I’ll confess that I was rather casually looking around for another aspect of anti-trans rhetoric to analyze for this week’s blog post. Like most of us, I knew on an intellectual level that it was absolutely a huge thing that was still happening, and I was considering writing about bathroom bills, but I’d been hearing them for so long. Were they still a thing? When I found a great source that tracks anti-trans legislation (keep reading for a link!), I was absolutely appalled HOW MUCH anti-trans legislation has been slipping under my radar. Since that tends to be the goal of this kind of campaign—to get the good people to go quiet about this sort of thing—I plan to unwrap why and how this works in this week’s blog post. I’ll also remind us why we need to restart our activism as much as we can if we’ve been hanging back.
My Background and Standpoint
As always, I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who grew up as a pastor’s kid in a right-leaning moderate church who went on to become a communication scholar focusing on stress, trauma, and conflict communication.
Anti-trans rhetoric wasn’t a big deal back when I was a kid—that’s a pretty recent phenomenon—but it definitely wasn’t considered okay to be LGB, etc.
Learning about Gender and Sex Complexity When I Was Young
That said, on a more personal level, a person I grew up that I would see occasionally, around the same age as me was intersex and ended up having a gender-oriented surgery when they came of age. They changed their name and pronouns at that time. I was vaguely uncomfortable about that back then—and I’m sure others in my circle were as well—but neither I nor anyone else among my peops spoke up about it, and occasionally would remind others of the previous gender identity and name if someone forgot, but held their tongues about any discomfort pretty well.
And there was never any question about whether the biology was a “real” thing or not. It just was.
In retrospect, I’m very thankful for all of that.
At least Christian nice has its uses, eh?
That Experience with Actual People Related to Complexities Was Helpful Later
Anyway, what interests me is that in more recent years when people in my circle would go on about their concerns about their fears about trans people–specifically trans girls–coming into girls’ bathrooms and making people unsafe, I had a touchpoint from my past to relate those things to, that thankfully allowed me to see through the fearmongering rhetoric.
Interestingly from an academic perspective, when I brought this example from my childhood up, people from my circle would say oh, well, that’s clearly about not THAT person. (In the same way, if there were rants about higher ed brainwashing people, I would always point out that was about me, and they would say the same thing—that of course that wasn’t me.)
Ah, the Ways of Managing Cognitive Dissonance
I can see now that people in my community managed their cognitive dissonance about hurting real people by separating the real people they knew from the policies and rhetoric about the dangers of these imaginary shadow hordes of trans people who were born male and pretending to be female in order to enter women’s restrooms.
Back to the Way We Allies Too Often Separate Ourselves from the Extent of Anti-Trans Legislation These Days
I bring this up because I can see—well, not the same thing, but another variant of a similar phenomenon happening to me and others around me when it comes to the anti-trans legislation problem.
An Important Resource to Keep Us Up-to-Date On This Issue
And when I say there’s a MAJOR anti-trans legislation problem, I absolutely completely mean it. If you don’t believe me, go to the site translegislation.com and check out the width and breadth of this ongoing problem.
Note that this site, while it isn’t clear from the site who builds and maintains it, does a great job using factual language, linking to credible sources including the real language for specific bills, and draws attention to the severity of the issue using evidence.
Ouch, This Legislation Is Really Out of Hand This Year!
If you go there, you’ll see that although a few of these bills have gotten a lot of press and activism around them, as of this writing there have been many many more slipping under the radar, to the tune of 83 anti-trans bills that have been passed this year and signed into law in the US out of 567 that have been or are being attempted. While this is largely a “red state” issue, the attempts have been happening in 23 states (almost half!)
And it’s only September!
This is compared with only 26 bills that were signed into law in 2022 out of 173 attempts.
This is what I believe is technically called a big f*cking deal.
Recognizing My Brain Was Also Working to Manage Cognitive Dissonance On This Issue
As I looked around the site I realized that while I hadn’t been exactly separating the many people I know now who identify as trans or non-binary from the policy problem in my mind like the circle of my youth, my brain had absolutely been lulled into not realizing how big the ongoing anti-trans legislation efforts have been.
How Easy It Is To Assume It’s All Going Better; Which Some of It Is, Except…567 Bills This Year, JUST ON THIS!
I know I’m not alone on this—while obviously many people are still engaged in political activism on this issue, a lot of the people I know who organized and came out to rallies in 2016 and were out and about making calls to governmental representatives, etc. have too often fallen off those activities a bit.
Especially since the pandemic, there’s just been less energy for such things. As hopes rise that the federal and state governments might be moving toward holding more and more of the January 6 conspirators accountable, and as the federal government is much more functional since the 2020 election, there have been many temptations to back off and rest from activism for a bit.
Sigh—They WANT Us to Be Exhausted
And having studied the techniques of fascistic rhetoric (again, I recommend How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley if you need an excellent and accessible overview), I know that that was exactly was the organizations authoring these bills wanted from me.
See, there’s this technique associated with fascism called the “waterfall approach.” What this is trying to do is to gradually get people to numb themselves to the extent of the danger fascism brings by bringing up so many issues simultaneously, and being so persistent and relatively quiet about all but a few big cases, that our brains simply can’t handle the idea of fighting all of it at once, and certainly not as long as is needed, and just try to shut down and do something else.
It Makes Sense, But Provides an Opening for Them to Gain State-Level Power
THIS is how fascism continues to gain footholds in red states across the country. By continuing to introduce SO MANY anti-trans BILLS—and yes, these bills that are being passed STILL include the classic initial kind of policy they started with, bathroom bills—they had managed to achieve their goal with me, at least temporarily.
