In the previous installment, we explored the stated reasons of the global anti-trans movement for its current war on trans people. However, those reasons were united, perhaps only united, by a single problem: they contradict each other. For instance, some anti-trans organisations say they oppose trans people because (in their view) transition is anti-gay conversion therapy; they work shoulder to shoulder with organisations which continue to endorse anti-gay conversion therapy.
The reasons given are not sufficient to explain the behaviour and structure of the international anti-trans movement. Consequently, it falls upon us to find reasons which do.
In analysing the activity and thus the motives of the global anti-trans movement, it should first be noted that a significant part of the apparent activity of the global anti-trans movement is astroturf.
A political movement which arises naturally from the people in a given community or region is called a grassroots movement, and is said to be grassroots. Astroturfing (named after a popular brand of artificial turf for sporting fields) is the process of creating a movement which appears to be grassroots, but is actually under the control of, and has the material support of, existing centres of power, and exists to advance their interests.
Therefore, to determine the actual motives of the global anti-trans movement, it is first necessary to strip away the stratum of astroturf and determine which groups actually meaningfully exist, as opposed to only nominally existing and being leveraged to give the impression of broad support.
After having done that, the genuine motives of the anti-trans movement seem to look something like this.
This is active anti-trans activism which is based primarily in an ideological belief about trans people, or about a topic related to trans people. Major motive clusters under the primary opposition umbrella include oppositional sexism, traditional sexism, palingenetic ultranationalism, and Great Replacement theory.
Oppositional sexism is
the belief that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive categories, each possessing a unique and nonoverlapping set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires.Serano, 2007/2016
Oppositional sexists are opposed to trans people because trans people existentially threaten oppositional-sexist thought: if people who seemed to be men could be women, and vice versa, that would disprove the contention that male and female are rigid, mutually exclusive, “opposite” sexes.
Traditional sexism is the belief that maleness and masculinity are objectively superior to femaleness and femininity (Serano, op. cit.).
Traditional sexists are opposed to trans people because trans people existentially threaten traditional-sexist thought: if it is the case that a person being given manhood as their birthright could rationally choose womanhood instead, then it cannot be the case that manhood is objectively superior to womanhood.
Nationalism is the movement promoting the interests of a particular nation (Smith, 2010, pp. 25–30). Ultranationalism is the movement promoting the assertion of control by that nation over other nations, to their detriment, in order to pursue its own interests (Bugajski, 2000, p. 61).
Palingenesis is a Greek word literally meaning “being born again.” It, or rather its variant form palingenesía, is given in the original Greek text of the Gospel according to Matthew as the word used by Jesus Christ to describe the Last Judgement and the regeneration of the world (Matt. 19:28).
In politics, palingenetic ultranationalism is the movement seeking to promote a nation’s interests, at the expense of all other nations, by causing it to be reborn in its alleged ancient, original form, one which is alleged to be strong and dominant. Palingenetic ultranationalism is the central engine of fascist thought (Griffin, 1991, p. 26).
In order to justify this national rebirth, it is necessary for fascists to identify decadence and corruption in the national body. Right-wing figures, such as Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan, have begun to point to the existence of trans people as a sign of this decadence (Paterson, 2022; Tannehill, 2022), with the implication that violently purging them from the national body can move the nation toward this purification and rebirth (Kallis, 2011).
The white replacement conspiracy theory, often colloquially but incorrectly1 called the Great Replacement theory, is a component of white supremacist ideology. It states that there is a deliberate plot, which it typically blames on a Jewish elite (Wilson, 2018), to cause the extinction of white people. One of the ways this plot is alleged to achieve its ends is by causing low fertility rates among white people (Stern, 2019, p. 99).
At present, medical transition unavoidably compromises fertility. White supremacists feel that every white person has a duty from birth to contribute to the perpetuation of white supremacy. Consequently, they can only contextualise transness and medical transition as a weapon deployed by the “globalist cabal” against the white master race.
White supremacists have an ideological interest in preventing white trans women from transitioning — to them, transfemininity represents a corruption of what they believe to be the strength and purity of the Aryan male. However, they are much more directly concerned with preventing white trans men from transitioning; they believe they are entitled to force trans men to be white “women,” and to reduce them to “breedstock” for the propagation of the “white race.”
Consequently, white supremacist transphobia is concerned secondarily with the violent elimination of trans women, who are seen as being in any case dysgenic (evolutionarily unfit) and too far gone, and are also seen as agents of a Jewish “gender ideology,” “the pernicious force which seeks to dominate and even erase the sensuous, simple and concrete sexual dimorphism and the natural binary gender roles which flow from it” (Cohen, 2018). However, it is concerned with the coercive cisgendering and reproductive “preservation” and “recovery” of white trans men.
For this reason, white supremacist anti-trans activism tends to focus on preventing trans men from transitioning. For instance, Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible damage: The transgender craze seducing our daughters (Shrier, 2020) — a hit with the anti-trans conservative niche — was published by Regnery Publishing, founded by the conservative and white supremacist Regnery family (Roston & Anderson, 2017), and was entirely concerned with young trans men.
