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On the Right's Call to "Eradicate Transgenderism" (It Means Exactly What You Think It Means)
Yes, criminalizing various aspects of trans people's lives is cultural genocide.
So, things have gotten pretty rough for trans people over the past couple of weeks. Or, I suppose I should say, things have gotten even rougher than they have been.
Recently, right-wing anti-trans rhetoric has hit new levels when influential fascist commentator Michael Knowles delivered a speech at CPAC in which he said, “For the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”
And in the days that followed, a whole bunch of people who would absolutely understand if someone said “Catholocism must be eradicated from society” or “African-Americanism must be eradicated from society” or “Judaism must be eradicated from society” that those would be meant as calls for cultural genocide — decided that nah, it doesn’t count because, hey, it’s just trans people, right?
So, I started writing this piece. It’s… extraordinarily long, a bit rambly, and not entirely proofread (sorry in advance for spelling errors or sentences that just trail off). I decided to build off of a Twitter thread I posted about the way the word “transgenderism” (which describes the existence of trans people as type of political belief rather than as just… a way that some people are) gets used to obscure attacks on trans people’s ability to peacefully exist within the world.
With the way anti-trans attacks have heated up recently, I’ll probably be writing more about this issue than I’d like, so, again, I’m sorry in advance if the next few weeks or months are too LGBTQ-heavy. I’ll still be writing some pieces on different topics, and will try to commission some work from other writers to help me keep things going at a normal pace.
If you want to keep up with my work, please consider becoming a paid or free subscriber.
Anyway… here goes… Thank you, readers, for bearing with me through what’s been a difficult time for me, personally.
A reminder that words like "transgenderism" and "gender ideology" are almost exclusively used by anti-trans activists to obscure the fact that trans people are simply people who just happen to be trans. It's not a belief system.(This article is nine years old, so don’t yell at the author about it; I’m using this as an example.)
In it, the word “transgenderism” appears five times (six if you count the sub-headline). I mention this only because "transgenderism" is not, typically, a word that trans people actually use to describe ourselves and our experiences -- and for good reason: the people who do use it do so as a way to frame transgender people not as individuals who happen to be trans, but as reality-detached adherents to an ideology.
As Jos Truitt noted in a Columbia Journalism Review piece criticizing that article [emphasis mine]:
The article’s skewed narrative begins in the title: radical feminism as a movement has never existed solely to oppose trans rights. Trans-exclusionary radical feminism came out of lesbian separatism, a subset of radical feminism. And members of that subset have consistently undermined their own positions in the service of trans exclusion, a paradox that Goldberg doesn’t address when presenting their arguments. She leaves unquestioned, for example, the position that women are defined and oppressed by men as a class because of pregnancy, an argument that makes no sense for lesbian separatists to make.
Transgender people, who identify with a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth, are framed not as an identity group but instead a theoretical position by the use of the word “transgenderism.” Goldberg draws this word from the title of a new academic book by trans-exclusionary feminist Sheila Jeffreys, Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism.
Opponents of trans rights (i.e. the ability to update one’s identity documents, be shielded from discrimination in housing/public accommodations/employment/health care, and the general ability to exist peacefully in the world as part of society) really like using the word “transgenderism” in place of “transgender people” or “trans people.” The same goes for terms like “gender ideology” (that’s a creation of the Catholic Church, FYI) and “transgender ideology.” Put simply, these terms exist as a sort of argument against the idea that trans people should have any rights at all.
This is important context for understanding Knowles’ words.
On February 27, Knowles delivered a rant about a “great new law in Kansas,” which he claimed “bans transgenderism for all practical purposes” [again, emphasis mine]:
This is a beautiful bill because it doesn't just say don't trans the kids. It doesn't just say wait till eight to introduce kids to transgenderism in schools. Once they turn nine, that's fine. It doesn't just say only minors can't -- it bans transgenderism for all practical purposes in the state for everybody. And it has to. In order for women to have the right to have their own bathrooms, you have to ban transgenderism entirely. You can't just ban it for the kids. It's got to be entirely. In order for women to be able to have their own locker rooms at the gym, you have to ban transgenderism entirely. In order to protect businesses from having to participate in weird, occult sexual rituals like the transgender transition, you have to ban transgenderism entirely.
I love this bill because it is so much more aggressive than the other bills we've seen. The other -- I don't mean to knock the other governors and in the statehouses, they've done a great job laying the groundwork -- the groundwork, rather. But this bill goes much further. And it reminds us of a truth in politics that Republicans all too often forget -- you're either on offense or you're on defense. You're either making gains in the culture or you're losing ground in the culture. There's no standing still. There's no status quo. There's no neutrality. And what the conservatives have screwed up on for at least 50 years now, probably more, is the libs make some crazy aggressive play and then we try to dial it back by about 5 to 10 percent. Or worse, we try to slow it down by about 5 to 10 percent.
