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Citations Needed

Nov 14, 2018

In the wake of the 2016 election, many conservatives, liberals, and - unfortunately - even some on the left pointed to Democrats' reliance on so-called "identity politics" to explain Donald Trump's upset victory over Hillary Clinton.

One of the most popular manifestations of this sentiment was the controversy surrounding bathrooms and transgender rights. The general theory was that some unspecified cohort of voters, outraged by the oppressive nature of trans politics, responded by voting for a reactionary bigot they otherwise wouldn’t have supported. “Identity politics” – and its close cousin “political correctness” – had gone too far, we heard, and Trump's election was the blowback.

Commentaries in corporate media pushed this narrative, while missing the essential point: The alleged “identity issues” of trans people are not a matter of self-esteem or feeling good about themselves or about some academic notion of "being recognized." In many concrete ways, they’re quite literally a matter of life and death. Yet conveying this notion to the broader, cis public has been almost impossible as media narratives surrounding trans issues – when they’re not outright hostile or glib – have disproportionately focused on surface-level improvements among the wealthy and within spaces that even help advance U.S. militarism.

How do we breakthrough the corrosive narratives of either contempt on the one hand, or imperialist inclusion on the other? And how can we elevate narratives that affect the vast majority of trans people, like housing, police terror, legal status, healthcare and basic human dignity, while pushing back against liberal and left holdouts who dismiss trans issues as simply another “distraction.”

We are joined on today's episode by Dean Spade, associate professor at Seattle University School of Law.