The Crisis of Fascist Attacks on Transgender Lives

Nazis show up in support of the 'TERF 'Let Women Speak' rally in Australia
Nazis show up in support of the ‘TERF ‘Let Women Speak’ rally in Australia

By Cassandra Devereaux

In 1933, a town councilor in Paris was very concerned by what he called “a moral crisis”. This crisis was the fact that those known as ‘inverts’ at the time existed, and moreover that they have the nerve to do so in public. ‘Invert’ was a common term for what we call members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community today. This counselor is remembered today for saying,

Far be it for me to want to turn to fascism, but all the same, we have to agree that in some things those regimes have sometimes done good… One day Hitler and Mussolini woke up and said, ‘Honestly, the scandal has gone on long enough’ … And … the inverts … were chased out of Germany and Italy the very next day.”

Of course, they were not ‘chased out’ by fascists. They were murdered, outside or inside concentration camps.

In 2019 Posie Parker gave an interview to Jean-François Gariépy. Parker is part of a British establishment of women fashioning themselves as feminists dubbed ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs. The political project of TERFs is to attack not patriarchal systems but the political rights, well being, and dignity of transgender people. Parker is admired by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, herself the celebrity figurehead of transphobic hate. Gariépy is a podcast host and a white nationalist who believes in the genetic superiority of white people and frequently hosts infamous fellow white nationalist Richard Spencer. Earlier this year, Parker took her hateful rhetoric to New Zealand. She was met by cadres of the far right, including some wearing skull masks and patches for the neo-nazi Azov Battalion and Boogaloo Boys. They welcomed her with Nazi salutes. In an interview she gave while there, she invoked a classic anti-semitic trope.

“Do you not know that the billionaires who are — the billionaire men, who are pushing this ideology and funding it — Are you not aware of those people?”

Interviewer Kim Hill followed up Parker’s claim by asking “No, tell me more” repeatedly as Parker failed to offer a shred of evidence. In the end, Parker refused to address the topic further.

J.K. Rowling, as well as other TERFs, expressed continued support for Parker, even as her ties to the far right deepen and become more undeniable.

As we can see, it is easy for people who start out not explicitly in support of fascism to be pulled into supporting fascists and fascist ideas. From the starting line of common cause, they can then introduce new scapegoats. People who fashion themselves as progressive, who have exposed themselves to the right, sometimes fall into their broader ideologies of hate with a tiny push.

Of course, TERFs are simply a small pool the right has won support from. The right has a broader population from which to recruit, and they attempt this by invoking child mutilation and the eternal canard of queer pedophilia. To be clear, the right wing movement doesn’t care about pedophilia.  They lionize right wing figures like Judge Roy Moore who are linked to it. Trump has been accused of sexual assault by a woman who was 13 at the time, and was a close friend of child sex trafficker Jeffery Epstein. Trump even called him a “terrific guy” who likes women “on the younger side.” Of course, the far right aren’t the only ones who overlook ties to Epstein. There aren’t a lot of Democrats discussing Bill Clinton’s ties to Epstein and his Lolita Express. That said, right wingers, also wholeheartedly support child marriage. Any amount of time monitoring the far right will expose you to their support for abolishing age of consent laws. Even though a child is much more likely to be raped by a straight man, it’s queers that they smear.

Queer sexuality has always been perceived as a threat in our society. The general public has only recently become somewhat comfortable with homosexuality. Yes, today it’s okay to have queers in our sitcoms, giving way to an already tired trope of gay dads falling into the 1950s sitcom style suburban heterosexual dichotomy of breadwinner and happy homemaker raising a precocious child with no room for a romance or sexuality in their lives. It’s a soft form of neutering.

On the other hand, gender affirming care is a topic most people don’t know a whole lot about. It’s easy to invoke the boogeyman of Frankensteinian doctors performing dreadful disfigurements on innocents who are deluded by a shady cabal of villains. To be clear, gender affirming care for minors requires a longstanding and pervasive pattern of the child asserting self-knowledge of their gender. This care takes the form of puberty blockers, which delay puberty and therefore the development of secondary sex characteristics. Should one choose to stop taking puberty blockers, their bodies then proceed along the typical path of development. Secondary sex characteristics are distressing and leave the patient forever with a body that makes them far more uncomfortable than it needed to be. Such care is well documented to lead to positive outcomes, including higher self esteem and reduced suicidal ideation. But to the right, it is a horror, and to the evangelical right, it is an abomination before an angry God.

