Trans people have been under assault, by GOP legislators, the Religious Right, white nationalists—and anti-trans feminists. And it's now escalating to an all-out war.
We urgently need your help. DAME reports the stories that need to be told, from perspectives that aren’t heard enough. In times of crisis it is even more critical that these voices are not overlooked, but COVID-19 has impacted our ability to keep publishing. Please support our mission by joining today to help us keep reporting.
Transgender people have been under assault from every angle in the past year. A record-breaking number of anti-transgender bills have been filed this year, and more have passed than in the past ten years combined. Fox News similarly has featured a record-breaking number of anti-transgender segments. Anti-transgender activists like Abigail Shrier have been on the book-tour circuit making the case that transgender people are a contagion that must be stopped. More ominously, violent white-nationalist groups have increasingly been targeting transgender people. Hungary, now effectively a single-party Christian nationalist state, has been targeting transgender people with laws to prevent them from getting ID with a corrected gender marker, and preventing LGBT media from being shared.
What isn’t obvious to most people, however, is how this is all connected.
In 2014, the Religious Right’s morale reached its lowest point. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed in 2011. Same-sex marriage looked inevitable as court after court struck down ban after ban behind a wave of rising public support. Time magazine had declared a “transgender tipping point.” It was here that the Right made a decision to shift their culture-war focus to transgender people. Simultaneously, they began funding ostensibly feminist anti-trans groups like the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), which took $15,000 in seed money from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Religious Right legal group dedicated to basing U.S. law on the Bible.
At the 2017 Values Voters Summit hosted by the Family Research Council, Meg Kilgannon outlined the religious right’s plan to co-opt anti-trans feminist groups, and use their feminist-sounding language to seem more secular while hiding the true motivation behind their animus. Ultimately, they would loop back around to finish off LGB people once the trans community had been dealt with.
“For all of its recent success, the LGBT alliance is actually fragile, and the trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity on its own is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.”
Kilgannon also promoted “Hands Across the Aisle,” an organization representing a coalition of ostensibly feminist anti-transgender organizations (such as 4th Wave Now, Fair Play for Women, Transgender Trend), right-wing Christian news outlets (such as The Federalist, Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller, and the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal), and Christian right organizations (American College of Pediatricians, National Catholic Bioethics Center).
Within a few years, this became the predominant anti-transgender strategy among the religious right. The Heritage Foundation hosted, and footed, the travel bills for four panels in 2019 alone featuring anti-trans women from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. During oral arguments in the Zarda / Bostock, and Harris cases over workplace discrimination against LGBT people, the Alliance Defending Freedom flew in anti-transgender activist Linda Bellos from the U.K.
None of this is new. Numerous outlets in the past several years have written about the “unholy alliance” of anti-trans “feminists” and a Christian right movement that hates everything about traditional feminism, and would happily force women to try and carry (highly lethal, completely non-viable) ectopic pregnancies to term.
The anti-trans feminist movement was founded in the 1970s by a manifesto that declared: “The problem of transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence.” It now lives by the operational imperative that the ends justify the means.
This alliance makes sense, however, when you realize that these same supposed feminists regard transgender people as an existential threat worse than any other. Kellie-Jay Keen (a.k.a., “Posie Parker”) is a special advisor to the board of WoLF, and a founder of Standing for Women, two supposedly feminist organizations. In a recent video, she declared that alliances with the Right were worth any cost, even the end of abortion rights, so long as the transgender menace is defeated. Keen herself has no issue engaging with white supremacists to promote anti-trans theories, having appeared with Holocaust deniers and on white-nationalist podcasts. It thus seems inevitable then that they would seek out and find fellow travelers who have the most practical experience “morally mandating” hated minorities “out of existence.”
There seems to be a growing focus by violent white nationalists on transgender people. These organizations are separate from, but adjacent to, the Christian right. Not surprisingly, there’s a strong connection between evangelical beliefs and white supremacy. However, these groups put whiteness and “Western Civilization” ahead of Christianity in their sales pitch.
Far Right threats of violence against trans people aren’t new. Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes told his followers to: “Choke a tranny. Get your fingers around the windpipe. Get a gun.” In the past few months, however, there seems to have been a rising crossover between far-right extremists and anti-trans language that started with “feminists.”
