Some thoughts about ongoing “Trans Genocide” narratives

Mallory Moore
18 min readApr 15, 2023

Content warning: Discussion of genocide, violence. Images of neo-nazis and fascist rhetoric.

Genocide is a terrifying prospect. Fascism and totalitarianism are very real risks of escalating conflict for which it is important that we as a society remain vigilant. Over the last year or two there has been an increase in alarm raising over an impending “trans genocide” with varying degrees of evidence and a drive to try to stop this.

This discussion has been progressing over a longer time line and two years ago I was still arguing clearly that we should be avoiding the use of the word “genocide” when the framework of “eugenics” is much more applicable to the ideology and practice of the vast majority of suppression of trans identities, human rights and transition practices in society outside of more totalitarian state interventions. I have started to revise this position as of last year, when a wave of literally hundreds of pieces of legislation crashed across America trying to legislate trans people out of public life altogether. This shift is something which qualitatively changes the dynamic from the mere repudiation, neglect and passive suppression of trans life which we have been accustomed to for decades to actively developing the foundations for trans purges. It is something which has led other states in the USA to pass “sanctuary” laws in response to allow refuge for those who are effectively criminalised for being trans or supporting trans lives.

I should add, I am not a genocide scholar and I note that the rhetorical environment around this has been charged by accusations from much more qualified individuals that the gender critical movement more widely espouses a genocidal ideology. While the Lemkin Institute is a young organisation and shouldn’t be confused with the more established Lemkin Seminar series held annually in the former Auschwitz concentration camp, their founding team includes academics like Elisa von Joeden-Forgey PhD, who is a professor of Holocaust and Genocide studies, contributed a chapter to the Oxford Handbook on Genocide, and is an expert researcher in gender issues and genocide. While the LI have been an early outlier among genocide research bodies describing the genocidal intent of the “Gender Critical” movement, they are nevertheless not easily dismissed.

In this essay I’m going to explore from a more pragmatic perspective as a researcher and advocate trying to intervene against organised harm targeting trans people, some ways that an exclusive focus on the “Trans Genocide” narrative can perhaps create problems for those of us working to reduce very real threats and incidents of harm and violence targeting us.

A few notes on what “trans genocide” might be defined as

Traditionally, because the terminology got it was coined in the aftermath of the holocaust and porajmos, “genocide” was coined by Polish lawyer Raphäel Lemkin specifically in terms of the attempted destruction of a race, religious, ethnic or cultural. This destruction is not necessarily limited to just killing members of that group. The UN office on Genocide Prevention lists the following:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

In the traditional sense, trans people are not a “race”, nor a religious, national, cultural or ethnic group, and therefore our destruction or dissolution can trivially be dismissed by our antagonists as “not genocide”. So far as we know, transgender status is not passed through hereditary community (like religious or ethnic status often is) but rather appears throughout the cisgender human population pan-culturally and therefore the idea of purging us “as a people” is a non starter.

But those discussing the question of “trans genocide” are not trying to make the claim that we are such a group. Instead the point is that we are an identifiable, demonised, marked social minority group within a wider society and are vulnerable as a group to attempts at our dissolution and extermination.

In fact attempts by gender critical groups to mark out tolerance for trans life as “trans ideology”, a “trans cult”, to describe recognition of trans people’s gender identities as a “religion” that must be destroyed would strongly suggest that even if we are not a religion or cultural group, there are those who both consider us to be one regardless and intend to commit what would on the face of it be a form of genocide against that perceived “ideology” whether we are one or not! It is in this sense, and in the following claims that trans people are a social contagion, a parasite, a virus that must be wiped out and safeguarded from children, that I think anti trans activists veer directly and deliberately towards wielding the existing cultural infrastructure and tools for committing genocides against trans people, whether we fit the textbook definition of a potential victim group or not.

So far, so confusing and depressing.