Fascism trades on the notion that national greatness has been lost. It sells the idea that the country was great, and now is not due to being undermined by a scapegoated group. It says the country needs to be restored to a mythic past by breaking the scapegoat’s influence on society. They must purge the scapegoated element, they believe. Hand in hand with their fetishization of weapons, the final means is force. They may float the idea that the rest of society can avoid this by simply falling in line. But they know, in their endgame, that this will not happen. There will be no other option, and they gleefully  anticipate the violence.

The elements they believe must be purged include the voting rights act and Black enfranchisement. Immigration from the south. Secularism. Women’s autonomy. To be restored is the domination of white men and subjugation of women. What is more of a threat to the rule of men over women than the idea that the categories of men and women themselves are not immutable?

Patriarchy developed hand in hand with the institution of private property and inheritance along patrilineal lines. As patriarchy developed, so did the gender binary. While the right likes to present the gender binary as eternal and universal, it is not. Anthropologists identify past and present cultures that recognize multiple genders around the world, most especially in pre-patriarchal, cooperative societies. Once there is patriarchy and private property, society divides into those who have property and those who have not. Because of the role of patrilineal inheritance, this happens along the lines of reproductive function. A binary arises, and notions of gender are then tied to this function. Therefore, to challenge the binary threatens patriarchy, and because we were carried to the present on the back of years of patriarchal societies, it is unthinkable to challenge this with evolving understanding. Despite the scientific community sharing the knowledge that biological sex and gender exist on a spectrum, the right insists that they have science on their side even when presented with the facts. They do so because accepting the falsity of the gender binary is unthinkable to them. As the gender binary begins to be challenged in science and society, they see the world changing. They become afraid and angry. Fear and anger in the face of a changing world wins Republicans votes, and for fascists, it provides a call to militant action.

In contrast, for Democrats, we’re an obstacle. Dems believe that they can reach their desired world by building a broad enough base to vote their enemies out. No matter how bad things get, the belief among the rank and file is that if they can get enough votes next time they’ll somehow turn back the things that scare them. When it comes to winning votes, in a patriarchal and transphobic society, transgender people are a wedge. We’re small in number. Acceptance for us from the general public is tenuous at best and with the slightest push easily reverses into suspicion and hatred. For most Democratic politicians, keeping their mouths shut is a far safer bet than taking a principled stand.

In the 2016 presidential debates, reporter Edward Luce posed the following question to Hillary Clinton:

“Democrats seem to be going out of their way to lose elections by elevating activist causes, notably the transgender debate, which are relevant only to a small minority. What sense does it make to depict J.K. Rowling as a fascist?”

Her response was this:

“We are standing on the precipice of losing our democracy, and everything that everybody else cares about then goes out the window. Look, the most important thing is to win the next election. The alternative is so frightening that whatever does not help you win should not be a priority.”

Of course there is always the next election, and we will always be told it’s the most important election of our lives. When’s the last time a politician told you that you should vote for them, but the stakes are lower than they were last time? They always tell us that their “democracy” itself is on the line, and in this way, they hope to win votes again and again. Also, and not for nothing, which Democratic politician had “the author of the most beloved children’s book series in the world is bad” as a plank on their platform? The question was the softest of lay-ups, allowing Clinton to reassure voters that Democrats weren’t about to champion icky transfolk who don’t even wield enough electoral power to make a difference in an election.

The right wing knows that any time Democrats express any support of transgender people they are in aggregate being performative. The far right are militant and animated by their opposition to transgender people. Democrats, they know, are not likewise animated in support of us and they’re certainly not militant. Liberals can be counted on to sometimes hold a candle and nonviolently observe a moment of silence for queer people, and one of those conditions is usually whiteness and bourgeois respectability. The murder of white university student Matthew Shepard in ‘98 brought liberals and their candles to memorials. The outpouring of support for an oppressed gay man was good and proper.  However, the multitude of murders of Black and Latina transwomen around the same time such as Rita Hester won only shrugs from the same liberals, many of whom expressed only that they were surprised that it didn’t happen more.

