Stand Up and Fight for, and Alongside, Your Trans Siblings
A Call To Action Against the Rise of Fascism
April 27, 2023
This was originally a speech given by the author at the Chicago Trans Day of Resistance Rally. It has been expanded for Spectre.
We stand on the shoulders of giants who came before us. We stand on the shoulders of STAR of Sylvia, Marsha, Victor, Bambi, Bubbles, Bebe, Cavika, Andorra, Lola, Miss Pixie, Mark, and Chelsea. On the shoulders of all those who believed we had the power to forge a better world for the trans kids thrown away by our society into the streets. Who are the whole reason we had a queer rights movement in the first place. Who were used by that movement to fight on the front lines only to be thrown under the bus and discarded by the very movement they started. We stand on the shoulders of Leslie Feinberg, Storme DeLarverie, Miss Major, the queens of Compton’s cafeteria riots. Of Lee Brewster and Judy Bowen. Beth Elliot, Lou Sullivan, Riki Wilchins, and Gwen Smith. Of the Lesbian Avengers and Bash Back. Of Act Up and Queer Nation. Of all those who came before us and used their power to stand up and fight back. Because we all have the power to stand up and fight back.
We just don’t realize we do, sometimes, so we wait for someone to tell us what to do. We wait for someone to lead us. Eugene Debs once said:
I am not a leader. I do not want you to follow me or anyone else. If you are looking for Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could. Because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands and get yourself out of your present condition; as it is now the capitalists who use your heads and your hands.
We do not need to wait around for someone to give us permission to fight back. Because if we do, we will be waiting and waiting and, at this moment, we do not have time for that. We do not have time to wait around for the large nonprofit groups to come and save us. Because let’s be clear, they are not coming to save us. The only ones coming to save us are us. We are all capable, together, of being the ones who move us out of this moment.
But very importantly, we need to fight for and alongside, hand-in-hand with our Black and Brown trans siblings who are the most vulnerable group in our society. Who are overwhelmingly discriminated against in employment and housing. Who are the majority of those of our siblings being murdered in the streets every year. Whose beautiful spirits and joy are the fire that keeps our community burning. Who are the voices we should be centering in our movement. And who we should be protecting with our lives. And when the situation is too dangerous for our siblings to fight for themselves, those of us with more privilege should be putting our bodies on the line to fight for a world that upholds, celebrates, and truly cares for our Black and Brown trans siblings. Until all of us are free, none of us are free.
The far right is extremely organized and mobilized and marching us towards fascism. If this moment feels familiar, it’s because we have been here before.
Although gender-variant people have existed, been embraced, and even celebrated in many cultures across the world and history there was another time that very similarly mirrored the present moment we are facing. We should not forget that pre-1933 Berlin was the queer and trans capital of the world. People lived openly as trans and queer. They used different terms back then to describe the similar experiences. There were over 100 queer and trans bars in the city. Queer and trans folks were thriving.
Magnus Hirschfeld established the Institute for Sexual Science. Hirschfeld and the Institute were opponents of racist ideology, but were also implicated in histories of eugenics and colonialism—an implicatedness that, to be politically consistent, we must reckon with. The Institute was also one of the first places that offered gender-affirming surgeries that laid the groundwork for current-day gender-affirming surgeries. They offered hormone replacement therapies and had a vast library devoted to the history and study of queer and trans people. Also, the institute provided gender-diverse people a place to live and commune together. Although trans people had made progress, feelings about trans people were split throughout Germany with many seeing trans people as a threat to their way of life and to the idea of German decency and morality. Most of the Nazis’ fear of transness focused mostly on trans women as a threat to their concepts of masculinity. Also, because Judaism traditionally recognized a spectrum of different genders and because Hirschfeld himself was Jewish, they associated transness with Judaism and believed the fight for trans people’s existence to be part of a plot to undermine western societal norms. The Nazis whole ideology was based in eugenics, so any steering away from what was seen as the norm, especially in regards to gender, needed to be eradicated. So ,even as trans people continued to make progress in Germany, they experienced a backlash that was weaponized by the Nazis to build their power.
In 1933, after Hitler was appointed Chancellor, one of the Nazis’ first acts of aggression was to run Hirschfeld out of the country (where he died two years later in exile) and burn the library to the ground. They arrested most everyone living in the institute and sent them to the early versions of the concentration camps. The Sturmabteilung then set up headquarters in the Eldorado, the largest and most prestigious trans bar at the time, to make a statement. While the experiences of trans people during the Holocaust were complex and based on many factors like class, race, and how exploitable their skills were to the Nazis, almost none of them survived because they either were killed or took their own lives. Nazis used the attack on trans people to establish their power and make a statement of control. Like I said, if it feels like we’ve maybe been here before, it’s because we have.
What the far right is currently doing is using their attack on trans people to sow division and establish the beginnings of their power. They have launched a full-scale attack on our lives and our existence and they’re not even trying to hide it. At the recent CPAC convention, Daily Wire political commentator Michael Knowles announced to cheers that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life.”
