“Alabama was able to pass a felony ban on healthcare, essentially, potentially punishing doctors and parents with up to 10 years in prison for providing or supporting trans people in accessing medically necessary and life-saving medical treatment [and] it barely registered on any mainstream news.” In this episode of “Movement Memos,” host Kelly Hayes talks with activist and attorney Chase Strangio about worsening attacks on trans youth and the “extreme violence” of the current political moment.
Music by Son Monarcas and Amaranth Cove
Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.
Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about organizing, solidarity and the work of making change. I’m your host, writer and organizer Kelly Hayes. Today we are going to take another look at the attacks that are currently unfolding against trans people in the United States. We will be hearing again from our friend Chase Strangio, an attorney and trans rights activist, who will offer us some updates and analysis on how attacks against trans youth are progressing, how we should interpret these events, and how we can protect and defend trans youth in this moment. So why do we keep hitting this topic so hard? For one, the media is neglecting this issue terribly, and so are liberals and most of the left. We have a nightmare scenario unfolding in real time, and it is being invisibilized by the corporate press. Federal intervention appears unlikely, given that, with the midterms looming, Democratic leaders seem too worried about offending centrist voters to risk defending anyone’s humanity. We are also faced with a rising tolerance for preventable mass death and, in some circles, a waning desire to fight for the well-being of others. Trans people, in particular, are being left behind by most liberals and leftists, even as attacks on trans rights and lives become the moral battering ram of a new fascist era.
As I discussed with Shane Burley last week, all of these attacks on trans people are part of a larger fascistic agenda. It appears to be lost on many cis people, who have largely failed to challenge attacks on trans people, that they will not be spared from all the places this nightmare ultimately goes. As Audre Lorde warned us, your silence will not protect you.
First, I want to ground us in the reality of the moment, because unless you follow this issue in an intentional way, you might not have a sense of what trans advocates have been dealing with over the last couple of months and years. Chase Strangio has been on the frontlines of legal battles to stop some of these violent and dehumanizing laws.
Chase Strangio: I feel like everything in relation to the law, and the way in which the law is being used to hurt people, is changing very rapidly, and to an extent, that’s always true. You know, the law adapts to be violent, and it is a violent system, so I don’t want to act like this is totally unique to this moment. I think that what I’ve been experiencing though, as an advocate in trans justice movements, and as a lawyer, and a person who tries to utilize strategies of resistance within the legal system recognizing their limitations, is that we are in a particularly precarious and violent time.
A number of different things have happened. We’ve continued to see states push anti-trans bills very successfully. We’re in a situation now where we have three states that have banned health care for trans minors in different ways, and all three of those states thankfully have had those policies — in two cases, they’re laws, in one case an executive order and directive — enjoined in court, and we’ve had states pass bathroom bans. We’re continuing to have states pass sports bans, so all of that is continuing to escalate, and then of course, this is coinciding with the leaked Justice Alito opinion in Dobbs, which is the case that is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, and then of course just the continued sort of way in which the public discourse is devolving to sort of tee up, I think, the expansion of state power in such ways that’s going to continue to erode people’s bodily autonomy and self-determination.
As so many things are happening at once, it’s hard to even tease out what has happened on what timeline, because everything, everywhere, all at once, is sort of how it feels, and that has very much been the tempo of 2022.
KH: Right-wing efforts to spread a hoax that the school shooter at Robb Elementary School was a trans person are indicative of the escalation Chase describes. A group of people who have been depicted as posing a looming threat to children were now being depicted as having massacred children. Even though the claims were debunked almost as soon as they emerged, the hoax is still circulating, and it will no doubt become part of the nebulous configuration of inconsistent lore, conspiracy theories and misinformation that serve as a reality-substitute for the majority of right. The un-reality that many Republicans inhabit cannot be fact checked away, because fascist narratives do not negotiate with reality. Fascist narratives barrel over and crowd out facts, eclipsing reality. Right-wingers have cast the idea of a trans mass shooter into the popular imagination, during a moment of profound fear and grief, on the heels of hundreds of legislative bills that are supposedly aimed at protecting women and girls from the actions and machinations of trans people. This kind of propaganda, that depicts a looming threat as having become an active, rampaging, child-killing threat, is a clear call to violence against trans people. To me, the fact that a congressman promoted this hoax really drives home the severity of the situation.
