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#AllThatsLeftPod: How We Win the Fight for Trans Rights

In this episode of the podcast, we discuss both the right-wing and liberal attacks on trans rights, and the need for a movement and a working-class party with a socialist perspective to protect the oppressed.

Left Voice

June 28, 2023
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All That's Left, the podcast from Left Voice.

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So far this year, Republican-led state legislatures across the U.S. have proposed a record 560 anti-trans bills, of which 80 have passed. These include bans on gender-affirming care for young people, bans on drag shows, and allowing or even requiring trans students to be misgendered at school. States like Florida under Governor Ron DeSantis have instituted so-called “Don’t Say Gay” laws which prevent teachers from discussing gender or sexuality, and include ban books.

On the Right, these proposals have come hand in hand with really extreme rhetoric. For example, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this year, conservative political commentator Michael Knowles said, “transgenderism must be eradicated.”

However, transphobia and the attacks on trans rights are not limited to the Far Right or to Republican politicians, even though these are some of the most extreme, high-profile instances. Recent years have also seen the rise of a liberal version of anti-transness, particularly from bourgeois press outlets like The New York Times and The Atlantic. These liberal anti-trans sectors don’t go as far as to support extreme measures like “don’t say gay” bills; rather, they claim that trans rights are perhaps going “too far,” and couch their concerns as “gender skepticism” and “just asking questions” — for example questions around young trans people receiving gender-affirming care or trans athletes being allowed to compete in sports. According to this liberal anti-trans perspective, the Left has become too radical, and is pushing people to the Right and into the Republican party. 

What is behind these escalating attacks on trans people, particularly from the Right? 

A key explanation that we discuss today is neoliberalism — more specifically, the crisis of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism developed as a result of the crisis of capitalist growth in the 1970s, and is associated with attacks on living and working conditions, as well as on unions. The era of neoliberalism has been associated with austerity, deregulation, financialization, debt, and precarious work.

At the same time, this neoliberal era was blanketed in “pro-diversity” rhetoric, especially from the Democratic Party, who spoke of “empowerment” and “multiculturalism.” Queer people, women, and people of color won key victories and were promised progress. However, importantly, this progress would come within the confines of capitalism.

In other words, to use feminist Nancy Fraser’s terminology, we were in an era of “progressive neoliberalism.” Progressive movements lent a charisma and progressive facade to lethal neoliberalism. These movements served the ruling class while containing the illusions of workers and the oppressed — and under “Rainbow Capitalism,” queer people were a new, profitable market to tap into.

Social movement leaders also played a major role here by supporting the Democrats, all while these same politicians were instituting policies that disproportionately harmed workers and the oppressed. For example, while Democrats famously kneeled wearing Kente cloth in 2020 and painted “Black Lives Matter” on the streets, they were cracking down on protests and giving even more funding to police and the military. And while President Biden poses with a Pride flag, his administration is doing nothing to protect the queer and trans people facing anti-queer legislation. 

But neoliberalism is in crisis, opened by the 2008 recession. This is characterized by, for example, inflation, distrust in government institutions, mass inequality, crumbling infrastructure, crises of care and social reproduction, ecological devastation, and ever more precarious working and living conditions. 

Anti-establishment Republicans, in particular, are rejecting these neoliberal attacks, and in doing so, they’re rejecting the empty progressivism that came with them. As Fraser notes, to Trump voters in particular, “feminists and Wall Street were birds of a feather.” 

Both Republicans and Democrats are trying to capture these disillusioned voters. The deeply divided Republican Party is trying to unite its different sectors — like the Trumpist sectors and the more establishment sector — under a battle against so-called “wokeism.” The Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to present themselves as the lesser evil on social issues, but have to accommodate this offensive against trans people.

In this episode, Left Voice members Reba Landers and Enid Brain go into much more depth on these topics and, importantly, what the tasks are for us as leftists when it comes to protecting trans rights and oppressed people. As Reba and Enid explain, Democrats are not our friends in the fight for trans rights — we need to unite our struggles in the streets and in our workplaces and fight for a working-class party with a socialist perspective.

Listen to the episode on Spotify on Apple Podcasts.

Support this podcast on Patreon

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Left Voice

Militant journalism, revolutionary politics.

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