If it feels like transphobia has become the most common word on everyone’s tongue, or keyboard, you’re not wrong. Trans people have been warning us for years that hate crimes, bigotry, and casual occurrences of transphobia have become more common than ever before. In the Western world, legislation targeting trans people dominates headlines and conversations. Perhaps worse still, acts of physical violence become more familiar, almost universal. “A pandemic within a pandemic,” says one Harvard student, decrying the rise in hate crimes against Black trans women. Government officials in the UK have reported a more than 15% rise in anti-trans hate crimes across the nation.
If you’ve been paying attention to ever-changing political conversation in the allegedly developed world, this wave of anti-trans sentiment shouldn’t surprise you given the parallel rise of nationalist political rhetoric. More specifically, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that understands the inherent ties between white supremacist ideology and transphobic beliefs. The constant refrain of “well, scientifically speaking…” is familiar to anyone acquainted with eugenic thought experiments throughout history. Sad tales of declining birth rates are a common lead-in to the argument that nationalism isn’t really about racism, just the preservation of the “family.” The family being, of course, a homogeneous blend of patriarchal norms and “ideal” genetics.
And if you haven’t been paying attention, “it’s just a few bad apples,” might come to mind. Scientifically speaking, bad apples often spring from compromised roots. White supremacy is most insidious because it creates false comfort. From empty platitudes about “representation” and seats at the proverbial table to ultimately meaningless conversations about the validity and importance of identity politics — white supremacy thrives because it gives people small, token moments that feel good but offer them nothing material.
You’re welcome to call it “economic insecurity” if it helps soften the blow, but everyone likes to feel powerful. White supremacy and its ideological offshoots thrive, often unnoticed, because they target the deepest insecurities about “otherness” that we share.
Black people, disabled people, trans people, migrants, the most impoverished are an often visual representation of everything that just doesn’t fit. In a word, those most likely to exist outside of “traditional” means of employment and socioeconomic mobility are the most likely to be targeted for identity-based hatred while simultaneously being bombarded with messages of “class solidarity.” The darker the skin, the more visually disparate from our surroundings, the less pleasing and familiar to the ear someone’s cadence is — the more obviously they stand out. This makes the most marginalized of us easier to identify and more available for use as a scapegoat.
This othering can be simple enough to recognize — the 44 trans people murdered in 2020, for example. It can be simple enough to understand — crimes against Asian people rising by almost 150% in 2020 in the wake of former President Trump’s violent, inflammatory language surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. But it can be more insidious, more commonplace, more difficult to identify.
The hypersexualization of Asian women that leads to a white man murdering 8 people in an effort to “eliminate temptation”…
The fetishization of Black women as sexually promiscuous and uninhibited, thus making them “unrapeable”…
The discomfort with trans women justifying their murders in courtrooms…
The fear of non-normative bodies leading adults to openly and unashamedly debate and discuss the genitalia of minors in legislative proceedings…
And so, the more commonalities we can find and identify with the hierarchical “winners,” the easier it is to say, “don’t look at me, i’m just like you.” The less identifiable we are as “other,” the easier it is for us to blend in, deflect, and point out the identifiable flaws in others. For white women, particularly cishet white women, this is a simple enough task. They are near indistinguishable from the ones that hold the most power. If the slightest alignment with those beneath them paints a target on their backs, what incentive is there to upset the status quo? So long as they remain positioned above everyone else, there is less ground for them to cover in their ascent to the top. Token protests against misogyny and sexism will abound but rarely, if ever, will those protests extend to those below.
For those of us on the bottom of said hierarchy, the inability (or refusal) to understand this simple leap of logic, is most frustrating from those who claim to understand the allegedly common class struggle. Ideals of “comrades” and “class consciousness” ring hollow when confronted with the reality that even those who espouse the most progressive of ideals are still susceptible to the “master’s tools.” Self-professed “leftists” (and other assorted communists, socialists, anarchists, etc.) are still promoting eugenic, transphobic, whorephobic, and/or racist, nationalist talking points with cherry-picked verses from the theological schools of Marx, Stalin, Mao, and others.
The same people then turn their old, tired arguments on the rest of us, admonishing us for not seeing the same reality as them. The reality, that paints trans people, sex workers, Black and indigenous people decrying the racism, whorephobia, and transphobia within their ranks, and migrants without privilege of status — as dangerous heretics looking to sow discord and stop progress in its tracks.
The draw of leftist political ideology — and its many hyphenated camps — is that it creates a world where liberation is more than a pipe dream. It makes real the hope that socioeconomic policy changes can undo centuries of colonial, fascist, white supremacist violence in the blink of an eye. Si se puede, or something I guess. But this short-sightedness comes at the expense of people without the privilege of thought experiments that don’t address the reality of their tenuous survival. Endless conversations on dialectical materialism, class wars, and late-stage capitalism do little to address the current realities that plague visibly non-white people, trans people, and sex workers. The violent realities of capitalism have real, tangible consequences for people most affected by white supremacist violence and the constant refrain of “do the reading” does nothing to address them. The most oppressed people can not take a gamble on the theoretical liberation promised to them by (usually white) leftists admonishing them for how they survive capitalism. There is little to recommend aligning themselves with people who deny their agency, humanity, and lived experiences. At best, it is a tenuous proposal that might pay off after they are dead. And herein lies the greatest mistake that proponents of anti-capitalist thought continue to make. The insistence on denying the varied experiences of those most affected by capitalism will be the very thing that continues to divide us all. Because class consciousness cannot come until liberation acknowledges all of us, makes room for the realities we do not share.