Sam Goldman interviews Brynn Tannehill (@BrynnTannehill) about the spate of anti-trans laws across the country and the larger fascist agenda it’s a part of. Order her book American Fascism: How the GOP is Subverting Democracy here.
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Brynn Tannehill 0:00
The Trumpist movement is undoubtedly fascist. This is the only conclusion of how to describe what this movement is, that it goes beyond simple right wing populism. The end stage goal is they want as few trans people as possible. One of the overwhelming characteristics of fascism is also a disdain for and hatred of human rights. Trans people are a convenient enemy for a fascist movement because it fits within prototypical fascism. “We’re going to storm the Capitol and kill Mike Pence to get the kind of government that we want.” Their ideal number of trans people is zero. We can’t think that yes, we’ve won. No, this is an operational pause for the right.
Sam Goldman 1:00
Welcome to Episode 57 of the Refuse Fascism podcast, a podcast brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers, and host of the show, and today, we’re sharing an interview with Brynn Tannehill on the republi-fascist tsunami of the anti-trans legislation sweeping this nation and its connection to the overall fascist movement. But first, I want to give a huge shout out to all those who donated off of last week’s show, with donations ranging from a $5 donation to a monthly donation of $50. A heartfelt thank-you for supporting this work and being part of this important community. Thanks as well to everyone who has been sharing this podcast by rating and reviewing and subscribing. If you aren’t a subscriber yet, hoping after today’s episode, you will be. If you haven’t reviewed yet, today’s the day to do it, and help us reach more listeners.
Today, I want to start with a reminder that we can’t be lulled into a sense of false normalcy, lulled back to sleep with false security that the fascist nightmare is over, even while we do have a reprieve from fascists in the White House. We have a situation right now, where 70% of Republicans believe that Biden did not win enough legitimate votes to be president, based on a recent CNN survey. They lost. They need to get over it. True. But don’t let anyone tell you that we don’t need to pay attention to that 70% because it matters that millions continue to believe a deadly delusion. And that toxic lie is continuing to fuel a vengeful movement that is doubling down and lashing out with voter suppression measures. For those wondering what happens when the old Jim Crow meets the fascists of today, it looks like massive moves to suppress Black folks’ right to vote and the right to protest, as I discussed in last week’s episode. On Thursday, Florida passed a range of voting restrictions in one of the country’s most critical battlegrounds, adding to the nationwide GOP push to suppress voting rights, restricting access to ballot boxes and mail-in votes. And no surprise here, Governor DeSantis has committed to signing this bill. One of the GOP sponsors of the bill, Florida state rep Ingoglia, quoted by The New York Times when pressed to identify any actual instances of illegal ballot collection in Florida stated, “I don’t know, but I’m sure it was going on.” I don’t know, but I’m sure it was going on? Federico Finchelstein, author of A Brief History of Fascists Lies tweeted in response to this a reminder that for fascists and their offspring truth is not a result of empirical observation but an outcome, a belief on what the leader says. The truth for them is what it has to be rather than what it is. Christian fascist and former VP Mike Pence, unchanged by the coup attempt that involved participants trying to hunt him for being a perceived traitor, unchanged by a mob chanting “hang Mike Pence” while Trump sat back and enabled this, broke his silence to give a newsflash for whoever needed it, that Mike Pence is still a fascist, condemning cancel culture and critical race theory, the very notion that students be taught the history of this country. As fascism scholar and previous guest on the show Jason Stanley has written, “the crushing of free speech you are seeing is in the service of protecting whiteness, as is the voter suppression. In the United States, white supremacy is the face of our native fascism.” For more on voter suppression, we encourage listeners after today’s show to check out Episode 55 with Matthew Rozsa and Episode 54 with Bishop Talbert Swan. Dig into fascist lies as they relate to all this, in Episode 49 with Federico Finchelstein. Now my conversation with Brynn Tannehill.
Today we’re talking with Brynn Tannehill about the republi-fascist wave of hateful anti-trans laws, which affects minors most intensely, excluding trans youth from sports; targeting medical professionals who provide care to trans people; curriculum bans; ID restrictions; and other legislation. Brynn is a veteran of the Navy, author of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Trans But Were Afraid to Ask and her latest book, American Fascism: How the GOP is Subverting Democracy was released earlier this month. Welcome, Brynn. Glad to have you with us.
Brynn Tannehill 6:17
Thanks for having me on. It’s my pleasure.
