The Labour Party has officially u-turned on self-ID for transgender people. Self-ID is the minimal removal of unbearable barriers to autonomy for a tiny, much-attacked minority group. This move is no less demoralising for many of us adversely impacted by the moral panic for its horrible predictability. Knowing it was coming does not eclipse the brutal reality of a country seemingly wholly bent on your public eradication.
Keir Starmer has long sided with transphobes, not opportunistically but because he is one. He spoke to MumsNet (notorious as a bastion of transphobic bigotry) in enthusiastic agreement with the Tory policy of outing trans children to potentially prejudiced parents; meets for photo-ops with anti-queer hate preachers like Agu Irukwu; vocally defends rather than disciplines transphobic MPs in his party such as the staggeringly bigoted Rosie Duffield, and now has given up even the superficial appearance of solidarity.
The openly far right is but a tiny part of the attack against trans people, creeping fascism appears not just in the guise of fascism but in a general social process that sees the entire political spectrum move in a reactionary trajectory. Certainly, the centre-right and centre-left are captured by anti-trans hatred. On the left, under these conditions, we must be far better at holding people in “progressive” circles accountable.
Socialists cannot sacrifice the marginalised for any “greater” goal. Socialists do not see politics as tradeoffs between one facet of the crisis of capital and another. Fundamental to our praxis, that which makes us meaningfully distinct from liberals and fascists, is a recognition that every social struggle is but a unique appearance of the social totality we seek to alter radically.
In concrete terms, for socialists, that must mean a withdrawal of camaraderie and solidarity from consistent transphobes – as many automatically would to consistent racists, misogynists or disablists. We are past the point of having difficult conversations; it is time transphobia came with consequences.
To bargain one struggle, to concede one fight for humanity, wherever these manifest, is to concede everything. That is the lesson of the failures of so many past ‘socialisms’, from the capitulations to capitalist norms and violence within social democratic parties to the barbarity of the Stalinist regimes.
Socialists have a duty to show trans people material solidarity insofar as their organisational capacities allow it. This could go beyond the occasional attendance of pride events, for instance, in projects to assist with medical care costs, facilitate DIY hormone replacement therapy, and inform people of their rights.
The British establishment has reached an uneasy consensus on trans existence: it is not permissible. We see this across the political spectrum. While the extreme right of the Tory Party moves to eliminate trans children through school-enforced conversion therapy, the ‘moderate’ Tory position is to make it functionally impossible for most children to be trans in school by outing them, restricting their access to gendered spaces and potentially allowing parents or even other pupils to veto trans children’s genders.
So it is also now with the previously trivial distinction between the Labour and Tory positions. It is not an abstract or fearmongering claim to say that Labour offers the besieged trans community only a continuation of the relentless attacks made against us. Indeed, the Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch made that point explicit by accusing the new Labour Party position of being a “copy and paste” of the Conservative’s own. She is not wrong.
The Labour Party plans to retain the pseudoscientific medical gatekeeping of trans people to secure Gender Recognition Certificates (GRC) that will still blatantly exclude nonbinary people. GRCs are currently needed for marriage and records, but noises around changing the Equality Act could also mean they become necessary for all basic protections. If that happens (both parties are cagey about their intentions), trans people could find themselves excluded from work and public spaces even more aggressively.
The Labour leadership have voiced support for excluding trans people from single-sex spaces, which will both ostracise and endanger trans life. And they have said nothing about improving the appalling state of healthcare access. Labour and the Tories agree with the probably unlawful outing of trans children to parents, a terrifying prospect that will expose many young trans girls, boys and children to risks of adolescent homelessness, conversion therapy or general domestic abuse. This is nothing short of a policy of social murder.
Meanwhile, senior Labour politicians are apologising to Duffield for not showing her positions on gender their due deference. (This is a politician who rolls her eyes at the mention of trans suicide and compares trans activists to dystopian regimes that engage in the mass rape of women.) Keir Starmer is now also becoming comfortable using anti-trans dogwhistles, such as ‘biological women’ and ‘adult female’ (an apparent reference to the dictionary definition bandied about by anti-trans fascists such as Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, much as supposed definitions of marriage as being inherently a contract between a man and a woman – in some iterations as a way to produce and rear children! – used to be deployed as a pseudo-argument against gay rights.)
Starmer is often accused by many on the left of being a kind of void of beliefs in a suit. In a sense, this is true. He is reactionary in the strict etymological sense: he reacts rather than actively engages with the world. He has no organic relationship to class forces and is merely a convenient pawn of capital. But this is equally true of many we would not then describe as ideologically neutral. He has many convictions; they are merely sordid.
Sir Keir assumes the trappings of aristocratic and bourgeois status; he naturally takes up the autocracy of the middle manager; because these reaffirm a coherent worldview. It is one where the boundaries between the legitimate and the “abnormal” are rigidly enforced out of a precarious professional’s trained fear of class decline, where the marginalised are to be given their fair chance, but only to be assimilated (if they can) into the permissible pregiven categories.