I think there are three things people need to account for:

  1. Lists of steps to genocide can structure people’s attention for info about harm so as to ignore other harms or generally make all conversations about proving or disproving genocide claims.
  2. Failure to develop skill in a rich vocabulary for describing and interpreting forms of suppressive personal, epistemic, structural and institutional violence against trans people may leave us permanently on the brink of genocide rather than handling the tributary currents that lead us there adequately in their own rights.
  3. Emotional fatigue is real. Being told we are on the brink of annihilation, even for those parts of the world where it may even true, is exhausting when we are not looking at how we can pull back from it. The natural response to logging on every day to be told we are all going to be killed is eventually to just log off in the hope of making the most of what remains of our short life. It can be disempowering and paralysing despite there being many avenues for resistance.

On the other hand, it is nevertheless absolutely necessary that we do not mince our words or bowdlerise descriptions of our oppression for the sake of everyone’s comfort. It must be made uncomfortable to be aware of our oppression. But it must be uncomfortable in ways that generates action for change rather than despair and apathy!

1. The listification of genocide

Popular trans content creators online have been repeatedly citing lists of “stages” of genocide as published by the Holocaust memorial, and attempting to identify which stage we are at (varying in some accounts between stage 5 and stage 8).

This is understandable in a lot of ways. When we talk about violence and harm to us as a community, many cisgender people do not understand or do not care about harms that are specific to our experience. They can’t relate to them and therefore do not have the ability to see them as harm at all. A classic example for instance is conversion practices through history. Cisgender people engaged in practices attempting to cure us of what is percieved as a disease (our transness), against considerable protest from trans people ourselves, with it only being in recent decades that it’s increasingly recognised that conversion “therapy” is a form of torture, leaving its victims with life long mental health issues and trauma, doing the victims no good whatsoever.

And so, because of this phenomenon where cisgender people don’t believe us when we say we’re being harmed, and don’t understand harm specific to us when we describe it, we generally are dependent on translating our experiences of harm into harms that cisgender people do care for or understand. The problem is, most people we are reaching out to are not genocide or torture scholars and don’t take information from genocide lists much more seriously than they do information about harms we are facing on their face value.

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/800/1*GK7-Gjqm08f1Cshi03w08A.jpeg

We, and most of all right now trans people in the United States, are doubtless facing a political crisis as cisgender supremacist propagandists spread lies about trans people and more widely LGBTQ people “grooming” and “mutilating” children and quite nakedly supporting vigilante mass killings in support of these false claims.

The list of stages of genocide was very clearly drawn from and perhaps overly specific to analysis of events like the lead up to the Holocaust, where the analogous moment would be widespread public demonisation of the Jews through lists of Jewish crimes, and related lynchings by paramilitary groups. The assumption in using this list is that this is the same structure we would expect to see in the run up to a trans genocide.

There have been relatively few such acts of violence but the fact that they’re happening at all and being promoted quite openly by significant right wing media figures is plenty concerning enough to be raising alarms. That’s something I do not want to underplay the significance of at all here.

Neonazis from Australia's National Socialist Network do the fascist salute carrying an Australian national flag and a banner saying "Destroy Paedo Freaks" at the Kellie Jay Keen Standing For Women rally in Victoria.
Neonazis from Australia’s National Socialist Network do the fascist salute carrying an Australian national flag and a banner saying “Destroy Paedo Freaks” at the Kellie Jay Keen Standing For Women rally in Victoria.

For instance, neonazi groups who imagine themselves the descendents of the Nazi paramilitaries of the 1920s and 30s, and spread Nazi nostalgia content through the increasingly popular slogan “Weimar Problems need Weimar Solutions” are appearing routinely at public anti-trans rallies. They hold banners saying “Destroy Paedo Freaks” at Gender Critical rallies, they piggyback on the claims spread by antisemite TERF activists like Jennifer Bilek and popularised by well-connected widely published Gender Critical activists like Sex Matters director Helen Joyce and others that “Transgenderism” is being pushed by rich Jews, and these extremists, both keyboard warriors in secretive group chats and in the streets are very open about wanting to exterminate us all.

