Why are gender rebels being attacked? Why are they being attacked now? Who benefits from such attacks?
What’s a Gender Rebel?
Sex is assigned on the basis of biology. While genetic variations are common, individuals bearing the XX chromosome are considered female, and those bearing the XY chromosome are considered male.
Gender is not based on biology. Gender is a social role or expectation of how males and females should behave. In capitalist society, gender roles are constructed as polar opposites. Women are expected to be submissive, home-focused, emotional, cooperative, and monogamous. Men are expected to be assertive, work-focused, stoic, competitive, and promiscuous. Both are assumed to be heterosexual.
Because human beings do not fit into such restricted categories, the dividing line between the two genders must be socially policed. From the earliest age, males are taught to reject female behaviors, and females are taught to reject male behaviors. The sensitive male is mocked as unmasculine, and the assertive female is shamed as unfeminine.
A gender rebel is anyone who does not conform to the social role expected of their sex.
Male and female gender roles are so unrealistic that some gender variation is accepted; women go out to work, and men nurture children. However, rejecting the gender you were assigned at birth is prohibited. A genetic female is not allowed to reject the female gender role and identify as male (a trans male). The genetic male is not allowed to reject the male gender role and identify as female (a trans female). Identifying as both genders or neither gender is also not accepted. Such personal choices are treated as an existential threat to society.
The War Against Gender Rebels
Gender rebels are being harassed, beaten, and murdered simply for who they are.
To date, 45 U.S. states have introduced over 650 bills attacking gender rebels. More than 125 bills prevent trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care. More than 45 bills ban transgender students from playing school sports, and more than 30 bills restrict which bathroom a person can use.
Today’s controversy over who can use which bathroom is not about bathrooms, any more than yesterday’s controversy over who could use which water fountain was about water fountains. Both are genocidal attacks that incite fear and hatred towards the target group.
In response to such attacks, the American Human Rights Campaign declared a national state of emergency.
There is an imminent threat to the health and safety of millions of LGBTQ+ people and families, who are living every day in uncertainty and fear.
Simply talking about gender is considered a threat. Last month, a man entered a gender-studies class at the University of Waterloo and stabbed the professor and two students, inflicting serious injuries.
Those who falsely accuse gender rebels of grooming children for sex ignore the thousands of young people who are sexually assaulted by pastors and priests, and the 90 percent of abused children who are violated by someone they know. Trans-haters see no harm in denying young people the right to define who they are, despite medical recommendations that “gender-affirming care be upheld as a standard of care.”
What’s the Fuss?
Sex variations are common in Nature.
In animal biology, there are multitudes of ways to be female or male or both. The oceans are filled with species of fish that change from one sex to another mid-life, and some who change back again. There are invertebrate hermaphrodites and ladies-only lizards who reproduce by recombining their own chromosomes. In some mammals, females are brimming with testosterone and have large “penises.” In various fish and mammals, males do all the care-taking of infants. And in a variety of species, females are authoritarian, promiscuous, and pugnacious.
Sex variations are also common in the human species. About 1 in 50 infants is born as intersex, meaning that their reproductive anatomy does not match the typical definitions of female and male. Some may appear to be female on the outside, yet have mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. A girl may be born with an unusually large clitoris or lack a vaginal opening. A boy may be born with an unusually small penis or have a divided scrotum that looks like labia.
Gender-rigid societies do not tolerate uncertainty about sex or gender, so intersex infants are commonly subjected to mutilating surgery to fit them into one of the two gender roles. While ‘corrective’ gender surgery on non-consenting infants is socially accepted, personally chosen gender-affirming surgery is not.
Gender variations are also common. From what we know, pre-class societies were gender fluid. People did not organize themselves according to gender but according to tasks, such as setting up camp, finding food, and raising children. Women participated equally with men in making decisions, and often had the final say.
While women generally stayed closer to camp in order to tend young children, and men had more freedom to leave on hunting parties, there was no prohibition against men staying home or women going hunting. In fact, women hunted in most foraging societies.