CS: What happened in the wake of the Texas school shooting, there were immediately right-wing conspiracy theories that were not even theories, they were sort of deliberately aimed narrative building online that the shooter was trans, and innocent trans people were having their images shared, and people were claiming that it was the person who had perpetrated this awful shooting, and it really sort of fits with this moment of situating trans people as sort of the monstrous symbol of the collapse of society in different ways. It’s sort of what we hear in the so-called groomer discourse, of trans people, and now LGBTQ people generally, are out here grooming your children, trying to make them trans, trying to sexualize them, and that, of course, is a way to legitimize violence against people, and sort of these narratives are very deliberate.
So we have that happening, this groomer discourse, and then it is exactly part of what we saw in the wake of the shooting, where you have this mass violent event, and immediately, the image of a trans person is invoked as the cause of the violence, even though it’s not tethered to reality at all, much like in the groomer discourse, which is also not tethered to reality at all. Instead, what it’s tethered to is a very strategic ideological imperative to legitimize mass violence against trans people. So, I think unfortunately, that is very much where we are right now, and it is resulting in lots of different forms of violence against trans communities, which are of course already very prevalent, and have been for many, many… forever, for many years/forever.
And in the wake of the circulation of this image, the reports have been that multiple people have been harassed or assaulted, and accused of being the shooter. I think that it is a sign of sort of how much we can expect this discourse to escalate, and how much danger trans people are in, both in sort of like an interpersonal danger of course, but then also in a sort of existential danger, in the sense that there is an imperative that we are seeing to eliminate trans life, and this is all a part of that.
KH: In a since-deleted tweet, Arizona Congressman Mark Paul Gosar characterized the Texas school shooter as a “transsexual leftist illegal alien.” By invoking border politics while attempting to depict the shooter as trans, Gosar conflated the vilification of two groups that are major targets of right-wing violence, legislatively and otherwise. Cultivating a disregard for suffering is going to be fundamental to any capitalist system, as we move forward in this era of drastic inequity and catastrophe. But for the Republicans, the goal is not simply to cultivate an indifference to extreme and routine acts of violence against targeted groups, but also, to satisfy an enthusiasm for that violence.
The fascist movement that has propelled this era of the Republican project demands an outlet for its frenzied energy. As [Robert] Paxton wrote, fascist movements crave “violence against enemies” and “the purification of blood and culture.” Once a charismatic leader has promised such fulfillment, fascist regimes have to produce their own version of what Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky called a “permanent revolution.” Paxton wrote that fascist regimes “could not survive without that headlong, inebriating rush forward. Without an ever-mounting spiral of ever more daring challenges, fascist regimes risked decaying into something resembling a tepid authoritarianism.”
While Republican elites would no doubt be thrilled with something resembling a tepid authoritarianism, they would lose their base, who have now spent years reveling in fantasies of victimhood and redemption. They have immersed themselves in a mythos that says they have been robbed and humiliated by a society that is going off the rails. In that society, some people are cast as villains who either take what belongs to the wronged populace, or whose very existence and way of being in the world undermines decency and stability. Fascist movements want constant attacks against enemies, either internal or external, and they want to be part of those attacks. The evangelicals of the 1970’s understood that pleas for unborn lives were more palatable than racism. Today’s Republican elite similarly understands that it cannot market the mythology of QAnon — that Democratic leaders are part of a pedaphilic sex cult and eat babies. But it can play on the same passions by ramping up and centralizing its attacks on trans people. In their fascist narratives, facts and details are of secondary importance. What matters most is what feelings are being provoked or affirmed, and whether the movement’s faith in their leadership is being affirmed. As we saw under the Trump administration, a government can fail to deliver on nearly all of its promises, but still enjoy the celebration of a fascist movement if the state offers up violence that its followers experience as redemptive.
The GOP does not plan on doing anything to make anyone’s life better, and it’s not really even pretending to offer any plans that would do that, but it is promising white people, cis men, and cis women who feel threatened by trans women, a form of social retribution. As Melissa Gira Grant recently captured in her piece, “The Mothers Leading the Battle Against Trans Student Athletes,” mothers of cis teenagers who are fighting to exclude trans youth from girls sports teams have invoked rhetoric deployed by white mothers who fought against integration of all-white schools. Operating under the cover of feminism, mothers crusading for the exclusion of trans youth claim they are defending their daughter’s rights and futures, and the integrity of women’s sports. Supported by groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, that have pivoted from attacks on gay rights to attacks on trans people, Gira writes that “The idea of protecting girls is meant to win, and with it, they can fuel a stigmatizing moral panic about trans people.”
