Reuters/Danny MoloshokWhen the president reversed the directive allowing transgender children in public schools to use the bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, the transgender community reacted immediately. Even Caitlyn Jenner, who previously backed Trump, immediately released a video on her Twitter feed encouraging transgender children that they would, one day, have full legal protections, and that Trump's decision was "a disaster." But for me and many other members of the trans community, Jenner's speaking out now is too little, too late. Then again, the largely progressive trans community I know has never really viewed Jenner as the activist the cisgender world seems to praise.
Jenner, a wealthy Republican, has never been the best representative of the trans community -- a group that is four times as likely to live in poverty as the average population. Many transgender people, regardless of their politics prior to transition, very quickly find themselves quite aware of how marginalized populations are treated by conservatives. But despite maintaining her conservative stance, Jenner has always been an advocate for the rights of trans children. That, though, doesn't exactly make her progressive.
The fact is that no trans adult who has gone through decades of being in the closet or who has endured abuse and belittlement for their gender variations wants any child to go through that. Though many trans adults do not have their own trans children, in a way, all trans kids belong to the older generation of trans adults. They are our descendants, and like any forbearers, we want better for them than we had. We want a generation of trans kids who don't live in fear of being found out for who they are, who aren't treated as though they have a mental illness, who get to be kids -- carefree and protected. Wanting this does not make Caitlyn Jenner different than any other trans person, nor does it make her an activist or in any way progressive.
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I grew up in the '80s. When I began showing all the hallmarks of a transgender child, my parents thought it was best to encourage me to hide who I was, and I internalized this message so deeply that I didn't come out until I was almost 30 years old. It took an enormous mental toll on me, in a way that someone who has never had to hide themself from themself cannot understand. Imagine waking up one day and knowing you were not the person you yourself had been convinced you were for decades. No child should ever have to go through that. No child should ever have to repress truths they know deep in themselves about themselves.
It's easy for any trans adult to want better for trans kids than they had. But it's also shortsighted to end there. In much the way conservatives have what they consider deep morals about all fetuses being born, but neglect to support programs that help each person grow into a healthy and actualized adult, stopping your fight at the immediate rights of trans kids is equally missing the long-term mark.
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If a child can use the correct bathroom, but their parents can't get them the health insurance that literally saves trans lives because the Affordable Care Act is in danger, how are we taking care of trans children? If trans children grow up to be adults with staggeringly high unemployment rates and levels of poverty -- and no legal work protections to prevent this -- how are we succeeding? If a trans child cannot cross a border to safety because of an immigrant ban, how are we protecting the most vulnerable of the vulnerable?
The trans community I know, mostly adults, is suffering. Hardly a day goes by that I don't see a GoFundMe from a trans person trying to meet basic needs such as food and shelter. Everyone I know reacted in abject fear to the possibility of losing their health insurance, as many of us are unable to find jobs through which we can access it, and we have depended on the ACA to get lifesaving hormones and surgeries. Caitlyn Jenner is completely removed from these fears.
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Early LGBTQIA HIV and AIDS activists like the group ACT-UP saw a crisis in the queer community. Instead of responding to it with a band-aid, demanding just what was needed to stem that moment of the crisis, they responded with demands for a queer utopia through things such as access to universal health care for everyone.
In the same way HIV and AIDS activists were inspired in the '80s and '90s to make a better world through viewing the interconnectedness of the struggles of the queer community, LGBTQIA activists today have a responsibility not to pick our pet issues and fix the symptoms. Rather, we have to get to the root of it all, understand all of our struggles as interconnected, and make a better world.
Bathrooms might be the word of the moment, but it's a small part of a huge fight. Unless all transgender people are protected, giving our children a false sense of security until they reach adulthood is not the answer.
Time to step up your game, Caitlyn, if you want to be a real trans role model and activist.