Columns, Hard Right Turn, Opinion

The right’s transgender question | Hard Right Turn

An indispensable characteristic of most reactionary ideologies and all fascistic movements is the “othering” of a marginalized group, the most prototypical example being the Jewish people of Nazi Germany. The “other” is imagined as an existential threat to the nation, creating a state of emergency that serves as the pretense for seizing more authority. 

Taken to its logical extreme, the only solution to a false “us vs. them” dichotomy is the eradication of the other. Every fascist regime after taking power has expanded the purview of the ”other” over time, often including leftists, queer people, women, racial minorities or any other deviation from the idealized nation.

Chloe Patel | Senior Graphic Artist

During an annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee in early March, Michael Knowles, a commentator for “The Daily Wire,” took to the stage and delivered a speech in which he said:

“For the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”

Amid a deluge of increasingly hateful rhetoric spewed by conservative news outlets and anti-transgender legislation being proposed, approved and passed across the country, the right-wing media machine and Republican lawmakers have become dead set on turning transgender people — despite them encompassing about  2% of the population — into the culture war wedge issue of our times.

Only a few short years ago, rhetoric with implications as genocidal as Knowles’ would have seemed unthinkable at a high-profile event like CPAC, the self-described “largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world.”

 However, 41 different states across the county have proposed anti-transgender legislation in the past six months. Potential 2024 Republican front-runner Ron Desantis’s Florida is leading the pack. Meanwhile, on Fox News, the most viewed show on cable, radical “anti-transgenderism” has gone mainstream. 

Understanding how we got here lies in the symbiotic relationship between the right-wing media, political radicalization and the Republican Party’s transphobic legislative agenda.

Mainstream right-wing media long ago abandoned objectivity to become both the unabashed mouthpiece of the Republican party and the staging ground for conservatives to tentatively disseminate their newest and most radical ideas. 

There is a careful dance at play here. Always stay exactly one step ahead of popular opinion, as if you say something overly inflammatory too soon, moderates may become alienated. But toe the line just so, and you might be able to steer the sentiment of millions perpetually rightward.

This is made evident by the evolution and radicalization of the anti-trans rhetoric employed by the right-wing mainstream media over time. Previously, anti-transgenderism lacked a coherent narrative outside of picking apart the accommodations necessary for an increasingly transgender-accepting society, such as proper pronoun usage, bathroom policies and transgender athletes. 

Such squabbling still promotes transphobia by disrespecting transgender people’s basic right to an existence equally dignified as anyone else’s, but it does not constitute the existence of transgender people itself as inherently threatening. 

However, as the rhetoric at the most recent CPAC demonstrates, within the last year quibbling over the exigencies of transgender acceptance has ceased to be the cutting edge of conservatism, and instead much more reactionary notions have been advanced.

A narrative has been constructed insinuating that what Knowles calls “transgenderism” is a kind of contagion infecting American culture and institutions — the education system most of all — and is deluding the country’s youth with extreme and harmful “ideology.” It equates gender-reaffirming care with physical and psychological torture and transgender acceptance as a fundamental threat to our children, and hence the entire future of the nation. 

Such arguments are what have justified almost all the anti-transgender legislation proposed thus far. In fact, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, 426 anti-LGBT+ laws have been proposed by U.S. state legislatures since the midterm election. 116 seek to restrict transgender youth’s access to often lifesaving gender-affirming care, while 204 seek to censor discussions or depictions of the existence of transgender and/or all LGBT+ people within public schools. 

It all serves as a sad reminder that the myth of progress is just that: a myth. We could be witnessing a nadir in American transphobia if the past six months set a precedent. Who knows whose civil rights Republicans may come for afterward? 

The Republican Party has dedicated much of its platform toward a narrative in which the good of society is diametrically opposed to one of society’s most vulnerable minority groups. 

For now, Michael Knowles likely still feels the need to hide behind the intentional ambiguity of what “transgenderism” means and how he plans to “eradicate” it. However, ask yourself, is there any difference between the eradication of “transgenderism,” and the eradication of transgender people?

More Articles

Comments are closed.