Words and Art by Shan Sinclair
Content Warning: Discussion of transphobia, physical violence, depression, suicide and murder
Fighting for Trans Rights
Early last year we were ill-fated with an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast, featuring Jordan Peterson. Though many oppressed groups were the target of the pair’s bigotry, transphobia seems to hold a special place in their hearts, made evident as Peterson discussed how trans people are a “contagion” and Rogan claimed the progression of trans rights is “a bad sign of [society] falling apart.”
With Rogan’s podcast topping charts again in 2022 and other figures like Andrew Tate gaining significant followings it suggests this rhetoric is as popular as it is wrong. If we look broadly at the media over the past few years, this specific vilification of trans people as a ‘threat’ escalated around Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential election.
The bathroom wars involved trans people in states like North Carolina being banned from using gender appropriate public bathrooms in 2015. Then in 2017 came Trump’s order banning transgender people serving in the military. Such attacks from the top resulted in an increase in trans murders. In the 6 years from 2008 and 2014 there were 108 murders in the US, then in 2021 alone there were 56 murders reported, three times the yearly average from the first period.
Attacks on trans people have not been isolated to the US. The conservative right in many countries, including Australia, has narrowed their sights on trans people as their new target, creating a grim reality for trans people. Over the last few decades, with homosexuality becoming completely acceptable in mainstream society, and the important victory of marriage equality, the Christian hard right in Australia are on the offensive and trans people are their particular focus. Morrison and his evangelical lackeys attempted to pass the ‘religious discrimination bill’, to give businesses and institutions the explicit right to discriminate against LGBTI+ people.
Trans people face discrimination in all kinds of spaces, including accessing healthcare, housing, education, and employment. In Australia they are twice as likely as a cis person to be unemployed and ⅓ of those employed have reported discrimination in their workplaces, as a result of their gender.
These conditions, additionally with the difficulty of accessing gender affirming procedures, feeds into the high rates of depression and anxiety amongst trans people. A study by the University of Melbourne suggests over 40% of transgender people in Australia have attempted suicide and over 70% have a lifetime depression diagnosis.
But even if we were to send such transphobes as Tate, Rogan and Peterson to join George Pell in hell, the problems that trans people face would not disappear. This is because trans oppression is a structural issue, built into the very foundations of our society.
Trans oppression comes from the ruling class and is directly linked to sexism and the strict gender roles that have been created to uphold it. The tiny minority at the top of society have one main goal, and that is generating as much profit for themselves as possible. One way they do this is by promoting sexist ideas which allow them to pay women less, and hence keep more money for themselves. A 2022 study suggested it will take 257 years for the gender pay gap to be closed, that is 257 years of bosses not having to pay women the same as men, as a direct result of the sexism the ruling class has created.
Another way sexism is used by the ruling class is in the construction and propagation of the nuclear family. The nuclear family is an institution where typically women carry out hours of unpaid labour daily. From cooking and cleaning to raising children and caring for sick family members – this unpaid labour done by women in the home amounts to nearly half of Australia’s GDP.
Trans oppression is a direct product of a sexist, capitalist society. Any deviation from the gender binary and from heteronormativity undermines the institutions that those at the top have established to categorise, divide and exploit the majority of people along class and gender lines.
The coherence of the far right and hard right around trans issues has then further embedded transphobia and emboldened the ruling class in attacking trans people. Around the world trans people face at best discrimination, and at worst the death penalty. This includes recent attempts by the Australian government to pass the ‘religious discrimination bill’.
Politicians attempt to justify these right-wing decisions by arguing the public are also conservative on trans rights. This is not the case. A 2020 study suggests 78% of Australians believe trans people deserve the same rights and protections as cis people, and 66% believe young trans people should be able to easily access gender affirming healthcare.
Understanding trans oppression as a structural issue means ending it is not simply a case of waiting for people to be more accepting – public opinion is already on our side – it is a case of challenging the ruling class, the far right, and their institutions. Society does not naturally become more progressive, it is made that way through the struggles of past and present.
When we look back through history this has been the case countless times. The fight for LGBTI+ rights was catapulted by the Stonewall Riots of 1969 which led to the Gay Liberation Movement. It was a moment where people who had been beaten by the police, denied jobs and housing, and faced daily harassment decided to stand up for their rights. As one protester told the BBC, “We were finally fighting back, it was exhilarating!”. This struggle spread globally, including to Australia, where the movement that followed won LGBTI+ people the freedom to live out of the shadows.
The Gay Liberation Movement was not asking nicely. It was full of protests, riots and strikes, and often led by trans women who were unafraid to take risks, even putting their lives on the line in some instances. A non-exhaustive list of struggles that demonstrate similar resistance includes the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and the fight for Indigenous Land Rights in Australia.
More recent was the campaign for Equal Marriage in Australia. Our victory in 2017 was not granted because the Liberal Party decided their days of bigotry were over. It was granted because people had been struggling for more than a decade on the streets. The movement began after the Howard Government banned same-sex marriage. The early rallies had just a few dozen people, but over time these grew to tens of thousands. It took people willing to fight for their rights when no one else was. That is the same sentiment we need to apply to the fight for trans rights today.
The other important aspect in all these struggles is they attracted wider layers of society fighting alongside the oppressed in solidarity. The Gay Liberation Movement in Australia had all kinds of people fighting, from trans women to tradies. In 1973 when Jeremy Fisher, a student from Macquarie University was expelled for being a Gay activist, the Builders Laborers Federation – a radically left wing union at the time – stopped work and marched to the University Administration where they refused to start again until the student was reinstated.
These builders had no direct interest in the fight for gay rights, but they knew their enemy was the same. That the bosses and governments that proliferated homophobia (and transphobia!) in society were the same ones exploiting the working class. They knew this was an injustice, and they knew that their solidarity was important.
Oppressed groups cannot be left to fight on their own, especially when they make up a small percentage of society like trans people do. We need the majority not just passively in support, but ready to take to the streets.
When in February last year the Liberals were attempting to push the Religious Discrimination Bill through, Rainbow Rebellion and other LGBTI+ campaign groups called snap rallies around the country, getting thousands onto the streets. That is the kind of action that protects trans rights. A movement that can continue to build momentum, to link various issues, and draw in layers from all oppressed groups is a movement that can win. Because when it comes down to it, we have the numbers on our side, and those at the top know that.
Most of us can see the injustices in the world, but seeing is not the same as doing. The creation of history is an active process. Therefore, when trans rights and the rights of all the oppressed are under attack, we have to take to the streets and fight back. If you want to start something new this year, you should get involved with something that is very old, being a radical activist.