Transgenderism is not an ideology, and eradicating it is genocide
Our bodies are not ideas, and they cannot be discarded as if they are.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference last Saturday, the Daily Wire host Michael Knowles said that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely… at every level.” After receiving criticism that his comments were calling for the eradication of trans people, Knowles defended himself. He said he was talking about eradicating an ideology, not a people group. Knowles went on to defend himself by making a semantic argument: “I don’t know how you could have a genocide of transgender people because genocide refers to genes, it refers to genetics, it refers to biology.” He is using dehumanizing language already—this is the sort of language people use when they want to exterminate people. He goes on to say “Nobody is calling to exterminate anybody, because the other problem with that statement is that transgender people is not a real ontological category — it’s not a legitimate category of being. There are people who think that they are the wrong sex, but they are mistaken. They’re laboring under a delusion. And so we need to correct that delusion.”
In his effort to defend himself from accusations of genocidal behavior, Knowles denies their very humanity. He basically says “they aren’t real people, so eradicating them isn’t actually genocide.” In his defense, he continues his genocidal rhetoric. But we know that Knowles’ defense is pedantic at best, and when we are talking about extermination, I think we need full-throated opposition, not a technical definition of the term. Knowles is, to use Jesus’ words, “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.”
Too often, political matters that are bodily ones to minorities, are reduced to “ideological” by conservatives. Incredibly, the conservatives that espouse this rhetoric do not consider their own ideological commitments. When I wrote Jesus Takes A Side, I emphasized that too often political disagreements are not philosophical, but they are bodily in nature. Without fail, our bodily experiences are denied, and considered merely to be ideological. That is exactly what Michael Knowles is doing, it is what the GOP is doing, and it was Evangelical Christianity is doing.
But Transgenderism isn’t an ideology, it’s not a political viewpoint, it’s not an intellectual abstraction. I think this is lost on us because we speak about issues like whether or not we should be reading Harry Potter – instead of saying J.K. Rowling’s denial of the humanity of trans people leads to suicide, murder, and even extermination. Trans people have a real experience and it is fundamental to who they are. Eradicating transgenderism means eradicating them.
This isn’t a complicated question. If one were to say, we must eradicate Judaism from all aspects of public life – it would be appropriately named as genocidal rhetoric. If we said Christianity must be eradicated from public life, Christians should and would fear for their life. The dangerous rhetoric that Knowles espoused and defended is the exact rhetoric that keeps people from coming out. What’s more, it can lead to mental health issues, suicide, and murder.
Knowles’ rhetoric, as extreme as it is, didn’t occur in a vacuum. Rather, it was fostered for years. Fundamental to the hysteria around transgenderism is patriarchy. Christians who support gender roles and constructs contribute are serving patriarchy and contribute to this genocidal rhetoric. Binary gender constructs and roles serve the interests of the patriarchy, of male power and male domination. The same people who think trans women aren’t women are the ones who constrain the roles of women in family and public life. They are the ones decided what women can and can’t do. You cannot be a feminist, an advocate for women, without also being a supporter and affirmer of transfolks. Ultimately, the patriarchal authorities are so insecure about their power, that they are obsessed with preserving the constructs, that they seek to squash out any dissent or challenge to those structures. When transgender folks, just by being themselves, challenge those structures, the response is outlandish and outsized, as Knowles said. This outrage is about preserving patriarchal power.
For a long time, Christianity was the means through which this power was preserved. And now that society seems to be growing and changing, Christianity remains one of the last powers and places where one can be openly bigoted. Christian provide the cover, the space, and often the very bodies and personalities that push transphobia. It is a sad reality that so much of the LGBT oppression present in our time and place is because of the church.
But take heart, while not the majority, Christians have often been part of the freedom movements. More often on the side of oppressors, some have sided with the oppressed. That is precisely what Jesus did in his incarnation, it is what God called Israel to do, and it is what the Lord commands to do now. Most Christians will ally with oppressors, but I pray for a remnant of courageous ones who fight for the dignity and rights of our queer and trans siblings.