Laurie and Debbie say:
The assault on trans rights, with a focus on the complete erasure of trans children and youth, is relentless. What was once an extreme right-wing position has shifted into the mainstream. If you’re trans, or trans-adjacent, it’s incredibly easy to feel that everyone is against you; the threat to your existence is constant and manifest.
In this hateful climate, voices of defense and compassionate analysis are not only valuable, they are necessary. In this post, we lift up two such voices. First, Catharine McKinnon, well-known and appropriately resoundingly criticized for her decades-long opposition to sex and sex work, keynoted a roundtable on Exploring Transgender Law and Politics. We make no excuse or apology for MacKinnon’s other positions, and we both remember her unremitting attacks on sex workers with disgust. Her unwavering opposition to all forms of sex work is not absent from this piece. Nonetheless, her analysis of the situation of trans people is remarkable, and quite original. Here are a few choice quotations from this long piece; we recommend reading the whole thing (perhaps skipping the anti-sex diatribes).
Much of the current debate has centered on (endlessly obsessed over, actually) whether trans women are women. Honestly, seeing “women” as a turf to be defended, as opposed to a set of imperatives and limitations to be criticized, challenged, changed, or transcended, has been pretty startling. One might think that trans women—assigned male at birth, leaving masculinity behind, drawn to and embracing womanhood for themselves—would be welcomed. …
… what women “are” does not necessarily define the woman question: our inequality, our resulting oppression. Those of us who do not take our politics from the dictionary want to know: Why are women unequal to men? What keeps women second-class citizens? How are women distinctively subordinated? The important question for a political movement for the liberation of women is thus not what a woman is, I think, but what accounts for the oppression of women: who is oppressed as a woman, in the way women are distinctively oppressed? …
… the notion that trans people are living in a fantasy, are imposters, while women assigned female at birth are living in material reality, and are the only real thing, is central to the so-called feminist anti-trans position. But sexuality, however social, is material, and trans people are sexually defined, objectified, violated, and living (and dying) in it at major rates. Their subordination and abuse, which includes abuse as trans, as women, and as trans women, is no fantasy. It also includes sexual abuse as trans men, feminine men, and trans nonbinary. …
… The notion that gender is biologically based—the philosophical foundation common to male dominant society and anti-trans feminists—is core to the reason why trans people know with their lives that they have to change their bodies to live the gender of their identities. Trans people do not need to make or defend a progressive contribution to gender politics to be entitled to change the way they inhabit gender. But trans people, in addition to all else they do and are, highlight feminism’s success—gender’s arbitrariness and invidiousness was our analysis originally—and feminism’s failure, or better our incomplete project—as the world is still largely stuck in what feminists oppose and fight to change, and trans people are determined to escape.
We are currently in the midst of an all-out moral panic against transgender people. If I were to ask “who is driving this panic?” most people in the United States would likely say the far right and social conservatives who have traditionally been opposed to LGBTQ+ people. In the United Kingdom, they might say “gender critical” (GC) or “TERFs,” who frame their opposition to trans people as a feminist crusade. If you said “both,” well, that would also be correct, as these two groups have long been working together.
But there is a third faction driving this moral panic that has received far less public attention: the anti-trans parent movement. This movement is comprised of reluctant parents of trans children. They coalesce online to share stories, spread alternative theories that explain away their children’s transness, and exchange tips on how to coerce their children into “desisting.” Some of their theories are pseudoscientific (e.g., that trans identities are now spreading among children via “social contagion/ROGD”), while others are conspiratorial (e.g., children are being recruited via “gender ideology,” “grooming,” or “Jewish billionaires working to create a transhumanist future”).
Serano, always a brilliant organizer of her written words, starts with a well-sourced history of this movement and how people got caught up in it (all in the context of the overwhelming medical consensus for gender-affirming care). As with the MacKinnon, we recommend reading the entire article (which is shorter and more accessible than the first one).
Serano then turns to an analysis of how mainstream media covers the movement. Here’s just one example, featuring one of the many anti-trans parent groups:
Jesse Singal’s 2018 Atlantic cover story, “When Children Say They’re Trans,” may be the most influential article of this genre. There are too many problems with it to fully cover here. But pertinent to this essay, shortly after its release, one of the mothers who was featured in the article published a post on 4thwavenow entitled “What I wish the Atlantic article hadn’t censored.” The article, and the 4thwavenow editorial note that precedes it, claim that The Atlantic whitewashed all mentions of 4thwavenow from the article. In a separate tweet in response to someone wishing that Singal had consulted 4thwavenow for the article, the spokesperson for 4thwavenow replied: “Oh, he consulted. Heavily. Families profiled are 4th families. That was the censors’ line in the sand — removal of any mention of 4th.”
To be clear, 4thwavenow routinely compares trans communities and healthcare to “cults,” “brainwashing,” “lobotomies,” “mutilation,” “Big Pharma,” and “eugenics.” The fact that Singal and/or The Atlantic recruited parents from such a blatantly anti-trans parent website without divulging this crucial fact to readers is journalistic malpractice.
Stomach-turning, especially that list of comparisons.
Having made that point, Serano transitions to a clear rejection of the “concerned parent trope.”
If you understand … outsiders’ propensity to identify with cis parents rather than their trans children, coupled with parents’ tendency to disbelieve that their children are “really trans” (at least initially, and in some cases permanently) — then it becomes obvious how easy it is for journalists and media producers to manipulate audiences’ opinions of trans youth and gender-affirming healthcare with a few well-placed quotes from reluctant or skeptical parents.
I am not saying that journalists should never cover the difficulties and obstacles faced by parents of trans children — there are many and they can be recounted respectfully (see e.g., Meadow, 2018). But when journalists only tell the parent’s side of the story, or when they pit a parent’s trans-skeptical account against that of their trans child — implying that the former likely “knows better” than the latter — that should be a giant red flag for audiences.
And when articles and news stories mention trans-skeptical parents “seeking support” and finding “like-minded voices” online, that’s almost always a sign that said parents are involved in or interacting with the anti-trans parent movement.
Or, “nothing about us without us” applies to trans kids and trans adults, as it applies to everyone.
Thanks to Stef Schwartz for a pointer to the MacKinnon article.
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