October 27th, 2018 | by Dylan James Harper

Transgender, in the eyes of reactionaries, has always been a symbol sexual deviancy. The goal isn’t, as many have started in reference to the new Trump memo, to completely erase trans people, but instead to erase any evidence of their legitimacy, and continue to use them as symbols of fear. The practice of targeting trans individuals politically, erasing them from any sort of law or culture, and then using them as justification for brutal action or oppression, long predates Trump.


Gender variance, which is now often colloquially and broadly referred to as being transgender, has historically occurred since antiquity, including in America. Don Pedro Fages famously wrote that there was “substantial evidence” that there were gender variant individuals in various Native tribes that were “held in great esteem.” In Europe, Germany Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for the Science of Sexuality) didn’t just have copious research about trans individuals, but performed the first modern gender confirmation surgery.


In the case of the Americas, it wasn’t until European colonization that laws against gender variance started appearing in Native communities. While it’s hard to know what specific policy was prior, given how many records of these communities were burned by colonizers, it’s clear that most anti-trans laws in Native communities and the Americas didn’t appear until after Europeans had infiltrated and began to influence these various tribes. Now, terms like Two-spirit or Third Gender have essentially been erased from modern, general historical knowledge.


When the Nazis took over, they burned Institut für Sexualwissenschaft to the ground, along with all their records, attempting to destroy evidence and research into the lives, healthcare, and general well being of trans individuals. Shortly after, they began to aggressively persecute trans individuals politically.


In neither of these cases was this destruction of historical records meant to erase trans people from existence. Reactionaries, be they European colonizers or Nazis, have always benefited from specific minority identities to target and marginalized. The hierarchies they help form give way to a justification of whatever oppression is to follow.


As climate change and ecological collapse approaches, hierarchies will be formed and reinforced. Arabs, Latinx individuals, and the trans community will be the earliest targets, used to justify the oppression that will follow. That, however, is not the reason to push back against the erasure of trans legitimacy. The selfishness of Martin Niemöller’s first they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out poem is that it only recognizes the humanity of the oppressed when that oppression takes root in the personal. Pushing back against the erasure of the trans community cannot be a fight for one’s own humanity, even if that is in fact the reality. Instead, it has to be a fight for trans legitimacy because trans individuals are legitimate.


The institute is on fire, and the laws will soon be rewritten. Now is the time to push back. Do at the ballot box, in the streets, at the Thanksgiving dinner table, online, anywhere. Fight back wherever you are, not because you’ll be next, but because no one should be first.

Dylan James Harper is the Political Editor for
Read more from Dylan at

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