October 23, 2018; New York Times
When documents were leaked this past week suggesting that the administration was preparing to return to a narrow definition of gender as an unchangeable biological condition determined by genitalia at birth, some wondered at the timing, coming as it did two weeks ahead of the mid-term elections.
Some people see it as another play to the entrenched Trump base. “This is a very evidently political move done, approaching the midterms, to garner favor with a portion of the American public who would be encouraged and pleased by this news,” Gabrielle Bychowski opines. “It’s a reminder that pain is a political tool.”
And many may relate to that; in the face of declining support for President Trump, the GOP has been framing the election, as Liam Stack writes in the New York Times, as “a referendum on immigration, crime and unruly leftist mobs.” Stack suggests that the transgender community is yet one more pawn in that game.
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Not all agree, though. Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, does believe the proposal is “about playing to the base and vilifying people.” But she sees at as one more, albeit farther-reaching, move in a larger administrative push to eradicate hard-won LGBT rights rather than as a specific tactic to mobilize the Republican base.
“What we think this is is a post hoc justification for their refusal all along to be enforcing civil rights laws for transgender people,” Keisling says. “They’re trying to unify the logic across the various government departments.”
In any case, Bychowski’s observation of pain as a political tool is intriguing. One perspective is that it motivates those who want to hurt others in their efforts to retain power in a fast-changing world. But another use might be to echo the collective pain that has built up over the past two years, emanating from pilgrimaging families with children literally and symbolically stuck on bridges, from the fear of children stuck alone and terrified in detention facilities and their parents, from the resurgence of private prisons and calls for armed guards in every school, and from the constant public vilification of virtually every non-white and “non-traditional” resident of this country. Find where all that intersects, and draw upon it to vote for a future that’s decidedly different, and less unnecessarily and cruelly painful.—Ruth McCambridge