In the 1980s, Agta women of the Philippines drew bows and arrows as tall as themselves and aimed at wild pigs and deer, and Matses Amazonians struck paca rodents with machetes. Observations from the 1990s described Aka great-grandmothers and girls as young as age 5 trapping duiker and porcupine in central Africa… Child care posed little problem: Mothers carried infants or left them at camp with other community members; older children often tagged along, hunting as well.
Such inclusive ways of living changed when land that was used in common became private property, and land owners could profit by charging others for access.
To ensure that land ownership did not revert to common use but passed to a ‘legitimate’ heir, it was necessary to restrict women’s sexuality by defining the female role as chaste, submissive, monogamous, and childbearing. The result was a patriarchal social system, where the father (or father figure) wielded economic and social power over women, children, and other subordinates.
Engels described the impact of private property on the status of women as, “the world-historic defeat of the female sex.”
Capitalism Replaces the Patriarchy
The capitalist revolution ended the patriarchal social system by pulling men, women, and children off the land and into the factories. In the process, the rule of the father was replaced by the rule of the employer and the rule of the State. Employers controlled people’s lives at work, and the State controlled people’s lives outside of work.
Nineteenth-century factory work was horrendous. Engels documented,
Women made unfit for childbearing, children deformed, men enfeebled, limbs crushed, whole generations wrecked, afflicted with disease and infirmity, purely to fill the purses of the capitalist class.
Under such conditions, the life expectancy of workers fell to 18 years. To ensure a continued supply of workers, the State passed laws to construct a new kind of family system, one that would reproduce the working class without support from the business class or their State.
To that end, laws limited the kind of work women and children could do. Men were paid a “family wage” and made responsible for supporting women and children. Parents were made responsible for raising children. Divorce was restricted, and male homosexuality was outlawed.
The Church backed the State, condemning sex outside of marriage, contraception, abortion, and homosexual behavior.
In effect, the modern reproductive family with its restricted gender roles was created and sustained by prohibiting any alternative.
Beginning in the 16th century, European nations partnered with the Church to impose the reproductive family system on Indigenous societies around the world.
It is a mistake to attribute homophobic laws in Africa to Black people being anti-gay. Before Africa was colonized, gender-flexibility was common. In what is now Nigeria, gender was not assigned until later life. In what is now Ghana, gender was assigned on the basis of a person’s energy, not their anatomy.
Colonial rulers splintered egalitarian communities by insisting that the biological family, not the community, is the primary social unit.
Where Indigenous societies accepted same-sex behavior as natural, imperial invaders outlawed homosexuality. Where women played an important economic and social role, they were made subordinate to men.
As anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu put it,
When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.
Christian groups send millions of dollars to Africa every year to promote their anti-gay, anti-abortion agenda. This investment has born fruit. Today, more than half of African countries outlaw homosexuality, and four legislate the death penalty.
We do not choose to live in biological families; we are locked into them.
Women are not allowed to escape the child-bearing role. If you are young or have never been pregnant, it’s virtually impossible to obtain medical sterilization. Lack of access to effective contraception and childcare services combine with lower wages to keep most women financially dependent on higher-waged men.
Men are also bound to the family system. ‘Family obligations’ tie men to jobs they might otherwise leave. They are required to support women and children financially, and those who don’t can be charged and imprisoned. In the US, child-support collections have steadily increased to compensate for the drop in social welfare spending.
Try to leave a bad marriage, and you will face expensive, gut-wrenching legal obstacles. Parents who neglect their childcare duties can be legally prosecuted. Youngsters who run away can be forcibly returned to their families, placed in alternate families, or confined in detention centers.
Economic dependence on the family frees the State from having to invest in human welfare. And the less the State invests in human welfare, the more important the family becomes.
The Importance of the Family
In 1987, Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced the onslaught of austerity policies by stating, “There is no such thing as society, only individuals and families.” She meant that the State exists to support the business class, and everyone else must rely on the family.