Sam Goldman 6:19
So for our listeners that may not be aware, the Human Rights Campaign reports more than 30 state legislators have proposed over 115 bills that would limit transgender rights. The ACLU says this is the highest number of anti-trans laws since it began tracking anti-LGBTQ legislation over 15 years ago. On April 6, Arkansas became the first state to outlaw providing gender affirming care to minors, a move that the American Civil Liberties Union said would send a terrible and heartbreaking message to transgender youth across the country. I would argue it should send that message to us all. 14 states are considering bans or restrictions on transition care for trans minors and the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law, found that over 45,000 youth are at risk of losing access to care because of this proposed legislation. And no, this is not done in concert with medical professionals, but in direct contradiction. Major medical associations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the Pediatric Endocrine Society all oppose the bills. And it’s even more horrifying when you consider what Texas is proposing. They’re considering a bill similar to Arkansas’ transition care ban, but with criminal penalties. If this bill passes, it will make it a felony for parents to provide their children with access to gender affirming care, classifying such an act as child abuse. And parents who violate the proposed law could face up to 10 years in prison, or have their child removed from the home and face civil litigation. So Brynn, I want to start with: Can you walk listeners through some of what is on the line with this legislation?
Brynn Tannehill 8:17
So this is a direct threat to the mental health, safety, and well being of transgender youth. This is a long time coming. I wrote a thread on Twitter that kind of went viral and talked about how at the end of the fight for marriage equality starting in late 2014, early 2015, the religious right recognize that it had lost that battle and was going to lose, both in terms of in the courts and in terms of public opinion. And they were right. But at the same time that they recognized this, they knew that they needed to shift focus to another new enemy. And that was transgender people. And their first instinct was to go after laws that allowed transgender people to use bathrooms. The problem is it worked well enough to get HB2 passed in North Carolina. But, polling data shows that only 13% of Americans are actually afraid of transgender people in bathrooms. Some of the lines of argument against it of “look at this transgender man, he is big strapping, has a giant beard and a cowboy hat on. Do you want him in the women’s room? And then how much disturbance is that gonna cause? And how are we not just going to know that somebody that looks like that isn’t cisgender and claiming it?” Later on the religious right, after the campaign in Massachusetts to repeal the law that provided equal access to facilities for trans people failed, the religious right organizations pushing it came out and said “you know what, the whole thing about protecting women and children is baloney. We know it is. We just think that trans people are icky and God hates them.” That kind of blew the lid off of that one, but they kept going. By 2015, 2016, 2017, they had started to adopt a new tactic which was co- opting erstwhile so-called feminists, the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-trans, anti-woman hate group. A lot of money, and 3500 pro bono lawyers, very powerful, very influential. This is not a small group. It provided seed money to an organization $10,000 or $15,000, to start an “astroturf” movement to get up and running a anti-trans feminist group that would provide amicus briefs and act as “Oh, look, we’re just supporting women” to essentially provide a veneer of respectability and secularism to what they were doing, rather than highlighting just the fact that they don’t like trans people and this religious objection. And they admitted this in 2017 or 2018 at the Values Voters Conference where they basically said, “Yes, that’s our strategy. We are going to go after trans youth and in schools in particular, and we’re going to frame it as a feminist issue, and we’re going to frame it as a secular issue.” And that’s exactly what they’ve done. It shifted from public bathrooms to trans youth. And we’ve seen them recruiting right wing conservative researchers to produce research that’s of exceptionally low quality, the same way Regnerus produced low quality research to argue that LGBT parents were inferior to straight parents. Well, now we’ve got some of that same kind of low quality research floating around from Lisa Lippmann, and that appears to have potentially been paid for by the religious right. Behind all this, and you can see that as they’ve shifted to this, both in the UK in the US, organizations coordinate with each other and they work with each other. ADF has a presence there and Heritage Foundation is bringing in anti-trans feminist gender criticals, turfs, whatever you want to call them from the UK, and this is all public domain knowledge, to work with them. The result is that they have converged on attacking three primary things. The first one is healthcare for trans youth and for trans adults. You’re also seeing the sports ban. You’re also seeing still some states are proposing banning trans people, and particularly students from bathrooms. Tennessee looks like they’re gonna pass a bathroom bill targeting students. You already talked about some of the arguments against the healthcare. With the trans students, the ban on transgender athletes, there’s little to suggest that this is any sort of pressing problem or problem that’s getting more common. Trans athletes have been allowed to compete at the NCAA level since 2011. And in that time, every year, there are about 500,000 student athletes in the NCAA. And in that time, there’s really only been one transgender athlete of note. So 500,000 times 10 is 5 million. So you have one in 5 million NCAA athletes is a successful transgender person who won at any level, and that was C.C. Telfer, who won at 60 meter hurdles in 2019 in Division II. That’s not a lot. We also recognize at the state level, we’ve had two transgender athletes of note in Connecticut. That was two years ago. But the vast majority of trans athletes, they’re very rare. Ohio has only had nine in the past five years. There’s been five in Kansas in the same time period. None of them were particularly successful or noteworthy. California has allowed trans student athletes for the better part of a decade. There haven’t been any of note. California is a big state with a lot of high school students. Sponsors of legislation have said: well, yes, we recognize it’s not a problem, we’re just being proactive. But the fact that we haven’t seen an explosion of trans athletes, and that the numbers are so small, is indicative of this being a non-issue. This is essentially an attempt to press transgender people further and further into the margins as part of a wider fascist cultural agenda. And I could talk about that a little bit too.