The existence of trans people is a threat to the core of fascist ideology. We are a threat to privatized reproduction and the nuclear family. We are a threat to the idea that you must follow the rules that capitalism and society lay out for us. We are a threat to the power of cisgender heterosexual white men and their idea of what masculinity is supposed to look like, especially the notion that they are innately deserving of power over others. We are a threat to the false morality of fascism. We are a threat to blindly following orders. We are a threat to the moralistic ideals of their sect of Christianity. We are a threat to the values of colonialism.
We embrace joy and love. We embrace listening to ourselves more than them. We embrace what could be instead of taking for granted what is. We see a future that doesn’t have to be the way things have always been. We are brave enough to fight for our right to exist outside of the norm so they fear what else we are willing to fight for. Our existence questions the validity of the entire system, because if they could be so wrong about something that is seen as so static and so fixed and intrinsic in our society, what else are they wrong about?
Also, we are an easy target because we are a small portion of the population. We are not fully understood by most people. Even many of those who consider themselves our supporters don’t fully understand us, although many are trying hard to. It is hard for many to really grapple with our existence because understanding us requires taking a hard look at everything you’ve ever been taught to be true. We make cis people so fucking uncomfortable because if they really thought about their own gender too hard they’d realize the system isn’t really working for them either. We are trained from the day we are born into our gender system and to believe that gender is fixed and innate. There is very little education about gender happening because actually studying and thinking about gender too much would topple the entire system.
There is even a part of the “left” that hates our existence so much that they have been willing to collaborate with the far right, who one would think would be their enemy, in an attempt to erase us completely from society. They are part of a sect of feminism (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism aka TERFs) whose belief system is that there are two competing groups in our society that of men vs women and is based on biological essentialism that was born out of reactionary anger at the gendered based violence and oppression of the 1960s but lacks a class analysis of society and lacks an understanding of the socially constructed aspects of gender. So they have gone full on in their hatred and fear of trans people, specifically trans women, and are willing to do anything to take away our rights to exist.
So, the far right saw this collaboration from folks supposedly on the left as an opportunity to splinter the population and pick an easily attacked target. And they found strength and division in this collaboration. That is in large part why the far right makes trans people the focus of their current campaign. It is because they feel it will divide society so much that they can fully take power on the backs of the split. They rely on the assumption that so few folks actually support trans people in our society that they would not be getting any large push back. They are counting on people being scared of us because they don’t understand us. They are counting on a lack of connection between the working class to stand up and fight for us. They count on people’s silence and complacency. So as long as folks stay quiet, they will continue to expand their power. As long as we stay divided they will continue to conquer. So long as the many stand by and watch this happen we will continue to be ground into the ground.
We shout, stop the trans genocide, because let’s be clear this is an attempted genocide. If you think I’m being dramatic we have literally experienced 8 of the 10 stages of genocide. Classification, symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation and prosecution (here’s where we are at). The last two are extermination and denial. Please let’s not let it get there.
But when we shout stop the trans genocide, what we mean is stop murdering us. Stop the bills being forced through across the country restricting our access to health care, to play sports, to use the bathroom in public, to wear the clothes that we feel most comfortable in, to have our children live fulfilling lives where their authenticity is not only validated but celebrated. Stop the militarization of our racist police force that harasses and murders our siblings for just existing. Give us full housing and employment protections. Make trans health care accessible and free. Make housing and good paying jobs and mental health care for trans folks more accessible. End the criminalization of sex work. End the criminalization of our lives.
Stop calling us groomers. This is a dangerous label attempting to scapegoat our community for the child sexual assault and abuse mostly perpetuated and committed by cis men in positions of power. We are fighting for the right of youth to be free. They are fighting for the youth to be tightly controlled.
Make gender neutral public restrooms accessible. Give us full autonomy to choose which restroom and which locker rooms to use. End the gatekeeping need for therapist letters to receive gender affirming care. Remove barriers to changing gender markers on documents and make X a gender choice on documents in all states. Or better yet, fully remove gender markers from our documents altogether.
We have fought too hard and too long to finally be comfortable in our bodies to have it snatched away now.
Trans women are women. Trans men are men. But then some of us are neither or both or something completely different. For some of us our gender is constantly changing and evolving because it’s a journey with no specific destination, and for others it stays the same and finding the gender that is right is like coming home finally. Any way your gender exhibits itself is valid. Because it is your personal journey with who you are and who you become. And we should all have full autonomy over that journey.
Humans are so much more diverse than the tiny, suffocating boxes they are trying to force us into from the moment we are born. We deserve to explore all of the facets of ourselves and we deserve so much more than the tiny boxes they try to force us into based on what they assume our bodies to look like.
