By Ajay Chakraborty, Contributor
“Perversions express rebellions against the subjugation of sexuality under the order of procreation, and against the institutions which guarantee this order” –Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization.
This year has seen an unprecedented surge in anti-trans legislation. There have been more anti-trans legislatures introduced in 2021 thus far than in the past three years combined. As of April 12th, there have been 117 anti-trans bills introduced. Of the introduced legislation, 58 involve bathroom/locker room bans and youth sports bans, and 29 bans involve restrictions on minors seeking gender affirming treatment. Thirty-one states have introduced legislation that bans transgender student athletes from participating in sports consistent with their gender identities. Three of these states (Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi) have had these bills signed into law. Twenty states have introduced legislation that would prevent minors from receiving gender-affirming treatment; Arkansas passed this legislation (it is important to note that Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill; however, his veto was later overridden by the legislature).
Even more horrifying are some of the details of these bills. For example, in Texas, lawmakers proposed a bill that would separate trans children from their families, if their families support their kids’ gender identities. Two bills proposed in Texas (S.B. 1646 and S.B. 1311) show the true horrors of these anti-trans legislation; S.B 1646 would consider it child abuse for a parent to support and help their transgender child, and S.B. 1311 prevents medical professionals from providing affirming and life-saving, transition-related medical care. The idea of a state ripping kids away from the parents that support them should be utterly terrifying for anyone with a conscience. This is also immensely concerning as studies show that LGBTQ youth that are accepted by at least one adult were 40% less likely to attempt suicide. To put it bluntly, these bills represent material violence against trans individuals. Florida’s House of Representatives advanced a bill that would allow schools to “dispute” a student’s gender, forcing the students to then “prove” their biological sex. This bill has rightfully garnered controversy on the internet as some believe it would lead to school “genital inspections.” Any sort of “genital inspection” sets up the chance for physical abuse and the development of trauma. This Florida bill proves once again that anti-trans legislation is just legalized violence against trans children.
Even if the anti-trans legislation is not passed it is still violence. Transphobia is violence. Simply talking about and introducing these bills, and defending them with transphobic rhetoric perpetuates hate against trans and gender non-conforming individuals. Transphobia leads to hate crimes and violent murders of trans individuals, bullying and long term psychological abuse, and sexual assault. In 2020 at least 44 trans or gender non-conforming individuals were murdered, most of whom were BIPOC. As mentioned before, parents not accepting their trans kids leads to increased rates of suicide. Trans and gender non-conforming people also experience significantly higher rates of homelessness. Trans people can also face massive discrimination in employment, housing, healthcare, education, etc. Politicians that spew transphobic rhetoric and that write these horrific bills contribute to this violence. These bills come at the cost of human lives and these politicians have blood on their hands.
According to the latest polls, the majority of Americans do not support these new laws that would limit transgender rights. The majority of people from every age group, and both Democratic and Republican parties do not support these bills. This just goes to show the anti-democratic nature of the American political system. Despite this agreement from the supporters of both major political parties in America, politicians continue to perpetuate this “culture war.” American politicians pushed the nonsense idea of “trans ideology” in an attempt to both delegitimize LGBTQ movements, and fuel the culture war.
We need queer liberation—not rainbow capitalism. It is not a coincidence that all the repressive and ideological state apparatuses of capital are anti-queer. The institution of marriage, the media, the schools, the medical system, the prison system, the police, the military, the church, the state, etc.—all of which are enforcing bodies of capital—are also used to control and destroy queer communities. Capitalism cannot be reformed; nor can capitalist society be reformed to be accepting of queer communities.
America is embroiled in a culture war. Following the brutal murders George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and a summer of protesting against racism and police brutality America has found itself shaken. Americans were finally talking about the structural racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. built into America. The topics of America’s long history of racism and settler colonialism have finally entered the popular discourse. On the one hand, capital did its thing: co-opting and commodifying social movements to protect themselves. Protests were stripped of their revolutionary essence, large corporations like Amazon “joined” the cause despite being a large part of the problem, social justice infographics spread like wildfire across social media—the result of pacifying activism and breeding complacency. Protests were held across the country—and everyone showed up. But on the other hand, Republicans have continued pushing the culture war narrative.
The concept of the “culture war” in American politics is nothing new. Since the early 1920s the term has been used to refer to the growing conflict between rural and urban Americans, and the conflict between traditionalism and progressivism. However, in the 1990s the culture war grew to new heights; as “new” issues such as abortion, LGBTQ rights, separation of church and state, gun laws, drug policy, climate change, and censorship rose to prominence in the public sphere. It is not accurate to say that these issues did not exist before; rather, they finally started to be openly discussed in mainstream politics and by politicians themselves. These ideas were no longer “fringe,” so to speak. With the rise of Donald Trump and the alt-right, the culture war once again saw new issues: trans rights, the US national anthem protests, the BLM movement, etc. rose to prominence. The right has taken this new culture war to an insane extreme: from wacky conspiracy theories like QAnon and PizzaGate, to absolute Sickos and Cranks like Marjorie Taylor Greene talking about jewish space lasers, or Mike Lindell’s atrocious documentary “proving” the election was rigged. Trump and his consequences have led to an almost hyperreal characteristic of right-wingers and their insane theories; their nonsense conspiracies are so insane they do not feel real—how can any sane human believe these things? Sure, conservatives pushed crazy ideas like Obama being born in Kenya, and conspiracy theorists have always existed. But for the President of the United States’ legal team to declare Hugo Chavez rigged the election? The psychotic and absurd nature of QAnon feels like it should be something straight out of fiction, yet tens of thousands of Americans support it fervently.