Even though I know and love and want to fiercely protect my many friends and friends’ kids and other valuable humans in the LGBTQ+ and especially right now the trans community, I had simply not known how many of these efforts there were and how much they were ramping up over time.
These fascistic organizations that are the forces behind these anti-trans bills are counting on that kind of thing.
So Easy to Feel Overwhelmed
The truth is that the very number of attempts makes it easier, not harder, for our brains to disconnect from the breadth and scope of the problem, ESPECIALLY when the efforts are just ramping up attacks we already feel like we understand and are no longer shocked by. That’s why whether you live in a red state or not, it’s soooo easy to disconnect your mind from the details of this ongoing anti-trans legislation going on at the state level.
After all, we’re not terribly close to the next Presidential election, so it’s natural for one’s brain to want to take a well-earned break.
Grieving the Fact That the Techniques Work
And yes, we do all deserve a break. There are excellent reasons for us to be exhausted by all of this.
The waterfall approach is exhausting.
The problem, of course, is that those who are trying to advance fascism through SO MANY attempts at state and even federal legislation are definitely not taking a rest.
The numbers alone show that very completely.
We Really Must Not Stand Down Wherever We Can
And since they aren’t taking a rest, good people can absolutely not stand down from fighting these efforts in all the ways they possibly can.
Looking at the Data Can Help Us Rise Up, Thankfully
Thankfully, looking at the number and breadth of these efforts is really good at raising some proper fight response energy to help us rise to the occasion. I know looking at translegislation.com woke me up, and I hope it can do the same for you.
I strongly recommend going to this site and taking a look around. They do an excellent job of tracking these bills, giving a look at the actual policy language for each bill, keeping track of which organizations are driving ALL THESE BILLS, how the rhetoric evolved, which ones are active and passed and which ones fail, categories the bills are in, etc.
This wealth of information isn’t just shocking and angering in number and breadth. For instance, did you know that in Oklahoma it’s been proposed to not just block children from gender reassignment surgery, but also adults up to the age of 26?
The Audacity of It!
The audacity of some of this legislation boggles the mind.
And the thing is it all, bit by bit, legislates and normalizes the idea that it’s not okay to be a human who fits the groups of non-binary or transgender or intersex folks.
Anti-Trans Legislation=So Not in Line with Scientific Findings or Reasonable Theology
None of this scapegoating of trans folks, of course, is based on any sort of real science or anything that could even be pulled from a reasonable reading of the Bible. After all, science shows that people in these populations are the ones being bullied, not the ones bullying. It shows that way fewer people regret gender reassignment surgery than tattoos. And numbers show that no one rushes into anything medical regarding trans kids. And so on and so forth.
The same is true about the Bible and transgender people. The fact that the Bible in a poetic passage says that God created male and female is done in the same passage where it talks about light and darkness. As though the existence of day and night doesn’t mean that light and darkness are rarely if ever completely light or dark—that states like dusk and golden hour absolutely exist.
And even if it did mean that about Genesis, well, there’s a whole passage in the New Testament about how divisions like male nor female exist anymore when it comes to the seemingly new group of people that follow Jesus.
It’s Definitely the Disinformation Causing This Tidal Wave of Garbage Legislation (Not to Put Too Fine a Point on It!)
So yeah, considering that, it’s pretty clear to me that both anti-trans rhetoric and theology only seem to have gotten this intense when these fascistic organizations started to sow disinformation, I’m very certain this is intentional scapegoating going on.
Using Our Healthy Anger to Assertively Work Against Injustice
And looking at just how widespread and well funded it is makes me angry in an empathetic anger sort of way (I talked about empathetic anger previously here).
This is helpful, because as I know from studying and teaching about stress, trauma, and conflict communication as a communication scholar, stress responses like anger give us energy designed to help us rise to the occasion.
I’m Writing This Blog Post, to Start—What Can Others of Us Do to Help?
That same energy woke me up from the stupor I was in. It helped me do what I could—which this weekend meant writing this blog post. It means I’m considering other religio-political actions I can take as well.
Some of those actions might be more dramatic than others—some will be more like a low-grade steady stream of whatever I have energy for in the moment. We can all only do what we can do.
But yes, if you like me have been numbing to how serious and ongoing this issue is, or presuming that because we’ve started to understand a lot of the unhealthy rhetoric we’ve done enough, well…it’s time to push ourselves to do a bit more to organize and activate ourselves again.
Thinking Back to What We All Did in Recent Years
Maybe you used to share information about these kinds of fascistic efforts with others on social media, or voiced opposing opinions, or attended rallies or other grassroots political organizations and have dropped off from that.
I’m not saying you need to do everything the same as we all did just after the 2016 election, when so many rose up together to fight this force. But most of those same options are available now. We can organize. We can call our representatives, whether blue or red. And now as then, every little bit can help.
Some of us will need to stop and rest in this ongoing relay marathon, sure. But we can’t collectively afford to let only a few rise up on this issue. After all, the threat is clearly increasing, and it’s continuing to affect more and more real people on the ground.
First They Came for Trans/Non-Binary/Intersex Friends….
Those real people in real groups are valuable. Let’s continue to affirm that by fighting for their rights, whether or not we identify as non-binary or trans ourselves. After all, the way fascism is designed, it starts with scapegoating certain groups, but ultimately comes for anyone who disagrees.
No Competition Necessary—Whatever We Can All Do Against Unhealthy Stuff
Let us not grow weary of doing good, friends. If you do need a break, rest; don’t quit!
For those of you who have been working on this or other important issues on an ongoing basis, thank you! May more of us who have been understandably been lulled a bit do whatever we can to join you however we’re able.
A Final Charge
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to stand up against the toxic stuff toward a healthier world for us all.
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