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When culture war games trend lethal

The right-wing ecosphere throws an idiot ball into the civic discourse with depressing regularity. The latest one is a faux fierce defence of gas cooktops. Mars has cancelled its M&M advertising animations because the right’s continuing attacks on the “woke” appearance of the “spokescandies.” This distracting nonsense can also be deadly: trans people are in the firing line.

The stupidity and hypocrisy of the culture war games is well-captured in John Rogers’ label: the idiot ball. He uses a television writing term more commonly deployed to “describe when one character, in order to make the show work, has to behave, uncharacteristically, like a complete idiot.” As transferred to the civic discourse, he asserts, “The modern conservative intellectual movement is now reduced to passing around the idiot ball.”

The distraction is meant to enrage an aggrieved base over fictional attacks on their freedoms, rights and children so they blame the wrong target for their falling living standards. One week businesses ought to have complete freedom, but the next the same businesses are barraged for “woke” excesses. Cancel culture is a problem, according to the right, until they’re the ones executing it.

Some of the idiot balls in Australia are made local. Kmart is in trouble for deciding that Australia Day merchandise doesn’t sell well enough to justify stocking it, a version of the American “woke companies” gambit. The “threat” of the anodyne Voice to Parliament is created out of thin air by the Murdoch Dog Line. This furphy is manufactured as part of the illusory anglosphere “Critical Race Theory” threat. Any effort to teach a more balanced history of our colonial nations is met with stonewalling rage. So fragile are the white bastions of our greatness that stories of the pain inflicted in their creation would apparently destroy everything.

The damage that will be done to Australia’s First Nations people over the course of this referendum by the drastic mischaracterisations in the Murdoch media is substantial. The marriage equality “debate” was brutal for LGBTQI+ Australians, beset by slander. As Noel Pearson pointed out, Australia likes Aboriginal people much less than we like the gay people we know in our families, social and work spaces.

The exception to that calculus is trans people. There are so few that many older Australians have never met someone who is gender diverse. This has made them a very useful target of disinformation and dehumanisation.

The hatred of trans people, known as transphobia, marks itself in its most socially acceptable form as a (per)version of feminism. In Britain, it is now close to the dominant definition of feminism. It spreads mis- and disinformation about the threat trans people pose to women. Trans women are depicted (falsely) as a threat to women, insidiously worming their way into women’s spaces and taking women’s opportunities. Trans men are (falsely) depicted as women filled with self-loathing.

A minuscule number of trans women have committed crimes against women; rather more have tactlessly offended some cisgender women by demanding a definition of womanhood that prioritises their experience. Every group has some dysfunctional people and none of us want our identity defined by the nasty or harmful members. The vast majority of trans people just want to get on with their lives and be left alone to do so. They would be happy in their new manifestations of their selves, if it were not for abuse and growing threats of violence against them.

The movement’s pretence of being a defence of women has it often labelled Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF). It is more accurately depicted as Feminism-Appropriating Radical Transphobia (FART). While there was a feminist path to anti-trans sentiment, it has now been coopted by the radical right to give formerly progressive women a role in the far right’s purifying of society against the blurring of gender (and race) lines. This movement calls itself Gender Critical claiming that only “sex” exists and that “gender” is a cancerous concept meant to weaken us. The idea that feminism should define a woman by her reproductive organs is ludicrous and something that our foremothers fought as the factor that had limited us. Now these so-called feminists demand this definition, and hound cisgender women out of bathrooms because they don’t look feminine enough.

The radical/religious right is far cleverer and more Machiavellian than the centre and left. They know that their extreme bigotry is a minority position, so they work to form superficial links feigning respectability. Thus they can express concern for the threat to our multicultural welcome of Muslim conservatives in order to oppose LGBTQI+ equality. In America conservative parents from non-christian faiths are welcomed into the war on (mythical) LGBTQI+ “grooming” in schools. The same factions despise Muslims and Jewish people, but will work with them on this radicalising campaign.

