One of the not-too-hidden secrets of the anti-trans movement is that their goal is the total elimination of trans people. As with the forced birth movement, activists are very careful to disguise their goals, to self-censor and say only what they know they can get away with when they talk to the media. Hence “pro-life” instead of “forced birth”, “reasonable concerns” instead of saying the quiet bit out loud. But in their own events and their own social media, the masks come off.
The strategy is gradualism, or a wedge strategy: you start small and use your win as a wedge for your real agenda. The US forced birth movement was a fringe movement for decades, but with cynical and significant help from the US GOP it began decades of gradualism to build the foundations for what we’re seeing now: the revocation of Roe vs Wade and moves towards the ultimate goal, which is to prohibit abortion without exception everywhere in the US (and elsewhere too). But even now they continue to pretend that their goal isn’t really their goal: again and again, forced-birther Republican politicians say the right thing about exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies before either removing those exceptions or, as ProPublica reports, making those exceptions almost completely inaccessible. The horrific case of Kate Cox, forced to flee Texas in order not to die after the Supreme Court said her life was worthless, shows how hollow those promises are.
These extreme anti-women laws were always the goal, but the forced birthers pretend otherwise. And the anti-LGBTQ+ eliminationists are doing the same. Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law was initially pitched as for children from kindergarten to third grade, which means kids up to the age of nine; a year later it was extended to twelfth grade, which is 17 and 18-year-olds. Bans on LGBTQ+ books have pretended to be about pornography and protecting children, but explicitly targeted any books by or that mention LGBTQ+ people. Similarly the push for bans on trans healthcare on both sides of the Atlantic initially claimed only to be about protecting pre-pubescent children; the same activists are now pushing for a complete ban on healthcare for trans adults and the removal of all their legal protections too.
It’s not that they don’t want us to be in sports. They don’t want us to be anywhere. One of the leading voices of the UK anti-trans movement says that trans people’s numbers should be reduced; our equalities minister, who has communicated and met extensively with anti-trans bigots but not LGBTQ+ organisations, claims that we are an “epidemic” and that “predators” are “choosing to exploit rights given to transgender people”, dogwhistling that “I’m not saying that transgender people are predators, but there are more people who are predators than there are people who are trans.”
This is elimination by a thousand cuts as set out by the Christian right back in 2017: demonise trans people in every possible way. Go after trans people in sports, go after trans people’s use of public facilities, go after trans people’s healthcare, go after trans people’s protection from discrimination, go after trans people’s ability to live normal lives. Ban trans people who go through the wrong puberty; ban the healthcare that can ensure that they do not.
You can see this in microcosm with Riley Gaines, the US swimmer who was beaten in a race by four other women and tied with a fifth. Gaines has since embarked on a highly lucrative campaign of revenge – not against the women who came first, second, third or fourth, but the trans woman who came equal fifth with her. It turns out that attacking trans people is much better for your profile and your bank balance than being a not-good-enough-to-win swimmer, a lesson other famous swimmers also appear to have absorbed.
Remember the official line here: trans women must be banned from women’s sports because going through male puberty gives them a biological advantage. That claim is not necessarily true – while there are some sports where it may be a factor in some circumstances, it’s been used to demand bans on trans participation in snooker, darts, croquet and Irish dancing too – but that’s not the point: it’s the stated reason for anti-trans sporting bans. The post-pubertal body, they claim, is simply too powerful for fair competition.
Except Gaines and the far right doesn’t want trans women to compete in anything at all, which is why she’s just turned the right-wing media machine against a teenage trans girl. The girl, who is 17, began transitioning before puberty and therefore doesn’t possess any of the claimed biological advantages. But the news that she had apparently been offered one of a dozen volleyball scholarships by the University of Washington was enough to set the anti-trans hate machine in motion. It now appears that the university has withdrawn the offer, depriving the girl not just of a sporting opportunity but an educational one too.
This particular story appears to be another case of something we’re seeing a lot of in the US at the moment: bad losers (or their parents) invoking the spectre of trans people to harm their rivals. Sometimes it’s levelled at girls who are not trans but who aren’t pretty blonde white girls – something trans people and LGBTQ+ allies more widely have been warning about for years. Those warnings, like many others, were ignored – because the collateral damage is welcome too. Bigotry and intolerance run in packs, and they will not stop running when they’re done with us.