CS: Melissa Gira Grant’s done a lot of really important reporting, sort of situating the attacks on trans youth in a long history of sort of, in particular, white women and white mothers building out a discourse of protectionism, which is part of sort of the way in which white women in particular have been central to mechanisms of white supremacy in the sort of structural political sense, even when cast as sort of outside of typical power structures. Sort of there’s this long history of white womanhood being situated as that which needs protecting, which builds some of the most violent mechanisms of state power, and we can sort of trace that through the entire structural formation of the United States as a nation state, where you have protecting white women and this being used in the service of mass violence against Indigenous communities, against enslaved communities, and to perpetuate lynchings, to fuel mass incarceration, to propagate wars globally. This is obviously part of a state-building project with a white supremacist orientation, and that sort of, you have to understand that history in order to understand any policy making that happens. And particularly when protecting women and children is invoked as a goal in the United States, because it’s always tied to whiteness and it’s always tied to the preservation of whiteness as a sort of coherent political structure, which is inextricable from white supremacy.
And in the context of anti-trans bills, this is very much part of the continuation of that legacy wherein you have in particular a lot of cis white girls and their white parents, in particular their white mothers, sort of evoking this idea that their daughters are being threatened by this monstrous other that needs to be controlled and removed and the state needs to step in as protector.
And I think that one of the ways in which the anti-trans sports discourse really took off in the U.S. was through these attacks in Connecticut on these two young Black girls who are trans, who were runners, and you had sort of a number of cis white girls who ended up going on Fox News and being a part of a right-wing media circus, I would say in order to cast their womanhood as being under assault from these young Black girls.
And so we can’t understand the discourse of anti-transness outside the structures of white supremacy, because there is no such thing as sort of an understanding of protecting women and girls in the U.S. without it being tied to protecting whiteness and white supremacy. And that is very much part of what we’re seeing here.
KH: The GOP has quite wisely created active roles for its fascist, white supremacist supporters. From legally sanctioning “poll watching” efforts that appear to be flimsy cover for harassment and voter suppression, to functionally deputizing citizens to participate in vigilante surveillance, and even legitimizing vehicular attacks on protesters, the GOP has gone out of its way to accommodate everyday people who want to play a role in the policing and persecution of marginalized people.
In his now famous piece, “The Cruelty Is the Point,” journalist Adam Serwer referred to photos of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana in 1930. He talked about the smiling faces in the crowd, writing, “They were human beings, people who took immense pleasure in the utter cruelty of torturing others to death … Their cruelty made them feel good, it made them feel proud, it made them feel happy. And it made them feel closer to one another.”
I think it’s important to remember that Adolf Hitler took inspiration from Jim Crow, as well as Native genocide. The cruelty of racist Americans, and the fellowship and pride they take in redemptive violence has always been fascistic, as have certain elements of our society, such as the prison-industrial complex. What we are looking at now, is a scale-up, to meet the emotional needs of a rageful movement, and as Shane Burley explained last week, policing reproductive autonomy will not be enough. The Republicans will be relentless on that front, but they are also poised to topple Roe, so the crusade to end abortion will no longer be the profitable, energetic centerpiece that it once was the Republicans. But fighting to save traditional sex and gender norms? That is a threat that they can depict as imminent for as long as trans people exist.
Given these realities, popular efforts to categorize trans rights as a “culture war” issue, somehow removed from life and death matters of governance, are both dangerous and deceptive.
CS: I have truly never understood the culture war discourse as anything other than some sort of media narrative to minimize and sort of invisibilize structural power. Everything and nothing are culture wars all at once. We are constantly having fights over yet sort of who can live and die. That is the nature of politics. And that is inextricable from all of the things that we might understand to be culture and cultural norms.
And so every conversation about gun control or foreign policy or taxation or housing, I mean, those are culture wars. It’s a conversation about who is centered in our understanding of our ideological and cultural norms in this country.
And then at the same time, I think it’s sort of, because of how it’s framed, then almost nothing is a culture war if a culture war is defined as sort of that which is outside of the dominant political conversations of any moment and used solely and exclusively to galvanize some sort of political base, because nothing is marginal. Everything is being done in service to something central.
And I really am disinclined to ever engage in a conversation about things as being a “culture war.” I don’t know what it means. I am very much skeptical that it’s a useful frame. I think we should be explicit about how all of these structures are connected and that we are having social, political, cultural dialogues at all times that are constituting our political systems and structures, and ultimately determining who lives and dies, who has access to material survival opportunities and who doesn’t. And none of those things are sort of haphazard or accidental. This is all very deliberate. This is part of our political structure and people’s bodies and existence are deliberately weaponized, are deliberately situated inside or outside some aspect of political discourse in order to serve structural power.