Cis people get gender affirming procedures every day. And no one is trying to take away their right to do that. So why do they want to take away our right to gender affirming healthcare, care that literally saves people’s lives? Because it doesn’t fit into their narrow worldview of how they have been taught to understand the world. So much so that they force our intersex siblings whose bodies do not line up with their understanding to have surgeries and procedures done as children without their consent to fit into their ideas of what bodies are supposed to look like. Yet they are not coming for those surgeries. Because they don’t actually care about children. They care about control. This isn’t about and has never been about protecting kids. Bills that take away children’s rights to gender affirming care will kill children. And the blood of those children are on the hands of those pushing through these bills, and those sitting idly by doing nothing as it happens.
Part of the problem is the idea that trans folks are an exception to the rule. That most people are cis but sometimes nature makes a mistake and that’s why trans folks exist. But we are not an exception. We are an indictment of the whole fucking system. And that terrifies the far right. Either because they know it’s all a lie, or because admitting a contrary thought would destroy their narrow worldview.
But we do have the power to change the course of history right now. The far right is super fucking organized. We need to get fucking organized too. Right now. We need cis folks to stand with us not only because it’s the right thing to do but because the far right is not stopping at just attacking trans people.
First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me. —Martin Niemöller
We need to be shutting everything down and grinding our society to a halt until the attacks—not just on our community, but all of the communities—stop. We call on our labor unions to organize strikes. We call on folks to start occupying city halls, capitol buildings, our schools, public buildings, and our workplaces. We need to find a way to connect the student walkouts and student movements against racism and against the attacks on the LGBTQ community with the teachers’ unions who are also being attacked so they can fight together against the attacks on education. We need to connect all of the various union struggles happening right now like the Amazon workers and the Starbucks workers and all of those fighting to unionize their nonprofit workplaces.
We need to connect our movement with the immigrant justice movement because not only are there so many in our community who are immigrants but also because they are being attacked by the same knife attacking us and being used to sow division and hatred of others. We need to connect with the movement to abolish prisons and abolish the police because let’s be clear, trans liberation can only happen if we abolish prisons and the police. We need to connect our movement with the abortion rights movement because both are fights for bodily autonomy and both of our movements are being attacked with the same ideology.
So, now we are calling on all the other movements to join us and fight because our lives depend on each other. Us having a future relies on us finding a way to get organized and come together now. We call on anyone who says they are our ally to not just give us lip service but give us action. We call on any group who is marginalized and oppressed in our society to fight alongside us for all of our liberation. We need to be in the streets marching. Our liberation is irrevocably tied to each other and we will be so much stronger united. Until all of us are free, none of us is free.
Crucially, we need to stop letting the fear of the far right’s current rise to power paralyze us from action. Because if we do, we have already lost. And we can’t let that happen. Too many lives depend on us fighting right now. They are pushing us backwards because we have won over the hearts and minds of the many. We cannot let a small group of loud voices drown out the many with fear. We must confront and run the fascists out of town and chase them back to the rock they climbed out from under. If we don’t confront and fight fascism now, it will continue to grow and take hold in our society. In the words of my friend, Katie, “we need to team up and chase the fash out of public life whether we’re in heels, biker boots, Birkenstocks, or kicks, y’know.” But we can’t fight them alone. We need to find a way to connect all of our groups fighting back together so our numbers are so large the fash fear showing themselves anywhere.
We hold the power to transform this fucked-up world into something new and beautiful, something that cares for the many instead of the few. We have the power to stop this train and turn it around. But we have to first stand up and fight. We can no longer stay silent and wait for someone to come and save us.
Trans liberation is possible, but it will not be won without a struggle. We cannot win it by merely debating amongst ourselves, yhough debating is important for us to grow and learn. While mutual aid is important and essential to the current survival of our communities, we need so much more than that right now. We need to actually be mobilizing. I know it is hard to mobilize right now for many of us.
COVID has made it actively unsafe for many of us to go out in public. The attacks of the far right have stoked fear in many of our souls. Many of us don’t trust each other and are scared of being infiltrated by the government or the far right in an attempt to derail our movements. Many of us are terrified after being brutally repressed and beaten during the protests of 2020. Many of us are barely scraping by paycheck-to-paycheck, while many of us aren’t even scraping by at all. For many of us, our mental health, especially after the past few years, is not in a good place at all. We are scared for the future and the present. Many feel hopeless and beaten down by the world. Many feel like there is no hope for change. Even some of the fiercest, most politically sharp, long-term organizers I know feel like we’ve already lost.
But we’ve only lost once we stop fighting back. There is still time to turn this ship around. There is still time to resist this death march we are being forced on. However, it is going to take a lot of work and a lot of coming together if we are going to succeed. But we can do it. We just need to figure out a way to start connecting with each other and coordinate with each other not just locally, but nationally and internationally. We need to make those with more privilege realize that their lives depend on this, too, and that it is in their vested interest to fight alongside us. That not only do we need them but they need us. We are all in this fight together. We just need to realize that now is the time that we need to step up if we want to save us.
We need to come together and stand up now for trans lives. Because trans joy is such a fucking magical thing. It has the power to truly transform the world and it fucking will.