Over the last year the far right’s anti-trans offensive has exploded into hundreds of bills and edicts that threaten to banish trans people from public life. While this must be fought against, it’s not enough for us to just reverse this wave because even before these attacks began, the oppression of trans people was intolerable. Only a militant movement with a clear political program for confronting and totally abolishing the material causes of trans oppression is capable of making real the rallying cry that “Trans lives matter.”
Nov. 20 is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, the annual commemoration of those of our community lost to deadly violence over the past year, held every year since 1999. TDoR often serves as a day to rally and recommit to the defense of trans lives. However, in recent years this has meant reactive actions as civil rights groups challenge already-implemented anti-trans laws with lawsuits — a strategy that’s wholly inadequate to stopping the rising far-right hate.
Trans lives under attack
According to a count by the tracking website tdor.translivesmatter.info, there have been 39 known murders of trans people in the United States so far in 2022. While the majority of them have been trans women of color, there has also been a sharp rise in the murders of transgender men, which parallels the rise in far-right attacks on trans boys and men seen in recent years.
This list is far from complete. While it documents those violently killed at the hands of bigots, it doesn’t include all the trans people killed indirectly by the brutalities of living on the margins of capitalism, or those driven to suicide by the hateful attitudes and policies being pushed by the far right.
This murder-in-absentia is just as deliberate as lynching — the result of a policy of demonization and dehumanization with the goal of eliminating transgender people from U.S. society. That the far right aspires to more violent anti-LGBTQ acts is shown by the attacks on LGBTQ events by fascist militia groups and references to Nazism and the Holocaust, during which LGBTQ people were also killed en masse alongside Jews and other minority groups deemed “undesirable.”
This is part of a larger, concerted attack on our basic democratic rights — the right of everyone to participate fully in civil and social life, to have control over our own bodies and agency over our own lives. It’s no accident that the attacks on abortion rights and reproductive health care, the attacks on voting rights, and the attacks on trans people are coming all at the same time, whipped up by the same right-wing demagogues and bankrolled by the same billionaires.
The capitalists know that they are vastly outnumbered by ordinary working people. The single greatest threat to their rule is that vast majority will unite and organize to fight against all forms of bigotry, oppression and exploitation. Undermining that solidarity by scapegoating and attacking marginalized groups is a divide-and-rule tactic that has been used time and time again by the capitalist class and its agents throughout the history of capitalism.
Despite this wave of hate from the far right, it has struggled to gain wider traction. Republicans spent more than $50 million on ads in the recent midterm elections attacking Democrats for supporting transgender rights and it scarcely paid off. In analyzing their loss, Paul Cordes, the GOP’s chief of staff in Michigan, noted that, “There were more ads on transgender sports than inflation, gas prices and bread and butter issues that could have swayed independent voters. We did not have a turnout problem —middle-of-the-road voters simply didn’t like what [GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon] was selling.”
In other words, working people care about the material struggles of their daily lives under capitalism and are motivated by efforts to improve them, not about being told to be afraid of trans people.
Trans people are struggling for the same things all working-class people are — safe and affordable housing, quality health care, safe, living-wage jobs with strong union protections against all forms of discrimination, and to live free from the scourge of war.
From reform to trans liberation
As we fight back against these attacks, we have to understand that full victory won’t come in the form of legal protections from only the most explicit forms of hate. Trans people are deeply exploited by the capitalist system, which literally profits off our increased marginalization. Progressive and incremental reforms can protect us from that somewhat, but they don’t abolish transphobia, and those gains will ultimately become targets for rollbacks back by right-wing forces.
The real goal for working and oppressed people like trans people involves replacing this system with one run by and for the working class — by a true democracy. A workers’ government would put people first, not profits, making it possible to ensure full rights to all and for all, which would not be subject to negotiation or legislation with hate-peddling bigots because its power comes from labor-up, not the bosses-down.
Such rights and protections would be hardwired into the system, in combination with the complete repudiation of the economic and political underpinnings that oppress our class through transphobia, homophobia, racism, sexism and imperialism. Our lives, our bodies, and our labor will no longer be used or discarded at the whims of private profit.
To win that world, all working people — transgender and cisgender alike – must unite and fight side by side against all forms of bigotry, oppression and exploitation, and ultimately for a socialist system. Our collective liberation depends on it!