A typical post from one of a number of far right propaganda telegram channels trying to use antisemitic exterminationist conspiracy theories to push anti-trans eliminationism

And while it could be argued that the Gender Critical movement are an unpleasant fringe with unsavoury connections to extreme rhetoric, and the neonazis are themselves for the most part so underground the only real harm they’re likely to do is one off acts of terrorism before going straight to prison if they live that long, there are actually much bigger institutions backing this extremism. For instance, America’s Fox News host Tucker Carlson notoriously signalled his support during pride month last year for the Christian Fascist movement by opening a segment on drag queens with the catchphrase “Just another weekend in Weimar”. Elsewhere, British Right Wing Broadcaster Calvin Robinson was seen at protests in South East London two weekends ago with Turning Point UK backed by far right heavies including Phil Curson, formerly linked to Nazi terror group Combat18 — an apparently quite direct link between the violent far right and prominent British media personalities. And this is one of many others that I won’t dive too far into here, but I want to underline that I’m not trying to downplay the fact that there is a mainstreaming in the USA and UK of very extreme and dangerous rhetoric, as well as mobilisation of violent individuals to try and make trans and LGBTQ participation in public life hard. And this is happening at the same time as the human rights infrastructure of the UK for trans people is gradually but quite effectively being disestablished by the state. It certainly doesn’t help matters that our democratic chambers are in such a sorry state that the official opposition’s main strategy is to simply abandon our human rights.

However while things are worrying and the present and future operate to the same laws of nature and human behaviour as the past which we must learn from, I do have a concern that we have a conflict between the need to get sympathetic cis people to understand the threats we are facing, and needing to rely on historical precedents which are widely misunderstood.

One of the key problems that has come up is the fight over Trans Holocaust scholarship and the struggle over the memory of Nazi era Germany itself as a proxy for discussions about attempts to eliminate us in the present day*. While scholarship is still continually unearthing new information about the experiences of trans people under the Nazis (largely violent and murderous, but mostly through persecuting trans people as “mentally ill”, “degenerates” or “homosexuals”, as the Nazis didn’t recognise trans people as such) this need to hook the discussions about the very real present attacks on us to a past precedent leaves us flailing in the margins of a n emerging unresolved historical debate that isn’t moving us any closer to action on addressing the threats we face. For instance, the Labour Party’s Rosie Duffield has been criticised by holocaust historians for liking and sharing memes ridiculing the claim that Nazi atrocities affected trans people, but it’s made no difference to the Labour party’s staunch defence of her, because historians of trans experiences under the Nazis work is bleeding edge stuff right now and hasn’t filtered out more widely.

For more info see The Eradication of “Talmudic Abstractions”: Anti-Semitism, Transmisogyny and the National Socialist Project (2018), Laurie Marhoefer: Trangender Identities and the Police in Germany (2019), Cross-dressing, Male Intimacy and the Violence of Transgression in Third Reich Photography (2021) Transgender Experiences in Weimar and Nazi Germany (2022), among many others.

Instead we end up in a series of tiresome debates about how to correctly remember those victims of the Nazis like Dora Richter (who disappeared in an attack on the Berlin Sexology Institute) or Liddy Bacroff (murdered at Mauthausen KZ), or others. And these are very important conversations for historians to be having and properly contextualising the memory of those who were murdered, and at the same time there’s an escalating climate of anti-trans violence that urgently needs addressing that only makes bitter internet spats over holocaust history both more tensely politicised and at least a little bit a distraction from pointing out and responding to direct, present and impending harms.

Similarly, where people are using lists of stages of genocide drawn from the history of the Holocaust, the debate invariably shuffles on to fights over which particular stage we are now at. This is paralysing in practice — turning everyone into bystanders, amateur genocide spotters with their spotters cards for recognising the plumage of a particular form of extermination rather than preparing to confront and oppose it. People say “we are now at stage 8 of genocide — persecution”, the idea of persecution being a collective status among that assumed “we” are progressing along towards a pre-determined end. And then even more endless arguing over whether the attempt by Texas Governor Abbott to draw up lists of trans people to persecute means that “we” are “at” stage 8 or if the failure of this bumps “us” back down to stage 7 — preparation of the victim group for genocide by spreading fear.

