But just as disturbing as rescinding trans-affirming rules, and even more likely, is the possibility that federal employees in charge of processing trans people’s papers will be free to express their transphobic sentiments without consequence, or even refuse to enforce trans-affirming rules, given that their own president has disparaged minorities at whim. As many marginalized groups who have interacted with state authorities can attest, rules on paper mean nothing when the people in charge don’t intend to enforce them. Obama set an example of inclusion, not only with his regulations, but in his words and actions. Given Trump’s example, I have no faith in federal authorities treating minority groups, and transgender people in particular, fairly or respectfully during his administration.
After my own experience with the INS in 2001, I endured the indignity of going to Thailand with my male Philippine passport in 2002 to get reassignment surgery. I could have gone back with the doctor’s note that ratified my womanhood afterward, but I found myself too traumatized to go through all the steps necessary to become a U.S. citizen, to have to face all those people and endure their judgment of my gender identity alone, not knowing if I would even get what I wanted, under a Bush administration that was particularly unfriendly towards everything I am—trans, immigrant, person of color.
So instead, I didn’t leave the country for nearly a decade, too scared to go back to the INS, and just as scared to travel as a man. I missed my brother’s funeral in the Philippines in 2005 because I didn’t have my papers in order, and yet I still couldn’t bring myself to risk the hostility of federal authorities. It was not until after the rules changed that I was able to naturalize in 2012. I still found myself needing to go back to the INS with a pro bono lawyer, even though I was perfectly capable of following the procedures on my own and had no arrest record—a straightforward case. But I needed the lawyer there, to know there was someone on my side, in case the officer refused to follow the law, or to treat me with a modicum of respect.
This time, a black woman greeted me when I came to the counter with my lawyer, and asked me to hand her my papers through a glass window. She didn’t need to be reminded of the law, and she maintained her pleasant smile as she read through my file and understood that I was transgender, and I would be filing for citizenship soon after changing the information on my green card. She wished me good luck as she handed back my papers. A few months later, I would traverse another cavernous room full of cubicles, to go before another INS officer for my naturalization test, and her light Russian accent comforted me as I realized that she too probably came to the U.S. as an immigrant. I capably answered her U.S. civics questions, like the names of my current senators and the definition of a constitutional amendment.