Transphobia Is Becoming Mainstream on the Left— and How We Can Stop It

A person holding up their hand so that their palm obscures their face. On their palm is a drawing of the trans flag
Credit: Getty Images

American society has never actively acknowledged or accepted its trans citizens, but targeted anti-trans rhetoric used to be the hallmark of TERFs, far-Right kooks, and out-of-touch comedians. Lately, however, overt transphobia has been gaining acceptance among Centrist Democrats and mainstream liberal outlets, even as the GOP has intensified its attack on the human rights of trans people.

Over 300 transphobic bills have been introduced throughout America this year alone, and 25 of these laws have passed as of June. Many of these bills focus on denying and/or criminalizing gender-affirming care, which every study shows improves mental health outcomes for and lowers the suicide rates of trans people. Some of these bills are so extreme that trans people and their families are abandoning their home states and relocating to ones with legal protections for trans people already on the books.

During this uptick in both legislative attacks and hate crimes against trans people, The New York Times — one of the most well respected liberal news outlets in the country — felt the need to publish this monstrosity:

Screenshot of the New York Times opinion piece by Pamela Paul entitled “Far Right and Far Left Agree On One Thing: Women Don’t Count” published on July 2, 2022
Original article here

Paul’s piece briefly touches on far Right extremists before spending the rest of her allotted word count framing trans people and trans-inclusive policies as threatening to “real” (i.e. cis) women.

Journalist Melissa Gira Grant wrote an excellent response piece explaining why Paul’s op-ed is both wrong and dangerous:

Regardless of what you call it, this white-washed transphobia is gaining mainstream liberal acceptance at an alarming speed.

On July 12th, political analyst Nate Silver’s award-winning website FiveThirtyEight — which gained popularity among liberals for correctly predicting the election outcomes in 2008 and 2012— published this trainwreck:

Image of the Progress Flag with the following text: Americans’ Support For LGBTQ Rights Often Stops With Transgender Rights By Natalie Jackson Jul. 12, 2022, at 6:00 AM
Original article here

Jackson’s piece states that popular support for trans rights — which are human rights — has taken a nosedive. Not only is this claim not well supported, but the article is so civil and bloodless that you’d think its topic was which shade of white paint best suits a picket fence.

Writer and trans advocate Parker Molloy wrote an excellent response (most of which is behind a paywall, but her writing is worth the $5/month):

Discussing and debating trans rights as though discriminatory and even genocidal policies are potentially worth considering is a disturbing trend in liberal circles. Democrats engaging with a polite, whitewashed version transphobic ideology just makes it easier for the rabidly transphobic GOP to continue to strip trans Americans of their legal rights and basic humanity.

What You Can Do About It

Cis people on the Left have the opportunity to engage with otherwise like-minded cis people—like liberal friends and family — who have fallen for transphobic propaganda due to its mainstreaming on the American Left. To effectively push back against this new wave of hate, it’s crucial to start these conversations and to do so strategically.

Follow these tips to successfully engage in mind-changing conversations with Democrats and liberals who espouse anti-trans beliefs:

First, actually listen to the person you’re talking to. This doesn’t mean that you should pretend to agree or passively nod along with transphobic talking points, but rather that you should actively pay attention to what the person is saying instead of interrupting or becoming dismissive or angry. This can be extremely challenging, but it’s important to maintain a non-judgemental poker face while really listening to what the other person has to say. By doing so, you’ll accomplish two important things:

  1. the speaker will be put more at ease, hopefully making them comfortable enough to share their true thoughts and feelings. Active listening has been shown to build trust, so they will likely also become more receptive to what you have to say.
  2. you’ll attain the majority of information that you will need to change this person’s mind. Instead of making assumptions about their motivations, active listening enables you to gain a clear picture of this person’s specific grievances, areas of ignorance, etc. These details will be crucial for tailoring your approach to convincing this individual that their opinions of trans people are both wrong and dangerous.

Second, do not treat this like your High School debate team. You will not get points for logic or eloquent rebuttals or well presented evidence by an appointed judge.

When it comes to how and why people change their minds, it’s usually not as simple as being presented with a compelling, fact-based argument. This doesn’t mean you should switch to completely relying on appeals to emotion, however. Rather, through your active listening and previous experiences with this person, you will be able to determine the best way to effectively communicate new, potentially challenging information to this specific individual.

Are they likely to be moved by real world, human stories? Or do they prefer evidence and data points?

Do they love getting into boisterous debates? Or are they conflict averse?

Will they be swayed by how upset their opinions make you? Or do they find unbiased facts more compelling?

These are the questions you have to ask yourself before attempting to change someone’s mind. There’s no point in presenting a bullet-pointed list of well researched facts to a person who could have been immediately swayed by an emotional, real world story.

Third, be patient. Do not expect this process to be successful after one conversation. It could be that easy, but depending on how intensely the person has glommed on to anti-trans propaganda, you may have to keep engaging in these strategic discussions for weeks or months.

Progress is a marathon, not a sprint, so make sure to pace yourself. It’s always important to have friends (or a therapist) who you can share your thoughts and feelings with freely, but it’s absolutely critical when expending time and energy on something as potentially difficult as changing someone else’s mind.

Fourth, don’t be afraid to cut ties with transphobes. This goes for family and friends alike, and should not be done lightly or without warning.

The sad truth is that some people just can’t be reached, no matter how patient or strategic you are. Regardless of whether this person is a beloved relative or a friend you’ve had since childhood, if you realize that you’re dealing with someone who is unwilling or unable to change their mind on a topic as fundamentally important as trans people’s human rights, it’s time to walk away.

Transphobia will continue to become mainstream among Democrats and liberals unless cis people on the American Left stand up and push back. We must not allow anti-trans bigotry to continue to insinuate itself into our circles, and we have the tools we need to stop it.

If you enjoyed this piece, you can support me with a tip @Katie-Fedigan-Linton on Venmo.

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Katie Fedigan-Linton

Katie Fedigan-Linton

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Freelance writer for hire. Politics, current events, cybersecurity, how-tos, tech, TV, film, etc. https://linktr.ee/ktrex Tip jar: https://bit.ly/ktrex1312