I don’t think these lists were designed to serve this purpose. I think these lists were created to help people understand that genocide doesn’t start with chimneys dropping ash from murdered people all around, and that therefore all stages of human rights ought to be protected so we don’t get towards the later stages of these collapsing. But the paradox is, they were designed for teaching about the horrors of genocide in peace time, in the aftermath of a grand atrocity, and also following further atrocities like Rwanda and the Bosnian genocide. We are not in a situation of immediate systematic exterminations, and at the same time, we are in a situation that almost feels too serious to waste time arguing over what phase of extermination we may be at. These lists have served their part in helping educate the curious about how attempts to destroy a social group occur, but serve relatively little use in helping persuade the unpersuaded that harm to trans people is real, and matters. We’re busy focusing on a train schedule while standing in the path of an oncoming train that would be visible even without the list.

2. The need to communicate effectively about impending harm

Anti-trans activists have really effectively mobilised a strategy of stigmatising communication about harm targetting trans people, on multiple fronts. When we talk about hate crimes, they claim that any rise in hate crime is due to reports of misgendering. When we talk about violence, they cite activists talking about how using the wrong pronouns is “actual violence”. This is an effective strategy at smothering any discussion of anti-trans harm because minimising everything we say and changing the topic rapidly forces us into further debates of degenerating quality and relevance to anything like addressing harm against trans people. One of the things it relies on is seizing on any and every exaggeration of harm that ever happens and maximising that as a “gotcha” to demonstrate that we are playing up rare but tragic events in conjunction with a variety of everyday things that normal people have no problem with in order to manipulate the poor and vulnerable feelings of the general public for some sinister purpose. The confusion is the point!

One of the things that makes this minimise, deny, reverse victim and offender strategy (known widely as “DARVO”) strategy so effective is that it rapidly degenerates all discussion of harm into a community vs anti-community activist version of “He said, She said”. We do not have the same access to the media that cisgender anti-trans activists do, and we are starting automatically from a position of suspicion in relation to being a group labelled as suffering from a catastrophic mental illness — we can’t even figure out what sex we are so how on earth can we be relied to know what’s good for us? And the natural human reaction because as a community we have not been very organised in responding is to increasingly try to counter-escalate, and insist, no really, harm is happening and it’s very serious! This doesn’t work.

And so we start reaching for the lists of stages of genocide, the stories about the sacking of the Hirschfeld institute, the names of trans people murdered under the Nazis, we effectively try to overcome these fabricated communication barriers which at their root are about our relative disprivilege in being taken and heard seriously and we try to overcome them by finding more intense and terrifying things to explain the creeping terror we are increasingly feeling, because we are being ignored when we talk about the harm we are facing and we quite naturally imagine that if that harm and terror about threatened further harm was understandable to cisgender people, they might help us stop various impending disasters.

Except at this point, we’re facing some very serious forms of harm and threat, neonazis in the street working in cahoots with major broadcasters, mass shooters, demonisation, and apparently the best communications strategy that we’ve somehow allowed ourselves to commit to is training the wider cisgender public in obscure niches like the very cutting edge of Transgender Holocaust studies, the nature and typical progression trajectory of an average genocide, the complex ways that existing anti-genocide frameworks don’t quite encompass as a group that isn’t a religious minority but nevertheless we are being targeted as if we are a religious minority. We’re seriously in the weeds! And all we need to do is talk about how many of us are facing increased street violence, harassment, cyber-stalking. About how specifically the government in the UK and the USA are each working diligently to ensure that human rights infrastructure will not protect us when we need it, or in some states is transitioning into active efforts to persecute trans families. When we’ve reached this point, these genocide frameworks have helped train our instincts to recognise the quite grave threats on the horizon but leave us lacking in trying to discuss those threats in a way that is immediately actionable in the present.

All of this contributes to the 3rd problem.

3. Emotional fatigue is real.

One things we can learn from the Nazi genocide of the Jews is that it took a long time, until it did not. Antisemitic conspiracy theories have been around for millenia. But the wave that drove the Nazis to power started in the late 19th Century and spanned the Eurocentric globe. Conspiracy theory hoax The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was written in 1903 and proven to be a hoax a full twelve years before Hitler came to power. American industrialist Henry Ford wrote a pamphlet series on The International Jew which was much loved by Hitler to the later shame of Ford over 10 years before the Nazis came to power. Pogroms happened in Russia and various other places for decades. If we are to take seriously the idea of learning from past genocides, so as to prevent them in the present, we simply can’t emotionally sustain living as we are already on the brink of an event from which there’ll be no return. It’s disastrous to people’s mental health.

