Today my friend Matt shared a letter from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In his fundraising appeal, TEDS’ president, Nicholas Perrin, wrings his hand over “our culture” when people “barely flinch as a man (sic) proudly and confidently claiming to be a woman.” Like many of his right-wing politicos brothers, Perrin raises trans-hate rhetoric by commenting on the trans identity of the the Covenant school shooter in Tennessee.
You may be wondering, why are evangelicals obsessed with trans people? It may be that asking this question is like throwing a pebble into the sea. If there is a culture war train to ride, evangelicals want all the seats. But let’s explore the question now that a wave of anti-trans legislation is emanating from red states. We’ve watched these laws run the gamut -- from outlawing drag show performances (“first amendment rights for me, but not for thee”) to death-dealing restrictions on gender-affirming treatments for children and youths.
You may be asking, where is this coming from? There were 26.2 million children ages 12-17 in the U.S. in 2021 - 1,390 initiated the use of puberty blockers. That number is statistically irrelevant, yet 12 states have effectively banned this life-affirming treatment and 19 have legislation pending. For roughly 1,400 kids? Seriously?
There was no protest of Mrs. Doubtfire, no lashing out at MASH and, to my knowledge, no boycott of my favorite gender-flouter – David Bowie. Why this raft of hatred towards trans people, especially from Christian conservative wings?
The story goes back to 2015 when the Supreme Court decided the Bostock decision, ruling that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was covered by the protection against discrimination “because of sex.” Same sex marriage became legal across the nation and the decision covered three other cases protected gay people against discrimination in the workplace.
In other words, evangelicals lost. They lost massively.
Fast forward to last summer when, with the Dobbs decision, SCOTUS overturned the constitutional right to an abortion and handed these legal decisions to the states (truly a hot mess). Evangelicals worked for decades for this decision to go their way -- sold their souls to Donald Trump, engaged in morally abominable judge influencing, and made sure their people were well paid for their service.
In other words, evangelicals won. They won massively.
Which means that, by the summer of 2022, the primary evangelical cultural issues that brought out the masses to vote had evaporated. And the Republican party has to get to evangelicals out to vote in order to win. With few independents left in U.S. and political polarization at a high, turn out is a key factor in elections.
Remember that in the 1960s there was no evangelical voting bloc. The religious right cut their teeth on defending racist practices of segregation at Bob Jones University and when they discovered they could mobilize voters by racism, they expanded their reach. Ronald Reagan became the first to take this strategy to a presidential campaign, and his deference helped him to the defeat an actual evangelical, Jimmy Carter.
With abortion off the table as a federal concern and gay rights firmly entrenched for just shy of a decade, Republicans are going back to their bread and butter – misogyny and racism.
(I think misogyny, hatred of women, is at the base of the ideological work of evangelical hatred of trans people. The difference between Mrs. Doubtfire and a drag queen is clear – sexual desire. I suspect there is significant anxiety for evangelical men in seeing women’s bodies not parodied by men as crones and dowdy housewives, but as bodies to which they are attracted, women they would like to have sex with. There is a fierce and deadly anxiety in cis men about being “fooled.” This anxiety, when it morphs into rage, is one reason for the astronomical murder rate of trans women in the United States. Trans murders are also murders of trans women of color, and poverty and exposure to violence as a sex worker is significant. )
This is a very old playbook. Instead of Bob Jones losing its tax-exempt status over segregation, we have a war on supposed “critical race theory,” also known as teaching children what actually happened in history (see also the ever-shifting right-wing sands of “facts don’t care about your feelings”). Instead of protecting “pre-born children,” we have the religious right protecting children from drag queens (but not guns). We have Republicans swooping in to defend women’s sports against trans women (there are 220,000 college athletes, 36 are (edit) out trans athletes – roughly half are trans men competing in men’s sports).
If you want to understand evangelical obsession with trans people, don’t look at the Bible. Look at the ballot box.
Wow, Melissa. Thank you so much for articulating clearly what is going on. I am appalled by the violence of anti-trans rhetoric, and by white evangelicals' laser focus on trans hate. I appreciate you calling out this hate for what it is.
I believe we have Pauli Murray to thank for Bostock, which moves me every single time I contemplate the fact. https://www.milwaukeeindependent.com/syndicated/pauli-murray-jane-crow-feminist-episcopal-saint-front-line-racial-justice/