Called Out: For what it really is, othering

Jules Gill-Peterson, writer for Jewish Currents, has published an essay on the far right obsession with and attempts to legislate against Transgender and Non-Binary people.  I have already thought the same ideas, but she put them into a complete thoughts and argument.  And where she accuses the extremists of their worst actions, she goes where you think she’s going, accurately and aptly compares them to the worst regimes of human history.

All the emphases in the text are mine.  The entire item is worth reading.

The Anti-Trans Lobby’s Real Agenda

THIS YEAR, over 100 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in more than 25 state legislatures, the vast majority of them banning trans kids, especially girls, from participating in organized sports in school, as well as prohibiting or even criminalizing the delivery of gender-affirming healthcare. One of these bills was North Dakota’s HB 1476, which sought, in its own words, to “prohibit the state from creating or enforcing policies that directly or symbolically respect nonsecular self-asserted sex-based identity narratives or sexual orientation orthodoxy.” This long, wordy proposal categorized trans people, transition-related healthcare for minors, same-sex marriage, drag queens, and any sexual orientation other than hetero as expressions of a “religion” called “secular humanism.”

Introduced on January 18th by a group of five conservative House members, and withdrawn from further consideration only three days later, HB 1476 generated no debate or commentary on the record, and triggered only a limited response from journalists and progressive groups. […]

The logic of HB 1476, however evidently forced, tells us much about how to understand the larger flood of anti-trans bills. Liberals have tended to see these bills as promoting a straightforward form of irrational discrimination toward trans youth that flouts the expert opinion of major medical organizations. Some more astute critics, meanwhile, have contended that the bills are in a sense not really about trans people at all, but are instead a cruel though also somewhat arbitrary effort to raise funds and appeal to the evangelical base of the Republican party in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections. In fact, the right-wing proponents of this legislative avalanche have greater ambitions than mere electoral dominance. As HB 1476 shows, this legislative tactic is an attempt to use trans people as a pretext for a broader reformation of civil life and citizenship to advance an authoritarian, Christian state policy on sex and gender. From this vantage point, it shares its strongest affinities with antisemitic, Islamophobic, and New Jim Crow-era anti-Black politics; it is also an example of settler colonial logic, since the state’s indigenous population would find its Two-Spirit cultures and practices disestablished under the law. 

On first read, many observers were struck by the apparently flagrant contradiction between Republican efforts to pass “religious liberty” laws to codify private discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender people, and HB 1476’s tactic of labeling trans people “a nonsecular sham,” framing them as adherents to a religion that the state cannot endorse. Rather than a fatal contradiction, however, this incongruity in fact points to a skillful manipulation of the ambiguous concept of state secularism. By promoting implicitly Christian policy in the name of religious neutrality, and advancing a notion of universalism that is in fact based in Christian particularism, the bill’s authors in effect characterize a range of non-Christian identities—transness, but also Muslim and Jewish identities—as incompatible with the mores of the public sphere. The apparent contradiction is not one that these laws aim to resolve, but to exploit.

What looks like legal amateurism is in fact the most open expression to date of the larger political strategy of anti-trans legislation, which trans activists have speculated is presently undergoing an authoritarian and evangelically-driven escalation. While a first wave of bills, which were signed into law in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas in March, ban both pediatric trans healthcare and participation in sports, the most recent slate of bills—advanced in the past month by right-wing groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation, and the Family Research Council—proposes much harsher interventions. These new bills conform with the logic of HB 1476 whereby the state must aggressively attack, not merely prohibit support for, trans youth. A Texas bill would label supporting trans children child abuse, allowing the state to forcibly remove children from their homes and place them in foster care (where, presumably, they could be adopted by a Christian family). A North Carolina bill would force teachers to out any children who display what they perceive to be gender non-conforming behavior to school officials and their parents. And a recently passed bill in Florida opens the door to requiring physical, genital inspections of young children to assign them a sex for school sports under the law. While these bills are commonly cloaked in secularized language about countering allegedly unnatural “gender ideology,” they also importantly enlarge the authoritarian scope of the state to subject trans youth to forms of cultural conversion based in an evangelical understanding of the gender binary. Seeing these bills in the context of their larger political strategy, it becomes clear that simply insisting on trans kids’ right to inclusion and individual liberty does not constitute an adequate defense against the agenda of the Christian right.

Labelling health care and acceptance as “abuse”.

Removing children from their homes and placing them in abusive environments, exactly what was done to First Nations and Indigenous people in Canada, the US, Australia and elsewhere.

Othering and criminalizing people’s very existence.

Gill-Peterson goes on to make the direct link between their actions and motivations.  “The second axis“, what apt language for the far right’s intent:

The current wave of bills attacking trans children follow this playbook. A close look at HB 1476 suggests that there are two steps to this process. The first is to declare trans people uncivil, aberrations from the desired norms of the state and the law, and therefore unworthy of the status and privileges accorded to citizens. (In this case, trans people are accused of adhering to the religion of “secular humanism” in violation of the political contract for participating publicly in the secular state.) This would effectively mean the state deeming trans people incapable of belonging to national life, leaving them without access to the public sphere, state benefits, or the ability to challenge discrimination and violence. The second axis of the bill’s logic justifies the state’s withdrawal of public welfare in arenas like healthcare, education, and civil rights for all but the Christian ethnostate’s privileged ruling class. In this light, Republican religious liberty bills do not contradict legislation like HB 1476, but complement it. While the state imagines emancipating itself from trans people by defining them as unfit for citizenship, religious liberty bills enshrine Christianity as the de facto state religion. In doing so, they reframe the openly eugenic policy of banning trans children’s healthcare as a positive claim about whose lives are being selected by the state as most valuable.

Trans children are particularly useful props in this argument, as the figure of the child has long been the sentimental stand-in for the nation and—by extension, in its most extremist manifestations—the “race.” Since at least the antebellum period, as historians have detailed, the racial innocence invested in the figure of the white child has served as an anchor of proper American political feeling. Statecraft and governance often invoke the hypothetical child’s welfare and protection as a justification for dismissing real people’s political demands. The politics of “protecting” the innocent white child have rationalized the disposability of entire populations, like immigrants, the descendants of enslaved people, criminals, people with disabilities, and so-called deviants. Today we are witnessing trans children’s addition to this list. The resulting eugenic arithmetic is far from hidden: Trans children, according to this ideology, are not innocent due to their supposed corruption by “gender ideology” and medicalization, which are in reality indictments of their self-knowledge and active trans desire; they therefore must be ejected from the boundaries of the nation in order that “women and girls” be protected from them, or protected from transness. This is how a bill that claims to promote safety or ensure fairness can save itself from the obvious objection that in fact it does the very opposite.

This time it’s not racial purity, it’s cisgender heterosexual purity.  The target may be different, but the tactics, intent, hate, and violence are exactly the same.

White people can’t become a minority of the voting population soon enough.


  1. publicola says

    The targets may change, but they are not abandoned. They’re filed away until they’re needed again. It’s a carousel of hatred.