And so when we say something is a culture war, usually that is some sort of media frame that is often complicit in or in the service of perpetuating some structural harm.
KH: The eschatology of QAnon involves “The Storm,” or a great political reckoning. QAnon adherents have long professed that, during “The Storm,” judgment will be rendered against liberals, and the nuclear family restored, while Democratic elites, who are all members of a satanic, child-molesting and cannibalizing cult, will be exposed and punished. Many believed these events would transpire before Joe Biden took office, by way of Donald Trump initiating martial law. When this did not happen, rather than dissipating, the mythology continued to shapeshift. QAnon imagery was prominent at the Capitol on January 6. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are central to QAnon’s mythology, and there are clear parallels between QAnon’s beliefs about Democratic cannabalism and so-called “Blood Libel,” which began in 1144, when Christian leaders accused Jewish people of killing a Christian child for cannabilistic purposes. Accusations about Jewish people committing cannibalism would continue into the 20th century, resulting in many acts of violence against Jewish people, including false prosecutions.
While the anti-trans movement may not seem as outlandish as claims of cannibalism, it is likewise a blur of hysteria and bizarre allegations of imagined harm. For example, an anti-trans blog post that has been widely celebrated and cited in the U.K. called “Pronouns are Rohypnol,” asserts that “Pronouns are like Rohypnol to your brain’s defences.” The post’s author defends her comparison between being asked to use a trans person’s pronouns with having a date rape drug slipped in her drink by saying, “[Using pronouns] alters your attention, your speed of processing, your automaticity … It slows you down, confuses you, makes you less reactive.”
The anti-trans movement in the U.K. gained momentum earlier than similar efforts in the United States, in part because trans people in the U.S. used to have a lot more backup. But the out of control state of transphobia in the U.K. presents a frightening picture of where the U.S. is headed.
So how have transness and pronouns provoked so much hysteria? Examining other moral panics about children in the U.S. can offer some clues. As Ali Breland pointed out in his 2019 piece, “Why Are Right-Wing Conspiracies so Obsessed With Pedophilia?” moral panics about satanism and pedophilia over the last 50 years have reflected anxieties over various forms of social progress. Anxieties that women in the workplace were destroying the nuclear family and placing children at risk helped fuel the McMartin case in the 1980’s, during which over 300 false charges were filed against seven daycare center employees who prosecutors alleged were running a satanic, pedophilic sex ring. Daycare centers had been demonized heavily by Republicans, and in a panicked environment, one false allegation against one teacher quickly spiraled into a state of hysteria around potential sex abuse in daycare settings. As Breland wrote:
However flimsy its premises, the case whipped up a national panic. In 1985, a teacher’s aide in Massachusetts was wrongly convicted of molesting 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old boys and girls; the prosecutor had told the jury that a gay man working in a day care was like a “chocoholic in a candy store.” Around that time, employees at Bronx daycare centers were arrested for allegedly sexually abusing children. Five men were sentenced before all ultimately saw their convictions overturned.
It’s also worth noting that Republican rhetoric about abortion also fueled an epidemic of attacks against abortion providers during that same decade.
Violence is not merely a side effect of right-wing politics — it animates right-wing politics. The Republicans have capitalized on the same energies that fueled Pizzagate and QAnon by placing an obsession with trans people at the center of their alarmist agenda.
In the last episode of Movement Memos, I talked about how it was the end of segregation, rather than Roe v. Wade, that led to the electoral activation of evangelical leaders in the 1970’s. But racism had become a harder sell in society at large, so to build political power, evangelicals made “saving unborn lives” their battlecry. We can see a similar opportunistic shift across time with regard to the targeting of queer people and trans people.
When I was growing up in the ‘90’s, the idea that gay people could “turn” impressionable young people gay, or that young queer people may have simply been “confused” by bad influences, was wholly mainstream. Fearmongering around the threat gay people supposedly posed to straight people in bathrooms and in locker rooms, or merely by being openly queer in the presence of children, was everywhere. But in the early 2000’s, this kind of rhetoric became less palatable to the broader public as the gay community made various social gains, including growing support for gay marriage. More and more people found it fathomable that gay people could live within the conventions of the mainstream, and, even if they did not wholly approve, the normalized presence of gay people in public life made them a less effective boogeyman for the GOP. The demand embedded in the chant, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” was realized. We were there, and people had, in fact, gotten used to it. Sociologist Amy L. Stone has written about popular depictions of gay and trans people as dangerous, pedophilic “strangers,” saying:
Challengers make the most overt, deleterious arguments about harm to children when new groups initially advocate for legal rights and access to new spaces; as marginalized groups become more familiar and less “strange,” challengers make more covert claims about these groups, as stranger danger claims have waning cultural and political resonance.
