Transphobic protestors and commentators have recently taken to the slogan, “Leave our kids alone.” It’s part of an attempt to brand educators, librarians, authors, artists — whoever works with kids and supports trans children’s right to self-identify however they wish — as “groomers,” threats to the safety of kids via insidious brainwashing. In reality, reactionaries using the slogan “leave our kids alone” is little more than a clumsy — and violent — case of projection. And all you have to do to see this is look at how reactionaries treat authority versus even the most bland, middle-ground liberal.
Transphobes are fundamentally, and non-trivially, social conservatives, and the focus of their social conservatism in this context is the “traditional” binary division of “male” and “female.” This should be an obvious statement, to be sure, but finding solid ground in the rancid, anti-concept riddled swamp that is the “culture wars” is necessary for survival. Since increasing social conservatism entails greater and greater deference to tradition, social conservatism also entails mechanisms that preserve tradition over newer, alternative, competing ways of being with greater and greater force: hierarchical institutions, control over information (and its interpretation), stratified interpersonal power dynamics, etc etc. All of these mechanisms place power in the hands of (at least) one person and grant them the ability to constrain the actions of (at least) one other person. This too will seem obvious to many, but it’s worth repeating, given that the word “freedom” is so thoroughly abused by reactionaries that it might as well be married to a cop.
Contrast that with supporters of trans rights and trans kids’ freedom to choose their own identities, who are socially liberal (we’ll say that “liberal,” here, essentially corresponds to what Americans typically call “liberal”). The more socially liberal you are, the more you tend to support measures that decrease the power that authority figures have over others. Your mileage will (and should) vary as to how consistent socially liberal individuals are in this realm, or if they go far enough in pushing back against mechanisms that increase the power of authority figures. But social liberals tend to fight against things like corporal punishment at home or at school, holy scripture or age trumping personal experience and feelings, discipline over creativity, etc etc (and if you get close enough to consistent social liberalism, you’ll see people advocating that we abolish any coercive structures we can find in their entirety).
Now, take two communities: one that’s socially conservative and one that’s socially liberal. Plug any set of ideas — any ideas at all — into both of them. Which community has the greatest potential for brainwashing: the one where authority is valorized and tradition reigns supreme, or the one where authority figures like parents, teachers, administrators, and so on have sharp constraints on what they can make a kid do, and the message that kids ought to always obey their superiors is as absent?
And what if we plug in the “debate” over whether schools should be an inclusive and safe environment for trans kids—which community is more likely to impose views on students without their consent or contrary to their own self-identity? The community where authority reigns supreme? Or the community where children are expected, first and foremost, to travel freely along a path of self-discovery?
Obviously it’s the socially conservative one.
It’s entirely consistent with the social conservative mindset to brainwash, manipulate, push, file, stamp, index, and number to preserve tradition for its own sake, and to eliminate anything conservatives see as threatening the “traditional” way of life. They don’t want freedom for children; they want to eliminate any competition over the direction of children’s lives, including from children’s innate curiosity about the world. By contrast, it’s perfectly consistent with the social liberal mindset to shrink hierarchy, encourage exploration, and respect any identity that’s willing to respect others in turn. When liberals fail to be consistent, it’s because they refuse to go far enough in condemning hierarchy and domination.
There are, of course, plenty more reasons for calling the moral panic over trans children what it is: an immoral and authoritarian (I repeat myself) attempt to place children under the boot heel of fearful, ignorant parents. But if anyone out there is siding with the transphobes because of a legitimate concern for children’s wellbeing, it would be best to note the discussion above: these culture war battles don’t occur in a vacuum. The side you’ve hitched your wagon to worships at the altar of authority and wants nothing more than to tighten its grip over the vulnerable.