The far right’s belief in gender uniformity ignores the arc of trans lives, says Moira Donegan
Fri 26 Oct 2018
Last week, the Trump administration issued a directive to the Department of Health and Human Services, instructing them to consider “sex” as an unchangeable condition determined by a person’s genitals at birth. The suggestion is that the administration intends to oppose an emergent legal theory that asserts that gay and transgender people are protected from discrimination under federal law, and to limit other civil rights protections for trans people in particular.
Just days later, the far-right Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán banned gender studies programs at the country’s universities. “We do not consider it acceptable for us to talk about socially constructed gender rather than biological sexes,” an Orbán deputy told the press. Meanwhile, Brazil’s far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, a Rio congressman with fascist leanings, retains his polling edge ahead of this Sunday’s run-off election – despite, or perhaps because of, his routine issue of rabidly misogynist and anti-gay sentiments. Bolsonaro has publicly said that women who are raped “deserve” it, and that he would be incapable of loving a gay son. In 2002, he remarked: “If I see two men kissing each other on the street, I’ll beat them up.” Bolsonaro aims to pack Brazil’s supreme court, in part with the goal of reversing a 2013 decision legalizing gay marriage.
On Thursday the Guardian reported that the US delegation to the UN has been seeking to remove references to gender from international human rights documents. The move signals that the US will wield its considerable diplomatic power with the aim of discouraging efforts to protect gay and trans people around the globe; sparking the ire of western European allies, according to the Guardian report, and putting America in line with some of the world’s most oppressive regimes.
The moves by these far-right leaders around the world to limit the rights of LGBT people reaffirm the right’s long-standing hostility toward gay rights, transgenderism, and gender variance. They suggest, too, that strong man leaders like Trump, Orban and Bolsonaro view their own power and legitimacy as derived from their maleness, which they regressively understand as mandating a masculinity composed of brutishness, peevish intolerance for difference, obliviousness to nuance, and a bully’s contempt for the vulnerable.
Before the global rise of the extreme right, LGBT rights, at least in the west, had seemed to be a nearly settled issue. Early predictions from the 2016 election speculated that even a Trump administration would be lenient toward the queer community. The rapid shifts in popular opinion that surrounded gay marriage in the first decade of the 21st century seemed to be mirrored during the second by an increasing level of understanding and acceptance for trans people. But acceptance of gender variance is anathema to the emerging ideology of the globally ascendant right wing. Given these leaders’ intolerance for diversity and eagerness to unite their followers around a distrust of those different from them, this distain for trans rights is not exactly surprising.