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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