Sam Goldman 13:37
That would be really important. I mean, one of the things that I’ve noticed, and this could be way off, but it seems like the attacks on trans people have in many ways, re- cohered and energized a whole section in many ways of this fascist movement with Trump out of power. How do you see this fitting into the aims of the fascist movement? What do you think the endgame here is?
Brynn Tannehill 14:03
We have documentation on what their endgame looks like, and it’s terrifying if you’re trans. If you can move away from the US, you should. So during the 2016 and 2020 elections, if you notice, there was almost zero stuff about LGBT people. Biden and Clinton didn’t want to talk about trans stuff. The Trump campaign didn’t focus on trans stuff. That was not his primary argument. There was only one real point where either side was particularly interested in pressing on trans stuff, and that was the American Principles Project, which is a conservative religious group, was running their own pac and trying to boost Trump with anti-trans messaging in specific states, mostly in the Wisconsin, Michigan area. The GOP, the RNC, the Trump campaign really didn’t want to follow their lead. However, now that the Republican Party is out of power nationally, but the Biden administration is too weak in the Senate to actually do anything, we’ve achieved more or less gridlock except for the COVID stimulus bill. And Republicans have shifted to their primary focus being culture wars and anti-wokeness, anti-political correctness. They have other terms,”we’re fighting cultural Marxism.” And that’s why they want to fight over Hasbro re-naming the Mr. Potato Head line, that, no, Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head still exist. They want to fight Dr. Seuss, even though it was Theodore Geisel Seuss’s foundation that decided to pull the books in there doesn’t appear to have been any pressure externally for them to do it. It was just that there were dated references that would be considered offensive today. And with trans people, trans is now the culture war issue that they need and that they want and that they think they can win on because there is some polling data to suggest that people have visceral reactions to healthcare for trans youth or trans athletes without knowing any of the actual data on it or knowing any of the actual facts or research about it. That’s kind of up in the air. Some of the Republicans own internal polling and focus group work says this is an area where they can make hay. But where they want to go with this is terrifying. Back in 2015, the Family Research Council, which Tony Perkins, the President, had enormous access to Trump. I’m told that he was in the room with Trump when Trump tweeted the ban on transgender people in the military. They laid out five basic ideas of what they wanted to do to trans people back in 2015. And that runs: no IDs, no legal recognition, which means no right to use bathrooms or compete, no legal protections; i.e. anybody should be free to discriminate against trans people in any way they like, and there should be no legal repercussions, no trans people in the military. That was their starting point. And then you have the Project List, which is now in-aptly named the Freedom For All Campaign, was meant to be the conservative culture war answer to Alec, the American Legislative Exchange Commission, which was mostly focused on Republican Chamber of Commerce kinds of things, but grew to be fairly infamous, pressing model legislation through states to try and tear down the separation of church and state. But also within it, it laid out what they want to do to LGBT people. And where they want to go with trans people is — and this goes back to the bad research that I mentioned that they produced — to treat being transgender as a communicable social contagion, that needs to be stomped out by the government in the name of public health. Now, what you’ve got to understand is, in law to discriminate against a group of people, there needs to be a good reason. And there’s bases for a rational basis, and then there’s intermediate scrutiny and strict scrutiny. Public health can be somewhere between intermediate and strict scrutiny in terms of what the government can do to groups of individuals. And they want to basically use the full force of government to minimize the number of transgender people. But it gets worse. We’ve got the Alliance and