tylermittan asked: Do you really think that transgender discrimination is the biggest civil rights issue right now? Like, nothing else tops it?
It doesn’t ever make sense to pit these kinds of struggles against oppression, discrimination, and just plain ignorance against one another (hello, intersectionality!), and in fact, I think doing so, and prioritizing one over the others (as Marxists did with class, which admittedly seemed like a good idea at the time), is kind of a hallmark of an outdated paradigm.
On the other hand, there are two ways we could more approvingly look at what Joe Biden said. First, it’s a rhetorical statement, as are most statements by politicians. There’s an important distinction to be made between speech that’s representative (accurately depicting an objective reality) and speech that’s generative (creating a new reality). I see Biden’s statement as being more generative: saying what he said communicated something very essential to the woman with whom he was speaking—the whole thing was part of a conversation, not a speech, after all—and put an issue on the political map that wasn’t really there before on a mainstream level. In that sense, it doesn’t matter if what he said is true, because it’s more valuable as a statement that redirects our attention to places where it hasn’t been and where it is needed.
But also, I think there’s another way to look at it. People get upset when you say one “civil rights issue” is the most important one, but in another sense, maybe it’s just that each era is defined by the issues that surface at the time. The late 1950s and early 1960s were defined by issues of race. That doesn’t mean that race isn’t an issue after that, nor that it somehow takes a backseat to other issues, but that it is no longer the emergent issue of that era. In the last few years, the right of gays and lesbians to get married was emergent in a way it wasn’t before, and the force of that is quite strong: already, I feel, there is so much more acceptance and embrace of difference re: sexuality among young people, like a radical shift from previous generations (even mine, and I’m only 27).
The reasons why the rights of trans people matter now are numerous. It’s a life or death matter for many. They constitute a relatively small minority of people, but to ignore the urgency of what they face every day would be inhuman. It’s not like being or not being able to get married, it’s about the right to even be recognized as who you ever (sometimes even by yourself). But also, I think it’s important because, for one, feminism is meaningless if it ignores trans people (and feminism is really, really important) and, secondly, gender is this giant, domineering force in our society, one I would argue is even more fundamental than sexuality, and there’s an urgent need for us to enlighten ourselves about it.
That’s why these issues transcend the groups they affect directly: combating misogyny affects women but also men, confronting homophobia affects gays and lesbians but also the straights, and opposing transphobia gets to the core of the gender mess that I think plagues the lives of even cis people. In some ways, and of course I can’t speak for them and don’t want to minimize what they are going through, I imagine there’s something really powerful about being trans (and we should regard it as just another awesome facet of being human) because it forces you to reflect on your gender identity more consciously. The whole nation could stand to do that (and I bet cis folks would learn a lot about themselves in the process), and if there’s the momentum, I don’t see why we shouldn’t see this issue as a defining one of the era in which we live.