Let’s look at these statements. Right there, he’s very clearly stating that trans women must be banned from women’s restrooms (“in order for women to have the right to have their own bathrooms, you have to ban transgenderism entirely”). What’s worth noting here is that people on the right used to pretend to have reasons for these laws. Like, “Oh, if you pass bills that protect trans people from non-discrimination, you’ll end up with a bunch of hulking men pretending to be trans and assaulting people!” type stuff.
But try as they might, the right couldn’t come up with actual evidence that laws allowing trans people to use public restrooms actually led to an increase in bathroom assaults. They’ll cling to stray anecdotes here and there, but the fact remains that when pressed for evidence that laws that protect trans people cause an increase in bathroom-related assaults, they couldn’t. So now they’ve mostly moved away from that talking point and instead embraced this idea that trans women should be legally mandated to use men’s restrooms just because. No safety reason, just forcing trans people to do that because the right feels like it.
He says that “in order to protect businesses from having to participate in weird, occult sexual rituals like the transgender transition, you have to ban transgenderism entirely.” Again, this is him saying that trans people should be required to publicly present themselves as whatever exists on their birth certificates when it comes to names, dress codes, and restrooms.
“Occult sexual rituals like the gender transition?” What he’s referring to here is simply… letting trans people work at a business, as they are. There’s no “sexual ritual.” If someone is at a job and transitions while on the job, the “ritual” is… uh… sending an email to HR to be like, “BTW, here’s the updated name you should have on file,” and… that’s it. There’s no “ritual.” Maybe he’s referring to insurance plans covering transition-related care (as they cover pretty much all care deemed medically necessary, you don’t see me screaming about insurance companies covering Knowles’ boner pills or whatever he’s on).
This is a demented attack on trans people’s ability to exist. It is genocidal.
The very next day, he unleashed another rant about no longer wanting to “live according to the delusions of these troubled people”:
They said that I was calling for the extermination of transgender people. They said I was calling for a genocide against – I said, what? I must have missed that part of my show. When did I -– did I say that? I don't – one, I don't know how you could have a genocide of transgender people because genocide refers to genes, it refers to genetics, it refers to biology. And the whole point of transgenderism is that it has nothing to do with biology. That's what the transgender activists say. They say, forget about biological sex. My gender expression doesn't have to have anything to do with my biological sex. Okay, well, then there can't be a genocide. It refers to genetics.
But furthermore, nobody's calling to exterminate anybody because the other problem with that statement is that transgender people is not a real ontological category. It's not a legitimate category of being. There are people who think that they're the wrong sex, but they're mistaken. They're laboring under a delusion. And so we need to correct that delusion.
People said, well, what does it mean to ban transgenderism entirely? Well, it means that we return to the way that American society operated until approximately five minutes ago when we said that men do not have a right to present themselves as women in public life, and women don't have a right to present themselves as men in public life. You have some limits on that. We have all sorts of limits on our speech and behavior.
And transgenderism, ultimately, is a lie. It's a deception. It's a fraud. Fraud is not protected by the First Amendment. Fraud is not a category protected by the principles of free speech. You have no right to fraud. So if you're a man and you dress up like a woman and you rename yourself Sally, you have no right to go to the gym and go into the women's locker room and say, no, I'm really a woman. That's a fraud. And you have no right to that.
So, banning transgenderism, what that would mean is telling people who are a little confused that they need to get psychological help, that they probably need to get a little bit of spiritual help and they need to be normal. Be normal. That's my -- I think that's my main political message these days.
You hear that? It’s not genocide because “transgender people is not a real ontological category. It’s not a legitimate category of being.” Oh, and trans people “have no right” to be themselves because Knowles has decided that our existence constitutes “fraud.”
And here, in that final paragraph, he explains what he wants to happen to trans people: to force us to “be normal,” by which he means “not be trans.”
The argument here is one that we’ve all seen many, many times before. Remember when people argued that preventing gay men from getting married wasn’t an act of discrimination because they could, like everyone else, just marry women?And remember when people argued that Trump's trans military ban wasn't actually a ban on trans people from the military because hey, trans people could just enlist under the standards of their “biological sex” (and not take hormones or pursue any medical interventions at all)?