Family Research Council and Heritage and ADF and other religious right groups have announced a family project. Its name eludes me at the moment, but essentially, it lays out 10 things that it wants to do, one of which is couched as an anti-pornography effort. But if you consider that they think everything LGBT related is pornographic or obscene, it means no LGBT material should ever be in front of anybody under the age of 18. Treat it as exposing a minor to pornography. Heather has Two Mommies being in the school library is pornography. They also have the same goal of banning healthcare for trans youth, putting trans youth and gay, but particularly trans youth, in conversion therapy, making conversion therapy the only kind of therapy they can get to try and get them to accept their bodies. No one’s ever actually shown you can do that with trans people. A little more complicated than that, but once they’re teens, there’s zero argument within any community that there’s any real desistance, that they want to ban them from athletics, they want to ban them from bathrooms. The end state goal is they want as few trans people as possible. And what really is concerning is that Donald Trump attacked Governor Asa Hutchinson for vetoing an anti-trans bill, accusing him of wanting to chemically castrate children and saying that he was going to destroy him for it in the primaries and get somebody else elected governor. This is disconcerting because whatever Donald Trump wants, the Republican Party is going to go there. And whatever fights Donald Trump decides to pick are going to be the fights that the Republican Party will fight. If he’s latched on to this, and he’s a petty, vengeful, nasty individual, he holds grudges. There is a severe concern that come 2022 fights over trans people are going to be what’s going to be front and center in politics and that even in the 2024 election, that’s going to be what’s coming. And I’m going to tell it gets worse. Because what we’re seeing in the UK, the UK has gone a step further today in Parliament in front of the Women’s and Equalities Commission they had a series of anti-trans hate groups testifying. And their message was essentially unanimous. It should be almost impossible for trans people to get gender recognition cards, that they need to establish separate but equal facilities for transgender people. There’s also a push to ban medical care for transgender people under the age of 25 in the UK.
Sam Goldman 20:21
Why is it that they’re able to in the UK accelerate this hate-filled agenda?
Brynn Tannehill 20:29
The British media is a little bit different from the American media. In the US, we still have outlets that are relatively trans-positive. In the UK, you would be very, very hard pressed to find an outlet except maybe the Guardian, sometimes – the Guardian 50% of the time, it publishes awful stuff, and 50% of the time it publishes good stuffm – the Guardian UK is good. But every other major media outlet in the UK, except perhaps some of the Scottish ones, is absolutely trans hostile. There is no positive messaging, there is no point of entry for messages that aren’t hostile to trans people there. And I’m going to quote Steve Bannon, and his answer to how to deal with things is “flood the zone with shit,” speaking as the former editor of Breitbart. And what we’ve seen in the UK is that they have flooded the zone with garbage, that trans voices have been effectively removed from the conversation. Extremist voices have been very, very successfully elevated. They have employed some of the same tactics that the religious right in the US is, and that the conservatives in the U.S. are, which is any attempt to say things you’re saying are damaging, wrong, hurtful, dangerous, decrying that as “cancel culture.” Or when somebody does something horrible or says horrible things about trans people and trans people object, it turns into a “well, you’re against freedom of speech.” And that’s been pretty successful. That’s kind of the tactic that they’re taking over here as well, but it isn’t succeeding to the same degree. Unfortunately, the US has issues in the political system that make a slide into something far worse in the UK much, much easier. And it could happen very, very quickly.
Sam Goldman 22:09
Can you talk more about how you see that happening?
Brynn Tannehill 22:11
So can we jump back to something that I wanted to get to, to jump to the fascist aspect of it?
