One struggle one fight – defeating transphobia

This article first appeared in The Anvil Vol 12 No 4, published 31 August 2023.

Trans people are under attack in Australia and across the world. The Christian right has pivoted in its war against LGBTIQ+ people and is trying to import a US style trans panic into the Australian context.

The Christian right has been on the back foot in Australia since 2016’s marriage equality plebiscite. When 61.6% of Australians voted to support marriage equality the conservative right were forced to retreat. The Liberal Party, a bastion of anti-queer and homophobic politics, quickly tried to reinvent itself as the party that delivered marriage equality. Anti-queer forces are now regrouping by pivoting to attacks on trans people.

This pivot was well underway at the May 2022 Federal Election when Scott Morrison selected the rabid transphobe Katherine Deves as the Liberal candidate for Warringah. Deves lost in the seat she was contesting and the Liberals failed to make progress in the outer suburban seats they were targeting. The Liberals managed to use the election as a platform to advance and promote transphobic politics, though, and anti-queer forces resolved to redouble their efforts.

In March 2023, anti-trans activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull – also known as ‘Posie Parker’ – organised a rally in front of Victoria’s parliament. The absurdly titled Let Women Speak rally drew in a rogues gallery of Liberal party politicians, the Christian right, so-called “Radical Feminists”, and of course the neo-Nazis.

Across April and May, Victorian local governments, libraries, and schools, quickly bowed to a coordinated campaign of threats from the transphobic right. More than ten drag storytime and other LGBTIQ+ family events were cancelled or moved online as Victoria Police pressured local governments to cave in to far-right threats.

A coalition of right wing anti-LGBTIQ+ Christians, so-called Radical Feminists, and assorted fascists and neo-Nazis are now cohering into an anti-trans movement in Australia.

Origins of Transphobia

Transphobia, the oppression and marginalisation of trans people, is useful forcapitalism. In capitalist society, the ruling class seeks to maximise profit by minimising the cost of workers and by maximising the amount of work each of us performs.

Capitalism needs workers, both today, tomorrow, and into the future. This means that the working class has to be reproduced, homes need to exist, children need to be raised. Capitalists need this ‘social reproduction’ to occur at the minimum possible cost.

The solution for capitalism has been to reproduce a deeper and more rigid gendered division of labour, with clear roles for ‘men’ and ‘women’. The gender ideology favoured by capitalism casts the work of social reproduction as ‘women’s work’ (and unpaid of course).

The existence of non-conforming gender and sexual minorities threatens this gender order. Capitalism has responded with all manner of queerphobia and transphobia.

The fight for trans rights is a working class fight

In Australia and around the world, the state maintains the gender structure of capitalism with laws that target and marginalise trans people. The war against trans people increasingly takes the form of new laws to target trans identity and reinforce the gender binary. The resort to the state by anti-queer forces is, in large part, a response to their slipping hold on public opinion.    Where family and social pressure falters, organised violence has to step in.

People born a particular sex (or, in the case of intersex people, simply assigned as male or female) are forced to continue on a predetermined path of identity, expression, and behaviour, with any deviation from this path heavily discouraged.

Trans people face marginalisation and exclusion in employment. A recent study (“The Health and Well-Being of Transgender Australians: A National Community Survey”) shows that the current unemployment rate for transgender people in Australia is 19%, compared to the average unemployment rate of 3.7% across all of Australia.

Australia’s public health system routinely fails to serve the needs of trans people. Trans people who wish to physically transition are forced to endure an increasingly expensive bureaucratic hellscape. Throughout this process, trans people are often subject to ignorant doctors, and moreover an apathetic healthcare system that harms trans people by pathologising them.

Physical transition is, of course, not a necessary part of transitioning, and gender dysphoria is not a prerequisite to identifying as transgender. Each person’s decision on this matter is entirely their own. We must realise that the true work of a revolutionary is doing away with the enforcement of a false gender binary and deconstructing gender roles.

Transphobia on the ‘Left’

The Left is not immune from transphobia. Elements of the left have bought into the argument that the fight for trans rights is simply ‘identity politics’. Some view trans activism as a self-absorbed political “ideology” of an entitled cultural elite, despite the majority of trans people suffering from severe economic disadvantage.  These transphobes act as if we can separate the struggle for the rights of trans people from the working class struggle.

Even worse are the ‘TERFs’. These Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists appropriate the language of feminism whilst attempting to enforce debunked pseudo-science about ‘inherent’ sex-characteristics. These so-called radical feminists now readily line up with their fellow reactionaries, conservative Christians and neo-Nazis.

Anti-trans politics within the left harm our efforts to build solidarity, and create convenient scapegoats for the ruling class.

One Struggle One Fight

The institutional, social, and    physical violence that trans people face is not simply a matter for trans people only.  The fight against transphobia is not something separate to the class struggle. Trans rights are vital to the working class.

We say this for the following reasons. Firstly, transphobia supports the capitalist system and is an obstacle in the way of overthrowing it. Capitalism generates transphobia just as it generates gendered oppression. Transphobia enables capitalism to pit one group of workers against another.

Secondly, the overwhelming majority of trans people are working class. In fact, working class trans people suffer more from the effects of transphobia. Those few members of the ruling class who come out as trans do not experience oppression and marginalisation in the same way as members of the working class. Wealth will always shield ruling class trans people from the worst effects of marginalisation and discrimination.

Thirdly, a united struggle by the working class can only take place if people are mobilised on the basis of fighting all oppression and exploitation. A working class movement that casts aside trans workers can only be a weaker and more divided movement.

We stand in complete solidarity with trans people against the attacks against them by the State and the far-right. However, we maintain that trans liberation must be part of a broader revolutionary struggle. Neither trans people – nor any other person – should aspire to be equals in a world where people are dominated and exploited by bosses and governments. The capitalist-state system, and the racism and sexism that it engenders,    degrades the vast majority of those who participate in it, and threatens the very survival of the planet. It must be overthrown so that we can all be free.

Complete autonomy over our bodies, free universal healthcare, housing for all, sexual freedom, and power concentrated in the hands of workers rather than the ruling class. These all form part of our struggle for the construction of a stateless, classless society, where we co-operate to meet human needs, rather than enrich a tiny minority. The fight for trans liberation must be part of this social revolution.

All workers must back the struggle for trans rights on the basis of “Touch One, Touch All”.

Cover photo: International Transgender Day of Visibility rally, Melbourne, 2023, photo by Chris Hopkins (The Age).