Vice reported that white nationalists on Gab (a social network with lax moderation and a far-right user base) were looking for “volunteers in L.A. carrying out patrols, looking for whores, pimps and TIM/TIF [“trans identified male/trans identified female,” which are transphobic slurs] creeps.” The terms TIM/TIF originated on anti-trans women’s boards in the mid-2010s, suggesting that the far right is reading, and adopting, language used by them.
Anti-Semitic memes targeting specific Jewish transgender advocates have been popping up in the danker corners of the internet. Elsewhere, a group calling itself “Totenwaffen” has put up posters with the headline “Save your future children!” with a list of prominent transgender people to kill, and a prominently featured swastika and a Black Sun logo.
It’s not hard to see where this cross-pollination comes from. Tucker Carlson has long been considered a “gateway drug” to white supremacy, and has been continually getting less subtle about it. He’s spent hundreds of segments demonizing transgender people in recent years, and hosted many anti-trans feminists, including Kara Dansky (of WoLF), Julia Beck (a lesbian who testified for Republicans against the Equality Act), and Abigail Shrier (who wrote a book claiming trans people are brainwashing and mutilating children). Carlson has gone on to tell his audience that transgender people “threaten the perpetuation of the species.” He also agreed with a guest who asserted that real Americans will “pick a fascist” leader if the left isn’t stopped now.
Shrier’s book was reviewed glowingly by the paleoconservative Taki Magazine (which has published approving articles about the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece, German troops in WWII, and Richard Spencer), in an article titled “Poison, Mutilate, and Sterilize.” Shrier in turn retweeted the magazine’s review. Shrier typifies the separate approaches to trans men and trans women. Trans men (assigned female at birth) are treated as a stereotype of women: poor, innocent victims, who lack the will and agency to resist the “trans cult.” Conversely, trans women are treated as sexual predators, a threat to women and children, fetishists, and the ring-leaders of the alleged plot.
There is a built-in audience for these sorts of conspiracy theories about secret plots by powerful, wealthy people to harm children. QAnon followers, who believe a cabal of powerful Democrats and billionaires kidnap and abuse children, are being wooed by the conspiracy theories promoted by Shrier and anti-trans “feminist” Jennifer Bilek, who has proposed a theory that the trans movement is a secret plot by Jewish billionaires to enslave the world through “transhumanism.” Her theory has been carried at right-wing publications such as The Federalist and American Conservative.
Tweets by prominent anti-trans activist Erin Brewer include the QAnon-related hashtags #SaveOurChildren and #SaveTheChildren. Others use #TheGreatAwakening to attract the attention of QAnon followers, and some anti-trans individuals have used the #5D tag to attract anti-vaxxers.
Many (very) prominent anti-transgender women and organizations have endorsed this theory, including Transgender Trend, LGB Alliance, Allison Bailey and Bev Jackson (both of LGB Alliance), Women’s Human Rights Campaign, Kara Dansky, conversion therapist Lisa Marchiano, Sasha Ayad, Abigail Shrier, Meghan Murphy, Linda Blade (of Save Women’s Sports), Stephanie Davies-Arai, Sheila Jeffreys, among dozens of others.
White-nationalist media have also adopted this conspiracy theory. The Transgender Industrial Complex, published by Scott Howard in 2020, promotes Bilek’s ideas. It was released by a publisher that mostly reprints decades old books that praise Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler, and the pre-WW2 British fascist movement, and was reviewed and promoted in alt-right outlets. Links to the book and its reviews were shared widely by fascist websites and members of far-right groups like the Proud Boys.
Supposedly “centrist” anti-trans individuals also have had no issue with spreading their message via white-supremacist networks, like Ray Blanchard, a psychologist who came up with the discredited theory that all trans women are either self-hating gays who want guilt-free sex, or perverts. He is extremely popular with the anti-trans feminist crowd, and regularly interacts with them. Blanchard has also suggested that anime, manga, and goths are the cause of more people coming out as trans.
Regardless of these sterling qualifications, Blanchard was more than happy to appear on the YouTube channel of white supremacist Eduard Dutton to peddle his theories about transgender people. Dutton is associated with Patriotic Alternative, a group founded by white-nationalist Mark Collett. Dutton’s books are published by Washington Summit Publishers, which is owned by white-nationalist Richard Spencer. Most of his books are pseudo-science screeds about whites being naturally more intelligent. You can guess who Dutton’s audience is, and to whom Blanchard was speaking.
