Opinion: Transphobia Is How the Alt-Right is Recruiting Feminists

Protest for Trans Rights, Humphrey Building, Washington, DC USA
Protest for Trans Rights, Humphrey Building, Washington, DC USA

In the past year, I’ve lost several cisgender women friends over transphobia. These were good people, upstanding feminists and progressives outraged at the repeal of reproductive choice and who believe that #BlackLivesMatter. The seed of social justice lives in their hearts, but the siren call of transphobia gets them. They end up on the same side as the alt-right, hiding their bigotry under the mantle of “disagreeing with radical activists.”

Mostly, it’s sports that snares them lately. National stories like the accomplishments of swimmer Lia Thomas result in a lot of targeted, online backlash from the extremely online far right outrage machine. Out come the memes, videos, and think pieces designed to make a bigoted response seem reasonable. Suddenly, someone like Ben Shapiro is on Twitter preaching about protecting “biological” women from being “destroyed.” It’s the same argument my friends were making, but from the mouth of someone who thinks Texas’ abortion bounty hunter law is a good thing.

How do women who would normally not want to be in the same ideological room with Shapiro suddenly parrot his bastardry? It’s the same reason fascism has always been so appealing. It’s easy to say that you have no problem with trans people existing in the same space as women when they’re not competitive. Tolerating a token is a magnanimous act, a gift from those above to those below that keeps the hierarchy in place.

When that token wins something, no matter how minor, though? When she denies even a single cisgender woman a spot they wanted? That’s when the monkey brain comes out to play, and it plays very dirty. It’s a houseguest (or a pet) misbehaving, or the ever popular Going Too Far™. That Lia Thomas or any other transgender woman athlete has had only a modest career in a field where virtually every other champion is a cis woman is irrelevant. Thomas dared to approach equality, and that suddenly made many people very uncomfortable. Trans athletes only get to be women when they lose.

Trans athletes only get to be women when they lose.

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This is a long-running problem with feminism that the movement refuses to fix. White suffragettes left Black, indigenous, and women of color out of the discussion, and openly used racist reasoning to justify it. The exact same thing happened again in the Women’s Liberation Movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s when leaders actively worked to exclude lesbian and bisexual women. Same-sex relationships between women were considered this weird other thing unrelated to the fight for gender equality, but much of it was clearly rooted in plain old homophobia.

So here we are in 2022. Transgender people are under attack from all sides. In Texas, parents who provide trans children with life-saving gender-affirming care are subject to government investigation for child abuse. Trans students are being banned from sports. A new anti-drag queen law could very well make it illegal for trans women to be around children at all. It is impossible to argue that trans people are not experiencing a targeted rollback of their rights nationwide.

This is what fascists do. They see the march toward equality and look for weak points in the phalanx. White, middle-class women are unfortunately an easy target. All it takes is worm-tongued questions.

“Surely you don’t want someone with a penis in the locker room with you? Is it really fair for someone with male muscles to compete against you, with all their advantages? I mean, they aren’t really women the way you are, are they? Who are they to tell you, a person who can create life in her womb, that gender is a social construct?”

This works because women have lost so much ground. These constant economic downturns have hit women the worst. The fall of Roe v. Wade is a devastating crisis that puts all people with wombs in potential mortal danger thanks to policies dictated by men. Decades of progress are being erased.

Times like these are what cult recruiters look for. The emotional desolation of the current era yields fertile soil for traditionally fascist ideas to grow where they normally wouldn’t like an ectopic pregnancy. People look for an easy solution. More than that, they seek a target they can beat. Who wouldn’t want The Man on their side for a change instead of on their neck? It’s so much simpler to push the oppression down the line onto trans people than risk the wrath of conservatives on a winning streak.

It’s a trap, though. The people empowering cis women against trans woman have no interest in allowing either to thrive in the long run. As clear as conservatives have made their desire to destroy trans people, their hatred of feminism shines even more so. The goal is to pull feminists into gender essentialism, reducing them down to their reproductive organs and making them act accordingly. The war against trans people is practice for that. There is a reason they frame the whole thing as an abhorrence of competing with “men.”

This has got to stop. Down this path lies only darkness.