There are terrible things happening. Supportive parenting of trans children is being criminalised. Gender diverse expression in public is being criminalised. Threats are being made of making it a “sex crime” to appear in drag in front of a child and simultaneously to make all sex crimes capital punishment offences in parts of the USA. These are all, nakedly, exterminationist proposals, and some of them are policies in actual practice from the state.

But at the same time we have to carry on. We need to identify strengths and weaknesses of those trying to target trans people to press our advantage on. We need to find ways to maintain healthcare access for those in hostile jurisdictions and we need to help people navigate fleeing states where it has become criminal to seek out of state healthcare or support as a trans person. And while warnings that trans people in some locations are in a dire situation are definitely both true and necessary, we have to survive and outlast this. We have to be able to wake up every day and carry on working to challenge the power of those making it this way. We need not to just become horrified bystanders of the harm that we aren’t directly at risk from. It’s not a foregone conclusion that this will only get worse, even if we are certain that people are already suffering in the meantime before we make it better. In the UK trans healthcare for adolescents has been largely collapsed, and government guidance has suggested the possibility of referring children who receive care outside the NHS for social services safeguarding (signalling to parents that their suicidal children being failed by the health service might be taken away for seeking a way around the years long waiting lists). At the same time the captured EHRC has just recommended legal reforms that would revert much of the substance of the last 19 years of trans civil rights progress and potentially even put trans people in a situation where accessing toilets makes us subject to vigilante violence without legal protection. The dreadful situation in the USA is slightly worse than in Britain, but a vague cloud of threat of persecution lurks in the background all the same.

If we are going to end up being subjected to worse, it may will take decades to get there. If we are not, it makes sense nevertheless to try and work on addressing the things that are bad right now. And we need the energy and time to find hope and joy to do that. We need to be careful that we aren’t just purging our sources of hope. Because they’re absolutely vital. Anticipating disaster is hard like that. People are being hurt and there is threat impending. Very real threat. And somehow we have to keep going. So what can we do about that communication problem? This is the toughest side of this, and I really don’t know. I do know that some of our most powerful public relations to cisgender people involve the way we touch others’ lives in spheres that have nothing to do with trans horror. The artists, the comedians, the musicians, the technologists, the personalities that people relate to and through relating come to see us as part of the world as it should be, rather than the abstract concept of gender as a “Man in a Dress” that transphobes keep wanting to reduce us to. We are vibrant when we are engaging with people as human beings rather than subjects of controversy. We are loved. We stop being abstract policy “debates” and become for those people human beings that they understand and connect with.

Summing up

“Trans Genocide” frameworks can give us some things to hook on to in trying to help people understand what’s going wrong and how urgent the need is to act now. Or at least they would, if we were in a position of being heard properly and taken seriously rather than ridiculed for even suggesting that hate crime rates rapidly increasing and laws spanning the USA criminalising trans lives are a serious problem.

We have the history of the burgeoning LGBTQ community and civil rights movement in Weimar Berlin having more or less been wiped out, large quantities of knowledge about trans life burned in library fires. If we set our sights slightly wider we get ideas like the idea of the evil insider, of “degeneracy”. The way that we have historically been stigmatised and used as a stereotype of “degeneracy” to justify purges and the way that that historical rhetoric is being used in the present day to push towards purges now.

But I would argue we could and should just as well set our sights much wider and on making efforts to inform the public target slower longer term understanding. We have a long history of attempts to suppress us through conversion practices, through medical neglect. We have the parallels between “social contagion” rhetoric pushed by anti-trans cranks and the often under-examined history of eugenics actively working through otherwise liberal publicly funded health and social welfare institutions we rely on. It’s not that we shouldn’t name openly eradicationist rhetoric we face as such. But we’ve got to work out better ways of doing this so that we don’t just overload those we’re communicating with with homework about a history of atrocities against trans people and in general, when we need them to understand briefly but seriously the urgency of material harms happening in the present. We need more balancing to make sure that we’re raising and handling historical issues sensitively and relevantly, at the same time as focusing on ways of informing people that generate action rather than horrified voyeurism.

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Mallory Moore

Trying to develop a gender abolition worthy of the wider abolitionist feminism movement.