Before the year 2000, no US state recognized same-sex marriage. By 2015, it was legal throughout the US and most of Western Europe. Before 2015 most Americans knew nothing about transgender issues. Within a year transgender issues are on the front pages of newspapers every day and schools may be forced to provide special bathrooms for trans students. The pace of change in the sexual revolution is not just rapid. It’s accelerating around the world. Why?
This is the fourth article in a MercatorNet symposium.
ZAC ALSTIN: it's a very small step from same-sex marriage to transgender.
Is the pace of change in the sexual revolution really accelerating? Yes and no, and it depends on where you look.
It’s easy to think that Transgenderism has only recently appeared on the radar, but in reality the T was added to the LGB during the 90s as part of internal political and ideological development within that movement.
Opponents and supporters alike have often ridiculed the “alphabet soup” that has seen the LGBT acronym expand over the years. Are we now officially up to LGBTQQIAAP, or did you fall asleep at your keyboard?
But even in ridicule the point is made, and the premise of unconstrained diversity is driven home without needing to learn what all the letters are supposed to stand for. While battles have been waged over gay and lesbian issues from adoption and IVF to anti-discrimination and the redefining of marriage, the T has stood like an aposiopesis, an “LGBT…” bookmarking the next stage of activism and cultural change.
As a minority partner in a minority movement it makes sense that Transgenderism would have to wait its turn for serious advocacy. The focus has been on homosexuality because they have the numbers and, let’s face it, the very concept of sexual orientation is easier to communicate than “gender is a social construct”. But the T was always next in line, and now that the L and the G have triumphed through the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, it’s Transgenderism’s time to shine.
The LGBT movement has had tremendous success in achieving its legal and cultural goals. For a growing majority of Americans supportive of same-sex marriage (60 percent according to a 2015 Gallup Poll) the Supreme Court decision is just the law playing catch-up to progressive values the public themselves have steadily embraced, at an average rate of 1.65 percent per year over the past 20 years.
It might feel like the pace of change is accelerating, but in reality Transgenderism is just a variation on the same underlying themes already accepted by the majority of people who support same-sex marriage. And in those 20+ years of growing support that “T…” has been an overt if overshadowed presence.
Support for same-sex marriage signifies a willingness to redefine foundational and enduring elements of society and culture for the sake of marginalised and victimised self-identified sexual minorities. And if a society is willing to redefine marriage to be more inclusive of people’s homosexual identities, why not redefine “man” and “woman” to be more inclusive of people’s gender identities?
Was it a coincidence that Bruce Jenner’s very public rebranding as Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair appeared so swiftly in the wake of the Oberfegell decision? Whether it was good luck or good marketing, Jenner’s overwhelming public and media reception was no coincidence. The June 26 Supreme Court decision had barely passed before the July issue of Vanity Fair reminded us that the “T” in LGBT wasn’t just there to balance out the acronym.
Politically, the whole movement is aided by continued progression. It’s less than a year since Obergefell but public focus is now on laws controlling access to gender-specific bathrooms. Same-sex marriage is old news.
Expect an analogous moment to occur for Transgenderism: no sooner will our social and legal institutions warmly embrace the right of men and women everywhere to identify as women or men anywhere than the harrowing plight of the agendered will come to the fore. Or perhaps we will see a more concerted effort to abolish hetero and gender normativity in the public square.
At face value, the question of whether men can marry men and women marry women seems barely connected to the question of whether a man who feels like a woman should expect to be treated like one.
But in reality both issues play out along very similar lines: are we willing to change or redefine social conventions to accommodate aggrieved and victimised minorities, so long as it doesn’t appear to cost us anything and means a lot to the people in question? The majority of Americans have answered “yes” in the instance of same-sex marriage. Why would they not answer “yes” when it comes to Transgenderism?
Zac Alstin is associate editor of MercatorNet. He also blogs at zacalstin.com
Other contributors to MercatorNet's transgender symposium