25 years ago at the annual meeting of Portland’s Lesbian Community Project, there was a motion on the floor to adopt a statement recognizing trans people as partners in liberation and trans women who joined LCP as full members with rights indistinguishable from other members.
During the discussion from the floor the people who objected to the proposal also rejected all the language necessary to talk about the proposal. They insisted that they were not cis, not “not trans”, and not “non-trans”. There was no language acceptable to them which would even allow the debate to be had. Woman, lesbian, and normal were all terms to be used exclusively for them and those these opponents personally validated.
Cis objections to the word “cis” as well as phrases like “non-trans” are 100% about who controls “normal”, but the effort to control “normal” is not an end of it’s own. Controlling language or normality and other words and phrases central to discussing the social realities of sex and gender are also about whether or not we are even allowed to have conversations. If opponents of gender liberation sufficiently control the language, then certain ideas cannot be effectively communicated, and meaningful understandings of trans lives cannot even be articulated. Without those understandings, that information about who trans people are, what the trans experience is, and even what is meant by the word trans, there can be no such thing as trans advocacy.
And that is the world they wish to occupy: a world in which they are not merely centred as “normal”, but a world in which no one can say transness exists, and no argument could ever be articulated in favour of trans humanity. Imagine a world in which sex and gender discrimination is banned, but so is deviation from sex and gender norms. It sounds weirdly dystopian, but it’s exactly the world we’ve occupied for much of my life.
For the cis supremacists, rebutting the arguments that trans people are people and that trans rights are human rights is tiring, and places them on the defensive. It even, occasionally, causes them to appear gauche.Their response to the debilitating possibility that they might feel awkward is, obviously, that language must be constructed such that those arguments cannot exist in the first place. Likewise books that make such arguments must be banned. They aren’t resistant to a particular position on the best way to construct a just world. Like the racists with whom John Venn would be happy to show their extensive overlap, they object to any effort to create a just world.
Their answer (book banning, language control) is also, not incidentally, the answer arrived at by IngSoc, who did not defend their positions so much as obviate defense by eliminating critique: first by linguistic control, later by thought control, and in the last resort, by death.
While some people have resisted labeling the massive, coordinated attack on trans people as genocide because individual trans persons aren’t being killed in sufficient numbers, this belies the definition of genocide itself. Genocide is not about killing individuals, though that can be one tactic of those committing this greatest of crimes. Rather genocide is the effort to destroy a people as a people.
Imagine an invasion of Belgium that was followed by a ban on referring to Belgium as a separate country from its invader, let’s say Ireland because we know how evil those Irish are. Now imagine this invasion is followed by rewriting textbooks to declare great artists and writers of Belgium’s past to be Irish and teaching only English and Irish languages in schools. Imagine Ireland holding birthday celebrations the “Irish” artists they have claimed. Imagine Leopold the II portrayed as a corrupt rebel, with Belgians who reject the usurper and embrace Irish identity absolved of any need to make reparations to the large number of people who have been harmed by Belgian slavery and exploitation in the Congo region. Imagine an ongoing campaign to abolish the very idea that there is or ever was a legitimate “Belgium”. Those who, in the past, used the word to describe Ireland’s continental territory are acknowledged, but only in the sense that the newly Irish population admits that criminals in the past attempted — and failed — to create a Belgium out of evil and dreams.
There is no doubt that this would be recognized as. a campaign of genocide. The intent is not to kill individuals, true, but it is still an intent to end the Belgian people as a distinct people.
Fortunately, these depraved Irish instincts are being restrained, for now, by what I must presume are truly heroic Irish activists. The same cannot be said for the cissexist campaign to colonize gender. They wish to own all the perspectives, to control which ones are acceptable, which ones normal, which ones even speakable. They do not wish to have a discussion about the true nature of
Irishness gender or historical definitions of Ireland woman or Irish feminine. They wish to eliminate such discussions entirely.
But the eliminationist response to threats to default status, the eliminationist response to questioning what is normal, is not separate from the public calls to end transness in public life. It may be that the book GenderQueer raises a challenge to hegemonic notions of gender. But when the books are gone, when the word is forbidden, how we choose to act or dress, the names on our drivers’ licenses, the brash insistence that we own our own bodies will wordlessly raise these same questions. Only then the cis supremacists will only be more frustrated: with the language of transness banned, how will they even articulate our crimes?
Ultimately the logic of language control, the imperative to colonize and control “normal” extends to the control of bodies, as we have seen with bans on health care. And what is to be done with a body that cannot be made to comply?
There is no reason to believe that those working to control language and to deny trans people the right to articulate a liberatory advocacy will be able to stop its eliminationist core from eliminating people once its disciples’ attacks on language and thought and argument prove less than 100% effective.
But even should organized, large-scale, train-car loading attacks on trans people never arrive, this is still an attempt to control more than language. It is an attempt to render invisible and inconsequential, to render irrelevant and unnoticeable, the trans individuals near them. But as both they and we are everywhere, it is also an attempt to render invisible, inconsequential, irrelevant and even non-existent trans communities as trans communities. It is an attempt to eliminate not trans persons per se, but to eliminate the trans people as a people.
Of course this is an attempted genocide. The world may choose not to recognize it for its lack of machetes or smallpox-infested blankets or poison gas or forced marches.
But just as trans rights are human rights, and trans individuals have the right to freely associate together for our common education friendship and support, the fight of cissexists to end trans people as a people is an attempted trans genocide.
We refuse to call it such at great peril.