January 21, 2021

With Biden We May be Back to the Transgender Tipping Point

In 2014 we had the "transgender tipping point". Then, shortly after, we had the "transgender backlash", as religious extremists, fascists and trans-exclusionary "radical feminists" tried to turn the gender clock back to the 19th century. Like most right wing extremist Trump skillfully played the transphobia card to rally his MAGA-base. With Biden we may now be facing another and much more positive shift.

As I have reported over at my Trans Express blog, the Biden administration has proven itself to be pro-LGBTQA and it is pro-transgender. It does nothing to hide it. Biden has already signed the first executive order on LGBTQA rights, and it reads like a rainbow manifesto:

Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.

Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.

Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes.

People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination.

All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The ban on transgender people in the military will be abolished any day now, and the White House web site has already started asking for pronouns.

Regressives vs. Progressives

As I have noted before, this is not really a fight between political conservatism versus liberalism per se. It may look that way in the US, since  extremists are now dominating the Republican Party.  In Europe a lot of conservatives are pro-trans, and we find "radical feminists" who are severely transphobic. 

I believe the treatment of trans people  reflects another real dichotomy, though: The psychological drive towards the imagined safety of tradition on the one hand and the embrace of diversity on the other. Or, as Eddie Izzard has put it, a struggle between "regressives" and "progressives." 

David Goodhart has referred to the two groups as "somewheres" and "anywheres". Again, not all "somewheres" are transphobic and not all "anywheres" are pro trans, but statistically there is at least a meaningful correlation. 

I suspect transphobic activism will die from lack of oxygen only at the moment a majority of "somewheres" see transgender people as a natural part of their history and culture, in the same way many of them now have managed to humanize gay and lesbian people.

The American embassy in Norway, 2014. The symbolic value of seeing the rainbow colors displayed in this way cannot be overestimated. 

The Capitol Trumpist terror attack may actually help

The MAGA and QAnon terror attack on the Capitol was a horrifying reminder of how fragile democracy can be. But it was also a reminder of how strong democracy can be. The fascists failed. Biden is president.

Moreover, the attack has made it so much harder to pretend that Trump represented some kind of acceptable "normalcy." It tore the mask off MAGA culture and displayed the ugly white supremacy  underneath.

This also means that it has become harder to defend standpoints associated with this kind of extremism – being that racism, homophobia or transphobia. I guess at least some TERFs were forced to ask themselves if this was the kind of people they would like to be associated with, as they watched January 6 unfold.

The psychological effect of the collapse of the Trump coup

Trump's anti-trans policies clearly had a direct negative effect on trans people. Students  found themselves banned from the right bathrooms. Soldiers were no longer welcome in the US military.

But I suspect that the psychological effect was just as damaging. When you see that the most powerful man in the most powerful nation in the world wants you back in the closet, that creates a constant anxiety. Trans people know that such policies lead to  toxic feedback loops, where bigots feel encouraged to be even more transphobic, leading – in turn –  to an increasing public acceptance of transphobic aggression.

We will now have an American president who supports trans people and who will allow American embassies to use the rainbow colors again. I am sure that this will mean a lot to trans people all over the world.

For more on the effects of this shift, read the following posts on my Trans Express site:

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