The shallow callousness of the Tories has been illustrated yet again by the recent actions of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Minister for Women and Equalities, who have used the disruption caused by the pandemic to cover up their announcement of an unprecedented suppression of transgender rights.
Last weekend, a document was leaked outlining the government’s long-awaited response to a public consultation on the Gender Recognition Act. Amongst the measures proposed in the leaked document are plans to scrap previously proposed reforms that would have allowed trans people to change their legal gender without a medical diagnosis. This is a direct attack on trans people.
Ignorance and scaremongering
This latest document puts into writing proposals previously made by Truss in a speech from 22 April, at the height of the pandemic. In a meeting with the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Truss announced that she would be putting forward amendments to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA), which allows transgender people to correct their legal gender.
Truss’ amendments focus on three main areas. Firstly, the Tory minister proposes ending gender affirming care for transgender people under the age of 18, to protect them “from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future”.
Here, Truss illustrates a blatant ignorance on the science of medical transitioning - one that is also parroted by the right-wing media. Only gender-affirmative surgery is entirely irreversible, and this already isn’t available for under 18s on the NHS.
Medical transition tools such as hormone blockers, which are available to those aged 16 and over, are not only reversible but have been proven to improve mental health and lower suicide rates in trans youth.
Secondly, Truss vowed “the protection of single-sex spaces”. This step, she asserted, was “extremely important”. This is undoubtedly a dog-whistle tactic for excluding transgender women from services such as shelters. It is an alarming encroachment on the rights of transgender people, and it could leave them in a very vulnerable position.
Here's my question to @trussliz What planet is she on!? It's not a political football. Transgender people have suffered enough a shocking 37% increase in hate crime. It's time the Tory Government stopped kicking the can down the road - reform the Gender Recognition Act NOW! 1/2 pic.twitter.com/zdiYNPfFMI— Dawn Butler MP✊🏾 (@DawnButlerBrent) October 17, 2019
It is clear that the government is trying to play up the fears and prejudices amongst non-transgender women who, being in the shelters, would be in a very vulnerable situation. Such scaremongering is designed to play into violent stereotypes about trans women being predators in so-called ‘women’s spaces’.
This is despite the fact that transgender women - far from being perpetrators - are much more likely to experience problems such as homelessness and sexual abuse. Transgender women would not feel safe in male shelters, which would not be equipped to deal with their problems either.
But why would the Tories let this inconvenient fact get in the way of their reactionary attempts to divide workers against each other? And that is precisely what these measures are aimed at.
Instead of arguing for expanding shelter capacities, the setting up of safe shelters based around the needs of transgender people, or unisex facilities where possible, the government is trying to whip up fear and hysteria and set ordinary working class people against each other.
In the meantime, what is forgotten is that - under the Tories - shelters for abuse victims have seen their resources cut year after year. Since 2010, shelters for domestic violence victims have had their budgets cut by 25 percent; and 44 percent of victims are forced to go through a period of homelessness before they manage to get a place. Deaths from domestic violence are creeping up every year.
The Tory government’s policies are the biggest source of rising insecurity amongst abuse victims. That is why they are looking for scapegoats to shift attention.
The nasty party
Thirdly, Truss said that the amendments would maintain “the proper checks and balances in the system” when it comes to “transgender adults”. But she didn’t elaborate any further.
This vagueness is particularly alarming given that the government seems to be choosing to ignore the findings of the Gender Recognition Act public consultation. Over 100,000 people in England and Wales responded to this, with the overwhelming majority - around 70% - reported to have said that they are in favour of allowing people to self-identify as either a man or a woman.
Hence, the antiquated veil of the ‘democratic process’ under capitalism is as thin as ever. The Conservatives will submit to the formalities of conciliation, only to ultimately arrive at the same scientifically inaccurate and socially regressive policies they intended to implement in the first place.
It is clear as ever in these times of crisis that the Conservative Party will never be on the side of the oppressed. This is the party behind Thatcher’s odious Section 28, which prohibited any positive education related to LGBT issues in schools, strangling the progression of gay rights and acceptance for nearly 20 years.
But Britain is not the only country to have used the cover of the coronavirus pandemic to unleash attacks on transgender communities. States like Ohio in the USA have attempted to pass bills that would allow medical staff to refuse to treat transgender patients. And the Hungarian parliament are currently pushing legislation that would deny the legal recognition of transgender people entirely.
It is not at all surprising to see reactionary governments across the world using the cover of widespread panic and anxiety to pass reactionary laws, aimed at restricting the democratic rights of transgender people.
In a time of crisis, when the legitimacy of the ruling class is declining rapidly, the capitalist establishment are increasingly dependent on all forms of chauvinism, hysteria and demagogy in order to galvanise support.
The ruling class are therefore attempting to divide the working class and divert attention away from the brewing social crisis. This is the main cause behind the shift of a layer of the ruling class towards the reactionary rhetoric of ‘family values’, ‘national pride’, and so on.
In fighting the oppression of transgender people, however, it is important to emphasise that we, as Marxists, do not submit to the ideas of identity politics. We also remain staunchly opposed to postmodernist ‘queer theory’.
Neither of these perspectives provides a clear class analysis of society. Instead of uniting all workers against capitalism and oppression, these ideas buy into the arguments of the ruling class and only serve to divide the movement.
The outcome is isolated oppressed groups within the working class fighting each other, rather than uniting in a struggle against the ruling class that oppresses all.
We understand that working-class trans people are doubly oppressed: both by their position as workers in a capitalist society; and by the scourge of transphobia, which is utilised by the ruling class alongside racism, sexism, and homophobia as a means to divide workers.
Marxists steadfastly defend the rights of transgender people, who remain a viciously targeted minority group. But we do not distinguish this struggle from the overall struggle against the capitalist system as a whole.
Socialism and liberation
The struggle against women’s oppression and for trans rights are not opposed. What we need is a united struggle against all the attacks, austerity and oppression of the capitalist system.
Studies indicate that anti-trans hate crimes in the UK have surged under the Tories, with an 81% increase reported in 2019. Essential trans healthcare services have also been ruthlessly gutted by austerity measures. And trans people are much more likely to be affected by other governments cuts to mental health services and homeless support. Behind these transphobic attacks lies capitalism’s cold calculated austerity and attacks on living standards.
At best, identity politics can only offer shallow platitudes of ‘representation’ and ‘visibility’. But what real improvements do these offer for the material conditions of the trans community and other oppressed groups?
Only through a socialist plan of production can we genuinely end oppression in all its forms, give all people - of all sexualities and gender preferences - the dignity that they deserve, and provide decent housing, quality healthcare, and proper wellbeing services for all.
It is also only by linking the LGBT struggle to the labour movement and the struggle for socialism that we can raise the consciousness of all workers, regardless of gender identity and sexuality, turn back the monstrous tide of transphobia, and put an end to oppression once and for all.