In the 2000’s, Stone documented an almost total shift from the religious right, from its messaging about gay teachers and boy scouts corrupting children to rhetoric targeting trans women, and depicting trans people as a threat to cis women and to children.
Now, I want to circle back to what I was saying earlier, about the parallels between white mothers who fought the integration of schools and cis mothers who are fighting to exclude trans children from sports. As I discussed with Shane Burley last week, evangelical leaders were not politically activated as a force for the Republican Party by Roe v. Wade, as many contend, but rather, by financial pressure on religious schools to integrate. When religious schools started losing their tax exempt status for being all white, the political power of evangelicals came into play, and the anti-abortion movement as we know it was born. I want us to think about the continuity of all of these attacks, and how moral panics about the safety of children always come back to issues of power, purity and control. The same is true of right-wing concerns about “the unborn.”
If we fail to understand the links between these attacks, our movements will likewise lack continuity, and we will not be able to adequately defend ourselves.
CS: I don’t think we can understand attacks on abortion, attacks on contraception, attacks on bodily autonomy in the reproductive context, without connecting it to what we’re seeing with attacks on trans people. I mean, these are inextricable fights, both in terms of how they’re being deployed by the right, and in terms of the demands to properly resist them from the left to the extent we have an interest in doing so, which I do question sometimes.
And I think when we look at sort of anti-abortion movement in the United States, it has many goals at its core. It’s obviously not about life or humanity. It’s about power. It’s about control. It too, is a state building project and serves a narrative function, let’s say. And so when we think about, well, what happens when Roe falls and why is it that we’re seeing the sort of culmination of the movement to overturn Roe coincide with the escalation of attacks on trans people?
And I think that’s, I mean, that’s for many reasons, and one, is that overturning Roe was never the end of that movement. It’s one that will continue to manifest in ways that demands the state to intervene in the sort of way in which we are able to conceptualize and control our bodies. And reproduction is one aspect of that. It’s one huge aspect of that, but there’s many more because control over the body and sexuality in the family are integral to the rise of a right fascist government and that is obviously what many people are invested in. We have to understand the ways in which a post-Roe world looks in the United States are going to be sort of manifest in multiple attacks on bodily autonomy, including with respect to ability to self determine how one looks, how one engages their desire and how one sort of accesses healthcare to connect with their body.
And so, this has a multitude of implications for people regardless of reproductive capacity and interest, and regardless of trans or cis status. Then, I also think that in addition to the movement to abolish Roe not ending there and thereby being inextricable from attacks on trans people, all of these sort of efforts to define the legitimate body, whether that’s in the context of reproduction or in the context of some other aspect of bodily self-determination, that is sort of always a part of our legal discourse and structure.
And so, I think one of the things that’s happened over the last 50 years in particular is that we’ve been very deliberately sort of separated from and fragmented from each other as individuals and as movements. Unfortunately, what that has meant is that we are fighting a very well-coordinated attack on our bodily autonomy that has weaponized us against each other. And so, I worry that what happens moving forward is that our 50 years of failing to connect the ways in which our bodies and lives have been constrained and attacked means that we’re going to look at a post-Roe world, a world where the law is even more explicitly designed to enact violence and not have the tools to see how we’ve been sort of very deliberately pitted against each other.
And so, it’s not just that the movement is sort of designed to go beyond Roe and sort of have a next demon, have a next target, it’s that it’s always been about building state power in very particular ways and it’s leveraged internal divisions in order to effectively do that. And so, we are coming at this moment at a very significant disadvantage, because we’ve all been sort of played, not to say that we’ve all been sort of equally played in that process, but certainly our mainstream movements have, and that I think is a real challenge for this next period.
KH: The only solution to the sort of death by atomization that Chase is describing is solidarity. Given the extremity of the situation, the lack of support trans people, and particularly trans youth have received from the broader public is deeply concerning. As I said at the top of the show, one of the reasons we keep hitting his topic so hard is that others are not, and frankly, that really scares me.
CS: I am so disheartened by the lack of response to these attacks on trans people. I think just as one example, I mean, Alabama was able to pass a felony ban on health care, potentially punishing doctors and parents with up to 10 years in prison for providing or supporting trans people in accessing medically necessary and life-saving medical treatment. There was almost no response. Most people didn’t know it happened. It barely registered on any mainstream news.