Blanchard is also a close friend of Jordan Peterson, another gateway to the alt-right and anti-transgender animus. He’s also definitely not a feminist. He believes that the 1950s expressed the natural order of things, namely that women should be pregnant in the kitchen and men earn the money, as well as promoting the idea of “enforced monogamy.” As a result, Peterson has become something of an idol among incels and the alt-right. However, he first made a name for himself by opposing a law that would protect transgender Canadians from discrimination.
The far Right pushes narratives and memes into the wider anti-trans “feminist” community as well. When the cesspits of 4chan and Kiwifarms began churning out #SuperStraight memes about how it is normal to think trans people are disgusting, it came complete with SS (Schutzstaffel)-inspired imagery. It didn’t take long before LGB Alliance and its affiliates began sharing the hashtag, and 4chan generated memes as well.
The interplay between the alt-right and anti-trans “feminists” isn’t altogether new, though. Gamergate went after several prominent trans women in gaming. As far back as 2014, 4Chan trolls plotted about how to create fake accounts to trick anti-trans women into piling onto trans people hard enough to cause them to commit suicide.
Where this rogues gallery meets is on an alt-right YouTube channel called Boyce of Reason. When it started out four years ago, the channel was mostly focused on Benjamin Boyce’s hatred for his liberal college, diversity, social-justice warriors, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, “cultural Marxism,” and feminists, sprinkled with occasional fawning over Jordan Peterson—standard alt-right stuff. Today, approximately half of his posts focus on trans people and a host of prominent anti-trans guests, among them Maya Forstater (who called pronouns rohypnol), Graham Lineham (banned from Twitter for harassing trans people), Megan Murphy (banned for the same reason), Blanchard, Sasha Ayad, Nina Power, Stephanie Davies-Arai, Denra Soh, Shrier, James Cantor, Helen Joyce. He did a segment supporting #SuperStraight, and endorsed Bilek’s theories on “transhumanist” conspiracies.
It would seem easy to blow these people off as cranks, but the message that transgender people are an existential threat has flowed to the people who will control policy when the GOP comes back to power. Stephen Miller, the author of Trump’s family separation policy, told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting network that acceptance of trans people is an “assault” on “Western civilization” that will lead it to “topple in on itself.”
Similarly, J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy and presumptive GOP Senate candidate in Ohio, told an audience that “if you’re fighting the values and virtues that make this country great, then the conservative movement should be about nothing if not reducing your power and if necessary destroying you.” Even never-Trumper Christian fundamentalist David French argued there can be no tolerance of transgender people: They must be stopped before societal acceptance of them occurs the way it did for lesbians and gays.
With the GOP openly working to win elections regardless of how people vote, thereby ending democracy, what comes next for transgender people looks a lot like what’s going on in Hungary and Poland. In both countries, religious conservative right-wing populist parties (Law and Justice and Fidesz) similar to the GOP have taken control and undercut democracy. In Poland, abortion is now effectively illegal, and hundreds of towns throughout the country have declared themselves “LGBT Free Zones.” In Hungary, trans people have been banned from changing gender markers on any official documents (including ID), and banned LGBT people from appearing in school materials, TV programs, or sharing anything about LGBT people with individuals under the age of 18.
Perhaps these alliances between transphobic lesbians, gays, and people who call themselves feminists will feel foolish in retrospect when it’s too late. They have given their power to the far Right, but once the far Right gains ascendancy they no longer need these groups to retain power. Indeed, their base compels them to turn on their erstwhile allies.
Jordan Peterson, of all people, recognized as far back as 2016 how the far right would eventually make trans people their top target (with his help, of course). “I’ve studied Nazism for four decades … They’re ready to come out. And if the [transgender activists] keep pushing the way it’s pushing, they’re going to come.”
We urgently need your help!
Covid-19 has dramatically impacted our ability to keep publishing. DAME is 100% reader funded and without additional support, we can’t keep publishing. Become a member at DAME today to help us continue reporting and shining a light on the stories that need to be told, from perspectives that aren’t heard enough. Every dollar we receive from readers goes directly into funding our journalism. Please become a member today!
(If you liked this article and just want to make a one-time donation, you can do that here)