German physician Magnus Hirschfeld founded the Institute of Sexology, a research space for human sexuality studies, in 1919. It was one of the first medical facilities to perform gender affirmation surgeries for transgender people, and it collected a copious amount of research on LGBTQ community members — transgender people even worked on the staff.
But in 1933, the Nazis shut down the institute, burning more than 20,000 books they took from its shelves. The LGBTQ community was relentlessly persecuted in the ensuing Holocaust.
The persecution of trans people in the United States is not yet, and hopefully never becomes comparable to Nazi crimes, but we should take steps to make sure we don’t move in that direction. But in Florida, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill seeks to effectively eliminate LGBTQ topics in education. While not as extreme as book burning, it serves the same purpose: the concealment of information some don't like.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott instructed state agencies to investigate families who provide gender-affirming treatments to their children, calling it “child abuse.” Most lawmakers in Florida and Texas don’t want children to transition or even learn about transitioning.
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Georgia Republican House candidate Mitchell Swan called for a reinstatement of Donald Trump’s transgender military ban last week. He said allowing trans people to serve in the military sends a message to our adversaries that “we are more focused on social experimentation than on the defense of our nation.”
Social experimentation. This is what happens when transgender history is not widely taught in schools: it leads to the bigoted notion that being a transgender person is simply a trend, an experiment that can be legislated out of existence.
Rejection of binary gender norms is not an American social experiment, but something that’s occurred throughout the world for thousands of years.
For example, ancient Hindu texts refer to a group of people called hijras, who are neither male nor female. Today, they are legally recognized as a third gender in India. Some hijras identify as transgender, but many do not and consider themselves something entirely different. Regardless, they exist outside of rigid, repressive gender binaries.
When the British colonized India in the 19th century, hijras were persecuted. The British named them criminals in 1871, declaring they were against nature. Traces of hijra persecution as a result of colonization can still be found in India today.
The same can be said of Two-Spirit, an umbrella term used to describe indigenous people from various tribes who are said to have both a masculine and feminine spirit. Two-Spirit people were historically involved in masculine roles such as battling as well as those usually assigned to women such as weaving.
Two-Spirit and transgender people are not the same thing, but both defy the notion gender is binary and biologically determined.
When North America was colonized, Two-Spirit people were demonized. The colonists couldn’t conceive such understandings of gender, and so they tried to eliminate it. They failed.
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Even in our precious “western culture,” trans people have a long history. Ancient Rome was once ruled by Elagabalus, who was assigned male at birth but dressed as a woman, had male lovers and always referred to herself as a woman. Historians have interpreted Elagabalus to be a trans woman, but constantly refer to her as “emperor.” I hope in the future this error is corrected.
Reactionaries who uphold the “supremacy” of the West always ignore facts like these. How embarrassing it must be for them! They despise trans people yet praise an empire ruled by them.
To summarize, trans people have always existed and will continue to exist. Conservative efforts to suppress them will fail — and they should. Trans people are human beings, and their history is ours, too. Though some might try to deny the existence of trans history by dismissing trans identity as a “social experiment,” they are nothing more than uninformed bigots.
Every historical effort to destroy trans people has failed, and it will fail in the U.S. as well. A pleasure it will be to help that failure along.
Jared Quigg (he/him) is a sophomore studying journalism and political science.