Sam Goldman 22:16
Brynn Tannehill 22:16
So, as part of my book that discusses the characteristics of fascism. And it’s something of a lit review and overview of a bunch of different experts in the field, including Umberto Eco, and Jason Stanley and Paxton and a number of others and seeing what they saw as what defines fascism. Because it’s kind of a nebulous concept for something that is a form of right wing populist movement. And there’s a lot of characteristics: nationalism, anti-union, rural versus urban, the heartland conspiracy theories, conspiracy thinking, grievance, a lot of different factors. But the ones that are relevant to what we’re talking about here is fascist movements have a great deal of underlying misogyny and sexual angst. Worry about gender roles, worry about gays and lesbians and maintaining the natural order of things between men and women. In Germany, there was the whole kinder, kuche, kirche – church, kitchen, children – as the role of women. And the other thing is, fascist movements typically have this belief in a better mythic past, where in the country at some point in the past, maybe a specific point in time, or maybe in mythology, was much, much better before “those people, them,” destroyed it. And in the US, conservatives see Black people and Hispanics and Muslims and liberals and people who live in cities as destroying American culture. But the thing is, the people that they can get out most easily are trans people. They are a very visible symbol that elicits a visceral reaction amongst the base to point out and say, “This is what’s wrong with America, that if we do something about these people will take us towards that mythic past in the 50s, when everything with America was great and wonderful.” Never mind that this was before Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, all of which they’re trying to tear down. But this is a party primarily for white people, and this is their glory days, and they see transgender people as the fastest, easiest step to move us back to where they think we should be. And that’s extraordinarily dangerous for trans people. Because like I said, one of the overwhelming characteristics of fascism is also a disdain for and hatred of human rights and contempt for the weak. Eco also had a postulate that fascism needs enemies who are both overwhelmingly powerful and dangerous, but are contemptible, disgusting and weak at the same time. In Germany, Jewish people were, in Italy, it was the Roma, the travelers. In the U.S. trans people fit that bill pretty well. We are seen as somebody who’s destroying all of American culture. We’re destroying women’s sports. Tucker Carlson says that we’re going to end the human race because of trans people. But at the same time, “ooh, ick, trans people, they’re making our military so weak, we won’t win any wars.” Not that we really need any. We fit that description from his article err fascism back from 1996 pretty well. And so that’s how I see trans people as fitting into a narrative of the group that a fascist political movement would glom on to that ticks a lot of the things that make them serve as a convenient enemy. From sexual misogyny, sexual angst, better mythic past. Conspiracy theories too; there’s a lot of conspiracy theories about trans people that were somehow wrapped up with George Soros and Bill Gates. And that there’s a cabal of Jewish billionaires, some of whom happen to be transgender who are forcing the world into transhumanism or then it wraps into Q-Anon and it gets nuttier from there. But my point being trans people are a convenient enemy for a fascist movement because it fits within prototypical fascist narratives. And I’m also going to point out something here, that Vice printed an article recently where they found that neo nazi groups and Three Percenters and Proud Boys had been starting to adopt some of the language used by anti-trans feminists in the UK in the US. This was really interesting, because we know the linkage between the Alliance Defending Freedom and right wing American groups and anti-trans groups in the US and UK and now that some of their language is filtering into the extreme right, who’ve been prowling around looking for trans people and sex workers to beat on some West Coast cities.
Sam Goldman 26:45
This is extremely ominous, and is a testament in some ways to the power of their propaganda. One of the things that you said resonated with something that we frequently have brought up on this show: that fascism is not just a gross combination of things that people don’t like, of horrific policies; it’s a qualitative change in how society is governed. And that it foments and relies upon xenophobic nationalism, racism and misogyny and the reinstitution, the aggressive reinstitution, of oppressive so-called traditional values. Fascist mobs and threats of violence are unleashed to build the movement and consolidate power. What we’ve repeatedly underscored is that once in power, it essentially eliminates traditional democratic rights. And I wanted to ask your opinion on how do you see the attacks on trans people as part of this way that they overlap in any ways with voter suppression laws, or the ways the fascists are trying to change the laws and criminalize people? Do you see it intersecting with the laws against abortion and birth control? Do you see similar forces working on those different avenues?
