By VINNY GROSSMAN
On June 12, Health and Human Services approved a rule that allows hospitals and doctors to unilaterally define the gender/sex of their patients. The new ruling by the Trump administration appears to encourage medical staff to refer to trans women with “he/him” pronouns and trans men with “she/her” as well as to keep trans people out of the gender designated spaces that align with their self-identification. These spaces include bathrooms, changing rooms, and shared hospital rooms. There is no mention of non-binary people at all. Inter-sex people are only mentioned in passing, as an apparently unimportant argument used by supporters of trans rights to illustrate that sex is not reducible to a simple binary.
In a related development, since Tuesday, June 9, two Black trans women were murdered. Dominique Rem’mie Fells in Philadelphia and Riah Milton in Liberty Township, Ohio, mark the 13th and 14th murders of trans and gender non-conforming people reported in the United States and Puerto Rico this year. These deaths include Tony McDade, a Black trans man murdered by police on May 27 in Tallahassee.
An epidemic of violence
While the fight over trans rights has become increasingly sharp in recent years, trans people are highly affected by many different forms of violence. Over 170 trans and gender non-conforming people have been killed since 2013, with almost three-quarters of that number being Black trans women. Half of these murders were carried out by people known to the victim. The murder rate of Black trans women is seven times as high as the general population and almost three times that of Black people as a whole. There is no official government tracking of violence against trans and non-binary people, and the number of homicides against the trans community is likely magnitudes higher than the data currently shows due to non-reporting, misgendering, and being in the closet.
By all measures, trans and gender nonconforming people suffer severely escalated rates of domestic as well as public violence. This regime of terror is supported by the capitalist state, which criminalizes being trans and further escalates traumatic incidence through denying self-ID in prison and jails, putting trans women at risk to be further victimized in men’s prisons. Another terrifying example of the complete disregard of the capitalist state towards trans peoples’ safety is the case of Muhlaysia Booker, a Black trans woman who was videotaped being beaten by an angry mob and murdered less than a month later.
Anti-trans violence and the law
Capitalism depends on a strict gender binary in order to enforce the dual oppression of women as low-wage workers and the social group that bears the brunt of reproducing the working class through their unpaid domestic labor. Trans personhood is by necessity outside of this strict binary, and capital is using both its legal and extra-legal weight to crush trans existence. The bosses use legal discrimination against trans people on the job, in housing, and in schools to create a precarious section of the labor force which often has very few state and community resources and which is subject to brutal attacks.
Anti-trans laws, including disallowing trans people from sex-segregated bathrooms, encourage state and vigilante violence against trans people and especially trans women. By disallowing unconditional gender self-identification, the constant pressure from the U.S. legal system is to outlaw trans personhood. The effects have grown under Trump, in which Housing and Urban Development made moves to force homeless trans people onto the streets and the Department of Education has recently decided that competing with trans girl athletes violate the civil rights of cis girls. Neither charges, trans victimization of cis women in homeless shelters nor unfair advantage of trans girls in sports, has any basis in empirical reality. The net effect of anti-trans laws in housing, jobs, and schools is to increase the rates of suicide in and violence against the trans and gender non-conforming communities.
Struggle for trans rights! Build the movement!
Under Obama, the Democrats refused to put in policy any meaningful changes to secure a higher level of safety for trans people. The minimal reforms made through non-binding policy suggestions were easily swept aside in the period of administrative reaction unleashed over the last three and a half years.
In the vast majority of states, not only is workplace discrimination based on gender identity allowed but also the so-called “LGBTQ+ panic” legal defense. The LGBT Bar defines the panic defense as “a legal strategy which asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction, including murder.”
At the same time that trans and gender nonconforming people are experiencing an epidemic of violence, they are also facing an onslaught of reactionary legislation and right-wing political maneuvers. Under the cover of the coronavirus, first the Idaho state government and then the whole Department of Education formally banned trans girls competing in high school sports. These bans would subject all female athletes, trans and cis, to genital observation, blood testing, and other invasive procedures. Along with other Trump-era policies, these moves pave the way for uplifting biological essentialist understandings of sex and gender which contradict both lived experience and scientific reality.
Companies have tried to co-opt the movement for trans rights with performative measures but the fact remains that the whole capitalist class benefits from trans exclusion by enforcing regimes of precarity on trans people. The banks, the businesses, and the ruling-class parties are totally discredited in their opportunist posturing for trans rights. Instead, workers and oppressed people have been fighting in the streets for moving past getting justice for murdered trans and non-binary folks to creating a society where no one is oppressed for their gender or sexual preferences.
The way forward in the fight for trans rights is the trail being blazed by the mass movement that has erupted in the wake of the lynching of George Floyd. Almost completely independent of the ruling-class parties and politicians, the demonstrations in hundreds of cities and involving millions have begun to win concessions that only one month ago seemed like impossible dreams.
In order to solidify the movement into a political force that can bring justice for all oppressed people, the next step will be to crystallize a political leadership in the form of a workers’ party composed of the most militant activists in the struggle. Such a party will necessarily have a large number of Black and Brown trans women at all levels, leading the fight for not just equality but also power.