It’s well known – well, well known outside anti-trans circles – that trans people were targeted by the Nazis; the famous book-burning photograph that pretty much everybody in the world has seen was taken in 1933 when Nazi thugs looted the Institute of Sexology and burnt its research into trans and gender non-conforming people. However, like most people aware of this I thought that trans people were targeted not so much because they were trans, but because as far as the Nazis were concerned trans and gay were the same thing.
That’s partly true, but not wholly true. It turns out that some trans people were indeed targeted, and murdered, simply because they were trans.
This horrifying piece in The Conversation is about how scholars are uncovering more details about how trans people were treated by the Nazis. It isn’t a fun read.
The author of a 1938 book on “the problem of transvestitism” wrote that before Hitler was in power, there was not much that could be done about transgender people, but that now, in Nazi Germany, they could be put in concentration camps or subjected to forced castration. That was good, he believed, because the “asocial mindset” of trans people and their supposedly frequent “criminal activity … justifies draconian measures by the state.”
There are some very clear parallels with present-day anti-trans activism and politicians, and not just because Neo-Nazis keep turning up at anti-trans rallies. It’s because othering and oppressing marginalised groups is what fascism does: it tells you that group X is a conspiracy, that their very existence is a threat to your nation, your women and your children. It calls them a virus, a contagion, dehumanises them and demands their elimination.
This is something the academic and writer Judith Butler tried to express in an interview with The Guardian in late 2021, only for the relevant sections to be deleted after publication.
You can read the deleted sections in full here, but here’s an extract:
It is very appalling and sometimes quite frightening to see how trans-exclusionary feminists have allied with rightwing attacks on gender… The anti-gender ideology is one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times. So the Terfs will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism… we are living in anti-intellectual times, and neo-fascism is becoming more normalized.