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Liberals and Conservatives Uniting Against Trans Activism Isn’t a Rarity—It’s a Tragedy



Today, our sister site Mediaite shared an opinion piece by conservative columnist Matthew Balan on what he called a “rare” phenomenon: liberal and conservative activists uniting across the aisle to band together against transgender activism. Aside from being absolutely littered with incredibly misguided and incorrect terminology regarding transgender people (seriously, “transgenderism” isn’t a thing, it’s just not), it incorrectly paints the unification of the left and right as a rarity. Let’s go ahead and make one thing clear right up front: This is not the first time the left and right have banded together to isolate and other transgender people.

Balan cites a video posted to The Daily Signal, a conservative blog. In it, women belonging to various ostensibly progressive groups on both sides of the aisle share their thoughts on how great it is that they can agree on transgender dehumanization. Kaeley Triller Haver, communications director of the “Just Want Privacy” anti-transgender equality campaign in Washington state, said, “It’s been so good. I think it’s so healthy; there’s something so human about working that hard to understand others.”

There’s some real fucking irony in this statement, don’t you think? To think that it’s healthy to be banded together in the dehumanization of an entire population of people is absolutely ridiculous, especially under the guise of being understanding. If even half the mental gymnastics and reasoning applied to trying to understand the religious right was applied to trying to understand trans people, I daresay there’s no way they’d support such exclusionary organizations dedicated to the dehumanization of actual people.

But the rights of trans people have frequently been thrown under the bus by many Democrats and supposedly progressive people. Back in 2007, Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.), an openly gay member of Congress, issued a statement explaining why transgender people would be excluded from protections set forth for lesbian, bisexual, and gay people in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. At the time, he wrote, “There is more resistance to protection for people who are transgender than for people who are gay, lesbian and bisexual. This is not a good fact, but ignoring bad facts is a bad way to get legislation passed.”

In 2015, a petition made the rounds asking for the T in LGBT to be dropped and excluded from discussions regarding the LGBTQIA community as a whole. It pulled in about 3,300 supporters, some of whom include prominent feminist Germaine Greer, who previously made her opinions regarding trans people known after she voiced her opinion regarding Caitlyn Jenner, saying, “Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman.”

Trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) aren’t some far-flung element of an otherwise progressive movement. They’re an everyday reality for transgender people everywhere. This isn’t some new phenomenon. Their views on transgender people have always lined up with those of the conservative right, as they both rely on gender essentialism and ineffectual “but biology” arguments to exclude trans men and trans women from rights afforded to LGB people everywhere. Those arguments rely on imaginary absolutism in biology, but biology is a lot more complicated and ambiguous than that, and our understanding of it is still evolving, because that’s how science works. (Read here, here, and here, just for an idea.)

What’s more, the petition (and TERFs) perpetuated the incredibly damaging, harmful transphobic myth that equal bathroom access would lead to women being assaulted in bathrooms by “men pretending to be women.” This myth has informed and dominated the ongoing debate regarding transgender bathroom access, which has, recently, flared up as the White House rescinded protections previously established by guidelines offered by former President Obama. Following that, Gavin Grimm’s Supreme Court hearing was referred to a lower case to be re-heard, effectively delaying a potential major ruling as far as bathroom access is concerned.

Meanwhile, trans women of color continue to disproportionately face threats of violence and murder, partially informed by the ongoing dehumanization inflicted upon them by a cold, uncaring public.

When it comes to trans youth, Mary Lou Singleton, a radical feminist midwife, made the tired “but won’t someone think of the children” argument, saying:

It’s being so heavily, relentlessly promoted by the mainstream media and the liberal press; and children and their parents are buying it. And now, we’re seeing this phenomenon of tens of thousands of children being put on puberty blockers; being put on cross-sex hormones; receiving lifelong body-altering surgeries that you can’t ever undo.

First of all, getting surgery isn’t quite as simple as it’s made out to be in the Daily Signal video. It’s nearly impossible for any transgender teenager to undergo surgery before the age of 18. Hell, getting puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy is nigh-impossible before 16. Saying that “children” are taking hormones and undergoing surgery is not only disingenuous—it’s downright fucking wrong. More than that, it’s damaging in just how incredibly wrong it is. Once again, we’re seeing a perpetuation of a myth that speaks to the pearl-clutching conservative and moderate folks who somehow refuse to dig just a little bit deeper into trying to understand trans people.

