When Joe Biden signed the Executive Order Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation yesterday — his first day as president of the United States — there were sighs of despair from the US ‘gender critical’ movement. It seems the new administration cannot see that ending the abuse and oppression faced by trans people is wholly different from capitulating to extreme transgender ideology.
For the vast majority of UK-based feminists, it is recognised and accepted that preventing discrimination should not mean male-bodied trans women having the right to access rape crisis and domestic violence services that exist to enable women to escape male violence.
But US politics around this issue are very different to those of the UK. For example, in the UK trans people have legal protection against abuse, discrimination and unjust treatment. The US is not exactly a country in which oppressed and marginalised people can feel safe and secure. For example, women have no right to maternity leave, and there is an ongoing threat that the constitutional right to abortion will be lost. When Trump banned transgender people from serving in the military it was part of a mindset that promotes discrimination against LGBT people in general.
On this side of the Atlantic, women’s groups fighting to maintain women’s hard-won sex based rights, like Woman’s Place UK, tend to be socialists and progressives that adopt a truly intersectional approach in that they recognise how class oppression, poverty and racism affects women. They abhor everything that Trump stands for. They would never make common cause with anyone like him.
For the same reason, adopting an entrenched position against Biden and Harris (because of the Executive Order) would be short-sighted. It’s not that there isn’t cause for concern. Backing gender identity based on an ‘inner feeling’ over sex in law is a massive error which is bound to cause significant problems for women and girls. Another serious concern is that the Biden administration is considering the decriminalisation of the entire sex trade, including sex buying, pimping and brothel-owning. For feminists fighting to end the demand for commercial sexual exploitation this would be a huge mistake.
And yet we mustn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Biden is trying to repeal some of the extremely harmful legislation brought in by the Trump administration — and that shouldn’t be forgotten. The problem is that socialist/liberal/Democratic men in politics rarely prioritise or even have an understanding of the effects of their policies on the rights of natal women. Therefore US feminists, supported by those of us over the pond, must fight to rescue the progressive agenda from these wrong turns.
And that, of course, is very different thing from supporting the monstrous politics of a man like Donald Trump.