The sad truth is that while liberals and Dems today sometimes play lip service to us, fascists need us. They rely on the widespread hate and fear that’s so successful in animating their base. The world they want in their imagined endgame is one where we are crushed into non-existence to cleanse their society and to serve as a warning to people to get in line. Today, we are an animating force for them and the right writ large.

So what do we do? We turn to our greatest weapon…. solidarity.

The far right can’t build a base of true solidarity because their ideal world is not solidarity but submission. They aren’t working with the likes of Posie Parker because they see her ilk as equals. They don’t intend to share power with women just because some women share one of their hatreds. Gay alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos was useful until he wasn’t, leaving him bankrupt and scrambling to regain relevance with his claims that he’s no longer gay and opening a ‘conversion therapy’ torture center. Fascism is an ever tightening noose. As they make steps toward their end goal, they shed allied groups on a last hired, first fired basis because what they want is a hierarchy of oppressed and oppressors.

They want homogeneity. The book banning, denial of gender affirming care, the anti-drag laws that threaten any trans person existing in public, the defining of parents of trans kids as child abusers allowing their children to be taken from them to keep them from gender affirming care shows they see the threat we pose to homogeneity and they want us gone. Pairing the act of taking children and placing them into another cultural group with Michael Knowles’ CPAC speech saying, “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely” we start to see genocidal ideas gaining steam. While the right quibble over definitions whenever this is pointed out, all the work they’ve been doing…. all the recruitments they gained from fear mongering and all of the alliances they made with anti-trans feminists and other groups, is conferred into this push: eradicating transgenderism. Make no mistake, this can only mean eliminating transgender people. We are in their sights. They have been working to build the cultural machinery needed to destroy transgender lives. Furthermore, they won’t be satisfied to stop at us.

It wasn’t long ago when nearly everyone balked when ‘fascist’ was said. Over time, we’ve been seeing it used more frequently, even in mainstream media, as people examine the meaning of the word. We need to do the same for the word ‘genocide’. Genocide is one of those heavily charged words that we are loathe to trot out in a cavalier manner. This is understandable, but what’s clear is that the right wants to, eliminate us. Therefore, when we find ourselves asking, “are transgender people really a distinct cultural group that can be genocided?” we need to reflect on the fact that this question keeps presenting itself in the first place and act accordingly.

The left can be challenging to cohere into a united front. However, where the right has to content itself with alliances that will end up being purged, we can achieve solidarity. We want a cooperative society where poor, working class, and oppressed people take the reins of progress. We don’t want a world divided between oppressor and oppressed, we want an end to oppression. As we recognize solidarity as our greatest strength, we need to understand that when this falters, this leaves us open to division. To leave any oppressed group behind leaves us vulnerable to division. It’s imperative that we reject this weakness. Leave the view of us as a wedge to the Democrats. We cannot make their mistakes.

Therefore we defend Drag Queen Story Hour. When they talk about ‘drag’ they mean all trans people, but even if they didn’t, as drag performers are oppressed queer peoples, we stand with them in solidarity. When they attack gender affirming health care, we protect trans people’s ability to survive and thrive in a hostile world. As they criminalize the parents of trans youth and try to transfer trans children into a system that seeks to crush their thriving and drive them into suicide we fight back. When they pull books that accurately describe our existences from libraries or burn them, we defend knowledge of ourselves out in the world, available to all. The knowledge to help people understand and build compassionate relationships among oppressed peoples and the knowledge of trans kids to understand themselves is sacrosanct. We do all of this not just to uplift queer people. We do this because to achieve victory, we cannot be divided, we cannot concede an inch, we cannot compromise by giving up on any poor, working class, or oppressed peoples because when we do, they slide in the knife to split us down the middle.

Stand with us. Fight with us. Arm in arm and hand in hand, march with us into the world to come. We have a world to win, and nothing to lose but our chains.

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