When JK Rowling tweeted that transition-related care for transgender teens is a form of gay conversion therapy, most LGB people who don’t follow the fights inspired by Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) were mystified. It made zero sense to them, because they actually know transgender people.
They know that conversion therapy for gays attempts to change who people are attracted to, while affirming therapists for trans people never try to alter who they love. Some even know that most transgender people, whether trans men or trans women, don’t identify as straight after transition.
However, to TERFs and the religious right, this argument is an old dog-whistle meant to split the trans community from cisgender members of the LGB community.
Both TERFs and the religious right have been hammering away at the ludicrous narrative that the transgender community is stealing away all the baby gays and lesbians by convincing them it would be easier to be transgender and appear to be straight.
This is utterly implausible.
First, most people see being transgender as being far less accepted than being lesbian, bisexual, or gay. It’s like the old video asking an audience of white people to stand if they’d prefer to be treated like a Black person: only the most deluded individuals would stand up. Not only would they have to trade down in social status, but they’d have to go through years of therapy to prove they’re trans and take hormones that induced actual dysphoria.
TERFs, and Rowling, would also have you believe that there is a vast plot by transgender activists, doctors, and mental health providers to railroad teens through transition. However, the people who actually work with transgender people–the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH)–has explicitly stated that, “There are no studies to support [the claim that] children are forced to undergo treatments they may regret.”
Beyond this, in the UK trans teens are forced to wait at least 12-18 months before they are even evaluated by the National Health Service, much less treated. Many spend so long on the waiting list that they age out of the youth program, and then get moved to the adult waiting list, which is two to three years long. Waiting up to four or five years for treatment shows how little rush there really is in the system.
In other words, to believe TERFs and the religious right about transgender teens, you must reject the experts and embrace a conspiracy theory worthy of QAnon. Most progressives, including Rowling and anti-transgender members of the LGB community, would normally laugh at the bonkers theories of the American religious right.
Instead, they have been deliberately and willingly co-opted by it.
Five years ago, as the Supreme Court prepared to make same-sex marriage legal, the American religious right deliberately shifted to attacking transgender people. They saw transgender people as the weakest link in the LGBTQ community, and determined that the best strategy was to divide and conquer. Peel off transgender people, destroy them, and then use that to propel them to victory over the remaining LGB people.
At the 2018 Values Voters Summit, Meg Kilgannon told the audience at an anti-transgender panel: “For all of its recent success, the LGBT alliance is actually fragile, and the trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity on its own is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.”
At the same conference, Kilgannon also outlined how the religious right would take over “feminist” narratives and use them against transgender people. She even trotted out the narrative that “transing masculine girls is a form of lesbian eugenics.” She described her plan to close the loop between TERFs and the religious right: dummy organizations would use anti-transgender feminists as “useful idiots”, and disguise the influence of the Mike Pence wing of the GOP.
Kilgannon mentioned the Hands Across the Aisle Coalition as a starting point. However, even before that organization emerged, the religious right had been funding others for several years. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), no friend to women or LGB people, bankrolled the start up of the Women’s Liberation Front in early 2016. WoLF is an Astroturf organization that files lawsuits and briefs supporting the right to discriminate against transgender people. WoLF always seems to have legal help from the ADF.
It’s not the first time the religious right has used the plaintive cry of “Won’t someone please think of the children!” to persuade gullible progressives into doing foolish things. In the 1980’s, during the height of the “Satanic Panic,” Tipper Gore (wife of Senator Al Gore) formed the “Parents Music Resource Center” to fight the demonic influences of AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, Madonna, and Def Leppard. Lesbians and gays were frequently accused of preying on children, and often went to prison based on junk science, prejudice, and the flimsiest of evidence.
Perhaps the saddest part in all this is that it doesn’t take much to show basic respect for transgender people. Halle Berry turned down a role as a trans man this weekend because she recognized that it causes pain to the transgender community when a cisgender actor takes on a transgender role.
Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid’s Tale) tweeted that trans people are just another part of humanity, and that the Republic of Gilead would probably have executed trans women, just like they did gay men. Unsurprisingly, given how oblivious TERFs are to the designs of the religious right, they piled onto Atwood for her defense. They told her that she didn’t understand her own story, and called her “Aunt Lydia.”
Today, the Satanic Panic has been replaced with the trans panic. Panic over trans athletes (even though there are hardly any); trans people in bathrooms (which was never a problem in the past); trans people getting government issued IDs (ditto—it’s been happening for years); trans people stealing baby gays; trans people forcing kids to transition (puh-lease, I can’t even get my own to clean their rooms!); trans people being a plot by George Soros; and it just gets dumber and nuttier from there.
Which brings me back to JK Rowling. She has more money than God, has an enormous platform, and is in a position to do a lot of good in this world. She thinks this is feminism.
Instead, she’s doing the work of the anti-LGBT, anti-woman religious zealots Margaret Atwood warned us about.
Brynn Tannehill is a former naval officer and author of “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Trans*”