New survey of the way Americans look at transgender people presents an ambiguous picture
Good news and bad news from the battle of the public opinion on transgender people in the US.
Following the transgender “debate” is like following the moving front lines in Ukraine. There is a war going on, and anti-trans extremists are committing crimes against trans people on a daily basis.
But are they winning? Or are they, like Putin and his cronies, losing the war?
A new US survey made by the Pew Research Center gives a glass half full/glass half empty kind of picture.
That is: From an historical perspective there has been a strong positive shift towards acceptance of trans people. We have to keep that in mind when reading all the sickening newspaper headlines.
On the other hand, the anti-trans activists have — by exploiting traditional ways of thinking — managed to paint a picture of trans people as a threat in some social arenas, like sports and restrooms.
A large majority defends trans people
The good news first:
64% of Americans thinks that transgender people should be protected against discrimination in jobs, housing and public spaces. Only 10% oppose this.
This echoes numbers from Norway, where the hyper-aggressive anti-trans contingent represents no more than 1 out of ten. The Norwegians are much more tolerant when it comes to the inclusion of trans people in gendered spaces, however.
58% of the respondents say they would favor or strongly favor policies that require transgender athletes to compete on teams that match the sex they were assigned at birth.
This means that the queer community and its supporters have not managed to make the majority of Americans see that trans women participating in women’s arenas are no more a threat to sports than other categories of women.
The fact that trans women in general do not perform better than cis women does not register, and any trans woman who wins is seen to have won because of her transgender history and not because of her athletic skills.
Moreover, the majority of Americans clearly do not see through the way transphobes are using sports as a way of getting social acceptance for the exclusion of trans women from women’s spaces — a deliberately stigmatizing tactic, for sure.
Banning health care for trans kids
41% want to make it illegal for health professionals to provide someone younger than 18 with “medical health care for gender transition”. 31% disagree with this.
37% believe that parents should be investigated for child abuse if they helped someone younger than 18 get medical care for a gender transition. 36% disagree.
In these cases, however, the questions asked are probably too ambiguous. I suspect that many who support these policies do so because they believe the question refers to top and bottom surgery (which is rarely performed on those younger than 18). They do not understand the role of puberty blockers and other types of health care.
Taking this possible misunderstanding into consideration, I suspect the numbers reflect the general cultural and political polarization of the US. The radicalization of the Republican Party and its aggressive anti-trans propaganda have nearly obliterated the kind of compassionate and sane Conservatism you find in many European countries. Transphobia has become a sign of tribal affiliation.
The fact that some 20 to 30 percent of the respondents have no opinion on these matters, tells us that it might be possible to shift public opinion towards increased support for trans people.
Becoming invisible in schools
I am more worried about the fact that as many as 41% want to make it illegal for public school districts to teach about gender identity in elementary schools.
This tells me that many of them still believe transgender identities and gender dysphoria are primarily cultural phenomena and not existential realities that will never go away. Nor do they understand how the lack of visibility, acceptance and positive role models harms transgender kids and youth.
Thanks to the internet young trans people today have access to a lot of alternative support and positive information. Still, being told that your identity is so dangerous that teachers should not talk about it in school is destructive.
This also reflects the blatant cruelty of transphobic activists and politicians.
The numbers shows us that aggressive anti-trans activism has had an effect in the US. Still, the majority of Americans support policies that protect transgender individuals from discrimination in jobs, housing and public spaces such as restaurants and stores. That is progress! Compassion and tolerance might triumph in the end.
Top photo: jacob lund.