It is wrong to say Starmer is opportunistic in his u-turns because he is surrendering genuine principles to the altar of electability. Instead, his opportunism is how he seizes the excuse of electability to more brazenly adopt a sincerely held politics of prejudice and technocratic myopia. He is as authentically racist, misogynistic, transphobic and disableist as most any Tory, a latter-day David Cameron as Blair was an updating of Thatcher. Now he can thank fortune he has a cover to appear “merely” inauthentically bigoted.
Russia, Creeping Fascism’s Hegemon
Around the world, the situation is not too different to the UK (even if the UK is exceptionally bad in most of Western Europe and the Anglosphere, excluding the Southern United States). Trans women (especially those facing intersecting oppressions such as racism) are murdered, such as a Black woman recently in Greece, unprotected by states that care little for queer life.
Meanwhile, places like Hungary pursue trans-eliminationist legislation in line with a broader agenda of anti-queer and anti-women initiatives. And even in places like Belgium, which are relatively utopian for trans people in the world scene, the far right is on the march, explicitly targeting trans acceptance as a viable wedge issue. In this, Starmer has joined the ranks of the international far right, and British liberalism (of which he is a representative) has once again revealed itself to be especially partial to reactionary currents.
Putin’s Russia, however, is never to be outdone. As the hubristic and atrocious war on Ukraine demands ever more distractions for a regime that has plunged its own economy and world-standing into the mud, trans people present an easy target for cruel gestural politics, aligned with an obsession with treating queer existence as a marker of western decadence. (Itself a palpably fascistic trope.)
And so, in a typical exercise of sadism, Russia is banning trans healthcare, annulling marriages and restricting adoption rights for trans people. This is not reflective of the demands of Russians, as there are few signs of any popular backing for such attacks, but rather is a way for Putin to deflect attention while aligning with international fascism. Transphobes in places like the UK inspire Putin’s anti-trans legislation, too. As homophobes in the US or British anti-queer politics during colonialism spread anti-LGBTQIA+ ideas worldwide, the anti-trans movement is international in scope and effective at embedding its prejudice. The longer it persists, the harder it will be to tackle.
Transphobia, as with all anti-queer politics, is reflective of a need to defend the flimsy boundaries of gender within inherently misogynistic class societies, ones in which the unpaid/underpaid reproductive labour of women and other marginalised groups is vital to the functioning of capital. Transphobes are, therefore, not only always abetting petty tyrants such as Putin in their reactionary hopes, but are consistently reinforcing and entrenching misogyny specifically, even when transphobes also style themselves as feminists. There can be no allowance for such hate; it must be eradicated.
But it will not be eradicated by merely wishing it gone. This fight can no longer be sidelined, only granted a peripheral symbolic status. It is an international struggle that must align with other struggles (both intersectional, across various lines of marginalisation, and more broadly in answer to the crisis of capital and ecology, as there is no queer life on a dead planet).
Solidarity and Inclusion
Without minimising the force of these attacks we have chronicled above, there are moments of hope we should celebrate and take succour from. As Philip Inglesant reported earlier this month, the need for LGBT+ trade unionists to stand together against the anti-trans backlash was a central element of the TUC LGBT conference.
Our previous edition of Trans*Mission marked the growth of Trans+Pride in London and shared many positive images from that day. Since then, there has also been a large and joyous Trans Pride event in Brighton on July 15 – with a substantial trade union block and banners from the local Trades Council, Unison, UCU, Unite, CWU and GMB.
Last but not least, our friends in RS21 have produced a timely new pamphlet on Fighting Transphobia, combining analysis of the ideology and tactics that motivate our opponents with practical pieces on how to take up the issues in your union. Essential reading.
Hope in the future might appear fragile in such times, but the history of resistance (from great revolutionary upsurges to each joyous coming together of marginalised people) shows that the domination of the powerful is far more fragile to eruptions of hopeful struggle than the bastions of oppression can anticipate. Humanity, all humanity, yearns for freedom (which is always both social and individual, both positive and negative), and twisting that primary, vital need into a cowardly fear of freedom always sets humanity against itself, an unstable arrangement that undermines itself.
