Trans liberation integral to ROSA's Socialist Feminism
Speech given by Ollie Bell at ROSA International Socialist Feminist Conference, Vienna, 18 & 19 March 2023. Ollie (they/them) is a ROSA activist in Ireland and a founder of Trans and Intersex Pride, Dublin.
In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in trans visibility. With celebrities like Lavene Cox and Elliot Page speaking openly about being trans to trans representation in tv shows, movies, music and other forms of entertainment. One survey showed that Gen Z are the queerest generation with 15% of Gen Z identifying as LGBTQ+ and another study found that 35% of Gen Zers know someone who uses they/them pronouns. With greater trans awareness, this should point towards greater social change and rights for trans people globally but what we are seeing is an outright moral panic and war against trans people.
Trans people internationally face higher levels of gender-based violence and sexual assault. According to a 2021 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, trans people are over four times more likely to experience violent victimisation than cisgender people, this includes things like rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault. ILGA-Europe's annual report, which included information collected from 54 countries in Europe and Central Asia, found that 2022 was the most violent year in over a decade for LGBTQ+ people in Europe and Central Asia. Even in more ‘progressive’ countries where LGBTQ+ people are seen as being widely accepted, there was an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ violence. This increase coincides with an increase anti-LGBTQ+ laws and an increase in transphobic hate speech and rhetoric in the media. And this translates into actual violence against the LGBTQ+ community, especially trans people.
In Poland, despite the European Union ending their legal action against Poland for their LGBTQ+ free zones, the central government continues to spread transphobic rhetoric. This included the Chairman of PiS calling trans people ‘abnormal’ which coincided with a petition by the fundamentalist association Ordo Iuris, protesting the alleged suffering of underage trans people from the use of puberty blockers. In November 2018, following government pressure and threats, more than 200 schools cancelled a planned anti-bullying campaign called "Rainbow Friday", which the Campaign Against Homophobia had promoted in hopes of fighting hatred and homophobia in schools. Despite this many students defied the ban and showed up to school in rainbow colours and many schools refused to comply with the warnings. As well as the LGBTQ+ free zones, Polish government also has tried to pass laws which would restrict whatever limited sex education schools have.
In 2021 in Hungary, a law was passed which prohibits sharing with minors any content that portrays being gay or transgender.It included amendments that ban the representation of any sexual orientation besides heterosexual as well as transition information in school sex education programs, or in films and advertisements aimed at anyone under 18. Supporters of this law have said it is something that will help fight pedophilia but is actually a way of restricting students access to LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education. In 2020, under the guise of the Covid-19 pandemic Hungary’s parliament was able to gain unlimited power which they used to pass non-health related laws like the one which banned trans and intersex people from changing their legal gender.
In Ireland, trans healthcare continues to be one of the most pressing issues facing the trans community. With a ten year long waiting list and an assessment which forces trans people to describe in detail every aspect of their personal lives from their porn habits, relationships to any trauma or abuse they've gone through. It's no wonder that Ireland was ranged the worst for trans healthcare in Europe. But this is just a reflection of how capitalism itself sees trans people, as either a mental illness or a fetish. Trans people globally are denied bodily autonomy, instead these decisions are placed in the hands of doctors who often gatekeep gender affirming care if a trans person doesn't fit into their idea of a true trans person. In Ireland this leads many to turn to more expensive means like GenderGP or if they can't afford that, many will buy hormones online in what is nicknamed DIY HRT.
Outside of Europe, we're also seeing this kind of backlash in the US. Just this year, 465 bills have been introduced which is already a record year for the highest number of anti LGBTQ bills. Many of these bills directly attack trans people from receiving basic healthcare or restrict education around gender and sexuality. We're seeing a continuation of bills seeking to block gender affirming care for young trans people but now we're also seeing attacks on healthcare for trans adults. A Texas bill for example would ban any public funding for trans healthcare at any age and put constraints on medical professionals and insurance providers. Another bill in Oklahoma would make it a felony to provide gender affirming care to trans people under 26. Tennessee was the first to pass a bill barring "adult cabaret performances" on public property or in places where they might be within view of children. This bill also bans "male or female impersonators" which could very easily be used against trans people or gender non conforming people whether or not they are actually in drag. The justification of the bills is similar to the rhetoric used in Poland, that these laws aren't homophobic or transphobic. Instead this is to protect women and children, it's a fight against grooming and the sexualisation of children. Again anything outside of the heterosexual and cisgended norm is seen as inherently sexual and perverted.
And this has real life consequences, in February Brianna Ghey, a 16 year old trans girl, was found in a park after being stabbed to death by two teenagers. The police were quick to say they didn't think it was a hate crime but now they are looking at all possibilities including if it was a transphobic attack. But what would have driven the two teenagers to go out and kill Brianna? Especially considering she was also a victim of extreme transphobic bullying and was repeatedly gang beaten at school. Her death can't be isolated from the current anti trans climate in the UK. This climate isn't helped by the fact that the UK parliament has used Section 35 to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Bill from becoming law.
In response to Brianna Ghey's death, Vigils were called around the UK and Ireland because this kind of attack is a direct consequence of a system that dehumanises and demonises trans people. Even after her death, she wasn't given peace. The Daily Mail contacted her dentist in order to get her deadname and the Independent only removed the mention of her deadname after online backlash. Also following her death, the UK government rejected a petition which called for Brianna to have a Gender Recognition Cert so her gender could be respected and her death cert would reflect her true gender identity. This rejection is just another way Brianna has been refused dignity in her death.
But why are we seeing such a backlash against trans rights? Capitalism is in the midst of multiple crises; cost of living is at all time high, the Covid 19 pandemic only helped show the inherent contradictions that exist in the system. Even when the UK government was using Section 35 to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Bill, it was during a time where you saw multiple workers striking over pay and for better working conditions. Instead of giving time to bettering the lives of workers, the parliament threw their energy into a culture war. Even at times where women's rights are attacked you will also see attacks on trans rights because capitalism fundamentally needs the gender binary to survive. It needs to control people's bodies and place restrictions on how people are allowed to express themselves. Which is why as socialist feminists we need to fight against all forms of oppression but also fight against a system that hurts us all.