The politics of transphobia: We’ve been here before

Over on the TransAdvocate, Cristan Williams examines the history of the “bathroom panic” as the flashpoint of discrimination for minorities in the past century. She finds, unsurprisingly, that the same tactics used to justify discrimination of Black people, Jewish people, and Gay people are identical; as is the rhetoric used today to paint trans women as predators and disease carriers.

During the rally, CCS co-founder Danny Holliday told the crowd that the “leaders” of the trans rights movement were pedophiles who enjoyed having sexual intercourse with animals.

Political discourse situated around the minority use of bathrooms has featured significantly in numerous social equality struggles, from the fight to preserve racist Jim Crow laws to the sexist battle to keep the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from being ratified. Rhetorical themes featuring bathrooms, privacy, and safety concerns are integral aspects of a specific and identifiable political dialectic used to incite, promote, and sustain the fear that an oppressed group may well rape, molest, harass or infect the majority group should equality between the two groups come to pass. In contemporary times, this political dialectic features prominently in narratives supporting North Carolina’s recently passed law mandating that transgender people who’ve not been able to amend their birth certificate use the restroom assigned to them at birth rather than the restroom that matches their transitioned status, irrespective of legal identification or phenotype. Proponents of laws like North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill” assert that these laws are needed to ensure that A.) the privacy of cisgender people is respected[1]; B.) without these laws, rapists will dress in drag in order to molest little girls in the restroom[2]; and, C.) transgender people are actually perverts and pedophiles who need to be prevented from accessing women’s restrooms[3].

I first wrote about the ways in which contemporary anti-equality discourse situated around trans issues closely resembled the sexist discourse used against the Equal Rights Amendment in a 2013 Autostraddle article. In doing my research for the article you are now reading, I came across the work of Gillian Frank, PhD, a visiting fellow at Princeton. I reached out to Frank to help me better understand the ways in which the very discourse currently focused upon the trans community was used against other marginalized groups throughout American history.  What follows is my interview with Frank and a review of the ways anti-equality groups have historically cast oppressed groups as voyeurs and/or perverts, warning the public that should an oppressed group have equality, bad things may happen in public bathrooms.

You can read the rest here and support the TransAdvocate as a patron here.



  1. cartomancer says

    This kind of rhetoric is very old indeed. Juvenal satirises it in his third satire, saying (in the mouth of an old-fashioned conservative Romen) of the immigrant Greeks who have apparently taken over Rome:

    “Besides, nothing’s sacred to them or safe from their cocks
    Not the lady of the house, or the virgin daughter, not
    Even her smooth-faced fiancé, or the unbroken son.
    Failing that, they’ll have the friend’s grandma on her back.”