Something that isn’t a myth: according to a medical study carried out by researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, allowing children to socially transition early leads to “remarkably good mental health outcomes.” Lily Durwood, a doctoral candidate at the university, said of the 2017 study:

Previous standards of care for gender nonconforming children was to wait until puberty to socially transition, but these findings show normal mental health in younger children, indicating that early social transitions can be associated with good mental health.

This stands in line with a 2015 study that explored the effects of giving transgender youth puberty blockers. When they were allowed to take steps to begin transition, their mental health improves. How can anyone argue against actual god damn science that tells you that things are better when kids are allowed to be who they fucking are?

Of course, the Daily Signal being a conservative blog, they couldn’t resist trying to blast the media for calling out those who work to exclude transgender people and deny us our rights. Singleton went on to say:

People are afraid to speak up, because on the left, anyone who speaks up against this is blacklisted; they lose their ability to be published; they lose their jobs at liberal activist organizations. We’ve all received death threats, rape threats, threats of violence. That’s how crazy it’s gotten on the left. People are terrified. We can’t get our voices out. The entire liberal press is locked down to any criticism of genderism.

Death threats, rape threats, and threats of violence are totally wrong, no matter who you are or what side of the aisle you’re on. Let’s get that clear right now. And I’m not going to deny that they’ve received them—they know what they’ve been through, and it’s terrible to receive such things, but there’s a strong dissonance in understanding here. Whereas they are afraid to speak their minds (regardless of how wrong/misinformed/damaging their opinions may be), trans women are literally being killed out here with little to no recognition from the media or anyone in power. They’re enabling the very frightening behavior they’re experiencing themselves, and more.

As of February 28th, seven trans women were killed in the first two months of 2017, all of whom are women of color. While people like Singleton are afraid of losing their jobs, we’re out here afraid of losing our lives.

A few statistics for those of you who think losing your “ability to be published” is the worst you can expect:

This is all of course to say nothing of trans men murdered—who, again, often are men of color, as the continued dehumanization of black lives compounds the risks involved with, well, livingOn top of all of this, according to the 2015 National Center for Trans Equality survey, 40% of transgender people report having attempted suicide at least once in their lifetimes. A study in 2016 found that 30% of transgender youth have attempted the same, with 42% of trans youth reporting having self-harmed in the past. Many of those polled cited unhappiness about being othered and dehumanized by their communities, often specifically their parents. Things were pretty bad for trans people seeking equality in 2015; imagine how bad they are now that we’re in 2017 and the war on transgender people is just becoming more and more overt.

Balan’s post wraps by sharing the example of Miriam Ben-Shalom, a woman who was discharged from the Army after coming out as a lesbian in 1970. She was, according to the post, “blacklisted” for voicing her opinion on trans youth, saying, “You can’t vote until you’re 18. In some places, you cannot drink until you’re 21. You’re asking a 11-year-old to define himself or herself? That’s ridiculous!”

The irony, once again, seems lost on everyone here. Forcing a child into puberty by forgoing puberty blockers is literally asking them to define themselves. Giving children puberty blockers is the compromise; it’s allowing them the chance to decide for themselves.

This denial of scientific truth, this denial of attention paid to the people they’re ostensibly trying to protect, this continued belief in an untrue, incorrect myth that denies trans people our very humanity perfectly exemplifies everything that’s wrong with those who adopt anti-transgender stances in politics. And make no mistake: This “bathroom debate” isn’t just about bathrooms. It’s about our right to exist in public as human god damned beings. As Laverne Cox said:

When trans people can’t access public bathrooms we can’t go to school effectively, go to work effectively, access health-care facilities — it’s about us existing in public space. And those who oppose trans people having access to the facilities consistent with how we identify know that all the things they claim don’t actually happen. It’s really about us not existing — about erasing trans people.

All of this, all of these words, this is all really to say: fuck the book deals and your publishing offers and the feeling of being “blacklisted” that these women say they face. Transgender people have been on society’s shitlist, and that list is covered in the blood of trans women who wanted nothing more than to just live their god damned lives. People are dying out here, and you’re worried about not being able to be published on a mainstream blog. You don’t get to complain that you wound up in a bad situation by trying to keep other people in one that’s far worse.

Finding unity in hatred and dehumanization shouldn’t be celebrated, and I’m disappointed that it was offered a platform.

(image via Shutterstock)

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Jessica Lachenal is a writer who doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so she isn’t quite sure how biographical info panels should work. But here we go anyway. She's the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, a Contributing Writer for The Bold Italic (, and a Staff Writer for Spinning Platters ( She's also been featured in Model View Culture and Frontiers LA magazine, and on Autostraddle. She hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her.