Daniel Trujillo, Libby Gonzales, Hobbes Chukumba, and Grayson McFerrin began this past Saturday evening like most teenagers do: debating music. “There’s a lot of Taylor Swift, like a lot,” belted out Gonzales, a 13-year-old Dallas-native sprawled on the carpet of a Washington, D.C. hotel room. “Oh I love Taylor,” McFerrin, 12, a fellow Texan, squealed with glee. “But there’s also David Bowie,” intervened Trujillo, 15, snatching the phone to scroll through their shared Spotify playlist. In his prismatic The Dark Side of the Moon tee, it was clear that the high school freshman from Tucson, Arizona, leaned toward the classics: “I wonder if we should add The Cranberries?” Duh, was the group’s census.
Every Gen Z-er knows the importance music has on cultivating the right “vibes,” as they’d say. But this particular curation was more significant than any that these four had ever put together before. Layered with tracks by queer icons, nostalgic power ballads, and dance-y anthems of resilience, the mix was a reflection of each of them, even if they didn’t think about it so explicitly. It was a culmination of their angers and their fears, their excitements and their anxieties. It was all the convulsing emotions that they, as four young transgender people in America, carry during a time in which their basic rights are not only being publicly questioned but constantly dismantled.
More than 500 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills have been introduced across the country since the start of this year. The record surpasses the last four years combined, and is one that rises with each passing day. This past Friday, for instance, Nebraska voted to become the 20th U.S. state to ban gender-affirming care for those under 18. Refusing healthcare is just one of the ways these legislative attacks target trans youth specifically; they also restrict their use of public bathrooms and limit their participation in sports, an important activity for adolescent socialization and development. “They’re trying to erase our existence completely,” said Trujillo somberly. “But the thing is, trans people have always existed, and we’re going to continue to exist.”