This sentiment was echoed by President Reagan in the United States, Prime Minister Mulroney in Canada, and Premier Harris in Ontario. Deep cuts to corporate taxes were financed by shredding or privatizing social supports. An unprecedented amount of wealth was transferred to the business class, as workers’ living standards fell.
The work of raising children and caring for those in need is essential in every society. The less society or the State provides social support for care-giving, the more this work falls on individual families, and particularly women.
The U.S. doesn’t have universal health insurance or universal childcare. We don’t have federally mandated paid family leave or a meaningful social safety net for when times get rough. Instead, we have this imaginary mother. We’ve structured our society as though she exists — but she doesn’t.
In Canada, the cost of reproducing a worker (raising a child to working age) is close to $300,000, most of which is born by the family. The value of unpaid household labor in Canada is over $800 billion a year – more than the value of all manufacturing, wholesale, and retail industries combined. It would severely cut into profits if the business class had to fund this socially necessary work.
Given how important family labor is to the economy, why don’t the business class make it easier for families to function by paying higher wages and funding more social supports? Capitalism is full of contradictions it cannot solve. While the family is essential to the economy, profit-hungry employers treat workers as an expense to be minimized by paying the lowest possible wages and the lowest possible taxes.
The family system not only reproduces the working class at minimal cost to employers, it trains people to submit to authority and accept force as a means of social control.
Laws regulating gender and reproduction enable the State to interfere in people’s lives, restrict their choices, and discipline everyone to accept their gender role and the social system that makes it necessary.
Family laws give adults legal powers over children, including the right to use physical force against them. The miss-named parents’ rights movement aims to strengthen the role of the family by policing gender, increasing parental controls over children, and replacing public support with private, parent-controlled alternatives.
The female gender role dictates that women must do the work of reproducing society as individuals, without outside support. This reproductive burden ties women to the home, making it impossible for them to function as equals with men in the job market or in life.
Genuine women’s liberation requires two things: separating sex and reproduction, and making care-giving a social responsibility.
Sex can be separated from reproduction by ensuring access to effective contraception, including free abortion on demand. And care-giving can be made a social responsibility by providing quality, 24-hour childcare, and socializing laundry, cooking, and caring for those in need.
The business class are absolutely opposed to women’s liberation. First, it would cost a tremendous amount to socialize child-rearing and care-giving. Second, separating sex and reproduction would free people to choose how they live and love, and that would make them harder to control. Finally, if workers had collective control over reproduction, what would stop them from wanting collective control over production, over their work? That would end the rule of profit altogether.
Some feminists oppose trans people’s rights. They insist that protections against sex discrimination depend on drawing a clear line between women and men. Instead of challenging oppressive gender roles, they reenforce them. They argue that women (who they see as victims) need to be protected from men (who they see as predators). They are especially fearful of trans women who they see as male-predators-in-disguise.
Anti-trans feminism reflects the interests of middle- and upper-class women who see ‘male privilege,’ or patriarchy as the main obstacle to their social advancement. They ignore class oppression because they benefit from paying low wages to the working-class women who clean their homes and care for their children.
All women, regardless of their social class, deserve equal rights with men. However, for the majority of women, the larger obstacle to social advancement is class oppression.
It is rarely acknowledged that the largest oppressed group in society is the working class, who are systematically deprived of social and economic power by the business class. Working-class oppression manifests in worse health, shorter life spans, inferior schools, and precarious lives.
Most women are oppressed as women and as workers. Women are systematically paid less than men, denied control over their reproductive functions, and lack social support for child rearing and other care-giving duties. The men in their lives do not control these forms of oppression which are built into the capitalist system.
Enabling men to be the higher wage earner does not create male domination, it only creates the opportunity for it.
Male workers can take advantage of women’s oppression to elevate themselves, or they can fight to socialize reproductive labor. Similarly, White workers can take advantage of racist oppression to advance themselves, or they can fight against racism. Individual workers can accept management bribes to get ahead, or they can join a union. Male superiority, White supremacy, and personal advancement are all booby prizes that capitalism offers in order to divide and rule the working class.