This is active anti-trans activism which is not based primarily in an ideological belief about trans people or about a topic related thereto. Organisations under the secondary opposition umbrella are anti-trans because anti-trans activism is a pragmatic way of serving another of their ends.
While the anti-trans movement represents itself as a grassroots movement of people, some covert actors in the movement are states, state proxies, or major political institutions. These actors do not have a constitutional ideological investment in the oppression of trans people (i.e., they don’t “really care”), but can use sponsorship of anti-trans activism as one of a suite of options to advance the geopolitical interests of the state.
For instance, a briefing filed by Strand et al. (2021) with the EU Special Committee on Foreign Intereference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union (INGE) noted that
the Russian government is repeatedly identified as the main foreign actor when it comes to attempts ‘to influence European politics and decision-making most’
Europe is … targeted using a divide-and-rule approach … Equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people … appear to have been singled out as a particularly opportune topic to sow friction and disunity between EU Member States.
The Russian government’s interference is motivated by a desire to ensure long-term regime security and the resurrection of its world-power status, which are contingent on a weakened EU and NATO[.]
Some actors in the anti-trans movement have professional goals which do not directly require the oppression of trans people in any sense. However, they stand to benefit materially from participating in that oppression, so they engage with it.
For instance, psychoanalysis has largely been replaced as a mainline therapeutic discipline by psychodynamic psychotherapy (Freedheim et al., 2015, pp. 348 et seq.). However, psychoanalysis has played, and continues to play, a major role in the theoretical foundations of anti-gay and anti-trans conversion therapy (Barrett, 2014). The continued legality of anti-trans conversion therapy is directly harmful to trans people and trans liberation. However, it is professionally beneficial to psychoanalytic therapists.
This can be noted in, for example, the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine (SEGM), an anti-trans advocacy group fronted by medical professionals. Of SEGM’s “academic and clinical advisers,” 8 are mental health professionals; of those, 5 are explicitly psychoanalysts, considerably disproportionate to their representation in the profession.
SEGM seems to be doing fairly well out of it. Not only are its individual practitioners remaining at least marginally relevant, a recent Trans Safety Network investigation found that one of SEGM’s recent crowdfunding rounds was over 70% funded by three separate anonymous five-figure payments (Moore, 2021).
It isn’t at all uncommon for political institutions, typically political parties, to engage in and promote transphobia either to draw attention away from, or to justify, political actions with much wider-ranging effects.
In 2020 and 2021, the Hungarian government, a coalition between Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, implemented a salvo of anti-LGBTQ+ measures which caused justifiable outrage. This forced attention away from other changes which the Fidesz–KDNP coalition forced through, including erosion of human rights law, a reduction in the transparency of public accounts, and a revision of electoral law (Mijatović, 2021).
On 20 March 2021, the Republic of Turkey denounced the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), and withdrew from it with effect 1 July 2021. Turkey claimed it did so because the normalisation of LGBTIQ+ status “is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values”. However, withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention also relieved Turkey of its international legal obligation to outlaw psychological violence, stalking, physical violence, sexual violence, forced marriage, female genital mutlilation, forced abortion, forced sterilisation and honour killings.
Occasionally, political institutions seem to act through public figures who have a sufficiently large platform to be meaningful political actors on their own. On 10 June 2020, for instance, Joanne Murray (“J.K. Rowling”), creator of the Harry Potter franchise, posted a lengthy essay to her website (Rowling, 2020), the main themes of which were identified by a number of respected LGBTIQ+ advocacy groups and activists as strongly anti-trans (Calvario, 2020; Parsons, 2021).
Professor Alyoxsa Tudor of the University of London, writing for the London School of Economics, noted — as did a number of contemporary sources (Al-Kadhi, 2020; Fleming, 2020) — that Rowling’s attack on trans people could not have been better-timed to distract and diffuse attention from the Black Lives Matter movement, which at that time was experiencing an extraordinary global upswing in direct action (Tudor, 2020).
Arguments like the above, however, are often interpreted, particularly by cis people, to mean that transphobia is a distraction — that the correct response is to ignore it. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Transphobia is a diversion — a genuine, actual attack, the objective of which is to draw resources away from other sectors of the line of battle.
Refusing to be “distracted,” taking no action, and thereby abandoning trans people, is not a viable response to transphobia — all it does is sacrifice trans people pointlessly and make the whole line of battle weaker. This may be a culture war, but, considering its consequences for the people it targets it could just as well be fought with real bullets.
This third installment explored the reasons why the war on trans people is actually being fought, shorn of the layers of propaganda and narrative that are placed atop it as camouflage.
The fourth and final installment will explore which options are available for the reader to help fight back.
1 — “Great Replacement” is the English translation of “Grand Remplacement,” the name of Renaud Camus’ original iteration of the theory, which alleges the replacement of the white French population of France by Arab, Berber, Turkish, and sub-Saharan African populations.
The theory known to Anglophones and discussed here is based on, and structurally extremely similar to, Camus’ Grand Remplacement. However, it differs in several key respects. Camus’ theory pertains to France specifically; white genocide theory pertains to “the West” in general. More prominently, Camus’ Grand Remplacement theory places ultimate culpability for the Replacement at the feet of Muslims (Cosentino, 2020); white replacement theory typically blames Jews (Wilson, op. cit.).
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