Transgender rights are crucial in the struggle not only for human rights, but women’s liberation
Mon 22 Oct 2018
Attacking transgender people – especially transgender women – has become a favorite strategy for authoritarians, and Trump is no exception. On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration is attempting to narrow gender identity to the one assigned at birth – thereby denying transgender people their place in society.
This is a deliberate attempt to deploy tried and tested transphobic messaging to rile up his voter base ahead of the midterm elections. Trump wants to rally conservatives while engaging in attacking a marginalized group that it is still socially acceptable to target. Unfortunately, support and inclusion of transgender individuals even among mainstream progressives is lacking, and even some self-proclaimed feminist movements advocate for trans exclusion in ways similar to the recent Trump directives.
The irony in this is that if we peel the onion it becomes clear that transgender people are not actually the real target of such authoritarian leaders. Though transgender people will be the ones annihilated on the frontlines, figuratively and literally, by this tactic, we form too small a minority to pose a serious threat to authoritarianism. Women’s liberation is what autocrats are attempting to quell with anti-trans measures. Strongmen have made their hostility and contempt for women clear, whether it is through promotion of rape as was done by the Filipino leader Rodrigo Duterte, or pushing a US supreme court nominee credibly accused of sexual assault while insulting his accusers, in the case of Donald Trump.
Substantial evidence exists showing that gender equality and greater participation of women in the democratic process leads to more inclusive and socially oriented forms of government. Autocrats rely heavily on the “might is right” model and perpetuation of socially constructed violent models of misogyny in order to exert power, and women’s equality and liberation challenges basic tenets of totalitarianism. It is not a coincidence that with increasing pushes towards gender equality and justice across the globe, patriarchal forces are striking back violently and propelling anti-women leaders such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro towards power.
Progress on transgender issues, and the very existence of transgender individuals, also challenges the basis of male hegemony, because it blurs the boundary between men and women. The directives from the Trump administration on strictly delineating and defining sex as binary, immutable and determined by chromosomes and natal genital anatomy are basically attempts to demarcate a red line between men and women. The recent actions by the Hungarian leader to withdraw funding from any educational programs that deal with gender theory and an insistence on binary immutable sex is part of the same effort of transgender erasure.
Transgender erasure is a weapon being used to fight against women’s equality. In order for a mechanism of oppression to exist between two classes in society, differentiation between them is crucial. In the same fashion as interracial relationships and mixed-race children were anathema to segregationists, transgender people pose a serious challenge for patriarchal structures. The inviolable superior status of white people over black people is challenged when there are people who are both black and white. Similarly, in creating gray space between male and female, transgender people subvert the patriarchy.
Misogyny and oppression of women must be fought globally and unwaveringly, including in western societies, which have falsely been perceived as post-feminist. Transgender rights are crucial in the struggle not only for human rights, but women’s liberation. Those who fiercely advocate for eradicating transgender people are fighting to retain a world under the regime of male hegemony. In such an environment, autocrats and their accompanying oligarchies are sustained. A world without misogyny and with women and queer liberation is a world without despotic rulers. We are in desperate need as a global community to arrive there.
- Mischa Haider is a transgender researcher and activist at Harvard University