Sure says a lot that people know who the assistant secretary of health at HHS is... and not in a good way.
If trans people reach any level of success, they get attacked relentlessly in right-wing media.
Without looking it up, do you know who held the title of Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health & Human Services during the Trump administration? You don’t, do you? That’s okay, because I didn’t, either. (The answer was Brett Giroir, for what it’s worth.) Let’s try another one…
Again, without looking it up, do you know who won the 2021 NCAA national championship in the women’s 500-yard freestyle? I didn’t, either. (The answer was Paige Madden, who actually won the national champion in four different events!) How about the 2020 champion? Just kidding, that’s a trick question. The 2020 championships were canceled because of COVID, but again, you might not have known that, either. And that’s the point I’m getting at.
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Think about how obscure these positions and titles are, how hyper-focused on HHS staffing or NCAA women’s swimming you’d have to be in order to retain this knowledge. Pretty intense, right?
After news broke that Elon Musk’s offer to buy Twitter was accepted by the company’s board (there’s still a somewhat lengthy process between now and when he’ll actually own it), some of his fans felt the freedom to tweet whatever they wanted without fear of Twitter actually enforcing its rules about harassment or misinformation. With this freedom, they… tweeted about the current assistant secretary of health at the HHS and the 2022 NCAA national champion in the women’s 500-yard freestyle - by name (Rachel Levine & Lia Thomas, respectively). Specifically, these people tweeted that these women… were men. That was it. That was the big contribution they had.
What did these women do? Well, they’re trans, and apparently, that’s enough to get the right-wing rage machine worked into a lather.
I’ve already addressed the whole, “Is it fair for trans athletes to compete in sports?” question in a previous post of mine, so if you want that, I recommend checking it out here. (My answer is that it depends.)
Thomas’ success as a swimmer caught the attention of right-wing media, which, in turn, devoted an inordinate amount of coverage to her races. The narrative was clear: Thomas shouldn’t be allowed to compete because she’s trans and allowing her to participate posed a threat to the future of women’s sports.
The coverage was non-stop, and it was really gross and invasive.
As for Levine, well, she was just trying to do the job she was chosen to do. That’s really it. USA Today added her to a somewhat arbitrary list of “Women of the Year,” but just like you probably didn’t know who held Levine’s position before her, you probably didn’t know the names of any of the past people named to this list without looking them up (this year’s group included Simone Biles, Nana Garcia, Janet Murguía, Heather Cox Richardson, Rosalind Brewer, Linda Zhang, Kizzmekia Corbett, Cheryl Horn, Roopali Desai, and Melinda Gates — Levine didn’t take anyone’s spot or anything like that; she was just added to a list).
This reminds me of when people on the right raged when Glamour magazine named Caitlyn Jenner to its “Women of the Year” list back in 2015. They kept repeatedly and incorrectly claiming that she was named “Woman of the Year” (as opposed to one of several women — this is important in creating the impression that she “took” it from a more deserving woman). Jenner was just one of a group of like 40 women on this list, and I can guarantee that in the 7 years since then, the same people who got outraged about Jenner being among the women selected for that list haven’t paid attention to the people named to it.
They pretend to care about these completely inconsequential things (again, if the NCAA national champion in the women’s 500-yard freestyle is so important, why don’t the people who lost their minds about Thomas winning it know who won in the past?) specifically so they can dump on trans people.
The truth is that Twitter has never really done a great job of enforcing its rules. The people who are excitedly yelling about how they’re finally free to say what they want could have just as easily been saying it all this time. And, based on my mentions, they often are!
Right-wing media is responsible for whatever name recognition Thomas and Levine have.
And that’s by design.
By obsessively covering any trans woman in any position of influence, success, notoriety, etc., the right can make it seem like trans people are “taking over” institutions or “destroying” women’s sports. Would there be a few, “Hey, first trans swimmer to blah blah blah, first trans woman to be confirmed by the senate to a position in the executive branch blah blah blah” pieces from outlets that write those kinds of stories? Sure. But that’d probably be the end of it.
Do I think it’s possible to believe that Thomas shouldn’t have been allowed to compete while not being transphobic? Absolutely. I think there’s a very clear and easy argument you can make if that’s what you want to do. But as soon as you start screaming that she’s “a man,” you’re going well beyond that. And this is what so many of those “Oh, so I can’t believe X or else I’m going to be called a transphobe!?!?!?” things boil down to.1 Once you start being transphobic (as repeatedly and unnecessarily tweeting “Lia Thomas and Rachel Levin are men!” is certainly an example of that), it’s just about transphobia.
Much like Trump’s 2016 win primed his supporters to start attacking their political enemies, Musk’s Twitter purchase seems to be encouraging the same from his anti-trans fans. All the while, right-wing media will be stoking the fire while trans people are just trying to live their lives in peace.
One of the most obnoxious examples: when people go, “Oh, so if I don’t want to date a trans person, I’m a transphobe!?!?” Because it’s totally fine to not want to date, well, anyone. But it’s usually not someone being like, “Oh, no thank you” in response to someone asking them out and more unsolicited yelling about “not wanting to date a man!!!” or whatever the case is. The transphobia has nothing to do with not wanting to date someone, but the way in which that is expressed. The same goes for takes on whether or not Lia Thomas should be allowed to compete and why.