Transgender activism has been making inroads into America’s public institutions. The Biden administration has recently promoted neo-pronouns and gender-reassignment surgery for minors, government agencies have celebrated the expansion of identity categories such as “pansexual” and “non-binary,” and public schools across the country have adopted curricula teaching students about transitioning from one gender to another. Trans activists often present their ideological program through a series of euphemisms and tautologies, such as “gender diversity,” “LGBTQ inclusion,” “love is love,” “protect trans kids,” and “comprehensive sexual education.” But these slogans obscure more than they reveal. The deeper nature of trans ideology is much more radical, and the public should have a clear-eyed understanding of what trans activists believe, beyond the protective layer of obfuscatory language.
The best way to do this is to listen to activists in their own words. Last year, a consortium of trans organizations in Washington State hosted a presentation series, titled “Decolonizing Gender,” that offers an honest, unfiltered look into the world of trans activism and ideology. The event was hosted by the most prominent gender-identity nonprofits in the region—TRACTION, Lavender Rights Project, Black Trans Task Force, Gender Justice League, and UTOPIA Washington—all of which run programs for minors and receive taxpayer support. (TRACTION, the primary organizer of the event, did not return a request for comment.)
The panelists represented a wide range of idiosyncratic identities, expressed in a mixture of New Age and intersectional language—the more obscure and oppressed, the greater the status within the community. The main presenter, trans activist Malcolm Shanks, said he was a descendant of black slaves and Taíno tribesmen and “used to identify as gender fluid,” but has been “identifying more recently as a little bit more gaseous or plasma-like.” Randy Ford, a fundraiser for the Lavender Rights Project and black male-to-female “trans femme,” said she uses “‘she,’ ‘her,’ [and] ‘goddess’ as pronouns.” Mahkyra Gaines, a program coordinator for the Gender Justice League, said she uses “no pronouns” and identifies as “non-binary” and “kind of like a black hole.” Ganesha Gold Buffalo, a male-to-female trans prostitute and activist at the Black Trans Task Force, said she identifies as “Choctaw, Cherokee, and black” and with the “sacred lands.”
To begin the event, Shanks led the group in a “land acknowledgement,” denouncing white colonizers for seizing indigenous territory, and introduced the main theme of the conversation with a long lecture on “decolonizing gender.” The crux of Shank’s argument was that white European colonizers committed genocide against indigenous people and replaced the natives’ peaceful, non-binary gender system with an oppressive “colonial gender binary.” This was the origin of “transphobic violence” and set the background conditions for the oppression of “gender non-conforming people” to the present day. For Shanks, however, the white European male-female binary has always been a harmful myth. “There’s no such thing as male genes or female hormones or a male body,” he said. White colonizers invented these concepts and imposed them on non-Western cultures in order to maintain “a system that creates value for very, very few white men.”
This conceptual framework—a patchwork of queer theory and postcolonial theory—provides trans activists with a powerful victim narrative and a general explanation for individual suffering. A common thread through the presentations was the articulation of personal “pain” and “trauma,” which, they say, are caused by colonialism and can be mitigated or transcended through “queer” identity constructs. “My first introduction to colonialism looked a lot like me waking up at four in the morning, five in the morning, every morning, to sounds of my ancestors screaming from outside my window, coming from the ground, coming from the earth,” said Ganesha Gold Buffalo, the trans prostitute. “I followed those screams into the woods as a child . . . and was taught by my ancestors in those woods, in the forms of nature spirits, in the forms of elementals, in the forms of natural deities and old gods. While I was out there, I was taught many things and my mind was decolonized.”
Society, not the individual psyche, is identified as the locus of such disturbances. As such, trans activists see the route to healing not through personal integration, but through the total and unconditional affirmation of their identities by society as a whole. “For gender, myself, it’s been a constant struggle under colonialism, not to accept and affirm myself, but to find acceptance and affirmation and understanding outside of myself,” said Gold Buffalo. Her desire is to live in a society that has been liberated from transphobia and affirms her identity as a woman with a penis. “I one-hundred percent want to still be able to look in the mirror and see every part of myself as a woman, see every part of myself as a two-spirit trans woman, a beautiful being: my moustache, all of my facial hair, my untrimmed brows, my fat ass, my belly, my big dick, everything.” Randy Ford, the fundraiser, echoed this sentiment. “I want you to call me ‘Mommy,’ ‘Queen,’ ‘Daddy,’ if I want you to,” she said. For these activists, the subjective demands of gender identity must be affirmed, no matter how mercurial, self-contradictory, or absurd.
The ultimate ambition of “decolonizing gender” is to overthrow the intellectual and political regime of white Europeans and reestablish the “gender-variant universe” that was once widely accepted in pre-colonial culture. Malcolm Shanks argued that this campaign of “gender resistance” must destroy not only the concept of the gender binary but also “capitalism,” “white supremacy,” “patriarchy,” “imperialism,” and white European land ownership. In the meantime, as an initial gesture of good faith, the panelists recommended that straight white Americans provide direct cash “reparations” to gender-nonconforming people. “If you have access to generational wealth, if you’re white and your parents have a savings account that is very much so connected to slavery and land theft, pay people,” said Mahkyra Gaines of the Gender Justice League. “Pay people directly. Give them the money so they can have the financial security in order to rest and to heal and to connect with their communities. . . . Pay that money to us now.”
Though this kind of ideology might appear to be the work of a fringe minority, it is becoming increasingly mainstream in activist and educational institutions. The host organizations for the “Decolonizing Gender” presentations have been remarkably successful in securing taxpayer funding and gaining access to children through educational and social service programs. TRACTION conducts education programs for transgender-identifying youth and has received funding from Washington State. Gender Justice League has received funding from King County and runs a housing program for transgender-identifying homeless minors. The Lavender Rights Project and Black Trans Task Force provide legal services for LGBT youth and have received funding from King County. UTOPIA Washington provides services for sex workers, runs an after-school program for children, and has received funding from Washington State, King County, and the City of Seattle.
Though the ideas promoted by these activist organizations might be pseudo-historical, internally contradictory, and rooted in personal pathologies, none of this has stopped them from attaining political and cultural influence. Whatever their faults, gender activists have understood that their path to power requires public subsidy and the transmission of their ideology through educational and other public institutions. On that count, they are achieving their objectives.