Updated: Apr 28
Photograph of a London vigil for Brianna Ghey, 2023. © Unveilral
Transphobia can be traced back to white colonisers travelling to countries where varied gender expressions were accepted. Puritans deemed those who did not have binary genders as inferior because the gender binary upheld the patriarchal society that existed in Europe at the time. As colonisers invaded different lands, they discovered that not all societies recognised genders, nor did they function as patriarchal societies. For dominion, European colonisers decided that cultures which existed outside of the gender binary were 'savages' and forced the patriarchal society upon them to 'civilize' them. We know that indigenous people across the globe have words to define people who do not fit into the gender binary, such as ‘two-spirit’ by Native Americans and ‘hijra’ by Indians. These are not just descriptive terms; their deeper meanings show how valuable trans people were in these societies.
Interestingly, despite homosexuality being illegal in Islamic countries, both Egypt and Iran have issued fatwas from recognised religious authorities allowing gender reassignment surgery for those who wish it, from as early as the 1980s. In Arabic, there are a few words to describe non-binary and transgender expressions, but the most used is ‘mukhannath’. This is not to say that trans people do not face discrimination in Islamic countries today, but it does demonstrate how, outside of white European colonised cultures, ideas of gender and transitioning are not always maligned.
Recently, there has been a rise in neo-fascism across the world. Western countries such as the USA, UK, Italy, and Israel have governments which are slipping further right each year and now tick many of the criteria for a fascist regime, from cracking down on opposition to the removal of civil rights. One of the key components of fascism is the ideology of “one pure race or nation”, at the expense of all others. Within these dangerous and ridiculous ideals, there is a threat of elimination of the LGBTQIA+ community, which we can see beginning in certain countries as their political climate changes.
From Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition with an openly anti-LGBT+ and ultra-nationalistic party to lawmakers in the United States banning gender-affirming care for children such as puberty blockers, we are seeing more and more oppressive steps backwards.
Anti-gender movements such as Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERF) have swept across society over the past 10 years or so and have been influenced by the moral panic the media are creating in certain countries, particularly around transwomen and drag acts. Where you find groups based on transphobia or homophobia, you will find they are also far-right, often also conspiracy theorists and white supremacists.
For example, Save Our Children, Inc was an American coalition formed in the late 1970s. Their goal was to overturn then-recent legislation which legally protected the LGBTQIA+ community against discrimination within areas of housing and employment. Save Our Children, Inc was also responsible for spreading hateful conspiracy theories that homosexuality had a direct link to harming children and that the community were groomers.
Today, we see this same tactic in far-right protests. Tate Britain found itself at the forefront of this in February when a white nationalist group were protesting against Drag Queen Story Hour, an event for children which was held at the institution. This kind of defamation can easily be shut down by setting precedents in court and enforcing legislation, but instead, it has been latched on to by right-wing media and proliferated causing a moral panic that particularly targets trans-women. Westminster demonstrated its allegiance recently by blocking the gender reform bill created by the Scottish parliament, for the Scottish people, in an unprecedented first. It has seemed to set an example to the rest of the UK that transphobia is acceptable.
Photograph of the counter-protest supporting Drag Story Hour outside the Honor Oak Pub in London, February 2023. © Unveilral
For the last couple of years, the trans community and allies have been screaming from the rooftops that this moral panic is creating a dangerous environment. On February 11th 2023, they were proven right with the heart-wrenching killing of Brianna Ghey, the first recorded murder of a trans person in the UK in four years.
Often TERF’s weaponize femicide against cis women to say it is what people should be focusing on instead of hate crimes against trans people. However, the campaign Transrespect vs Transphobia collects data on the murders of trans people annually and breaks down the data. Since they began in 2008, the number of deaths each year has been steadily rising.
In 2021, they recorded 375 murders globally. 96% of these killings were of transfeminine people and over half were sex workers. What is the point of women's solidarity if we do not raise the voices of and stand in solidarity with the people most vulnerable to misogyny?
Feminist spaces often seem like left-wing spaces as they advocate for equality, but when you scratch the surface, I still find myself fighting racists, transphobes and internalised misogyny. This is why we need intersectional feminism if we want true equality, the vote for women fought for by the suffragettes was only ever for white women, and it no longer serves us.
The history of oppression of the LGBTQIA+ community is intrinsically linked with fascism and white supremacy; it cannot be untangled. In Germany in 1919, Magnus Hirschfeld created one of the first gender reassignment clinics for transwomen. Hirschfeld had spent his life dedicated to researching and advocating for the LGBT+ community, but thirteen years later, after the Nazis gained control, as a gay Jewish man he fled the country, abandoning the clinic. It was then seized and over 20,000 of his books were burnt in the street. The attack was led by Nazi youth, students, and soldiers. It shows how we must protect children from the influence of violent extremism that transphobes preach if we are to avoid a scenario like this in the future.
Brianna Ghey was killed by her teenage peers, showing how necessary it is for the curriculum to include LGBTQIA+ education and for a crackdown on transphobia in schools.
The rhetoric must change to prevent further deaths. Gender clinics in the UK still involve trans people being asked intimately intrusive questions, told they are mentally unstable and a whole list of other unacceptable practices, let alone the considerable wait times for gender-affirming care. They must become patient focussed and accessible. It is non-negotiable if we want to stop the deaths of more trans people and for everyone to be able to live happily and authentically.
The anti-gender, gender-critical movement is right about one thing, accepting trans people is a threat to the social order of patriarchy and white supremacy. So, if that is the world you want to live in, carrying on being transphobic; gender variety will be present as long as humans are, whether we are allowed to exist or whether we are killed, it is in humanity's hands.