By mid-February, it was already clear that 2023 was going to be a brutal and unrelenting year in legislative assaults on trans lives — particularly on the lives of trans youth. Even with that foresight, every day has been newly upsetting as these attacks have only escalated.
Each day we have seen new lows from politicians willing to demean, dehumanize and destabilize trans people: from Governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis escalating the terror they bring to families of trans youth, to Florida lawmakers criminalizing trans people using the restroom, to another 20 states acting to cut off lifesaving health care for trans adolescents.
We are living in scary times.
It was this cruel political climate that prompted a group of young people and their parents to reach out to me a few months ago with the hope and vision that they could organize something centered on trans youth voices and joy. We need to fight back against these anti-trans laws, but we also need to build forward with our own vision.
Over the past three months, I have had the unbelievable privilege to be a part of building a beautiful, creative action that we hope can serve as a counterpoint to the vitriol, and call for change from the current modalities of political and cultural discourse around trans lives. With a steering committee of four brilliant young people from across the country, Peppermint (the singer, actor, activist and iconic drag performer) and I helped mobilize a team of experienced organizers. In so doing, we called upon the legacy of our queer elders and family, we let go of the frameworks that politicians and legacy media companies had been setting for narrating our lives, and we came out to party.
On May 22, after months of planning, 50 young people from 18 states, their parents and guardians, and 50 trans adults from across the country came together outside at the United States Capitol to throw the first-ever Trans Prom of its kind.
There were families from Texas in the midst of planning to uproot their lives and leave their homes to protect their trans children from the surveillance and punishment of Governor Abbott’s unrelenting cruelty and the legislature’s many assaults on trans youth health care, sports participation, restroom use and life.
One young woman traveled from Mississippi at the last minute after her school refused to let her wear a dress to her graduation because, they claimed, she must dress according to her male-assigned sex at birth. She ultimately missed her high school graduation because the state decided that enforcing archaic dress codes was more important than honoring the hard work of students.
Other kids traveled from school districts where they have been navigating bullying for years, hoping just to survive while somehow still holding on to their light, their sparkle.
In a world that tries to take away their joy and their power, yesterday at the Capitol, trans youth were powerful and free.
Around 11:30 am, the 50 youth guests arrived by bus at the reflecting pool between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Emerging from three buses, the young people were a vision of joy, laughter, possibility and hope. Looking fabulous and divine, they marched through a tunnel of love flanked with trans adults holding signs of love and then under an arch with a reminder — “you are loved” — and through walls of glitter.
Whatever else they were dealing with in this hostile world, this day was for them in all their resplendent magic.
Over the next four hours, we stopped time. We were the story of trans life that we wanted to tell — a story of people loving each other, caring for each other, relishing in their beauty and the dazzling potential that comes with freeing ourselves of the violence of the gender binary.
For the youth, the day offered a reprieve from the constant vigilance of having to explain and defend themselves.
For the parents, the day offered a moment of peace: seeing their children held in joy and love, wanting for nothing, dancing with their friends — new and old.
For the trans adults, the day was part of our own healing — claiming back stolen childhoods and healing past trauma.
Even as the world has become so terrifyingly fixated on trans lives, we have made progress. These young people are a testament to that.
Across history, across living generations, we have beautiful stories of trans life surviving in the face of cruelty, transforming the world to make it more beautiful and more free.
Trans Prom was meant to be a pause from the daily reality of attacks on our existence — not just for us as trans people but for everyone. We don’t have to accept the conditions of the world as they are; we can dream so much bigger. And every time we feel the undertow of despair or overwhelm tugging at us amid so much anti-trans hatred, we can return to the joy-filled images and stories we brought into existence this week. Trans joy is transformational. Join our party.