The War on Trans People
Earlier this week Ezra Klein devoted his podcast to the the escalating war on trans people in America. The title of this episode is, “If You Read the G.O.P.’s Anti-Trans Policies, You’ll See What It Really Wants.” His guest is Gillian Branstetter a communication strategist with the ACLU. I recommend listening to the whole episode, but will touch on a few highlights, or perhaps “lowlights” here.
Klein begins by noting that the recent, annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gave a clear view into how central trans people and policies have become for the far-right. The right-wing, from Presidential aspirants to red-state legislatures across the nation, have settled on trans people as enemy number 1 and their agreed upon scapegoat for all that is wrong with America today.
At CPAC commentator Michael Knowles, of “The Daily Wire,” said “There can be no middle way in dealing with transgenderism. It is all or nothing,” and “The ideology of transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.” It is short step from such comments about “the ideology of transgenderism” being “eradicated,” to eradicating actual trans people. Another speaker at CPAC described “transgenderism as a demonic assault on our children.”
And it’s not only rhetoric, as Klein points out, it is legislative action and policy. In Texas, for example, parents whose children receive “gender affirming care” are liable to criminal charges for child-abuse as well as having their children taken away from them. Which is not only awful, but oddly inconsistent as so much of the right-wing rhetoric about these and other issues, such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law which claims to be interested in giving parents control over their children’s lives and education. I guess that control is just for “some parents.”
There are, to be sure, some excesses on the part of trans activists. I’m thinking of J. K. Rowling getting run through the wringer on issues that aren’t easy to resolve and upon which reasonable people may disagree. But, big picture, what Klein’s report brought home to me is that pumping up the issue with scare tactics and vicious language puts the lives of trans people and youth at risk.
Some of the right-wingers call trans policy an “existential issue” for America. But the people for whom it is truly an existential issue, a life or death matter, are trans people them selves, and those who love them, of which I am one.
But as Klein points out, the right-wing, currently divided on many things, “is finding unity and purpose in attacking trans people.” It provides one of those “wedge issues,” so beloved of Republicans, for pushing some who might wobble back into the red camp.
At present more than 100 bills have been introduced in state legislatures to restrict the civil rights, employment and medical care of people who are transgender. Quite apart from the fact that such rights and medical care should be protected, doesn’t it seem odd given all the real issues facing our nation that the right-wing would coalesce around this one. The aforementioned “wedge issue” tactic for one.
Beyond that, there are two answers. Trans people are so easily scapegoated, caricatured and stereotyped as misfits, that they become a very big “not-like-us,” though their numbers are relatively small. Second, very few people actually know anyone who is transgendered. So, attacking trans people creates the classic “boogie man,” a fabricated monster used to frighten children. No accident that much of the rhetoric of the war on trans people is presented under the guise of “protecting our children.”
To me, this is a nasty and frightening phenomenon, that rings all the bells of past (and present) pogroms and genocide against Jews, gay people, indigenous people, Romani (“gypsies”), as well as of course as black people. As such it is also “stock-in-trade” for authoritarian, anti-democratic movements. As I noted in a recent piece on “Christian Nationalism,” the common DNA of anti-democratic movements is 1) calling legitimate elections “fraudulent” and in doubt, 2) identifying a scapegoat of the vulnerable to project anxiety and fear upon, and 3) invoking religious and/or patriotic language and symbols in service of grabbing or holding onto power.
Yes, there are questions to be asked and answered about difficult issues like women’s sports, about age appropriate curriculums, and about the role of parents in medical decisions. But what I’m talking about here is something different, something vicious and dangerous. As Klein observes many politically aware people have a vague sense of something going on, but not “of the scale and cruelty of these policies.” Listening to his podcast will help get you, as me, up to speed.