Fighting transphobia: a practical and theoretical guide

This week, rs21 launches our new pamphlet Fighting transphobia: a practical and theoretical guide. Below we reproduce a section from Charlotte Powell‘s introduction to the pamphlet. To buy the pamphlet online, click here

Fighting transphobia: a practical and theoretical guide. Artwork by Peggy Leaver

This pamphlet was written in the context of the rising transphobia in Britain in 2023. We originally started it as a practical guide to tackling transphobia in trade union spaces, which many of our comrades in rs21 have personal experience with. But as we wrote and met to discuss the pieces we started to feel that it was wrong to separate the practical and the theoretical. So this pamphlet aims to sketch out a theoretical basis for fighting transphobia in Britain in the 2020s, share practical experiences and lessons we’ve learned doing this ourselves, and lay some foundations for a revolutionary socialist understanding of the link between trans liberation and class struggle. 

We want this pamphlet to be used, to be read, to be passed on, left in libraries or workplaces or union halls or bars – wherever it might be helpful to trans people and cis people wanting to fight transphobia. The writing in what follows is the work of experienced trade unionists, communist organisers, and trans activists thinking as we go – it is not a final say on these questions. Because we are writing this as activists we are also continuing to organise for trans liberation and against capitalism. One of the benefits of publishing this as an independent organisation rather than a publishing house is that we have open structures to continue these conversations – you can email us, come to our meetings and events, find us at protests and rallies, and engage on social media if you have questions, things you thought we got wrong or could add to, or anything else. 

The dynamic in Britain currently is that transphobia is the sharpest edge of all LGBT oppression – it’s the more acceptable and debated form of queerphobia, and so the future of queer liberation will depend on the outcomes of trans struggle. In Britain, the ruling Tory Party has lost all sense of a strategy for managing British capitalism, instead prioritising ‘culture war’ posturing to hang onto the right-wing voter base that secured them their first majority in a generation in 2019. In this war, their main weapons are anti-migrant racism and transphobia. These have been deployed alongside increased police repression, designed to silence dissent and control protest at a time when most people are opposed to Tory rule. But even outside Britain, I believe that trans liberation is one of the most important things to focus on, because it stands at the crossroads of many issues that as Marxists, socialists, revolutionaries, we should all care about: our control over our own bodies, the division of labour along gendered lines (both in the workplace and in the home), struggles over access to healthcare, and our freedom to experiment collectively with new ways of being in the world.

Culture war is an effective way for our enemies to mobilise against us, because in a culture war the game is about what fears you can play on, what divisions you can sow or widen among sections of the working class. In a culture war, an act of self-defence can be framed as an act of violence, and acts of violence can be framed as freedom of expression. The logic of the culture war suggests we can’t possibly share a common struggle with migrant workers unless they are trans, with Muslims unless they are trans, with Black people unless they are trans. It suggests that the only way for us to find allies and win anything is through liberal reforms begged from the ruling class power. Especially as oppression is getting worse, this approach is not effective and it’s not enough.

In reformist spaces, we have no way to build power because we are a small minority atomised and scattered across the country. We have to constantly defend ourselves online against vicious attacks, and fight a losing battle over our legal rights in courts. We have to lobby MPs to represent our interests in parliament. And we have to constantly react against an ever-shifting array of transphobic talking points as thin as air but played through the megaphones of mainstream media while our voices are drowned out. Even if we did gather all our strength to battle it out on those terms, it would never amount to true liberation because being “culturally liberated” will not make us free. Your landlord getting your pronouns right on an eviction notice is not much consolation. Proper trans healthcare on the NHS still won’t be enough if the NHS continues to exclude migrants. Trans liberation is meaningless without Black liberation, without disabled liberation, without feminist liberation, and without working class liberation. We cannot only fight the culture war. To win our freedom and to survive, we have to fight the class war. 

 

You can see the full contents list of the pamphlet and order a copy here.

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