have more permissions. We now have more people in government giving them permission; we also have the advent of social media, which now offers such people an international and global platform.

The danger is greater because the voice is greater. There has always been, since I can remember – and the generation before me told me the same thing – an anti-Trans feeling. What we are talking about here is misogyny. We’re talking about a country steeped in patriarchal ideology, because when they talk about trans people, notice that all of these trans bills are all about trans women and not trans men. These are trans women.

WT: It’s very interesting.

A B: It’s because we’re terrified of the feminization of the American male and being seen as male. Men operated on, men in robes, men with an illness, men with a disorder. You can be a woman and wear pants, that’s great. But you can’t be a man and wear a dress, it’s against the law. And they are making these laws. I was arrested before, in the 1980s, for crossing the street. There were laws on the book, they were called indecency laws, and they don’t seem so archaic anymore. But I was arrested just for not wearing two items of what they considered men’s clothing under my fabulous Norma Kamali I must say.

And when I was arrested, I said, “Why are you arresting me?” I was a sex worker at the time, so I told her, “I walk, I don’t work. I just walk, I go to 7-Eleven. And he said, “No, no, you have to wear two men’s clothes at all times.” And I thought, I don’t know what you mean, like tube socks? What are you talking about? It’s crazy. I want to be very clear about what we are talking about. We are talking about a very typical and common American misogyny. This is where transphobia is based.

WT: It’s a standout passage from the book, and we’re going to read about it later in the show. I was also amazed – I link this ideology to authoritarianism, and noticed that Putin decided to talk about his anti-trans stance and worry about being canceled for talking about trans issues in a state speech. It’s so strange to me that there’s a connection between the American misogyny you’re talking about and what we see in other countries that are moving to the right, and also using it.

A B: Yes I agree with you. The only reason I don’t talk about global misogyny—I believe that’s true—is because I don’t live in those countries. I only talk about America because I live here, but I agree with you. Yes, it’s misogyny, full stop, absolutely. No question. remember, in the 1980s and 1990s, when the AIDS plague – you know, it’s my second viral plague, and the first viral plague that happened wiped out most of my friends. This administration, which was the administration of Ronald Reagan, took them four years to pronounce the word AIDS or HIV for years. So we lost hundreds of thousands of people who were dying at that time, because the disease started in the gay male community. And again, when you’re a gay man, it’s against the law. So at the time, it killed all the good people.

VV Ganeshananthan: I really appreciate your precision with the language here, and I have another question on this, thinking about these new laws that have been passed in recent years. Idaho passed the first law relating to transgender sports participation in 2020. Much of the discourse I see on this is also, as you note, misogynistic, although this law has been blocked in court. West Virginia passed a similar law, and nine other states followed suit.

And then more recently, Whitney mentioned Doug Ducey, who just proposed a similar ban, and I quote him here. He says, “Every young athlete in Arizona should have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities that give them a sense of belonging and allow them to grow and thrive.” I’m curious to hear you talk about the language here because it seems to me designed to dehumanize and put trans athletes outside of any human category. They are not included. When he says “all young athletes in Arizona, he doesn’t include trans athletes.

A B: I’ve been doing women’s sports for 45 years. I have been using public women’s restrooms for 30 years. These people played sports with us, went to the bathroom with us and had their teeth cleaned by us. We are lawyers, we are doctors, we are their neighbors, we are their babysitters. I am also a teacher. I’ve been teaching their kids for four decades, so it’s nothing new. What is new is that we are louder. We take more space. Trans people didn’t appear in the 1980s because everyone was using too much cocaine. There’s a whole generation that feels like it’s popped up, it’s all this trending stuff. We found an identity because we found a container to put ourselves before we were called anything. And if you go back in history, we’re in Greek mythology, we’re in all the history books.

The reason I’m telling you all this is because what they’re trying to do is eradicate us. They believe we are an idea. If you listen to people like Marjorie Greene, she talks like we’re an idea, literally a philosophy, that needs to be stopped. And again, remember, we’re mostly talking about trans women. Most of the time we have to be stopped, and if we just stopped it, if we just stopped behaving that way, because everything is just behavior, then everything would go back to what they claim to be normal . Here’s the thing we need to remember if, in fact, every trans woman — again, we’re talking about trans women — we’re taller, faster, stronger, and more agile than all the cis women on planet Earth. That’s a big enough statement to make without backing it up with statistics; We do not have it. We have no statistics on hormonal level, chromosomal level, testosterone blockers; we have no statistics on this.

I can tell you something from my own marriage: I met this human being in 1976, we’ve been together for 46 years now, she’s stronger than me, she can lift things faster than me. I can outrun her, thank God, but that’s the only thing. And she’s cisgender – meaning born female – female, identifies primarily as female, and I’m trans. We are literally a couple breaking every one of their rules. So, in short, what’s happening is they’re trying to tell the world, these trans women are just an idea. And if we stop them from participating in anything that involves public truth, whether visual, auditory or emotional, we will shut them down altogether. That’s what they believe. And that’s what they manage to do. This is the scary part.

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Transcribed by Otter.ai. Condensed and edited by Todd Loughran, Sarah Conner, Yara Salamed and Anne Kniggendorf.

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