Attacks on trans lives are attacks on collective sociality and social provisioning. Drawing on Feminism for the 99% and on recent articles in Tempest and Spectre, among other sources, Frann Michel explains how attempts to maintain gender oppression and the ideal of the bourgeois nuclear family are part of neoliberal attacks on the public sphere and workers' empowerment.
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A speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month called for the eradication of "transgenderism," but said that doesn't mean he's calling for the elimination of transgender people. If we take him at his word about eradicating the category but not the people, maybe he wants to eliminate cis people. Transition for all!
Yeah, you know that's not what he meant. You may have heard that Tennessee legislators recently looked around at the collapsing climate and collapsing banks and exploding trains and raging pandemic and rising hunger and revival of child labor and decided that the important thing to do was to ...ban drag shows?
You will have noticed the recently escalated moral panic about trans people, including the enormous number of anti-LGBTQ bills floated in recent years, and particularly the number directed against Trans people--hundreds of them--and the number of bills seems to grow every year.
In Oregon, the ACLU has been tracking seven such bills affecting healthcare and education.
Clearly, these are forms of scapegoating, measures that divide the working class, deflect attention from the dangers posed by the owning class, and help rally a distressed population in the service of a right wing agenda.
Also clearly, they do not spring out of nowhere.
Cultural and legislative campaigns are funded by think tanks and dark money, but the messages proliferate not only on alt-right websites and right-wing television, but also in mainstream venues like The New York Times, which in February received open letters from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and from Times contributors, among others, protesting their persistent pubication of biased, inaccurate, and dangerous stories.
Not all of these attacks operate in the same ways, or even from entirely the same motives, but they all contribute to a cumulative effect of making the world more dangerous for trans people--and for all of us.
Moreover, like attacks on abortion rights, attacks on trans rights and queer sociality "aim to enforce the bourgeois family by any means necessary."
As Noah Zazanis noted last year in Spectre magazine, "While most children who experience sexual abuse are victimized by someone close to the family, the heterosexual family never faces ... “groomer” accusations. “Grooming” libel is not actually about sexual abuse, but instead targets trans and queer adults as sources of “social contagion.” Providing support and historical or cultural context for trans/queer youth is suspect precisely because it models possibilities outside of cisgender/heterosexual expectations. As such, these attacks are a core tactic of right-wing organizing."
But why do the bourgeois family and cisgender identity--forms so very natural and innate that they must be enforced through ideological propaganda and state legislation--why do challenges to these forms generate such panic?
In Feminism for the 99 Percent, Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser argue that “Gender oppression in capitalist societies is rooted in the subordination of social reproduction to production for profit."
"Social Reproduction" is all the work of "people-making": not only all of the "activity [to] create and sustain life in the biological sense" but also . . . fashioning people with the 'right' attitudes, dispositions, and values—abilities, competences, and skills" appropriate for the continuation of the current society.
Under capitalism, this work has been largely assigned to women, and when more advantaged workers outsource it, it's often to women of color, poor, and immigrant workers, who usually also perform this labor, unpaid, for their own families. Social reproduction in capitalism is thus an issue of gender, but also one "shot through at every point by the fault lines of class, race, sexuality, and nation."
Back in 2006, the Beyond Marriage statement pointed out that
"the Right has mounted a long-term strategic battle to dismantle all public service and benefit programs and civic values that were established beginning in the 1930s, initially as a response to widening poverty and the Great Depression. The push to privatize Social Security and many other human needs benefits, programs, and resources that serve as lifelines for many . . . is at the center of this attack. …All but the most privileged households and families are in jeopardy as a result of a wholesale right-wing assault on funding for human needs, including Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, HIV-AIDS research and treatment, public education, affordable housing, and more. [The] broader conservative agenda of coercive, patriarchal marriage promotion … plays out in … a variety of ways – all of which disproportionately impact poor, immigrant, and people-of-color communities. The purpose is not only to enforce narrow, heterosexist definitions of marriage and coerce conformity, but also to slash to the bone governmental funding for a wide array of family programs, including childcare, healthcare and reproductive services, and nutrition, and transfer responsibility for financial survival to families themselves."
The authors of Feminism for the 99% point out that "capital is no longer implacably opposed to queer and non-cis sex/gender formations. ...; many [large corporations] are now willing to permit significant numbers of their employees to live outside heterosexual families—that is, provided they toe the line, both at the workplace and at the mall."
Thus we have corporations like Amazon, Dow, Shell, Google, and Pfizer signing on to a statement opposing the recent wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation, in the belief that queer "workers have assimilated into capital and can be conscripted to provide the same social reproductive labor that cis/hetero families do."
That conditional corporate acceptance, Eric Maroney suggests in Tempest magazine, facllitates a right-wing vision wherein “western liberal elites are equated with global economic elites.”
The ruling class is internally divided, then, but not so much that it offers any way out.
As Maroney concludes,
"Queer liberation is not just about rolling back the most recent legislative attacks, but also about progressive tax reform, state-funded healthcare, state-funded childcare, and elder care. All these material preconditions are required for the bodily sovereignty of all working people, trans-bodied and cis-bodied people alike." Leftists need to support these goals "in a non-reductive way that acknowledges . . . the unique exploitative conditions that trans people face" and we cannot settle "for a politics of representation that situates trans identities in the context of corporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion campaigns" because that "not only fails to meet the material needs of trans people, but also [may provide] further credibility to the [right-wing] claim that trans and queer liberation are the conjuring of a wealthy elite."
Maroney writes, "The far-right attacks on transgender people stem from profound social anxiety over the crises posed by neoliberal capitalism, which ruthlessly privatizes care and imperils ordinary people’s lives. Scapegoating transgender and gender nonconforming people for transgressing essentialist definitions of gendered family values is thus part and parcel of the privatization of social reproduction necessary for neoliberal capitalism to sustain itself. Every fight against exploitation and oppression is thus a fight for trans liberation, and ...trans liberation struggles [are] fundamental to . . . anti-capitalist politics."