“All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The more I’ve learned, the less I believe it. Power doesn’t always corrupt. What power always does is reveal. When a guy gets into a position where he doesn’t have to worry anymore, then you see what he wanted to do all along.”
-Robert Caro, Interviewed in Esquire, 12/16/09
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene recently came into power, having been elected to office in the United States House of Representatives for Georgia’s 14th district in 2020, and subsequently sworn in in 2021. And what is Representative Greene doing with this power? Being a bigot, of course:
This is reactionary politics, specifically a reaction to her Congressional colleagues’ legislative efforts by way of the Equality Act:
Here we have two empowered women, both United States Representatives. One is supporting equality for transgender people, and the other is engaging in right-wing, transphobic attacks, ironically claiming the mantle of science, even while she has espoused unscientific views, for instance, that California wildfires have been caused by Jewish Space Lasers (I wish I were making that up). Representative Greene was elected after years of employing hateful rhetoric, and now that she’s empowered, we see that she’s the same bigot she advertised herself to be. At least she’s consistent.
But this is not about Representative Greene or any one person. It is about power revealing people to be bigots, and how the empowered wield transphobia as a cudgel in the culture wars against a very small, very marginalized community. According to a recent Gallup Survey, 0.6% of adults in the United States identify as transgender.
This is a small group of people that has been maligned in popular culture for generations. Bigots are fundamentally bullies, and the transgender community is a prime target for their hate, especially in the realm of electoral politics and culture war podcasts, because those engaging in bigotry do not risk directly alienating a large chunk of the population (i.e., votes or Patreon subscribers), and can frame their bigotry to make it seem like they are protecting a larger population group. In the case of transphobia, bigots position themselves as defenders of women and girls, either by way of preventing potential predators from using women’s bathrooms, or by way of paternalistic protection of girls from mistakenly transitioning, frequently conflating lesbianism with transgenderism in the process.
That is why it is past time for non-transgender people who oppose bigotry in general to get off the sidelines on this issue. It has the potential to become a major wedge issue, which is one of the tactics the right wing relies on in the modern political era to fracture solidarity on the left, because the right wing is simply outnumbered. Power has revealed this strategy to be very much in play by right-wing radicals who attempt to masquerade as leftists. For an example, we need look no further than our friends at the IDW, who always claim to be liberals even while making use of illiberal rhetoric. Bret Weinstein is a man with power and media reach, having recently appeared on Bill Maher, and having emerged into adulthood from a very privileged background. He was freed from the constraints to be a decent human that are put on professors when he left his post at Evergreen State College, and now that he is unburdened from such, how does he elect to spend his time? Let’s take a look:
Seizing the moment to boost his account by dragging a figure with an even larger following, Glenn Greenwald, into his assault on transgender people, we see his approach backfire when Greenwald insinuates that Weinstein’s view is the right-wing view. And Greenwald is right; Weinstein’s view is the right-wing view. “Sex is biological/binary” is the ten-cent version of “there are two genders: male and female,” which is exactly what Representative Greene’s sign says. What’s more, Weinstein’s stance is entirely reactionary, and in his statement we see a man dismissing the output of a feminist. In fact, he is dismissing a cis-gender feminist, because the term, TERF, traces its origin to a cis-gender feminist blogger, Viv Smythe. But, this is no surprise, because reactionary men weaponizing their platforms against women is nothing new, nor is it confined to one tweet, but is an ongoing assault:
Really? Are we really supposed to believe that the cis-gender feminist who coined the term, “TERF,” is solely focused on the rights of trans adults? Or is it more likely Weinstein simply has no idea what he is talking about and is projecting his own patriarchal biases onto the world, while more sophisticated thinkers are employing an intersectional analysis? I suspect the latter.
The ultimate irony, of course, is Weinstein, who is not a legitimate scholar on the subject of feminism or linguistics, and doesn’t appear to have read a single book on either topic, simply decrees that TERF is a “fictional category” even while accepting “traditional views,” “sex,” “biological,” “women,” “prisons,” “sports,” “bathrooms,” “radical,” and “feminist” as real categories. Humans invented all of these categories (the absolute gall of some bathrooms to not even have baths). They all describe real-world phenomena. They are social constructs, and all equally as real as each other. This is, yet again, why the “intellectual” dark web fails to live up to its name.
We could go at these terms that he accepts, one-by-one, but just the first term will do: traditional. Whose tradition? Because cuneiform is regarded one of, if not the, world’s oldest writing system. It was invented by the Sumerians approximately 5,100 years ago. There are countless tablets that persist from many thousands of years ago, and some of them from approximately 2,100 BCE discuss the roles of transgender people in Sumerian society. For instance:
In other words, some of the oldest writing on the planet describes the presence of transgender people, as well as nonbinary conceptions of both gender and sexual orientation. Transgenderism is not a new phenomenon, and many oral traditions attest to even older roots. It is not new! Do the traditions of Sumerian or Indigenous North American cultures not count as traditional? Gender essentialism only traces to Ancient Greece. That’s less than half as old as the written record of transgenderism, and bioessentialism is even newer. So, again, whose traditions, and why?
Keep this in mind in the coming years. Expect this to be a major front in the culture wars, and if you are someone who is lucky enough to become empowered, who has the ability to make your voice heard, think about how you will use it. Will power reveal you to be a bigot? If you want to believe it will not, then be sure to use what power you already have to push back against the bigotry you see being directed to marginalized communities, such as the transgender community. Think about how the transgender community and transgender individuals have been maligned for generations, and how you can work to undo the damage that has caused. These are people we’re talking about, our fellow human beings.