To be transgender is to be a menace in the eyes of modern reactionaries; to them, we have become more of a vague idea than an actual community. But what is this idea they have?
It seems like if you look at Fox News, or InfoWars, or any other far-Right media outlet, you will see trans people characterized as one or more of the following: the Clown, the Predator, and the Child.
“In this, they have constructed a new consensus of their own – one that sees trans people as deceptive, authoritarian, and irrational.”
The Clown is the wild Social Justice loon, an irrational postmodernist who shouldn’t be respected. The Predator is rabidly-violent, always after bloody chaos, and never the slightest bit civil. The Child is just naive and juvenile, and as such, shouldn’t be taken seriously.
If a trans academic debates a conservative pundit, and attempts to explain why cis people should use the correct pronouns for gender-funky folks, they will probably be painted as the Clown; and if they begin to show emotion, or seem at all aggressive, they might additionally be portrayed as the Predator. Whether or not a trans person is depicted as the Child will often depend on age, experience, and disposition – this tends to apply to younger trans people, especially those who begin to exhibit a desire for dignity at school and at home. You will often see this role evoked whenever discussions of, say, youth hormone treatment occur.
Whether we are presented as screwy, hostile, and/or confused, it’s all washed in fear.
This is the same brand of fear that riled up homophobes in the lead-up to the Obergefell v. Hodges decision to end prohibition of gay marriage. People went on TV, and wrote sprawling apocalyptic think pieces, to defend ‘natural marriage’ against what they perceived as a plot to turn kids gay, and throw Christians in the gulag.
In an op-ed from October 2014, Mike Huckabee asserted that as a society, “…we stomp all over the religious convictions of Christians like the Knapps of C’our deLane, Oregon [sic] … They decline to conduct same sex weddings and like Melissa Klein, the cake maker, like Elaine’s Photography in New Mexico, and numerous other businesses, they are bullied out of business because the government has decided to target Christians and Jews who believe the same Bible Barak [sic] Obama claimed to believe in 2008.”
Here, Huckabee describes various instances wherein business-owners unlawfully discriminated against their fellow people, and acted like victims when they received a bit of legal and social pushback. This state of affairs is so frightening to him because he thinks gay people should be even more dehumanized, and thought (as many did) that Obergefell v. Hodges would lead to the destruction of ‘everything we hold dear’ (ie, ‘the country’, ‘Judeo-Christian values’, and other dog-whistles for white-supremacist bullshit). These people never cared one bit about ‘government tyranny’ or anything like that; they certainly didn’t go on to mobilize around defending the J20 protesters or Chelsea Manning from prosecutorial harassment. It was always about homophobic fear mongering, and a mindset of conformity.
“First, they frame transness as a “debate” in the first place. Just like they did with marriage equality, right-wing media enters with the presupposition that the dignity and humanity of transgender people is just some political issue which needs to be squabbled over.”
Clearly the zeitgeist has mostly moved on from the issue of gay marriage, as everything the Right warned about never came to pass. But I think we can learn a lot about the nature of rightist propaganda from how they framed the whole matter in the years prior to 2015.
By discussing the matter with this type of language, they were able to make the fight for marriage equality ubiquitous with an ‘us versus them’ social conflict wherein all sides deserved equal respect. The notorious Masterpiece cake shop baker was now a ‘martyr of the culture war,’ not an explicit bigot.
Acting like queer people and their marginalizers were just ‘two disagreeing sides’ was an undoubtedly effective strategy when it came to co-opting the conversation around gay marriage, and it looks like trans people are the new target of it.
Remember when I said that trans people are usually portrayed as the Clown, the Predator, and/or the Child in right-wing media? Well that is, in essence, the second step in the maneuver to discredit trans people.
First, they frame transness as a “debate” in the first place. Just like they did with marriage equality, right-wing media enters with the presupposition that the dignity and humanity of transgender people is just some political issue which needs to be squabbled over. You see this when transphobes use phrases like “the transgender debate” to refer to conflicts between trans people and pseudo-academic bigots who feel the need to grandstand against trans identity. After that, all they have to do is stitch together a false narrative around who trans people are, and what they believe; from there, they denigrate us as the Clown, the Predator, the Child. In this, they have constructed a new consensus of their own – one that sees trans people as deceptive, authoritarian, and irrational.
“Once again: all of this is about panic, something which right-wing media is great at creating. We are fuel for their bonfire of terror.”
If someone like Zinnia Jones suggests that cis people may want to examine their prejudices surrounding romantic relationships with trans people, Tucker Carlson will spin it as supporting “mandatory transgender dating,” thus making her play the role of the Clown.
When Ben Shapiro appeared alongside reporter Zoey Tur on Dr. Drew On Call, he misgendered and demeaned her with the intention of stoking anger; and when she said “cut that out now, or you’ll go home in an ambulance,” he remarked that her reaction was “inappropriate for a political discussion,” effectively painting her as the Predator for all of his ‘reason’-loving fanboys.
Once again: all of this is about panic, something which right-wing media is great at creating. We are fuel for their bonfire of terror. They demean, belittle, and misrepresent transness for the purpose of perpetuating the fear which they feed off of, and it ultimately engenders their audience into treating trans people like shit.
If you consider yourself an ally of the trans community, I’m begging you: do not treat this parade of hateful, dread-peddling deceit as though it is an ideology worthy of respect and magnification.
Trans people are under attack, and we will not be gaslit like this.