Brynn Tannehill 27:59
It’s all the same forces generally trying to achieve the same ends. There is a high degree of overlap between the fight over trans people in the fight over women’s right to choose. It’s about bodily autonomy and taking away that autonomy. If trans people don’t get to make decisions about their body, or have access to hormones, or choose not to have children, the same argument can be made for women. And I think that as much as the decisions in Bostock, Zarda and Harris at the Supreme Court last year, help us It also means that if you can discriminate against trans people, you can discriminate against women, cisgender women. So that’s a danger, that we’re all, I hate to say it, when trans people go down, whatever excuses they use, legal excuses they use, it can be used to tear down lesbians and gays, it can be used to tear down women as well. And so if we go down, I would say that other groups are going to go down shortly after us. You also see the voter suppression and gerrymandering. Part of a fascist movement is that they need a single strong leader and they need complete rule, and they need all political power flowing from that authoritarian leader. And that’s very clearly Donald Trump. Everything flows from Donald Trump, even when he’s out of the White House, just as all political power within the NSDAP flowed from Hitler, even while he was sitting in jail after the Beer Hall Putsch. What this means in terms of the overall movement is that if the GOP gains what they want, which is permanent, minoritarian power, regardless of how people vote, they will use it to continue filling up the Supreme Court with ideologues and they will continue using the federal judiciary to undermine voter rights to obtain as much power as possible in as many places as possible. And when I talk about horrible things happening to trans people, a lot of people immediately say, well, that can’t happen, that’s got to be unconstitutional. And I’d like to remind people that anything is constitutional if the Supreme Court says it is constitutional. I would remind you: Dred Scott, Korematsu. And if you’re not familiar, Dred Scott is basically said black people can never be people that they can never not stop being slaves. And that Korematsu was yes, the federal government can absolutely arrest and put Japanese Americans in internment camps for well, pretty much no reason whatsoever, just because we’re kind of suspicious of them. Counting on the Supreme Court to stop atrocities from happening once we get another couple of really Trumpy far right judges, as long as there’s a fig leaf, yeah. We already talked about how the Project Blitz wanted to treat transgender people as a communicable health hazard, that needs should be minimized through the force of government. There’s your fig leaf of legality. People can forget that fascist countries continue to have a functional legal system. It just rubber stamps. It took whatever the government told them about why we need to do X bad thing and said: well, yeah, okay, that’s possible, We’ll buy that. We see the same mode of failure across countries that fall into fascism, particularly Hungary. If you want to look at where the US is headed. Hungary is a good example. There’s this type of government called competitive authoritarianism, which essentially means you still have elections, you still have opposition parties, but because the way the system has been rigged, the way the playing field tilted, the way the referee is captured, the opposition party has no hope of ever regaining power, even if the public votes for them overwhelmingly, or tries to. You see that in Wisconsin and North Carolina, where they gerrymander to the point where Democrats would have to win by 20 points to take back the state legislatures. Right now, the Senate tilts six or seven points right at the American public. The electoral college tilts about four is going to go up to five or six by the 2024 election. What we’re seeing in these other areas: the voter suppression, the attempt to seize permanent minoritarian power, essentially gives them the means to do whatever they want to trans people. And if you’ve read what their plans are, it should terrify you. One of the things that was pointed out by several scholars on fascism in my in my research was that fascism doesn’t know when to stop. They need perpetual war, there always has to be the next war and the next one and the next war, or the next step, and the next step, and the next step. They will keep finding ways that trans people are destroying the United States until there aren’t any trans people to pick on any more. So the thing with fascist movements is that they don’t know when to stop and to keep going and keep going until there must always be a war on somebody. And part of what made this past week and a half even more terrifying, was that you had somebody like Andrew Sullivan proposing a “solution” to the transgender question. And if you’re any kind of scholar on fascism, and Germany and the Holocaust, that should absolutely make your blood run cold.
A compromise? It screams separate but equal!
Yes. And it’s also worth reminding people that Germany modeled its initial repression of Jewish people and Roma and others, undesirables, on U.S. Jim Crow policies like “hey, how do we oppress these people as much as possible within the system legally?” And they went, “hey, that’s a good model.” And they looked at it starting in the 20’s on. So again, anytime you hear “separate but equal,” as we’re starting to hear in the UK, as I hear brought up occasionally for what should be done with trans people now, that’s also a very, very bad sign as separate but equal doesn’t end up working out that way, whether it’s in terms of facilities or access to sports, or medicine, or health care, or schooling or anything else.
Sam Goldman 33:38
I couldn’t agree more. What you were saying about Nazi Germany, reminded me of something that had come up on a previous episode with Professor Joshua Shanes, a scholar of Jewish Studies, and we were talking about how the book burnings, one of the biggest, most infamous book burnings, was in 1933, of the Institute of Sexology. The Institute was a research space that studied human sexuality. It had something like 20,000 books that were burned by Nazi youth. The founder of the institute, Magnus Hershfield, was Jewish and gay, and was a pioneer for rights and liberation in Berlin. And in 1904. I was reading recently, he had written a book that translated is Berlin’s Third Sex, and it was an early look at gender variance. And it’s just worth thinking about that this is not a new phenomenon, the targeting of LGBTQ people in in fascist societies. I wanted to if you have any further thoughts on your research and the connection to this?