It was sort of shocking to think that in 2016, North Carolina can pass a bathroom ban, which is terrible, but by comparison, nowhere near as severe and devastating as what Alabama does. And it gets this national outcry in 2016 over H.B. 2 in North Carolina. And, here, we have this felony ban on healthcare and it’s crickets. I think partly, it’s a product of sort of how oversaturated we are with the horrible news and continued collapse in the midst of ongoing pandemic and the realities of the further erosion of structures that people had, for better or worse, believed in to protect them.
And so, I think it’s partly just, there is an oversaturation of devastation and exhaustion, and so, you have 2016, you have an outcry over a bathroom ban, whereas we had two sports bills, three bathroom bans, and a felony ban on healthcare pass almost in a week and almost no response at all. Partly, it’s just the way that we’re living in this moment. In some ways, it is about trans people and it’s also just about the fact that we’ve been exhausted into, I don’t know, non-responsiveness, and that is obviously one goal of people who want to see us die.
But then there’s the trans-specific reality, which is that people still feel very comfortable debating transness as if you can have a general conversation about whether there’s two sides to the question of whether people should be trans at all. And so, if that’s a legitimate discourse, if that’s a legitimate thing to talk about, then there’s no room for outcry because so many people have internalized, at least to a degree, that there might be some merit to the idea that we should stop people from being trans.
That is very much still pervading our public imagination that stopping transness is a legitimate goal. And when that’s out there, then I think you can see that there’s a real hesitation, including among the very progressive left, to really fight in solidarity with trans people that comes from a true resistance to the idea that transness is something to be held and celebrated and embraced. That is in part because everyone has internalized these norms of binary sex bodies and I think many people have not done their individual work, not to mention the structural work to be done to sort of ask themselves, “Am I truly afraid of the possibility that comes when we might be able to be more capacious than we’re told?” I think that gives a lot of people a lot of anxiety, including people on the left.
KH: So what does it mean to protect and defend trans youth at such a time?
CS: When I think about, what does it look like to truly protect and defend trans youth in this moment of outright assault and devastation, I mean, I think first and foremost, we have to sort of protect and defend survival systems. We should be ensuring healthcare for everyone. We should be defending access to housing in the midst of all of the many collapses of affordable housing. We need to be canceling student loans. I mean, there are sort of material things that need to happen on a structural level that ultimately are sort of integral to the survival of so many communities.
And so, I mean, I don’t want to ignore that those things are sort of central to the fight for trans justice because they absolutely are. I also think that we all need to be having conversations in our lives to shift this legitimization of the idea that transness is bad and that therefore trans people can be constituted as this monstrous other that then allows for these anti-trans laws, policies and discourses to flourish, which means parents and caregivers need to be changing their orientation towards the sexing of their children. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to raise their children without gender. It’s more that we need to be orienting ourselves towards the possibility that the young people in our care can decide who they are in more expansive and exciting ways, and that that’s not a threat to anyone’s order of how they understand themselves, their family, or society. Because if we’re continuing to exert this anxiety in the micro sense, then it’s going to continue to be constituted in the macro sense.
And then I think we just need to show up. I mean, kids are really in trouble here. Our kids are in trouble in a lot of ways. As a parent, we have a pandemic that is in their… Our government does not care to manage. And then we have gun violence in schools. We’re sending our kids to school every day, worried about whether they’re going to get COVID, whether they’re going to get shot, and yet the most salient discourse that we seem to be having about schools and safety is whether or not kids can read about the history of this country truthfully and see books with trans kids in them or same sex parents.
We have a serious problem and we’re not going to solve it tomorrow. We’re also not going to solve it if we don’t really conceptualize what it is, and it’s bigger than just, oh, are people afraid to have their kid be near a trans person or see same sex couples. This is way bigger and more structural than that. It’s about how there is a hundreds and hundreds of years investment in ensuring that power is protected in certain ways, and unfortunately I think that trans people will continue to be a canary in the coal mine, and if we are not properly engaging in the fight to defend trans youth, before we know it, we’re going to see how much it was never about trans young people and it was about building the structures for fascism.
You can see that all over the world in a multitude of ways, and yet here we are acting as if we should be having a legitimate conversation or acting as if the legitimate conversation to have is what is the developmentally appropriate age for people to learn about trans-ness? It’s like, no, that’s not the conversation, just like the conversation isn’t about how many doors are unlocked at a Texas elementary school when someone walks in and murders 20 kids. I think we’re just always having the wrong conversation, and that’s why we are always going to be living under such extreme violence.
