What’s up with the far-right targeting Drag Artists and Trans Folks?
People who understand the diversity of expression of gender identity and sexual orientation do not conflate persons who perform in drag with people who identify as trans. But such distinctions are not relevant to the far-right haters who view any diversion from strict heteronormative expression as an affront to traditional values. So, for the purpose of looking at the current upsurge in attacks on both we will deal with them together.
This upsurge is both a recent phenomenon and a continuation of the longstanding fixation of conservative and further right movements on enforcing patriarchal structures of power. Its ideological underpinnings can be traced back at least as far as the founding doctrines of the major monotheistic religions and probably before. It remains foundational to modern social mores embedded in the major faith communities as well as secular societies influenced, even if unconsciously, by these traditional thought patterns.
Virulent anti-queer and anti-trans hate in the more recent history of the far-right was seen in the actions of Hitler’s fascist regime: one of the first libraries to be burned under the National Socialists in Germany was the library and archive of Magnus Hirshfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin, a ground-breaking research organization studying human sexuality and gender. The Nazis, like other genocidal groups, believed that national strength and existential power could only be achieved through an imposition of a strict gender binary within the racially-pure “national community.
However, while this undercurrent has always been a constant within the right wing in the last year or so we have seen a serious increase in both rhetoric and actual attacks on trans and other queer folks including physical attacks including mass shootings in the US. Fun and entertaining reading events by Drag Artists that also introduce children to the reality and joy of gender diversity seem to particularly trigger an emotional reaction with bizarre accusations of pedophilia and grooming.
With regard to this current upsurge there appear to be two main contributing forces which are nevertheless connected and mutually reinforcing: one of course is the proto-fascists like the Proud Boys in the States and similar extremists in Canada and the second is the focus on stoking the larger culture war by established conservative parties – the Republicans south of the border and Poilievre’s Conservatives in Canada.
For the first it is about trying to maintain the connections and momentum built up during their anti-COVID campaign. The end – probably prematurely – of significant pandemic public health measures took some of the steam out of the movement. The influencers, grifters and ideologues of the movement are not willing to lose the notoriety and financing they gained nor the advances they perceived toward their goal of an authoritarian Christian Nationalist regime.
For the more mainstream political actors the ultimate goal is not dissimilar but they appear for the moment to prefer focusing on the electoral possibilities. The challenge for them is how to get people to vote for them when they have nothing to offer in response to the real challenges people face with the cost of living, climate disasters and the breakdown of social cohesion created by extreme and growing inequality. You can only promise economic relief through tax breaks and social service cutbacks - that in practice only benefit the wealthy – so many times before the scam wears thin. The answer they’ve found is stoking culture wars with barely concealed or even overt attacks on people of colour, Indigenous folks and the 2SLGBTQAI+ community.
But while the so-called “anti-Wokeness” campaign includes all of the above plus a rise in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate speech and violence, there is no question that Trans people (with Drag Artists thrown in especially when they entertain families) are a particular focus of both extremist and “mainstem” components of the far-right.
Guardian columnist, author and podcaster Owen Jones put it this way:
"The nature of prejudice is to seek out the extreme and the hypothetical and use it to tar an entire minority in order to lay the foundations for discrimination."— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) October 20, 2022
Here's my speech on the anti-trans moral panic at the @PinkNews awardspic.twitter.com/zHprGTUx2s
While members of the gender critical movement may argue that they do not seek to kill the physical bodies of transgender people, they do openly seek to eradicate transgender identity from the world, following a genocidal logic similar to the US, Canadian, and Australian boarding schools that sought to “kill the Indian, [and] save the man.” Once it becomes acceptable for one group of people to be criminalized for expressing their identity, then society becomes vulnerable to the genocidal targeting of other groups as well.
In fact, anti-trans initiatives are closely tied to assaults on the rights of women, people of color, minority religious communities, and immigrants in the US and elsewhere. The criminalization and harassment of the trans community can serve as a rehearsal for more generalized targeting of unwanted groups within a genocidal ideological structure. There is no shutting the floodgates once states and societies acquiesce to the eradication of a specific people from the earth.
To the south these developments have been well documented but Canada is far from immune. “Recent media coverage, including a story by the CTV News investigative program W5 and opinion columns published by the Toronto Star and CBC, have been criticized by some members of the transgender community for pushing transphobic ideas and misrepresenting the dangers they face daily, which, according to Statistics Canada, include violence and poor mental health due to discrimination.
Recently in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford and his government meddled with how transgender issues are taught in the primary educational curriculum. The Ford administration decided the topic of gender identity was not “age appropriate” for grade school and removed it from the curriculum, postponing this lesson to Grade 8. Ford’s move reinforces the negative idea that being transgender is inappropriate and exceptional.”
On the positive side we are finally seeing a strong and diverse community response to the rise in intimidation, harassment and hat directed toward these communities. On the weekend of January 14, 2023 there were six Drag Artist reading events in Canada and the US targeted by the far-right: Dallas, Boston, Fall River MA, Coquitlam BC, Sault Ste. Marie and Peterborough. In all cases the boneheads were outnumbered roughly ten to one by allies including trade unionists and anti-fascist activists along with diverse representation from Queer communities and straight allies.
This is the kind of development we have been advocating and organizing towards since we launched this website so it is gratifying to see the movement beginning to take shape through the efforts of like-minded people throughout North America. We hope we have made a small contribution in our own neck of the woods and will continue to do so.
The challenge for the next stage will be two-fold: firstly, to grow the network for anti-fascist community protection through outreach to more potential allies and especially other vulnerable communities, make it more tactically effective with training and coordination and build strong relationships that will ensure it is sustainable over the long-term;
Secondly, to find ways to counter the broader right-wing offensive coming out of the established right-wing parties that provides a breeding ground for the extremists, stokes their belief in impunity for violent actions as well as threatening to roll back established human rights protections in their own right through legislation.
This two-pronged effort will not be easy nor bear fruit quickly but a good start has been made and foundations laid for more successes in the future.