When Anti-Trans Rhetoric Plays on (Men’s) Fears about “ Mutilation ”

When Anti-Trans Rhetoric Plays on (Men’s) Fears about “ Mutilation ”

Something I’ve been noticing a lot lately when trolls come in with anti-trans rhetoric is HOW MUCH the word “ mutilation “ comes up. Mostly this comes up with male right-wing trolls commenting on trans concerns, but I even saw a woman who identified as (conservative) Christian recently try to say that the Bible was against “ mutilation “ clearly suggesting that gender-alteration surgeries to help people feel more like themselves were somehow morally not okay. As you’ll see if you continue to read, I’ll be explaining how this rhetoric stems from fascistic propaganda that plays on (men’s) fears about how THEY would feel if they had such a surgery, which ultimately creates moral disgusts while spreading disinformation about what trans folks actually experience.

If you give me a few minutes I’ll unwrap a bit more of how I see this working and why it’s so important to continue to stand up against this kind of toxic anti-trans rhetoric.

My Background and Standpoint

As always, I’m coming at this as a pastor’s kid from a right-leaning moderate denomination that grew up to become a communication scholar studying stress, trauma and conflict communication.

When My Right-Leaning People Didn’t Seem to Have Problems with Gender-Transitioning….

As I think I’ve described before, I also grew up knowing a friend of the family who was intersex.

I found it so interesting that some of the people I grew up around had no problem changing names and pronouns when this person got surgery (I think as an adult, in the late 1990s or so) to shift things.

Ahhhhh, the Compartmentalizations!

And YET once all this anti-trans rhetoric came up in right-wing politics in more recent years, these same people didn’t seem to be able to connect that experience with these new prejudices they were developing, likely from watching too much Fox News and such, against trans folks.

(You Keep Using That Word “ Mutilation .” I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means…)

As I said above, it’s so fascinating to me that the word “ mutilation “ comes up SO CONSISTENTLY in this rhetoric. And that that word is especially often applied to children.

And yeah, apparently even the conservative Christian rhetoric is getting into it, trying to claim that somehow the Bible is “against mutilation .“ That one particularly gets me, you see, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Let’s Knock Down the Disinformation Part First, Shall We?

First, let’s talk about the total disinformation piece of this. NO CHILDREN are getting surgeries for these things.


Children at most are being given the option of wearing clothes differently, and maybe certain reversable things happening around hormones around puberty.

That’s it. It’s much later that anyone is encouraged to do any kind of surgery, from everything I understand from anyone who’s been involved in the process at all.

So yeah, that’s the disinformation bit, seemingly just to ramp up the idea that some sort of innocent child is being harmed here. They’re not, except maybe by right-wing bullies.

Back to That Word ” Mutilation ” and How It Plays on (Men’s) Fears

And yes, let’s talk about the abuse of the word “ mutilation “ please. Because d*mn that’s a super-disturbing and inappropriate word that totally plays on (men’s) fears.

Let’s think about this for a moment. If you listen to the stories of nonbinary and trans folks, most of them do not feel remotely the same about their bodily anatomy as people who identify with the gender that was assigned to them at birth.

A Lack of Listening to Trans and Nonbinary Folks….

While none of us fully know how we feel all the time, as an ally, I trust fully that non-binary and trans folks can define their own experiences with their own bodily parts much better than I know.

So when you think about this word “ mutilation “ that gets tossed around so disturbingly in anti-trans rhetoric, it’s helpful to realize that often this choice is used specifically to appeal to men who have never had these same experiences and feelings to get them to think about how they would feel if they experienced such surgeries.

So Conservative Men Can Feel Like “Saviors” While Imposing Their Fears on Others???

THIS feeling in turn often brings up a fear of pain in the male audience, which in turn brings up a desire to go out and “save” others—and children look safer to “save” than grown-*ssed adults, so the fascistic rhetoric focuses on suggesting that “children are being mutilated .“

That’s the goal of the abuse of this word in this rhetoric, as I see it—to get men to feel a fear about how they would feel about doing these surgeries themselves and then to support legislation that would impose their own feelings about the subject on anyone else who may feel differently.

Did you hear that? The point of this rhetoric is to impose the idea that male-identifying folks born in bodies that match that identification are the only ones who are literally allowed to legislate what other folks choose to do with their own bodies—or how they feel about them.

(Incidentally, it also coopts the idea of genital mutilation from its original meaning for ways in which men have mutilated female genitals, seeking to overlay that concern with a more patriarchal one.)

Oooh Wait, I’ve Heard This Theme Somewhere Before…

If this sounds suspiciously similar to the issues around contraception and abortion, well…as I blogged about a few weeks back, this all is part of the fascistic project, to give extreme patriarchal views even more power in society at others’ expense.

Why Only For Trans Women?

Why, you may ask, am I only talking here as though trans surgery is only about people presenting as male as birth choosing gender-transitioning surgery? Well, that’s because—let’s be clear—this kind of rhetoric rarely cares about people presenting as female at birth who find themselves identifying as trans men (and choosing to go through gender-transitioning) in quite the same way.

At least not when it comes to gender-related surgeries.

The Same Theme, Second Verse: Trans Women Competing in Athletics…

Note that this isn’t the issue when it comes to athletics either.

Because yeah, this rhetoric about trans athletes is really doing more of the same: playing about men’s fears—maybe not in this case about “ mutilation “ as such but still about how they would feel in the same situation—and imposing them on other populations. Legislating them, in fact, once again.

An Example

I really started to pick up on this in a vivid way a few years back when the topic of trans athletes—particularly trans women competing in women’s sports—was barely starting to heat up (just after the “bathroom bill” garbage started), and I had students in one of my classes choose that topic to discuss as a class from a problem-solving perspective.