KH: I appreciate those words, and I also appreciate a tremendous resource that was recently released by Interrupting Criminalization. A brief called We Must Fight in Solidarity With Trans Youth includes a wealth of information, including a glossary, that aims to help organizers make links between the criminalization of care for trans youth across all of our struggles. The brief outlines who is responsible for the current assault on trans people, who benefits, and explains how people can join the fight to challenge the criminalization of trans health care, support trans people seeking care, and connect the criminalization of gender-affirming health care to broader calls for abolition. I wanted to share these words from the brief, which feel especially crucial to me in this moment:
Never treat trans existence as up for debate. Advocating for space in newspapers, universities, and so on for cis people to debate issues of life and death for trans people leads to trans death. Eliminationist campaigns should not get platformed. We need more space for trans journalists, writers, filmmakers, artists, scholars, and organizers to share their work and engage with one another.
I know these ongoing attacks are extremely disheartening, but I can honestly say that, for me, it feels a lot better to be inside the struggle against something terrible than to merely bear witness to it. There is a lot of hope to be found in this moment, and a great deal of it can be found by connecting with other people and doing work that needs to be done.
CS: To me, as awful as things are and feel, and as painful as it is to do this work and feel like, gosh, like things are just getting worse, I still show up to the work every day with such an unbelievable amount of love for my people, both my colleagues and my community. And so it does give me hope to just get to be proximate to people who continue to find a way to make me laugh, where we can make sure that we are taken care of. It gives me hope to watch people just throw down and show up. To me, that looks like, “Hey, I’m going to Venmo you $50 so you eat well,” to people that you love.
It looks like making sure people are fed and housed and loved and celebrated in our communities. That’s going on always around me. That always gives me hope, even under the most despairing and depressing of circumstances. People find ways, especially queer people, to be fabulous, to be loving, to be innovative and creative.
And so, at the end of the day, the state is going to do what the state is going to do, but I know that people that I love and care about and learn from know how to create survival systems outside the state. And I know our state should be taking care of us in ways that they are not, but it does give me hope to know that there are blueprints that we can follow, stories that we can listen to, and people who will continue to ensure that their people are loved, protected, fed, housed, and all the things that we need.
KH: It’s Pride month, which was already a fraught time for a lot of us, given how commercialized Pride’s once radical traditions have become. It’s going to be even more irksome to see the corporate floats and pinkwashing of law enforcement and the military while trans people are under attack and most of the U.S. looks the other way. But, as Chase reminded me, the celebration of queer and trans stories and communities, is deeply important.
CS: It’s so hard in Pride where there’s this sort of… Things are so sanitized and everything is fed through this lens of reductive celebration. It’s really easy to dismiss, especially in this moment where, and I do this all the time, is dismiss the utility of Pride because it’s become overly corporatized, overly reductive. You have just everyone saying love is love. You’re like, “What is that? What are you talking about?”
At the same time, there is something really important about holding each other in love and celebration. I don’t want to lose the good parts of Pride in all of my criticism of it, because at the end of the day, our love for our trans-ness, our love for our people, is actually going to be such a beautiful and sustaining part of moving forward. And so similarly, I’m not a huge fan of my existence is my resistance, because it’s like that isn’t my political analysis, but, or and I should say, our love, our joy, our celebration, our tools, our stories are worthy of celebration, and they are actually incredibly effective forms of resistance to many forms of state violence, which are incredibly familiar to so many communities. And so I do want to hold onto that as we are in and moving into June.
KH: As an activist and journalist, I am in the habit of desperately trying to warn people about major threats, like fascism, climate change and COVID, and I will tell you, I don’t do this because it is fun or widely appreciated, because it is neither. By the time I am running out of breath, I know most people are not going to listen, but I know from experience that some people will, and I know that we do not need everyone on board to make a difference. But when it comes to defending trans rights and lives, we definitely need a lot more people than we have right now.
It feels as though a “we can’t save everyone” mentality has set in, and a lot of people are simply being sacrificed. People who are especially vulnerable to COVID are being abandoned as “normalcy” grinds forward. Imprisoned people are being left to a crisis of ever-worsening conditions, amid an ongoing global pandemic. And trans people are being sacrificed to the vilification, dehumanization, criminalization and violence of Republicans. I want to warn people, in no uncertain terms, that liberals and leftists will regret this abandonment. But I also want to remind us all that it doesn’t have to be this way. We all make choices every day about what we will talk about, what we will act upon, what we will grieve, and what we will ignore. You all have choices to make around what your role will be in the fate of trans people, in this historic moment. There will be no do-overs.