“Why Is Tristram Hunt Afraid of Trans Books?”, Novara Media, Vic Parsons, (10th, link)
“No, a cancer charity isn’t telling medical professionals to rebrand all vaginas as bonus holes”, PinkNews, Chantelle Billson, (11th, link)
“Draft civil service gender policy would ban most trans employees from bathrooms”, PinkNews, Chantelle Billson, (12th, link)
“TUC LGBT+ Conference 2023”, Anti*Capitalist Resistance, Philip Inglesant, (13th, link)
“Right-wing Tory MPs lobbied for ‘blanket ban’ on children being able to identify as transgender in schools”, iNews, Poppy Wood, (17th, link)
“MPs urge Rishi Sunak to ditch ‘unlawful’ plan to make schools out trans children”, PinkNews, Patrick Kelleher, (20th, link)
“Teacher reveals students’ horror at Tories forcing schools to ‘out’ trans kids: ‘My mum can’t know!’”, PinkNews, Sophie Perry, (20th, link)
“Trans men launch legal action over NHS surgery ‘failures’: ‘Left in limbo’”, PinkNews, Amelia Hansford, (20th, link)
“Suella Braverman suggests ‘trans ideology’ book as summer reading”, PinkNews, Patrick Kelleher, (21st, link)
“Labour ‘placating gender critics’ with latest U-turn – and trans members have had enough”, PinkNews, Patrick Kelleher, (26th, link)
“Keir Starmer repeats anti-trans dogwhistle, claiming a woman is an ‘adult female’”, PinkNews, Sophie Perry, (26th, link)
“Gay MP Wes Streeting faces backlash over Rosie Duffield apology for gender-critical views”, PinkNews, Amelia Hansford, (31st, link)
“Labour shift on trans rights is misguided attempt to win back red wall, says MP: ‘It’s patronising’”, PinkNews, Patrick Kelleher, (31st, link)
“Toilet limits for transgender woman ‘unacceptable’: Japan’s top court”, Channel News Asia, (11th, link)
“Cis man stabbed to death protecting trans co-worker: ‘He loved those around him unconditionally’”, PinkNews, Chantelle Billson, (14th, link)
“Transgender Russians Scramble for Healthcare as Draconian Ban Looms”, Common Dreams, Brett Wilkins, (14th, link)
“Why Putin has joined the global attack on the trans community”, openDemocracy,
Dan Storyev and Daria Korolenko, (19th, link)
“Discriminatory Bill Harms Trans Women in Hungary”, Human Rights Watch, Lydia Gall, (20th, link)
“Russia: Putin’s sweeping new trans ban is latest attack in global war on LGBTQ+ rights”, PinkNews, Maggie Baska, (25th, link)
“‘Focus relentlessly on under 25’: Leaked chats reveal influential gender-critical group’s plan to use children to push for bans on transitioning”, Daily Dot, Ernie Piper (25th, link)
“Belgium’s trans-friendly reputation faces far-right rise”, Politico, Ketrin Jochecová, (30th, link)
“The pandemic cracked a new generation of transgender people. Here’s why”, Independent, Io Dodds, (link)
“Trans Women Breastfeeding: Behind the Conservative Meltdown”, Assigned, (link)
“Gender dysphoria: How society fuels the pervading sense of disconnect that trans people may feel with their bodies”, The Indian Express, Ananya Sharma, (link)
“Long-term Danish study finds trans people experience higher suicide, mortality rates”, Gay City News, Emily Sawaked (link)
Want to participate in the fightback? Join Anti*Capitalist Resistance and become a member of our Trans*Mission group!
Also, if you know a story you want to appear in next week’s roundup, please email it to us.
Art Book Review Books Capitalism China Climate Emergency Conservative Government Conservative Party COVID-19 Economics EcoSocialism Elections Event Video Fascism Film Film Review France Global Police State Imperialism Italy Keir Starmer Labour Party Long Read Marxism Marxist Theory Palestine pandemic Protest Russia Solidarity Statement Trade Unionism Ukraine United States of America War
- Defend the right to protest, strike and boycott..Veronica Fagan explores the ways the Tories are attacking our rights to organise – including the under-discussed anti-boycott bill
- Birmingham City Council: honour your commitment to net zero by 2030A statement initiated by Birmingham Climate Justice Coalition.
- Degrowth: a remarkable renaissanceThis article, by Alan Thornett, was written for the current edition of the Green Left’s publication Watermelon in advance of the Green Party conference.
- !NOW!! Can you join the Climate Crisis ‘Dots’?!Allan Todd writes: Chris Packham can join up those ‘dots’, if others still can’t or refuse to do so, despite it, sadly, being something that’s increasingly easy to do these days. Those still unable to see the bigger picture should tune in to Chris Packham’s programme, ‘Chris Packham: Is It Time to Break the Law?’ – which will be shown on Channel 4 next Wednesday (20 September), at 9.00 p.m.
- Stand with Ukraine: TUC Backs Their Right to Resist Russian AggressionThe TUC, writes Fred Leplat, has voted overwhelmingly to back Ukraine’s right to self-defence against Russia’s invasion. This stance aligns the British labour movement with the Ukrainian people’s struggle for freedom. But solidarity cannot mean giving NATO a blank cheque. We must oppose military escalation while supporting the Ukrainians’ heroic resistance. This article explores the debates around the TUC’s resolution and argues for an independent working-class anti-war movement.