The blurring of the line between trans and lesbian/gay in these American attacks is illustrative. While trans people are the immediate target of elimination, the entire LGBTQI+ community is the greater quarry. In the world envisioned by the radical right – religious or not – there will be only heterosexual couplings and the display of gender behaviours will be binary, genitally-derived and policed. South Carolina has introduced a bill that aims to block trans medical treatment but continues to allow surgery to impose genital conformity on infants born intersex despite this being defined as a human rights violation. Note that there are currently more babies born intersex in the USA – 1.7% – than trans people – 0.5%: nature isn’t binary. Nor have our cultures been.

Australia looked with bemusement at Scott Morrison’s attempt to use Katherine Deves’s FART bigotry as a pro-woman electoral strategy. We rejected it, but transphobic “feminism” is pervasive in women’s academic and political spaces. We need to examine it for the fact that it actually shares terminology and ideas with white supremacy and patriarchy.

America’s religious right and Britain’s far right Tory government are both keen to use FARTs in a toxic performance of supporting women. And they do support women, as long as women agree to be defined by their reproductive organs and the behaviour that this apparently dictates – submissive breeder.

That human wellbeing is treated as an “idiot ball” gambit is obscene. The radicalised right embraces the chance to demonise humans as frivolously as it does confectionary. This dehumanisation of vulnerable groups illustrates the right’s links to fascist movements of the past: we have seen the numbers killed when groups defined as “outsiders” are hunted to galvanise a majority to support authoritarian leaders.

Australia must continue to resist the insidious pressure from the international right to define women’s interests by the erasure of trans and gender diverse people. Allowing speakers such as Posie Parker to tour Australia is part of fanning up dangerous bigotry that is causing bloodshed already. Her visa should be withdrawn: free speech does not include hate speech.


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  1. Lucy Hamilton

    With a roughly 1000 word limit, I lacked the scope to tackle the breadth of the threat from the far right towards trans existence.

    In Britain, the Tories are threatening the Union with attacks on Scottish attempts to protect trans equality. JK Rowling’s recent tweet saying that she considers trans people to be duplicitous rapists is the kind of monstrous slander that has been part of leading to genocidal violence across human history. Whenever a group is defamed as perpetrators of mythical crimes, particularly against (white) women and children, all kinds of harm is justified against the mythical criminal class.

    In the US, Republicans at town, state and federal level are playing fascistic politics using trans existence as a key element of the Democrats “demonic” and “satanic” status in Spiritual Warfare. The Pentecostal takeover of the party is in evidence there. If a class is associated as satanic and a threat to children (as trans existence continually is in this faction), mass shooter events follow, as we saw in Colorado last year.

    There are many links that can be added to this one if you need more proof of the outrageous lengths to which the Religious/Radical Right in America is prepared to go on this.

  2. Michael Taylor

    Don’t be too worried about that, Lucy. If you have more to say – and I can attest as an avid reader of yours – everyone here will lap it up.

  3. Andrew Smith

    It’s become apparent now via legacy media that any right wing talking point needs to be analysed and dissected to find the subtext &/or Orwellian meaning, because there are too many malign ‘Trojan horses’ endeavouring to stop progress.

    Identity is just one of many, but what many conservatives inc. too many of the ageing left claim, e.g. ‘pronouns’ is in fact masking their own fears or needs and/or attempting to push voters to concur on moot points or non issues, that benefit the right.

    We see this clearly in the US with GOP RWNJs with education, at all levels, but recently on a middle high school e.g. how those promoting ‘freedom of speech’ then demand that library books are removed, precluding parents making their own decisions; very authoritarian, reminiscent of social control in 1930s Germany, 1970s QLD and the US now, in the 21st century with honorary associates inc. Russia, Hungary, Turkey etc..

    However, it’s clear that these contradictions don’t bother many on the right as it’s about political strategy, conditioning communities to act as guardians of RWNJs &/or religious fundamentalists, demanding their ‘freedom’, by taking ways others’ using naive but activated parents to attend school meetings for the specific purpose of disrupting curricula, resources, content, teaching etc.; precluding empowerment of citizens in favour of the 1-10%.

    Also higher education, research and teaching methodology have been under coordinated attack by the same faux concerns about gender, LGBT, ‘lefties’ etc., but also science (esp. climate & Covid), higher level skills of analysis, evaluation & synthesis; and demands for direct economic outcomes (to then drop arts, humanities and social sciences, but not MBAs?). No surprise that these forces are influenced by fossil fueled libertarian think tank networks, especially the Kochs whose ‘bill mill’ ALEC and flagship Heritage Foundation are obsessed about .