For now, the corporate media has made its choice, but as we have seen in the past, the media can be forced to address a subject when everyday people refuse to ignore it. The Democratic establishment has made their choice, but our power does not come from them, it comes from us. We have to be as uncompromising in our commitment to life and self determination as our enemies are to the surveillance, control and annihilation of their targets. My ask for this week is that we all sit with what that demands of us, and check out Interrupting Criminalization’s brief on supporting trans youth. Share the brief with organizations you work with or respect. Share its lessons with your children and talk about it with your friends. Tell them that you are honoring Pride month by figuring out how you can support trans youth and invite them to join you.
This is an overwhelming time, but I am asking all of you to consider how you can learn more, how you can support people taking action, and how you can be constructive in this crisis. Because young people, and trans youth in particular, are fighting a brave battle right now. Last year, dozens of students at Temple High School in Texas walked out after a transgender teen revealed she had been forced to change in a janitor’s closet and denied access to girls’ locker rooms and bathrooms. This month, youth in Portland organized a rally downtown in support of trans youth and trans rights. In April, hundreds of students joined a walkout at East High School in Salt Lake City to protest HB11, a bill that bans transgender girls from joining sports teams that align with their gender identity. In March, students in Atlee High School in Hanover County, Virginia, walked out after their school agreed to allow the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to review the county’s equal education policy. I have talked a bit about the ADF’s handiwork and attacks on trans people in this episode, but it’s also worth mentioning that the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed the ADF as a hate group.
So right now, some of the scariest forces in this country are lined up against trans children, depicting their very existence as a threat to the social order, and stoking violence against them. And who is standing up to that violence? While there are obviously adult advocates like Chase doing great work, the bulk of the courage that we are presently witnessing comes from trans youth themselves and their peers. I want to say to those young people, if they are listening, I am so proud of you, and so grateful for you, but I also understand that you deserve more support. I am sorry people have not shown up for you like they should, but I promise that those of us who care will not give up, and I believe that more people will be inspired by your work and follow your lead.
To everyone else, I want to say, it’s time to show up for these young people. And I hope that some of you listening will be among those who do. I want to thank Chase Strangio for joining me to talk about attacks on trans youth and what we can do about them. I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today, and remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.
- We Must Fight In Solidarity With Trans Youth is a brief by Interrupting Criminalization. This brief seeks to empower activists and organizers with practical strategies for supporting trans youth. Please check it out and share it widely.
- Transgender People, Bathrooms, and Sexual Predators: What the Data Say by Julia Serano features a number of the articles and studies referenced in this episode, in addition to many other resources. The piece “provides a readily citable source for debunking ‘bathroom bills’ and related anti-trans propaganda.”
- To learn more from Chase, you can follow him on Twitter.
- If you are looking for a trans-led group to support in your state, The Trans Justice Funding Project’s 2022 grantee list provides a list of potential options around the country.
- If you want to check the status of specific bills, the ACLU has a bill tracking page that monitors “legislation affecting LGBTQ rights around the country.”
- The Mothers Leading the Battle Against Trans Student Athletes by Melissa Gira Grant
- The Anti-Trans Bathroom Nightmare Has Its Roots in Racial Segregation by Gillian Frank
- Why Are Right-Wing Conspiracies so Obsessed With Pedophilia? by Ali Breland
- Hanover students stage school walkout over transgender policies by Brendan King
- Portland transgender youth hold rally downtown to send message to kids nationwide by Frances Lin
- Frame Variation in Child Protectionist Claims: Constructions of Gay Men and Transgender Women as Strangers by Amy L. Stone
- East High School students hold walkout in protest of HB11 by Logan Stefanich
- The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert O. Paxton
- Gender-Affirming Health Care Saved My Life. Everyone Should Have Access to It. by Chase Strangio
- DeSantis’s Next Move in War Against Trans Kids Is Banning Gender Affirming Care by Sharon Zhang
- GOP’s “Women’s Bill of Rights” Riddled With Attacks on Trans People by Chris Walker
- “My Story Is One of Many”: The Criminalization of Testosterone HRT by Stann Fransisco
- Two Weeks After Uvalde School Massacre, Texas GOP Vows Ban on… Taking Kids to Drag Shows by Julia Conley