Think back to when you were in middle or high school. Were you bullied or teased by your peers or even by family members? Were you ever called by a nickname that bothered you? Imagine what it would be like if everywhere you go, you are referred to as a name that invalidates you as a person. You may feel isolated, inferior, or depressed. For many transgender individuals, this is the reality they live with when they are misgendered or deadnamed (being referred to as their birth name). Can you imagine what that feels like? How do you think you would cope with that?
In 2017, the musical artist Wrabel wrote a song named “The Village”.
The opening lyrics include:
“No your mom don’t get it and your dad don’t get it, Uncle John don’t get it. And you can’t tell Grandma cause her heart can’t take it.”
The lyrics tell a story that many members of the LGBTQIA+ community have experienced or are currently living, a story about having to deal with rejection or denial of their true selves. For transgender individuals, this might mean having to dress, look, or act according to gender norms that do not reflect the person you are inside. The chorus of “The Village” offers an affirmation to those who are living with this hardship as it repeats the lines “There’s nothing wrong with you, there’s something wrong with the village.”
In a LogoTV performance and interview, the artist tells the story of how “The Village” came to be. In the interview, Wrabel shares a story of two trans kids who were fans of his music who came to the stage door at one of his shows. From this meeting, he was moved by their stories and explained his admiration by saying “They were just so themselves in this really simple way. And it blew me away.”
They ended up keeping in touch, and through their friendship, Wrabel learned about their lives and their experience as transgender youth. Their friendship continued and in February 2017, the Trump Administration repealed protections against transgender youth in public schools. In the LogoTV video, he explains: “I wrote this song [The Village] the day federal protections for trans students were taken out of public schools. I was talking to one of them that day, hearing about what it was actually like to be a trans kid in a public school that day and it broke my heart […] I sat down with two of my friends and we wrote this song for them [transgender youth]”
What’s Wrong with the Village?
On February 22nd, 2017, the Trump administration repealed the Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students. This joint guidance issued in 2016, by the Departments of Justice and Education, clarified that the Title IX law should be interpreted to protect Transgender students in public schools from discrimination.
By repealing this guidance, the Trump administration eliminated the following protections for transgender students:
- School staff and contractors were no longer required to use students’ preferred names and pronouns.
- Transgender students were no longer guaranteed access to facilities that are consistent with their gender identity such as bathrooms or locker rooms.
- It became easier for administrators to deny students’ rights to participate on sports teams that were consistent with their gender identities.
The implications of these repeals might not be immediately understood by those who don’t have much knowledge of transgender issues, but they are, for many, the difference between life and death. Recent research from the University of Texas at Austin found that one in three transgender youth (aged 15–21) reported considering suicide, which is twice the rate of their cisgender peers.
However, being able to use their chosen name and pronouns consistently (at school, work, home, and with friends) reduced this statistic. Consistent use of a young person’s chosen name/pronouns showed:
- 71% decrease in symptoms of severe depression
- 34% decrease in reported thoughts of suicide
- 65% decrease in suicidal attempts
While inspired to write the song by the February repeal, Wrabel released “The Village” after the Trump administration announced yet another harmful policy against transgender individuals in July 2017; the so-called “Transgender Military Ban” This bans anyone diagnosed with gender dysphoria who is taking hormones or has already undergone gender transition from enlisting in the U.S. military. The ban also bars any actively serving troops who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria (after April 12th, 2019) from receiving any gender-affirming treatments. They also must continue serving under their sex assigned at birth.
Because the release of “The Village” corresponded with the Transgender Military Ban, some people interpreted the song as an act of protest. However, when the Huffington Post asked if he considered himself an activist, Wrabel responded, “If I am an activist of any sort, I just want to make people feel like they are allowed to be themselves. If we all could just be OK with that, especially nowadays, you turn on any news channel, people have a lot of issues with just being themselves.”
“It’s incredible to see what a song can do and it can go places where you can’t go.” — (Wrabel, 2019)
Wrabel’s message seems to be well received as there are almost 22,000 comments on the official music video for the song. Many of the comments are from LGBTQIA+ Youth sharing their stories and expressing comfort or support they have gained from the song and others online, even when their real-life situation is surrounded by people who aren’t accepting. For example, here is a comment left on the video recently:
“Am I too scared to come out to my family? Hell Yes. Will I come out here? Also yes. I know this comment probably won’t be seen by anyone, but hi! I’m Elliot, a bi FTM dude. I know my family would never accept me, but this song (and it’s comment section) gives me some hope. Thank you for that.” — (The Man in Your Closet, 09/25/2020)
As of December 2020, changes to Title IX have not yet been made. However, in July 2020, the Supreme Court determined through the Bostock v. Clayton County case that the prohibition of “sex-based discrimination” in Title VII provides protection to individuals in regard to sexual orientation and gender identity in the context of employment. This is a hopeful sign that the prohibition of “sex-based discrimination” within Title IX can also be determined this way.
The appointment of President-Elect Joe Biden is a hopeful step for the future of transgender and other LGBTQIA+ people. His campaign’s website specifically addresses the detrimental actions the Trump-Pence administration has taken against the LGBTQIA+ community and how their defeat is an “essential first step in resuming our march toward equality.” Biden also believes “that every human being should be treated with respect and dignity and be able to live without fear no matter who they are or who they love.”
The webpage makes no promises as to what might be done, but I urge the new administration to take concrete action in regards to the injustices against the LGBTQIA+, especially the transgender community.
In order to help the transgender community on a more personal level, you can help trans youth this holiday season by helping fulfill their Christmas lists with TransSanta. This initiative allows users to anonymously gift presents to transgender kids and young adults in need. You can read more about the program and how to help here. After the holidays, you can help by donating to other organizations that provide resources to transgender youth, such as the Trans Youth Equality Foundation.
While there are still many challenges to overcome, positive action towards the betterment of transgender and other LGBTQIA+ people will be a step toward a better village.