Obviously, yes, restricting the right of gay people to get married was discriminatory, even if the people defending that discriminatory policy didn’t frame it that way. The same goes for the military policy. It was discriminatory (the Trump administration never actually offered a clear, provable justification for why it “needed” to ban trans people from the military — there was virtually no cost and there hadn’t been any cohesion issues between the time where the policy was lifted and when it was reinstated). You can dance around it all you want, but for all intents and purposes, these were discriminatory bans.
And the same goes for this call to force trans people to be “normal” (i.e. to go through life without transition-related health care, go by names that bring us pain, dress in accordance with rules that fix the idea of “man” and “woman” as prescribed by our original birth certificates, etc.). Just as gay people technically could get married, and just as trans people technically could be part of the military during the Trump era. They just had to abandon various aspects of what made them who they were. See? Easy!
Or… not so easy.
Trans people can’t just not be trans. For a lot of us, it’s something we spent years (or even decades) trying to do. It’s what I did. I tried to just… not be trans. It didn’t work. In yet another video, Knowles says that what he wants is simply for things to go back to where things were “around 2015.” I’ll tell you why that’s a lie:
Put simply, eradicating transgenderism from public life would mean behaving as American society did before, say, 2015. Before, around 2015, we did not have any acceptance of transgenderism in public life. And it started to be introduced into public life around 2015 when Barack Obama instituted transgender military policies and some liberals in North Carolina decided to invite men into the women's bathroom and passed all sorts of weird ordinances about bathrooms. Then, later on, we got the Bostock decision. The Bostock decision rewrote civil rights law to say that there was a protection for gender identity and there -- obviously there is not one, but that came years later. So we're only talking about the last seven, eight years or so we've had transgenderism in public life.
Everything he says here is a lie. It’s long been legal to update birth certificates, passports, drivers licenses. Various states had laws in place to protect trans people against discrimination (no, it did not start with Charlotte implementing its own and being crushed by the state immediately in 2016).
Here is a graphic from a 2014 Media Matters report (standard disclosure: I worked at MMFA between 2018 and 2021, but I think you probably know that) about right-wing efforts to block laws that protect trans people from being allowed to use public restrooms, have nondiscrimination protections in employment/housing/etc.:
As you can see, there were already several laws on the books (some that had already been in effect for more than a decade) protecting trans people from discrimination. And as you can see from that graphic, officials in these states had gone on record saying that no, there hadn’t been any measurable increase in bathroom-related assaults following trans-inclusive laws.
And hey, let’s go even further back, just for fun. Here’s a 2013 story about California’s “School Success and Opportunity Act,” which expanded nondiscrimination protections to California students. It was written by… oh! Me! Republicans were trying to roll back trans protections that the state government enacted, claiming that allowing the law to go into effect would lead to all matter of mayhem — but in the decade since (the effort to block it failed), none of the apocalyptic claims from the right have come true.
If I’m being completely honest, it’s more than a little annoying that after spending a decade writing about efforts to protect trans people from discrimination, the right-wing efforts to push back on that move using slippery-slope fearmongering. And then, after none of it came true, they just continued the argument anyway.
The argument has always been about “safety” and regularly conjured images of little girls being followed into bathrooms by opportunistic men. It was a scare tactic, completely untethered from reality (again, zero correlation between inclusive laws and assaults — save your one-off anecdotes). So, if this was actually about safety, as the right repeatedly said it was, why is that that we’re here, a nearly decade later, and the right is still calling for trans people to be banned from public restrooms?
Simple: because it wasn’t about “safety.” Ever. Just like the “fairness in sports” cries weren’t actually about sports. This goes for every issue. Every issue. If this was about sports or safety, we could (and should) have that discussion. But at the heart of it is the idea that trans people shouldn't be able to live in peace as equal members of society.
The arguments are all reverse-engineered from there. We can have reasonable discussions, but we cannot “debate” whether trans people should be allowed to simply exist as ourselves. Part of this, I think, has to do with the idea that every trans person is “clockable” as trans 100% of the time. That’s not true.
Some trans women don’t “pass,” of course. And some women who aren’t trans regularly get mistaken for men. The idea that there should be laws in place that specifically restrict the ability of trans people to quietly exist (making it a crime for trans women to use women’s restrooms is one example of a policy that does this), despite trans people doing nothing wrong (don’t blame trans people that you saw Caitlyn Jenner on a bunch of magazine covers years ago; that was the media’s doing; and I assure you that no one is forcing you to say “chest feeding;” whatever other media-driven I-saw-it-on-the-internet story about trans people’s lives is also entirely secondary to the fact that laws are being implemented to make our lives harder, as part of a right-wing plot to force us to either detransition (which, for many of us, would be a death sentence) or to exist as part of a despised sub-class of citizens.