  4. Lucy Hamilton

    Perfect context. Thank-you, Andrew.

  5. leefe

    What none of the FART and other transphobe groups know – or are prepared to accept – is that so-called “biological sex”, is far more complex than the basic ‘XX = female = ovaries/uterus/vagina and XY = male = penis/testicles/prostate’ that was basic biology taught when I was in high school. There are so many factors that complicate “biological sex” (anatomy, chromosomes, genes, hormones … ) that it cannot be reduced to “two sizes fit all.”
    And then we have the whole gender issue, which is completely different.

    Let people be people. Stop trying to force them into conveniently labelled boxes. As long as no-one is harmed, how someone else lives their life is no-one’s business but theirs.

  6. Clakka

    It seems that RWNJs &/or religious fundamentalists are driven to find ones to blame for their own unacknowledged inadequacies, lack of interest in the epistemology of science, and insistence on the masses adopting their ‘belief’ systems.

    It could be said that their mythological cultural inventions and shouty hostile attacks upon those of a different disposition may be driven by the inculcations of their masters, tribal leaders or godheads for the purpose of fame and/or economic gain. Whilst I am by no means expert or even well-versed in such matters, I could be lead to believe that either through the stresses of earlier inadequacies or via the stresses of those later inculcations, it might be that their insistence on some form of perfectionism is a manifestation of an acquired obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), one of which ironically is BDD (Body Dismorphic Disorder) … Could the RWNJs &/or religious fundamentalists possibly think about that! …

    “… body dysmorphic disorder is a serious mental health condition with potentially severe consequences. Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder are preoccupied with what they see as flaws in their physical appearance. They believe they look ugly or abnormal. These flaws are not noticeable to others or only seem to others as very minor. It also involves repetitive thinking (such as comparing one’s appearance with others) and repetitive behaviors (such as checking a mirror or seeking reassurance) …. The preoccupations and behaviors are not just typical appearance concerns, they are intrusive, unwanted and time-consuming (several hours per day). They cause significant distress and problems in daily life.”

    In wrangling their ‘belief’, one can only wonder from what historical baseline they are coming with their insistences on some form of perceived perfectionism (CIS binary). It would appear that their baseline too, is a mythological ‘belief’, for it is well known that across many cultures, including ancient indigenous cultures, that more than binary (and sometimes limitless) gender and/or sexual persuasions are considered normal. It would appear that the recent rise in their shouty hostile campaign might be an opportunistic grasp for fame (or infamy) and institutional economic enrichment off the back of recent and generally successful LGBTQI+ quest for equal rights in law and civil society. It appears to be the usual m.o. of brutal elitist RWNJs &/or religious fundamentalists to institute such campaigns and along the way attract opportunistic hitch-hikers such as low-brow politicians and sensation seeking media organisations in a circle of engorgement and profiteering at any cost to their targets and society generally.

    Their attack on the Trans population could be seen by them as an easy target from within the realm of the non-cis-binary world, yet there can be little doubt that it is a path to undermining of the entire LGBTQI+ community – a battle in the culture wars.

    It seems to me that these brutal ‘believers’ and their hitch-hikers have no love nor interest whatsoever in the vulnerability or wellbeing of any others, nor the damage they inflict upon their targets and the broader culture. As if it was any of their business in the first place, they invent an auspices for the despicable purpose of fame (or infamy) and economic enrichment (the root of their motive) assailing brave yet vulnerable folk who have ‘come out’ to not only gain normal rights, but to educate and bring to light the deliberately darkened, unspoken and oppressed sections of society. They appear not to care about those classified as having gender dysphoria and/or those that choose to be different ….

    “Transgender people suffer from high levels of stigmatization, discrimination and victimization, contributing to negative self-image and increased rates of other mental health disorders.15 Transgender individuals are at higher risk of victimization and hate crimes than the general public. Suicide rates among transgender people are markedly higher than the general population.”

    Complacency (“not my business”) is not a position I take or advocate when it comes to the promulgations and actions taken by the brutal elitists in the culture wars – regressive wars of modernity that increase sanctimonious intolerance and increasingly threaten peace and wellbeing.

    A Map of Gender-Diverse Cultures

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