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  • Writer's pictureJoscelyn Transpiring

It's not "genocide," it's just "sparkling eradication"

(Edited and republished on 2023 November 18; Originall published on Mastodon on 2023 March 12: https://chaosfem.tw/@JoscelynTransient/110014028679025606)

CW: genocide, transphobia, US/UK Politics, gallows humor, explicit language


Transpiring Influences: Leah Owen’s “Parasitically Occupying Bodies: Exploring Toxifying Securitization in Anti-Trans and Genocidal Ideologies” (DOI: 10.1080/10402659.2022.2129000)


 

 


It's not really that bad...


Predictable, wasn’t it? After another round of Republicans calling for the “eradication” of trans people, cis folks responded with phrases like, “It’s okay, there’s no way it’ll actually happen” and “It’s not really that bad.” This despite the 20+ new anti-trans laws already on the books in the US and the 300+ already introduced since - checks calendar - January? Fuck.


So, are we at the point where we can use the g-word yet? When someone argues against using the word “genocide” to describe the targeting of trans people in the US, it sometimes seems to many of us like someone saying “Well, it’s not actually ‘genocide’ unless it’s from the Nazi region of Europe. Everything else is just sparkling eradication.

Often, it feels like arguments over whether to call it genocide shift the conversation away from dealing with the promised violence, diverting our energy and attention to an academic debate over bloodless technicalities. I want to refocus back upon the active and potential violence going on. Rather than debate whether it is genocide, I want to ask what Genocide Studies can reveal about our current situation.


Toxifying Rhetoric


Leah Owen, a trans woman from the UK, published a piece doing just that in an issue of Peace Review I guest-edited last year. “’Parasitically Occupying Bodies’: Exploring Toxifying Securitization in Anti-Trans and Genocidal Ideologies” is open access and I encourage everyone to read it if they got the spoons: https://doi.org/10.1080/10402659.2022.2129000


You are probably aware that “exterminatory violence” (e.g. genocide) is enabled by dehumanization, a social psychological process that leads to a target population being seen as less than human. This exempts them from that voice in our heads that says “hey, isn’t murder wrong?” Scholars have pointed out, it’s not enough to merely dehumanize – after all, one doesn’t feel a need to destroy a cardboard box, it’s just a thing that’s there.


Instead, the imagery of the out-group undergoes “toxification” – becoming an insidious threat that must be eliminated to defend yourself. Your enemy is not a fire-breathing dragon, but an infectious disease.


In Leah’s analysis, xie emphasizes 4 aspects of toxifying rhetoric “to be key to mobilizing support for categorical, exterminatory violence”: 1) Nature of threat, 2) Location of threat, 3) Targets of threat, 4) Necessary Response.


1) “Nature of the threat – invasive, corrupting, infectious”


The enemy can corrupt or infect your own people. If you were immune, there would be no danger. As Leah documents, anti-trans publications (e.g. Irreversible Damage) describe transness as an “epidemic” or “craze” – I was transed by TikTok! Or the NYT runs yet another editorial fearmongering about how fast the number of out trans people is increasing. Et cetera.

2) “Location of the threat – within one’s own valued spaces and boundaries, especially within one’s home or body”


This may be why we see such an emphasis on things like women’s bathrooms and locker rooms in anti-trans talking points – it is a private space that belongs to them, not us. Or how the mere existence of trans women is “raping women’s bodies” (Source: The Transsexual Empire). Watch out! The trans is coming from inside the house!


3) “Targets of the threat – the body, or vulnerable and naïve groups”


It’s not a coincidence there’s an obsession with trans bodies and a constant “someone think of the children!” theme to anti-trans rhetoric. The pope says we’re a nuclear bomb that “disfigures” the body and the family. When AMAB people transition, it’s “mutilating” and “sacrificing girls’ bodies” (Source: The Eagle Forum).


4) “The necessary response to the threat” is “to expel or destroy the target” due to urgent strategic concerns and existential danger


This is how a society might move from attacking the things that allow trans people to live towards concerted efforts to eliminate trans people as a category. Leah argues that this difference isn’t pedantic, but may actually be the window of opportunity needed to prevent atrocity.


While this was written last year (and a lot has happened since then), it is worth considering what it means that until very recently, anti-trans policy agendas did not “designate trans people as a threatening group who must be exterminated,” as Leah argues, but focused "on attacking the social, legal, and institutional infrastructure that trans people depend on to exist as trans people.


By understanding our current situation as a “partially toxifying discourse,” it highlights what comes before a campaign of “categorical, direct, exterminatory violence.” In the case of trans people, this takes the form of “a broader, lower-intensity, structural set of actions” that pursue “social invisibilization, stigma, removal of support, and discouraging transition.”


Resisting Eradication


Since this is the form of violence we are immediately facing, this suggests we can make a material difference by prioritizing action that provides for the livability of our lives. For example, creating networks of mutual aid among ourselves to provide for our medical, financial, and social support to live as trans people. Or taking on the labor of visibility and destigmatization. Survival as resistance, as it were.


Leah argues this also identifies a clearer signal for alarms bells and a target for counter-mobilization: securitization. That is to say, when anti-trans actors in power begin talking about us as a threat to “the material security or moral wellbeing of the nation,” those other efforts will no longer be enough and we will need to be prepared to help trans people survive an active campaign of police or military violence.


Let’s consider Knowles’ now infamous 2023 CPAC comments directly: "[Indulging “Transgenderism”] requires taking away the rights and customs of so many people. If it is false, then for the good of society, and especially the good of those poor people who have fallen prey to this confusion, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely. The whole preposterous ideology. At every level.”


Wow, it’s almost like this fuckface studied for the test! Let’s see… #1: Our nature is not as people, but an as an “ideology” or “confusion” that others can “fall prey to” - like a contagious disease. #2: The threat is located within our society “at every level.” #3: Vulnerable “poor people” are targeted. #4: “For the good of society” it must “be eradicated from public life.”


This seems like an increase in the toxification of discourse legitimizing anti-trans politics in the US. If things were at a level of 75% toxified last year when Leah wrote the piece, this might be edging towards 80% or higher. I haven’t yet seen many holding political office take up this language to describe what they want to do, but if they do, let it be a red flag and be ready for new forms of resistance to become necessary.


In the meantime, there is still much we can do and we are not yet at the point of no return. By forming robust networks and cooperation across communities and borders, we can create mutual aid support that can help us endure. Among those of us who can, taking the risk and labor to be visible and destigmatize our community may be able to create obstacles to securitization and further toxification.


Most importantly, take care of each other right now. Survival in the face of this desire for us to disappear is the most important way to thwart their efforts. I’m almost certain it is going to get harder in the near future. I don’t know when or if it will get better. But this will not be the first time they tried to make our lives impossible, and we have been gifted a legacy for creating miracles in impossible times.



 

NOTE: As of November 2023, some of this rhetoric has been taken up by those in power and we have seen almost half of the United States pass laws to criminalize aspects of trans existence (See the Anti-Trans Legislative Risk Assessment Map: https://www.erininthemorning.com/p/anti-trans-legislative-risk-assessment). That said, we are also seeing popular opinion swing agains these attacks and victories in resisting this criminalization. If you are looking for up to date reporting on this, Erin in the Morning's substack newsletter is one of the best journalistic sources around dedicated to this topic: https://www.erininthemorning.com/

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