As I was writing this, I saw a thread on Twitter. Kevin Drum was rushing to the defense of two writers trans people have been critical of over the years (Drum is not accurately describing the criticism). The New York Times’s Joe Nocera responded, “The intolerance of progressives is one of the hallmarks of this current moment.” (These are both goofy tweets that are pretty detached from reality).
And then there was one from some random guy named Patrick: “What is this endless stupidity about existing? They will exist regardless of if we embrace their mental illness.”
I think about that post not because it’s remarkable, but because it isn’t. I see posts like that every day — posts in which creating a legal apparatus to force us into the shadows, to use pain points to try to push us to detransition or to be excluded from public life, to legalize discrimination against us, and to criminalize our health care.
I see those posts every single day. I’ve seen them for years. I see them now more than ever before. If you strip all of that from us, if you take away our identities, if you criminalize our presence in public, if you force us to loudly announce that we’re trans to complete and total strangers by forcing people like me to use men’s restrooms, if you do all of this… will we exist? What makes me me? I know for a fact that I can’t live in the world they’re trying to create for me, and the creation is an effort to enact a cultural genocide against trans people. That’s what the right is pushing for, and that is an idea that seems to be gaining some measure of acceptance among average people.
It’s not okay.
It really would be nice if all the people who've spent the past decade monstering trans people and promoting the false idea that being trans is an "ideology" that one chooses to subscribe to would actually, you know, try to clean up their mess now that things have gone exactly to the place trans people have tried to warn about for years. But I'm not seeing that happen.
It's making it a whole lot harder to believe that the people pushing this stuff in 2014 onward were the dispassionate observers they pretended to be.
It really shouldn't be too much to expect that the people who've made entire careers out of dumping on trans people while feigning confusion over why anyone would possibly think they were anti-trans to finally prove it that they see us as human beings, as worthy of being part of society.
But instead, all these, "I'm not anti-trans! I just have questions!" people who wrote story after story on this stuff have mostly gone silent or at most will go, "Oh wow, the GOP view on trans people is a bit much!" but never go, "Oh no, I think I helped contribute to this."
I don’t care if you believe slogans. I care that you believe I should be able to exist in public, in peace.
Putting an “M” back on my driver’s license doesn’t make anyone safer. Forcing me to use the men’s restroom doesn’t make anyone safer. I mostly blend into the world around me, and forcing me to walk into men’s restrooms (or forcing me to break the law by using women’s restrooms) would disrupt my life, would force me to out myself to strangers, and would put me in danger.
And for the record, I really and truly don't care if random people think trans people are "really" the gender they say they are. I care that trans people can exist in the world in peace, free from harassment and discrimination, etc. This isn't about agreeing with slogans or not.
Like, look, you can think, "Oh wow, think these people are totally deluded!" and still understand that trans people, like all people, deserve legal protections and the ability to participate in the world for who they are. There are policy issues that can and should be discussed, but "No, you shouldn't be allowed to participate in society, at least unless you loudly announce to everyone around you that you're trans by having inconsistent ID documents, and hey, maybe trans people of all ages should have their medical care taken away" is not reasonable.
The anti-trans movement is a genocidal one.
Again, we can have discussions about specific policies, but you don't get to call for "morally mandating" a group out of existence, or call for the "eradication" of an ideology you've made up to attack us. When people say “eradication of transgenderism from public life,” they mean that people like me can’t continue to exist.
Anyway, now would be a really great time for all the "just asking questions" people who helped feed the anti-trans moral panic to use the same amount of energy they used doing that to push back on the right's ghoulish nonsense.
And it would *definitely* be nice if places like NYT were as concerned about attacks on 1.5 million Americans' ability to live their lives as they are about the dozen or so trans kids that they keep running stories about.
Let’s have difficult policy discussions, let’s find a way to co-exist in a way that respects everyone’s rights and maximizes privacy and safety. I am all for that. But first, we need to take the criminalization of various aspects of our lives off the table.
This article is nearly nine years old now, and there has been plenty of pushback on it. Please don’t bother Michelle Goldberg about it. I don’t think there was any sort of animosity involved in writing it, but the general vibe of it after it came out among trans people was a big, “Oooooof!” If you’re interested in specific criticisms about that, please check out the links here, here, here, and here.
By which I mean, no nondiscrimination protections, an inability to update ID documents, being blocked from using public restrooms that match their gender, and so on.
See: point number 1 here from the Trump Department of Defense, which read, “The new DOD policy doesn't ban transgender individuals from service. … Transgender individuals are not excluded from military service, and DOD policy specifically prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. But all persons, whether or not they are transgender, must meet all military standards, including the standards associated with their biological sex. Waivers or exceptions to these standards may be granted on a case-by-case basis.”