As the class got into the topic, I had to intervene after a few minutes because it was all the male-identifying people in the room who were vociferously weighing in on the topic about whether trans women were allowed to participate in women’s sports. In so doing, they were clearly acting out of fears rather than rational problem-solving techniques, which was what we were practicing.

When the Women Most Affected by the Topic Don’t Care, It’s a Huge Tell…

I think since this rhetoric was relatively fringe at that point in time, the male-identifying folks in the room looked a little abashed when I proceeded to ask all of the female-identifying folks in the room whether they would care about whether trans women participated in women’s sports. See, not a single one of the female-identifying folks in the room cared a whit about whether this was the case.

Again, it became mighty clear that it was masculine fears that were being played on here. And, again, the focus wasn’t on people assigned female at birth who transitioned—it was people who were assigned male at birth and transitioned.

All Part of the Fascistic Rhetoric Handbook, As It Were

And again, all the evidence shows none this is an accident. Nor is it really innovative. It is, after all, part of the boilerplate fascistic rhetoric handbook, as I noted a few weeks back (here).

Back when I blogged about how the fascistic project works and how it ties to Christian nationalism I included a quote from Jason Stanley’s excellent and accessible little book How Fascism Works that fits really well here, so I’ll pull it up again. He’s quoting in turn from Julia Serrano’s book Whipping Girl.

Here ‘tis: “In a male-centered gender hierarchy, where it is assumed that men are better than women and that masculinity is superior to femininity, there is no greater perceived threat than the existence of trans women, who despite being male and inheriting male privilege ‘choose’ to be female instead.”

This quote goes remarkably far to explain all of the dynamics I’ve just talked about.

Ah, Over to the Christian Nationalist Variant of All This…

It also explains, I think, an awful lot about the Christian nationalist variant of all of this that I encountered earlier this week—the idea that the Bible is somehow against gender-transitioning surgery for trans folks.

Let me be clear—since the person I encountered who was spouting this nonsense about the Bible being against seeming ” mutilation ” on a friend’s page didn’t respond to me to explain more about this, I’m not entirely sure what hermeneutic leaps are being made in the nationalist camps to try to justify the Bible as against gender-transitioning surgery.

Funny How They Get Silent When You Bring Up the Eunuch That Got Baptized in Acts…

What I do know is that I got stony silence when I asked how it was that if the early apostle Philip was told by an angel to welcome an Ethiopian eunuch into the early Christian church (see Acts 8:26-40), how was it that conservative Christians thought that trans and non-binary folks today couldn’t be welcomed into the church?

The person responded to every other person that asked them questions on the same thread, mind you, and had responded to earlier things I had said.

I’m guessing this question was a tiny bit too close to home to be responded to.

My Guess about How They Might Justify It

But yeah, based on the fascistic rhetorical logic I outlined above, I’m guessing a more forceful advocate of whatever weird-*ssed hermeneutics are being used to justify othering trans folks in the Christian nationalistic churches today would likely focus on choice as the problem.

See, they might argue, that eunuch was forced to become a eunuch in that day–was forced into ” mutilation .” We should (I want to gag on this rhetoric even as I briefly channel it) “save other (trans folks)” from being put in that same solution.

Ah, that LGBTQ+ as Lifestyle Garbage Again

And yes, this all weirdly and irrationally ties back to conservative views that surely LGBTQ+ identity is some sort of lifestyle—a behavior once chooses to enact (and can therefore flip a switch and choose not to!), rather than a sexual or gender orientation one has as a deeper part of their identity.

After all, if it’s a “lifestyle” that a person chooses, that means the person can be blamed as well for choosing surgery to transition their gender, even while, paradoxically, they need to be somehow “saved” from seemingly self-imposed ” mutilation .”

(Again, in light of the EXTREMELY low rate of regret for gender-transitioning surgery, ALL THE EYEROLLS here.)

Annnnddd We’ve Made It Full Circle to Only Allowing Men Who Identify as Men Having the Right to Rights about Anyone’s Bodies

See how this all works? Once again, the rhetoric is arguing that the only way to feel about these things is the patriarchally-centered way. Only people who have male-presenting bodies and also identify men have any right to feelings or decision-making about other people’s bodies, you see.



At any rate, I think I’m winding down for the day in unwrapping this garbage (there is, after all, only so long you can look at it without burning one’s eyes).

SO MUCH HARM to This Rhetoric—Let’s Keep Standing Up Against It

Hopefully it’s clear by this point that this kind of anti-trans rhetoric is not only wrongheaded and shows extremely poor listening to trans folk (the statistics show the percent of those who regret gender-transitioning surgeries is much lower than almost any other surgery and definitely lower than those who, say, get tattoos). It also harms trans folks, both by ramping up violence against them and also by upping suicide risk.

Let’s keep fighting to make it more marginal again, shall we, wherever we find it? After all, if we want to live in a truly civil society, we need to make space for actual equity and equality, not just for white male fears to irrationally dominate others’ rights.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to continue to speak up against the toxic crap and toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Want to help keep this work going? It’s been 5 years of this project, and I finally have tip jars set up at Venmo and PayPal so you can help keep the lights on and such (THANK YOU for whatever you can do!). Here’s the info:

Venmo: @assertivespirituality

PayPal: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=Q2QWKELCNATBE

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you. It actually helps you with conflict both online and off. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. As soon as we feasibly can we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

Want More Specific Help Applying This Kind of Thing? Message Me at the Assertive Spirituality Facebook Page.

Please follow and like us:

One thought on “When Anti-Trans Rhetoric Plays on (Men’s) Fears about “ Mutilation ”

  1. People are often scared of losing the privileges they imagine that their identity entitles them to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

When Anti-Trans Rhet…

by DS Leiter Time to read: 10 min