When I was a kid, every summer my parents would pack me and my sisters up into the family van and head down to the magical land of Disney.
Now you might think four kids and two grownups driving south from New York for two days on Interstate 95, before the days of Nintendo Switches or iPads, would be your idea of hell on wheels, but truly it was one of my favorite memories from childhood. It was exciting just to cross the Verrazanno bridge into Staten Island. Once we hit the New Jersey Turnpike with its exotic rest stops and paper punch card schedule of toll fees my father said I absolutely could not lose upon pain of death, it felt like adventure and summer. Even years later while living in New Jersey, I found it difficult to shake the Pavlovian thrill of The Turnpike while driving to such distressed destinations as Newark. Not nearly as fun a place to go to as the home of Mickey Mouse and friends.
As much as reaching the Garden State created barely containable anticipation of what was to come, nothing beat finally reaching the Florida border. The large “Welcome to Florida, the Sunshine State” would be met with squeals of joy that even the sobering “Arrive Alive, Drive 55” follow-up sign could not dampen. Of course, that was back in the quaint era when 55 mph was the speed limit almost everywhere, and The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has since been forced to drop that part of the slogan as speed limits have gone up. Still, the sage advice to “Arrive Alive” continues to live on within the FLHSMV.
Despite the sign, Florida has become a much less welcoming place these days. Women, immigrants, Black, brown and queer people have all been targets of discriminatory, and even deadly, legislation. If you happen to be trans, gone are the subtle hints at transphobia of the past, in favor of full mask-off government mandated hate. Just in the last year we have been called mutants and demons on the public record by legislators, and proponents of child mutilation on the national stage from failed presidential candidate Ron DeSantis. As a trans person who has been a resident for 13 years, I have wondered more than once at how safe I am to live under such blatant demonization and the new laws it has inspired, to say nothing of the prospect of the even worse ones that are sure to come very soon. Increasingly, it has become clear that I am not welcome to live here at all by those on the right. Judging by their actions, they would just as soon revoke the recommendation to “Arrive Alive” for us and update the Florida road signs to say “Trans People, Leave or Die.”
It has become equally clear that I am not the only trans person who has felt the open hostility. One of the great joys of my day job is that I get to facilitate a support group for transgender people here in Orlando. When I first began back in August, attendance was in the high teens. Pretty soon thereafter, there was a spike up into the 20s consistently from week to week with a high of 28 just before Christmas. To my amazement, at the next meeting we matched 28 and I was soon dreaming of breaking into the 30s. Instead, we blew right past that goal and jumped straight to 41. Now I’d like to believe that growth was due to my sparkling personality and infectious laugh honed from years of creating videos to successfully expand the audience of my YouTube channel, but I would be naive to believe it wasn’t at least driven in part by cold hard fear. Trans people in Florida are frightened and the support group is a precious safe space even for those of us living in the blue bubble of Orlando.
The government is quickly and directly trying to make conditions in Florida unsustainable for trans life. They started with obstacles to gender affirming care and have now moved on to other methods. As you read this, the stage is currently being set to revoke the driver’s license of any trans person who doesn’t agree with an affidavit that replaces gender with a trans exclusionary definition of sex. Of course, the lack of a driver’s license would make it much more difficult to find employment, travel, vote or even enter a gay bar. The pressure on the trans community is immense, increasing and making our lives very difficult.
I do wish that cisgender gay people would do more to help out in what should be seen as an emergency for the whole community. I’m not saying you don’t care, but it seems to be in the abstract way you care about an overseas war. Too many of you don’t know the details of what is happening beyond “bad stuff.” As a meme I saw the other day said, “If you can’t understand why your trans friend is scared right now, then you don’t have a trans friend; you know a trans person.” So I implore you, educate yourself on exactly why we are scared. Give money to nonprofits that are fighting for trans people and creating safe spaces. Vote. And most of all, be ready and willing to be loud and make good trouble. That is how you can be a true friend to the trans people in your life and make sure that we not only “Arrive Alive,” but stay alive while we are here.
Melody Maia Monet has her own trans lesbian themed YouTube channel at YouTube.com/MelodyMaia.