Brynn Tannehill 34:46
So I hate to always go back to Germany as the touchstone for fascism, because there’s actually been plenty of fascist movements. But yeah, the first thing the Nazis did is they burned the library of the person studying transgender people. They didn’t have the term at the time they call them transexuals primarily, in terms a little bit archaic now, but it’s describing essentially the same phenomenon. When we look at other countries that are going down the fascist rabbit hole now and competitive authoritarianism, as we see in Hungary, they have been targeting transgender people, taking away their ability to change their documentation. We’ve also seen that gender studies and women’s studies programs in Hungary have been banned. In Poland, they’re declaring LGBT-free zones and banning abortion. Like I said, one of the first hallmarks of and this is actually in my list of characteristics of fascism, either #1 or #2 is sexual anxiety and misogyny. And where the US goes isn’t going to be going straight to book burnings. You can’t burn the internet. It’s going to look a lot more like Hungary and Poland than Germany. And that’s one of the big points in my book is there is only one Nazi Germany, there can only be one Nazi Germany. There’s only one Hitler. Fascism is a phenomenon that takes on the characteristics of whatever country it springs up in. Polish fascism looks different from Hungarian fascism looks different from Spanish fascism looks different from Italian. But they have certain characteristics in common, which is what my book tries to delve into is what all these things have in common together. And what we see in the United States today is that the Trump his movement is undoubtedly fascist. And when you read through the evidence, I think it’s fairly compelling that this is the only conclusion of how to describe what this movement is that it goes beyond simple right wing populism. That Huey Long was a right wing populist, but he probably wasn’t a fascist.
Sam Goldman 36:37
As we close out our discussion, I wanted to end with a little bit of hope, but hope on a solid foundation. How do we keep these laws from passing and resist them after they’ve passed? What kind of organizing should people be doing in this moment?
Brynn Tannehill 36:56
I would say that putting as much pressure on as possible before they pass is the best thing we can do. Because once they pass, and it’s in the courts, and it’s really kind of out of our hands. Use that anger to try and flip enough legislative seats, or flip governors’ offices or attorney general offices so that the attorney general’s office staff stop defending particular laws. Those are all good starts at the ground level. Finding ways to create malicious compliance is an absolutely fantastic way to go. And I’ll throw an idea out there for you: Cheerleading is considered a gendered sport, and the girls get skirts and the boys get pants after they’ve passed these anti-trans laws. And I know because I’m here in Fairfax County. One of the first trans athletes we had was a trans girl who did cheerleading. And if we got one of those laws, well, you could have a relatively progressive coach say that would mean that the trans girl has to wear pants. Okay, everyone wears pants, we are going to make this the rule everyone wears pants. Let me put it this way, no one’s going to be happy about everybody on the cheerleading team having to wear pants. So finding ways to create malicious compliance is probably one of our better options. But this is what I keep repeating to the trans community. If you are a parent of a transgender child, it’s not your job to stay and fight, especially for the younger ones, that’s just too much for them. For the ones that are getting medical care bans, no, your number one priority has to be taking care of your kid. And if that means taking a financial loss and getting the hell out, that’s what you do. And I’m gonna say this is that the people who survive fascist movements, when things turn really, really ugly are the ones who decide to pull the plug early. And this is something I’m gonna say to the national organizations is, in some ways, the best thing you could raise money on is helping parents of trans youth get out and find new jobs and new homes and move someplace safe for their kids. Because you can’t have children standing, and fight. We don’t find children’s armies in Africa acceptable. Why do we want to keep putting trans kids who’re eight, nine, ten, eleven years old at the frontlines of a culture war between fascists and modernity?
Sam Goldman 39:03
I wanted to give you the opportunity to touch on anything that I didn’t bring up if you have any closing comments, things that you really want people to know.
