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Trans* Liberation is Only Possible If We Overthrow Capitalism

On Transgender Day of Rememberance, let us honor the Trans* lives that have been stolen by a rotten and oppressive system. The only way to ensure true liberation is to end the oppressive system of capitalism.

Sybil Davis

November 20, 2020
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More Trans* people have been murdered in the U.S. so far in 2020 than in the entirety of 2019. This is the reality for Trans* people under capitalism. The Trans* community is overwhelmingly disadvantaged by capitalism and tends to be poorer, more precarious, and more vulnerable.

In the U.S., around 30 percent of Trans* people live below the poverty line. Trans* people face severe housing discrimination and more than 10 percent have faced eviction. Unhoused Trans* people are also far more likely to be unsheltered than cisgendered unhoused people. Prior to the current economic crisis, the unemployment rate in the Trans* community was double the national average and 44 percent of Trans* people who were working were underemployed.

In 2018, 35 percent of Trans* youth reported having attempted suicide in the past year, compared to 7 percent of cisgender teens. In that same study, 31 percent of Trans* teens reported that they had experienced sexual violence within the past 12 months. Further, Health care is often inaccessible, unaffordable, or abusive for many Trans* people. 

Trans* people are also disproportionately policed and imprisoned. 22 percent of Trans* people report being harassed by police officers while 7 percent of Black Trans* people were sexually assaulted by police officers. In prisons, Trans* people face horrific rates of abuse and assault

These statistics paint a harrowing picture of life for Trans* people under capitalism.

Rainbow capitalists would have us believe that all of this is because of individual bigotry and slight structural flaws. The answer, these queer servants of capital tell us, is that we need to ensure greater Trans* visibility by putting more Trans* people on boards of directors and billboards. They would have us believe that simply seeing a Trans* person in a Starbucks commercial will somehow benefit the Trans* community. “Look at us,” they want to tell us, “we’re increasing visibility, we’re helping solve the problem.”

But visibility is not liberation.

That isn’t to say that visibility is not important. But normalizing our oppression by putting a Trans* face on capitalism does nothing to put an end to systemic oppression and poverty. The solution isn’t to have more Trans* CEOs but to end the system as a whole — because the oppression of Trans* people under capitalism isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

By design capitalism is an inherently imbalanced system that is based around a minority ruling over the majority. In order to do this, they need to find ways to divide the working class against itself so that they don’t question why they continue to work within a system that exploits them. From this need to divide sprung the exploitation of distinctions on race, gender, and sexual orientation. The working class was turned against itself by the bourgeoisie and their allies in the church and media. 

Capitalism reinforces social relations that help capitalism function. For example, the gender binary props up the concept of the nuclear family, which capitalism relies on for (largely uncompensated) reproductive labor. Identities beyond that binary are then marginalized in an attempt to protect a social structure that is better for capitalism. This is carried over into the workplace where discrimination against Trans* people helps to maintain a pool of precarious labor for capitalists to tap into. 

Given this, it is impossible to imagine a capitalism that doesn’t oppress because capitalism is based upon exploitation. The ruling class needs to maintain a system that allows them to enrich themselves off of our labor. This requires one class that is exploited and another that exploits. Even if every single Fortune 500 Company had a Trans* CEO, this would still be the way that the system works. And, given that Trans* people are overwhelmingly working class and vulnerable, they will continue to be oppressed.

Trans* liberation is not possible within the bounds of capitalism. If we want to end the horrific rates of Trans* poverty or lower the rates of suicide among Trans* youth or end police violence against Trans* people of color, then we have to end the system of capitalism.

We must overthrow capitalism for Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and all the other Trans* heroes of the past who fought for liberation.

We must overthrow capitalism for Layleen Polanco, Tony McDade, and all the other Trans* victims of police violence. 

We must overthrow capitalism for the Trans* people sleeping on the streets, struggling with unemployment, and for all of the countless Trans*  youth who are wondering if their lives are worth living. 

Today is Transgender Day of Rememberance. Let us remember the brave struggles of our predecessors and carry their struggle forward, into the streets and into our workplaces; into our organizations; and into the future because as long as capitalism continues to stand, we will only see more devastation for the Trans* community.

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Sybil Davis

Sybil is a trans activist, artist, and education worker in New York City.

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