People contributing to anti trans rhetoric are playing a much more dangerous game than they realise.
The current wave of anti-trans sentiment will lead to more violence and victimisation. Initially the attacks will hit people who are visibly trans women. Eventually, it will spread to anyone who is LGBTQI+. The same forces promoting this violence are those aiming to limit women’s rights, and ultimately purge their countries of unwelcome categories of people.
Be very sure you know what you are doing if you join in.
In America over one weekend in Pride Month alone, extremism monitors tracked “seven in-person extremist activities targeting LGBTQ people.” In the most dramatic event, 31 uniformed men in balaclavas were dragged from a U-Haul vehicle before they could create a “riot” at a Pride event in Idaho.
American political aspirants and preachers demanded death penalties for homosexuality in a year when 250 anti LGBTQI+ bills were introduced around that nation. In Ohio laws were passed that would allow the genital inspection of secondary and tertiary female student athletes. In Idaho, the law would make it a life-sentence felony for parents or doctors to help trans youth gain puberty delaying treatment, including making it a trafficking offence to take them out of the state in pursuit of medical care.
This hysteria feels much more extreme than in Australia, but as we saw on our streets over the pandemic, the violence of the turbulent world of American politics is brought here through internet swamps. Trump flags and nooses appeared in our street protests. Australians unknowingly appealed to American constitutional amendments for protection from health measures. Most Australians were shocked to see violent brawls with the police on our streets apparently emerging out of nowhere.
And in the global sewers of the internet, the reasons for the panic are clear. Of all the manifold bigotries that pervade the space, the one with the most convergence is that gay or trans people are pedophiles. That facts dismiss this as nonsense is no help; facts long since ceased having traction in this sphere.
This iteration of social contagion is not surprising. It is easier to absorb a “moral” panic when it confirms feelings of discomfort or incomprehension. Again, when it builds on earlier waves of “moral” panic, the new variant can confirm previous prejudice.
The “save our children” hysteria of the QAnon movement crescendoed in the worst of the pandemic. Lonely and frightened people sat at home on their computers absorbing a fantasy built on earlier waves of child stealing (and sacrificing) panics. Some of the people caught up in the QAnon cult would have been immersed in the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s where childcare operators were persecuted over baseless accusations of mass child abuse. QAnon proved they hadn’t been fools to believe.
The trans panic of this moment calls upon earlier fear and horror at the existence of Queer people in general. It was only in 1994 that mainland Australia legalised homosexuality, with Tasmania following three years later. The religious campaign against marriage equality during the postal vote in 2017 harnessed all the risks and threats that conservative Australians might dread.
The success of the equality vote brought change. Queer people in Australia described feeling accepted and finally welcome as part of the community. People felt newly safe to hold hands with their partner in the street.
These changes are recent and fragile. The Religious Right is fighting hard to limit equality, then ultimately to reverse it. This is most clearly apparent in the United States, but Australia saw Scott Morrison’s faction echoing its strategies. His religious discrimination bill aimed to grant religious groups the right to practise discrimination. In the election, Morrison’s decision to harness Katherine Deves’s feminist transphobia aimed to draw in a fresh base for his religious bigotry.
*And this feminist support for transphobia needs to be seen for what it is. “How the far right is turning feminists into fascists” traces the trajectory from some early radical feminist movements to the new anti-trans “feminism.” It is as likely to celebrate women for their child-bearing capacity as it is to echo ethnonationalist ideas. While feminisms are a broad range of beliefs, this kind seems grim.
The American Religious Right which Scott Morrison aimed to inject into Australian politics is infused with the theocratic belief in the absolute necessity for Evangelical/Pentecostal Christians to purify society. Christian Nationalism demands that all sexual activity in the state is procreative and within marriage. All men must be strong patriarchs. All women must be submissive wives. The Religious Right has not, however, placed itself at the centre of American “conservative” politics by being clumsy. It has deployed any strategy to achieve its aims, and encouraging women outside the churches to define their value in their reproductive capacity has been useful. It both works to aid the Religious Right’s war on women’s reproductive freedom as well as gaining allies against the LGBTQI+ people who would blur the boundaries.
They have convinced a sizeable proportion of America that progressives demand abortion up to the point of birth. The ludicrous parallel distortion is the depiction of trans women as a threat to other women. Both nightmare boogeymen prevent rational discussion of the issue, but rational discussion was never the goal.
The issue in America is driven from the top by well-funded Christian Libertarian thinktanks, and from the ground in the post-QAnon MAGA base. Republican politicians believe they have the key to minority rule in juggling these interest groups. In Australia, the nascent Religious Right is regrouping after Scott Morrison’s defeat. The secular version of their talking points is being amplified on Sky News, funnelled free-to-air into the regions.
When decent Australians allow themselves to be carried along by the wave of this moral panic, they are not defending women. What they are doing is becoming caught up on the rational-sounding fringes of a hysteria that will lead to violence.
The overlapping groups attacking LGBTQI+ people in America include Christian fascists and post QAnon conspiracy theorists alongside a range of other extremist factions. Anti-LGBTQI action has overtaken all the other “cross-pollination opportunities” like CRT, pandemic health measures and abortion access.
The violence in Australia is unlikely to look like militia in U-Hauls, but how many bashings or murders would be acceptable? The attack on trans people – or abortion – are not ends in themselves but trojan horse missions with the aim to replace our democratic projects with theocracy, and our freedoms to shape our lives with stringent rules of chaste behaviour.
We need to work together, just like the overlapping groups that despise us.
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