Brynn Tannehill 39:13
What people have to understand about what is happening to transgender people here is that this is a fascist movement. That they don’t have a switch that turns off to say: “Oh, well, we passed this bill, we’re done with trans people now.” They’re gonna keep going and keep going and keep going. Their ideal number of trans people is zero. They are willing to storm the Capitol and kill Mike Pence to get the kind of government that they want. This is extraordinarily dangerous and particularly dangerous for trans people, as we are the number one group being targeted now, except for perhaps immigrants, but probably trans people are now front and center as the most visible group of people being singled out by this movement. When Americans say: “Well, it can’t happen here. Bad things can’t happen here,” you need to go back. You need to read the American history of the South and what we did to Black people and what we did Japanese people during World War II. Americans can do horrible, horrible things to their fellow citizens or to people who live here, like a Trail of Tears. Don’t think for a moment that this isn’t incredibly dangerous, and that we need to remain energized because Trump’s gonna run again. And the Electoral College map is going to get even harder next time. And we can’t think that “yes, we’ve won.” No, this is an operational pause for the right.
Sam Goldman 40:27
And I think that that’s a very important way to close out this discussion. I just want to say that the escalation and intensification of these horrific attacks on our transgender siblings by Republican fascists is just that a, fascist campaign, as Brynn has said. A horrific campaign that is not only harmful to the most vulnerable — we’re talking about children being targeted — is extremely harmful to transgender people, but also to society more broadly. And we’ve said before that what we allow, not only do we condone, but it’s who we become. And we cannot become people that allow these monstrosities. It’s on us, all of us, to expose them and denounce them in the strongest most vociferous terms. So I want to thank Brynn again for joining us. Brynn, tell people how they can find your book and how they can learn more about you and your work.
Brynn Tannehill 41:24
My books are up on Amazon. My first book is with Jessica Kingsley Press. You can find it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and the publisher Jessica Kingsley: ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Trans’. My second book, ‘American Fascism: How the GOP is Subverting Democracy’, just came out, you can find it on my publishers website, TransgressPress.org or you can look for it on Amazon. It should be available in both Kindle and paperback.
Sam Goldman 41:47
Awesome and we will be posting links to Brynn’s website and how to follow her on Twitter as well.
Since this interview, anti-trans bills continue to spread. While the American Medical Association has urged governors to oppose legislation that prohibits transition related care for minors. They’ve called such proposals and bills and dangerous governmental intrusion into the practice of medicine. Be sure to check the show notes to get more from Brynn Tannehill. Thanks for listening. In relation to this interview, I want to share an excerpt from a statement from revolutionary leader Bob Avakian: ‘A New Year: The Urgent Need for a Radically New World for the Emancipation of all Humanity’. I’ve gotten a lot out of this, and I think it’s worth revisiting. So here it goes.
“The fact that the Trump/Pence regime has had to leave office is of great importance and something in itself worth celebrating! Yet the reality is that, not only in relation to this election but throughout the four years of this regime’s rule and its mounting atrocities, there has not been the massive nonviolent mobilization called for by Refuse Fascism to drive out this regime and, in the aftermath of the election, the streets were dominated by fascist mobilizations, and not by opposition to fascism. This has resulted in a situation where, despite the Trump/Pence regime’s loss in the election, the forces of fascism are still in many ways being strengthened, and the opposition to this has remained much too passive and reliant on the terms set by the Democratic Party. The reality has to be confronted that, as expressed through the election, nearly half this country has passionately, aggressively and belligerently embraced what is represented by ‘Trumpism.’ The unavoidable truth is that this country, the much-proclaimed ‘Shining City on a Hill,’ is full of fascists in the government at all levels and in large parts of the society as a whole. And a defining characteristic of these fascists is their fanatical allegiance to demented distortions of reality, which is extremely difficult (and in many cases impossible) to penetrate with reason and fact, because these distortions serve to reinforce their sense of threatened entitlement and render long-standing prejudices and hatreds even more virulent. This fascism is deeply rooted, in the underlying dynamics of the capitalist-imperialist system that rules in this country and in the whole history of this country, from its founding in slavery and genocide.”
Check it out in full at revcom.us.
If you found this episode informative, enlightening, challenging, let us know. And we hope you’ll rate and review the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to help us reach more people like you who care about what is going on, and what we do about it. Share your thoughts on this episode, the show in general, your ideas for topics and guests. You want to be involved with this movement? Write to me. Find me on twitter @SamBGoldman or email [email protected] And yes, you can chip in to support the show by donating at RefuseFascism.org. Again, thanks for listening, and I’ll be back next Sunday with a new episode, so be sure to hit subscribe, so you get it as soon as it uploads. Thanks to Richie Marini and Lina Thorne for helping co-produce this episode. As always, in the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America. Stay safe, not silent.