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Stop the hate! The far-right and trans rights

Alex Adams

February 10, 2023
Recently, after a period in which many gains have been made, trans rights have become a target of the so-called “culture wars” and the “war on woke” waged by the far-right around the world. 
This has gone hand in hand with attacks on Indigenous sovereignty and groups fighting back against racism. Right-wingers use buzzwords like “wokeism”, “critical race theory” and “cultural Marxism” to hide attacks on human rights. 
Their supposed defence of “free speech” means expressing hatred for gains of mass movements such as Black Lives Matter, abortion rights, and the climate movement.
The right has built their attacks on trans rights over several years, recognizing that it is a wedge issue to open up space for attacks on other oppressed groups and to bring more people to their cause. 
It is crucial to understand how these arguments are being used to fuel the general bigotry of the far-right forces.  
At the Ottawa convoy protests last year, far-right groups carried transphobic placards calling for an end to teaching “gender ideology” in schools and “protection” for children against the same. 
The People’s Party of Canada (PPC) released a statement in 2021 promising to “fight radical gender ideology”. They want to repeal Bill C-16, legislation passed in 2016 that added gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Predictably, they are also against legislation banning conversion therapy.
On the provincial level, small groups and parties promise to fight “woke activism” on a number of fronts – they tie together racism, transphobia and homophobia. 
Over the past year, there have also been increasing attacks on drag events – across both the US and Canada. The far right has been organizing to protest all ages drag events such as popular “drag queen story time” events in public libraries. 
While these are not specifically trans events, we know trans issues are part of LGBTQ2S+ rights in general. Callouts for right-wing protests often conflate gender and sexuality (similar to many other attacks on trans rights) and cite the need to “protect children” from gender and sexual confusion – that is, developing into well behaved gender normative, heterosexual adults. 
To be clear, these events are about acceptance of self and others, expressing self identity, and of course fun and dressing up.
Oppression and division
There is a political climate in which the right is growing. So it is especially important to take the right position on issues of oppression because oppression literally serves to divide working class resistance. Our starting point in today’s culture wars and conflicts over trans rights should be one of solidarity with trans, non-binary and gender-diverse people. 
We need to show respect for how the oppressed self-identify, and resist claims that the rights of one oppressed group (trans people) undermine those of another (women). Such arguments are inherently divisive and potentially reactionary, and they fail to identify oppression in capitalist societies as being driven from the top.
Well-funded right-wing lobby groups in the UK, US, Canada and elsewhere have access to the corridors of power in the Tory and Republican parties, and the Supreme Court. Prominent media spread disinformation, give platforms to transphobes and defend them when grass-roots organizing tries to shut them down.
 All these attacks pretend concerns for the “safety” of women and girls from “biological men” accessing bathrooms and other gendered spaces, the alleged push by “predatory doctors and activists” for children and youth to identify as trans and undergo the gender transition process.
They also confuse gender identity and sexual orientation, asserting that children with gender dysphoria are “being encouraged to start transitioning”, but that otherwise they would all become gay or lesbian as adults.
Hate and harm
These articles, reports and posts damage trans and gender-diverse people; transphobic misinformation has real consequences. Hate speech causes emotional damage and legitimates hate crimes. As Judith Butler recently wrote: “The fear is particularly prevalent when public figures—politicians, high profile newspaper columnists and so on—demonize trans people in print or on air; it makes the fear more pronounced because you worry someone is going to act on it” 
Opposition to trans rights is a touchstone issue for ideological opponents of equality and apologists for capitalism. The central aims of capitalism—continued economic growth and the maximization of profit—now pose a clear existential risk to humanity in an era of war, environmental catastrophes and pandemics. Transphobia, just like anti-migrant racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism, is being deployed as a key weapon of the right to maintain its ideological and political control of society and minimize the potential for organized resistance. 
A wedge issue that simultaneously unites the right and divides the left is dangerous. Of course, the right-wing never cared about women’s rights and the sexism and misogyny faced by women. By advancing transphobia, they hope to pry open other fronts in their decades-long wars against LGBT+ rights and women’s rights, for example, over school curriculums, abortion rights and so on.
Biological essentialism
Transphobia from right and left shares an underlying biological essentialism. The same ‘radical feminists” who argued “biology is not destiny” in the abortion rights struggle now argue the converse—biology is all. Biological essentialism means that a person cannot “change sex”, that there are only two immutable sexes, and that consequently trans women remain potentially violent “men in drag”. 
Yet, modern biological science offers a much more nuanced account of the sexed human body. This understanding of sex recognizes that the sex assigned at birth is neither immutable nor binary. People’s biological sex characteristics do change over time—they are not, as the transphobes claim, static. Changes occur throughout our lives,
sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance, natural or otherwise. Moreover, how we categorize and give significance to sex and to its mutability is down to human culture and social relations. 
Whether from right or left, abstract pleas for “debate and dialogue” display a lack of basic empathy with trans and non-binary people, expecting them to debate their own existence. They fail to accept that trans rights are human rights. Instead, their biological essentialism leads them to deny that trans women are women and trans men are men and that non-binary identities are worthy of respect and dignity.
Trans oppression arises from the same roots as women’s oppression, the rise of class society and the consolidation of the nuclear family under capitalism. This happened as a consequence of the systematic oppression and dispossession of women and the subordination of women’s sexuality. Women’s oppression, heteronormativity, the gender binary, the commodification of women’s bodies and control over bodily autonomy are deeply embedded in capitalist ideology, as are homophobia and transphobia.
Sex, gender the oppression of women, and also gender-variance and non-heterosexual sex, exist incomplex interaction—each affects the other reciprocally.
There is a constant tension within capitalism; although certain legal rights and protections may be won in some societies by oppressed groups as a result of pressure from below (for example, same-sex marriage, equal pay laws and nominal equal rights for trans people), these are all historically and socially contingent. They do not essentially undermine the capitalist mode of production’s reliance on the subordination of women for bearing and raising the next generation of workers.
Only an approach to human sexuality and gender variance that starts from the basic material factors of human societies—how human beings produce the things we need from the land and raw materials, how we organize to distribute these goods, who owns and controls what is produced—can provide a comprehensive understanding of how homophobia, biphobia and transphobia (and sexism) have emerged. 
Trans liberation, as with liberation from other forms of oppression, is not possible within capitalism even though particular trans rights can and should be fought for and vigorously defended in the here and now. Without full political and economic power we lack the conditions for permanent freedom of all to express the diverse varieties of human sexuality and gender expression that make people whole. 
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