The right has long blamed some group or ideology for the problems within America. Obviously, first there is a long history of racism and blaming different minorities, immigrant groups, religions, etc. for the cultural decline in America. But there is also the long history of red scare propaganda and red baiting, blaming “cultural marxists,” the liberal universities, the evil postmodern boogeymen of Foucault and Derrida, the “homosexual agenda,” cancel culture and now “transgender ideology.” The right always takes up some ridiculous hill to die on: whether it be an obsession with the genitals of Mr. Potato Head or Dr. Seuss books that they have probably never read.
A large part of politicians’ involvement in this culture war reduces to the fact that they need something to talk about that is not economics. Politicians turn to culture in the absence of a meaningful class politics. Real economic change never occurs, and both Democrats and Republicans are right-wing capitalists and imperialists who keep the same system of exploitation running. The issues of culture are a great way to give off the illusion of political discourse all while ignoring the elephant in the room of economics. Not only that, but it turns out that Biden is not very different from Trump. No minimum wage increase, no debt relief, no healthcare reform, and instead, we see the bombing of Middle Eastern countries, increased deportations, overflowing concentration camps on the border, and now even talks of continuing to build the border wall. Biden is seemingly doing everything that Trump would have kept doing, but the Republicans need something to fight and complain about. Democrats are just as guilty of this as Republicans are; Democrats adopt the veneer of a socially progressive party, but without making economic concessions to the left. Sure, we can talk about racism or sexism, but not challenge how capitalism is embedded into these issues.
It is important to note that both political parties purposely do not address the material nature of these cultural issues; they ignore the way in which capitalism is fundamentally linked to these issues. It is never addressed how racism benefits capitalism by dividing the working class, or the economic hardships of queer folks, instead settling for mere representation. Issues of racism must be solved by challenging capitalism; queer empowerment must be material, monetary, and legislative; solutions to climate change must involve challenging economic production and resource allocation. Cultural issues cannot be severed from economics. As the classic Marxist paradigm asserts, culture is largely affected by economics, as our material conditions largely drive our cultural conditions. To tackle the cultural issues plaguing us we must look through an economic lens, something that elected politicians will never do.
In regards to the working class, working people’s involvement in such dangerous conspiracy theories is once again an economic issue. Following the devastating consequences of the 2008 financial crisis, and the cultural impasse and degradation following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, people have begun to embrace such absurdities. The failure of politicians to enact meaningful economic reforms drives working people to these far-right beliefs. Given the strange cultural condition we are in, people turn to reactionary nostalgia—a nostalgia for a time when things were different, when things were better. A nostalgia for a non-existent, non-experienced past, in which America was “great.” As cultural theorist Grafton Tanner aruges, “pre-Recession nostalgia, with its eye cocked to the 1980s and early 1990s, often carries with it a nativist, nationalist element that can be induced to mobilise some groups of people against others.” Economically alienated, and stripped of any sense of futurity, people turn to blame others for the cultural and economic decline. ‘It is all the Blacks’ fault,’ or ‘it is all the trans people’s fault’ for the decline. Of course, this hatred is always divorced from any economics; it is the illegal immigrants or China’s fault that people are losing their jobs, not the greedy capitalists exploiting global inequality to maximize profit. This is not to say that all hatred is rooted in economics; rather, to highlight the importance of an economic analysis in discussing the rise of strange, far-right tendencies and beliefs.
In fact, it is quite important to not take a purely class analysis on the issues of queer struggles. The classical Marxist perspective of highlighting the proletariat as the revolutionary subject excludes those who do not fit the model of the hetereosexual worker. Classical Marxist perspectives risk alienating those who find success in ways seen as rather “unconventional” to heteronormative capitalism. Just as the Autonomists expanded the definition of the working class to go beyond wage labourers, including unpaid subjects like students, housewives, the unemployed, the homeless, etc., a new conceptualization of the revolutionary subjects must encompass all who go beyond the norms of patriarchal, white, cis-heteronormative capitalism.
It is important now more than ever to stand with the marginalized communities that are facing such horrific persecution in the culture war. Just recently we have seen more horrific acts of racist police killings. We must stand with our communities of color in their fight for justice, and support real change like abolition, and nothing symbolic. We must stand in solidarity with our trans friends and family during these truly hard times. We do not need Black capitalism or rainbow capitalism; rather, we need to seek true liberation.