On 4 March, American commentator and media host Michael Knowles called for the elimination of “transgenderism” at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Knowles hosts a podcast for the right-wing media outlet Daily Wire. His comments rightfully drew intense scrutiny and pushback from commentators and publications on the internet.
In particular, Knowles called Rolling Stone’s chosen headline “libelous” and demanded a retraction:
CPAC Speaker Calls for Transgender People to be ‘Eradicated’
For the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.
He called for the eradication of “transgenderism”, as if this is not synonymous with the eradication of trans people. However, the problem from a UK standpoint is that transphobic ‘gender critical’ activists have used similar rhetoric here for years. You might have heard it on our national broadcaster or in the halls of our government.
What’s more, it hasn’t received anywhere near enough pushback.
The argument from Knowles and his ilk is that trans people do not exist. We are merely confused people afflicted by ‘gender ideology’ or ‘transgenderism’. Our detractors frame this ‘ideology’ as a set of beliefs and practices, rather than a state of being.
Knowles has made statements similar to his CPAC speech on his podcast. In 28 February’s installment of the Daily Wire‘s The Michael Knowles Show, he said:
I don’t know how you could have a genocide of transgender people because genocide refers to genes, it refers to genetics, it refers to biology. And the whole point of transgenderism is that it has nothing to do with biology.
He went on:
But furthermore, nobody’s calling to exterminate anybody because the other problem with that statement is that transgender people is not a real ontological category. It’s not a legitimate category of being.
It is easy to recognise this wording as fascist. Stating that being trans is not “a legitimate category of being” is dehumanisation. This is one of the hallmarks of fascism. A genocide cannot take place against trans people because there aren’t any trans people, he says. Exactly how Knowles intends to eliminate ‘transgenderism’ is left to the listener’s imagination.
What does elimination look like?
The most obvious course of action would be to make trans people cis. However, so-called ‘conversion therapy’ – the attempt to convince a trans person that they are not trans – doesn’t work. What’s more, it is actively dangerous to the people it is inflicted upon – it doubles the rate of suicide in recipients.
So if a trans person cannot be made cis, what does our eradication look like?
You might try to convert me anyway, and damn the fact that it might kill me. After numerous u-turns, the UK government only saw fit to outlaw this two months ago.
Alternatively, you could take away my healthcare. The British public, at least, believes that trans healthcare should be the purview of the rich, who can afford private access. Just 33% think that the NHS should provide hormone replacement therapy.
Failing this, you might simply try to make trans lives unlivable. Just removing equalities protections would be enough to enable bigots to freely abuse trans people. PM Rishi Sunak has already indicated that he wishes to remove trans protections from the equality act, which would enable this abuse.
Eliminationism in the UK
Of course, there is always the option of outlawing ‘being trans’ altogether. Even if you can’t stop a trans person being trans, you could stop them from saying that they are trans, from participating in public life as a trans person. The UK already treats the recognition of our gender as a reward for compliance; our genders are recognised until that becomes inconvenient, until we become inconvenient. But some transphobes want to go even further.
Back in 2021, the Women’s Human Rights Campaign (WHRC) submitted a response to a government inquiry into the Gender Recognition Act. Referring to a UN convention on discrimination against women, the WHRC declaration said:
The convention calls for the ‘elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women’ (Article 5).
We can all get behind that, right? The elimination of prejudice and stereotypes based on sex – sign me up. However, the document continued:
We consider that the practice of transgenderism clearly falls under this article because it is based on stereotyped roles for men and women.
If this sounds familiar, it should. The reference to “transgenderism”, its framing as a “practice”, the call for its “elimination” – all of it beat Knowles to the post two years ago. UK transphobia recycled in the US: who’d have thought it?
…And the condemnation?
As reported by Pink News, the signatories to the declaration include the LGB Alliance, Transgender Trend, Labour Women’s Declaration, WoLF (Women’s Liberation Front), Standing For Women, Safe Schools Alliance UK, and For Women Scotland.
However, rather than being widely recognised as calling for trans elimination, supporters of the WHRC have been granted media attention and government influence. The Tory Party conference has hosted the LGB Alliance two years in a row. Stephanie Davies-Arai, founder of Transgender Trend, was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s birthday honours. For Women Scotland appeared before Scottish parliament to argue that new hate crime laws might do too much to stop it from being transphobic.
The eliminationism supported by these groups is the same as that spat out by Knowles to Republican applause. Both work towards the destruction of my way of life, and that of my trans siblings.
I am trans. We are trans. We cannot be stopped from being trans. However, without something fundamental changing in the UK’s attitude to trans people, we can and will be stopped from being.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0, resized to 770*403