In reality, neither male nor female workers can free themselves from capitalist oppression unless the majority of their class are on board. This reality is denied by a woman’s movement that is dominated by middle- and upper-class women. Their demands for equal access to education, employment, and property ownership (compared with the men of their class) can be won through legal reforms within the existing capitalist system.
Working-class women also want legal equality with the men of their class. However, such equality would only mean the right to equal exploitation. The liberation of working-class women requires an end to capitalist rule, and that can only be achieved by uniting with working-class men.
Over the past 50 years, increasing acceptance of gender diversity made it easier for gender rebels to come out of the closet, and the more visible they became, the easier it was for society to accept them. Canadians won the legal right to gay marriage in 2005, and Americans won the same right in 2015.
Why are gender rebels being viciously attacked despite growing social acceptance of gender diversity? Because the human desire for personal choices conflicts with the need of the business class for social control, and gender rebels pose a challenge to that control.
The capitalist system is in a prolonged economic and social crisis that it cannot solve, but hopes to remedy by driving down the living standards of the working class and by claiming more territory through a third World War.
To protect capitalist rule, the majority cannot be allowed any meaningful control over their lives at work or outside of it. That means every nation, regardless of who rules it, must be authoritarian. They must treat people as incapable of making good decisions and in need of authorities to police their lives. The more unstable society becomes, the greater the need for authoritarian control.
Most people resent being controlled. They challenge repressive laws and the social institutions that enforce them. They want a fairer and more inclusive society.
As societies lurch from crisis to crisis, the business class fear losing their wealth and power. They see masses of workers striking. They see rising support for socialism among young people, and they fear that union officials and social democrats will fail to contain the rising class rebellion.
Enter the Fascists
When normal social controls break down, authorities rely on fascist forces to restore them.
Today’s anti-abortion and anti-gay movements are largely organized and financed by open fascists and White supremacists who warn that traditional families are disintegrating, and White people are being replaced by other races. Their claim to defend family values, uphold parental rights, and protect children from sexual deviants have enabled fascist ideas to enter mainstream debate and shape government policies.
If fascists really cared about protecting children, they would demand higher wages so impoverished families don’t need to send their children out to work. They would demand universal childcare and generous paid parental leave. They would demand affordable housing and lower maternal death rates. But this is not about protecting children. This is about power and control. This is about which class will impose its will on the other.
Fascism demands strict gender roles, with men dominant, women submissive, children obedient, and White Christian nationalists in power. Their emphasis on culture and behavior diverts attention from systemic issues of oppression, poverty, environmental destruction, and war.
For instance, the minimum wage in Florida is just $11 an hour. In Texas, it is only $7.25 an hour. Yet the governors of both states insist that the greatest problem facing society is too many immigrants, too many abortions, and too many perverts.
Authorities tolerate fascists, including their presence in the police and the military, because they have the same goal – to police the working class. If Black activists had stormed the U.S. Capital they would have been shot on sight. If leftists were banging on library windows and threatening children, they would be criminally charged.
Fascism serves as an insurance policy for the business class, a Hail Mary, a final attempt to hold onto power.
When established methods fail to contain a rebellious working class, fascists are invited to take power, as happened in Italy and in Germany. After fascists have crushed the labor movement, the business class retake control. They deplore the fascist epoch as regrettable and never to be repeated, until the next time they face an insurgent working class.
The Fascist Threat
Fascists attract members by going after easy targets: Muslims, immigrants, Jews, racialized people, and gender rebels. As they grow in numbers and confidence, they expand their extermination campaign to include unions and everyone on the political left.
Last year in Idaho, a Baptist pastor called for all gay people to be executed. In Texas, another Baptist pastor stated, “all homosexuals are pedophiles who should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head.”
Threats to exterminate gender rebels make it easier to attack all non-conformists.
Last year, more than 1,600 books were banned in more than 5,000 U.S. schools. Most of those bans targeted books that addressed sex, sexuality, race, and racism. And that’s just the start. A new Red Scare is targeting teachers who are even mildly critical of U.S. policies.
