In general, I have been fortunate. Transphobia is rare in my own life. I was able to come out and transition on the job, I have supporting friends and family, a nice home, a sweet cat…I have not experienced any trouble in the more conservative places I enjoy traveling. In many ways, plain-old sexism and the increasing menace of misogyny have been a much bigger issue . This is why it can be so jarring when it does reach me, as it did over the past two weeks. There were three punches: the statement that existing civil rights laws on sex don’t apply to gender identity; the active support of businesses’ right to discriminate against transgender employees and applicants; and most sinister of all, the attempt to hard-define gender as fixed at birth, erasing the lives of trans people and taking away the rights and privileges we currently enjoy. This last one is the one that worries me the most – no, they probably won’t yank my passport or my social security card, but sadly I can’t trust them not to.
I don’t think the buffoon at the top of the executive branch cares one way or another about trans people, but he certainly does like to tweak his base, which seems to take particular pleasure in things that hurt women, trans people, gay men, and the like. That is the cynical answer to “why now”, but why this seems to be a particular obsession is a more complex question. I don’t pretend to have definitive answers, but I would point to the prevailing and growing misogyny. It’s not new, but it’s been particularly ugly of late. Basically, the recently concluded court fight made the statement that a woman’s pain from sexual assault is not as important as getting a man into a position where he will uphold the traditional authority of powerful men over, well, everything. They hate women who challenge them, and they hate men who are “not with the program.” This explains why it is gay men and trans women who bear so much of the anti-LGBTQ violence worldwide. Both groups are perceived as men who are deviating from the program, and therefore as much a threat as women who defy their authority.
Up to this point, I have focused on patriarchy and misogyny without looking at religion, but it’s impossible not to see the interconnection. The Abrahamic faiths are practiced by millions upon millions of wonderful people, and their worship and rituals are often very beautiful, but their scriptures are all deeply misogynistic to the core. It’s not surprising that the fundamentalists of each are the easiest people to rile up against women and sexual minorities. It’s time we finally recognize this and not treat it so gently. When civil rights are taken away from LGBTQ folks, they lose everything. When they are restored, no one loses anything. The deeply conservative and religious claim they are victimized but we must at every step ask them to list how they are harmed. Except for a few cases of violence which should be dealt with accordingly, they lose nothing. What does a county clerk lose when she hands a marriage license to a same-sex couple? Nothing. What does the baker lose? Nothing. If they fear they lose their faith by participating in civil society, it’s probably time to question the strength of their faith, and not the lives of others.
And progressives who claim to be allies need to prioritize this. No more excusing bad behavior for economic issues (again I could write a book about how some white progressives see only class and forget race, gender, or sexuality). No more cynically complaining about “pinkwashing” when a large company does the right thing, as several did in North Carolina two years ago. Don’t just say you stand with us, make it your priority! And don’t tolerate those who stand against us, whether TERFs, religious communities that claim persecution, or otherwise.
Oh yes, and please do VOTE. But that’s just a start…