by Florence Ashley
Allyship begins with unequivocal support for trans communities. Organizations should express clear condemnation against any and all forms of transphobia. Anti-trans movements thrive in equivocation and ambiguity, often claiming legitimacy based on the myth that they represent a silent majority afraid to speak up against the tyranny of an all-powerful trans cabal. The idea that anti-trans views are the norm must be nipped in the bud by clear statements to the contrary. Do not expect trans people or the public to know that you are silently supportive of them. There must be no doubt possible.
Organizational statements should not be limited to events and controversies that implicate it, or to set dates such as Transgender Day of Visibility and Transgender Day of Remembrance. You should speak out against transphobia wherever they see it. If transphobic articles are published in the media, I encourage you to publicly express concern about it through press releases and social media posts. The normalization of transphobia in the media is a preliminary step in the path towards overt anti-trans policymaking. The proliferation of anti-trans laws in the United States was prefaced by articles ‘just asking questions’ about trans issues. The media serves to set the groundwork for later judicial and legislative assaults, spreading misinformation and accustoming the public to anti-trans perspectives without yet acknowledging the goal of undermining the full and equal participation of trans communities in civil society. It is therefore critical for organizations to oppose the media’s increasing normalisation of transphobia and transphobic misinformation before it begins influencing policy. Once anti-trans policies and laws are being proposed, it is already too late.
Beyond issuing their own statements, organizations who wish to fight the rise of anti-trans hatred must amplify trans voices. Trans people are gravely underrepresented in the media, and even more so in positions power or authority. You must use your platform to amplify our perspectives. Silently retweeting is insufficient; at a minimum, you should quote retweet our posts to draw attention to them and call your followers to action. Share and create platforms and opportunities for trans people by creating programs, hosting events, and drawing on your contacts in politics, the media, and the private sector. Use the tools at your disposal to give trans communities new platforms that reach more people—especially for those trans people who are rarely heard because of racism, ableism, sexism, and classism. Trans communities are not homogenous; allyship cannot mean platforming the same relatively privileged trans people over and over again to the detriment of the most marginalized among us.
In addition to condemning transphobia, organizations should highlight the relationship between their mandate and the fight against transphobia. Transphobia is not an isolated ideology; it is intertwined with other forms of oppression. When asked whether she would feel complicit in the deaths of trans youth if Idaho’s bill criminalizing gender-affirming care becomes law, Republican legislator Julianne Young responded:
Saying the quiet parts out loud, her comment perfectly encapsulates the interrelationship of transphobia, sexism, and racism. Anti-trans laws are predicated on the need to enforce rigid gender boundaries. These rigid gender boundaries are necessary to encourage, foster, and control the reproductive capacities of cisgender women. As for ensuring “the potential to give life to another generation,” her comments tacitly appeal to white demographic anxieties, to fears of white people becoming the demographic minority and losing their socioeconomic power over people of colour.
These fears are notably embodied in the neo-Nazi conspiracy theories of “the great replacement” and “white genocide,” according to which an organized cabal of elites—typically Jewish—are attempting to destroy and replace white people. In other words, white supremacy and racial capitalism create a need to control cisgender women’s reproductive capacities, which relies on the enforcement of rigid gender norms.
Shedding light on the interrelationship of various forms of oppression is critical both insofar as it helps us better understand and fight transphobia, but also because it sets the stage for coalitional politics and solidarity across difference. By virtue of their oppression and size, marginalized groups rarely have the resources needed to effect swift social change let alone achieve liberation. Fostering coalition, demonstrating solidarity, and highlighting the interconnectedness of transphobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, ableism, classism, and all other forms of oppression are integral parts of the fight for equality.
It is a scary time to be trans. Visibility has brought far more danger than opportunities to most trans people. Not discriminating against trans people is good, but it does not constitute allyship. There may be more people who accept trans communities, but their acceptance is merely neutral; it does not outweigh the violence hatred we face. And that hatred is on the rise. We deserve more than neutrality. We deserve allies that show up for us. We deserve allies that fight for us. That hire us, feed us, protect us, empower us. We need allies whose support is greater than the hatred of our enemies. That’s what we need you to be. And we do need you, more than ever.
Florence Ashley is a jurist and bioethicist currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and Joint Centre for Bioethics. Prior to their doctoral studies, they served as the first openly transfeminine clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada. They frequently contribute to public conversations on trans issues and were awarded the Canadian Bar Association SOGIC Hero Award for their leadership. Their writing is widely published in scholarly journals, and their book Banning Transgender Conversion Practices: A Legal and Policy Analysis will be coming out with UBC Press in April 2022.
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