If you’re a socialist, communist, think twice about taking a vacation or moving to Florida.
By socialists and communists, they mean anyone who wants to raise wages, tax the rich, curb profit-taking, or expand public services.
Last week, former president and presidential candidate Donald Trump delivered an openly fascist rant, announcing that, if elected, he will order the mass deportations of left-wing people, citizen and non-citizen alike. He concluded,
At the end of the day, either the Communists destroy America, or we destroy the Communists.
Most oppressed people are workers, not only because most people are workers, but because oppression makes it harder to climb the social ladder. This makes the working class highly diverse, containing people from all nations, religions, cultures, ‘races’, genders, abilities, and ages.
The 1960s and 70s movements against oppression were able to win real gains because they were embedded in a fighting working class. A record number of strikes raised wages, reduced inequality to an all-time low, and increased workers’ confidence to go for more.
Between 1968 and 1981, workers came close to taking power in France, Chile, Portugal, Iran, and Poland. In 1972, three-hundred thousand workers in Quebec launched North America’s largest general strike. They occupied their factories, seized radio stations, and brought entire towns under workers’ control.
As the movement grew, oppressed groups discovered they had much in common.
In the U.S., the Gay Liberation Front and the Black Panther Party pledged mutual support, and demonstrations raised unifying chants such as “Gay, Straight, Black, White: One Struggle! One Fight!” That didn’t mean that all oppressions are the same; it meant that all oppressions are rooted in a capitalist system that profits by dividing us.
The early gay liberation movement wanted more than legal equality. It aimed to free all of society from restrictive gender roles and win the right of everyone to make their own personal choices, free of State interference.
Protection at work lays the ground for protection in society. In Canada, public-sector unions led the fight for gay rights at work, campaigning for no-discrimination clauses in union contracts and access to workplace benefits for same-sex partners.
The rights of oppressed peoples cannot be sustained without the active support of the majority working class. In the 1980s, the business class escalated their attacks against the working class. Instead of escalating in turn, the union establishment made concession after concession as they surrendered to the business agenda. Each setback or defeat eroded the sense of class solidarity, of uniting-for-mutual-benefit. Over time, many people lost hope for a better world.
Increasing racism, rising inequality, and the loss of reproductive rights are the direct result of decades of working-class defeat.
While union officials verbally condemn rising attacks against gender diversity, they fail to mobilize the working class to back their words with actions. Instead, they appeal to government to prevent gender-based violence – the same government that is attacking workers and other oppressed groups.
Now, more than ever, we must stand together against all forms of oppression. If anyone can be persecuted because of how they look, who they love, or what they believe, then no one is safe. As Angela Davis warned, “If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you at night.”
How can we prevent fascists from growing in our communities?
We know from experience that neither the police nor the State will protect us from fascist violence; they protect the fascists instead.
Physically attacking fascists is self-defeating. Fascists thrive on violence and are eager to do damage. Physical fights limit who can participate and lead to criminal charges that consume organizations in raising money for a legal defense they cannot win.
We can beat back the fascists with our superior numbers. Most people oppose the persecution of gender rebels. When anti-trans fascists targeted elementary schools in Ottawa, community members organized a human blockade to support trans youth and protect the school.
Wherever fascists appear, we must show up with twice as many people and preferably many times more. When we outnumber the fascists, we make them less attractive to sympathizers.
While protective blockades are necessary, they are a stop-gap measure. The only way to eliminate fascism altogether is to end the rule of profit that makes it necessary.
A red-hot rage is building inside the working class. Life has become a grim struggle to survive. The greed, corruption, and recklessness of the ruling class are intolerable. The failure of the left to offer a class-based solution has opened space for right-wing bigotry to grow. This must be reversed!
We can out-organize the fascists by offering a way forward for society that is not based on profit-taking and authoritarian rule but on the broadest possible democracy and support for all people to make their own choices and shape their own lives.