The elite accepts the trans trend grudgingly, under pressure from below, according to most of the Left. Laura Miles, for example, says that the legal rights of trans people “exist on sufferance as far as the ruling class are concerned.”
In fact, the elite’s response to the trans trend has ranged from cautious support to celebratory endorsement. Transgender demands have been backed, and sometimes cheered on, by Obama and the Democrats, a host of CEOs, a Tory-dominated parliamentary committee in Britain, the BBC, Facebook, glamour magazines, the Murdoch media and liberal media magnates. Even some leaders of the US Republican Party are sympathetic. Only a small fringe of elite figures back social conservatives in their opposition to transgender. The Economist, an ideological flagship of neoliberalism, is patronising to those on the Right who haven’t moved with the times.
The ultimate reason for this elite support lies in the implications of the trans trend for women.
The capitalist class, female members included, is addicted to working class women’s unpaid labour in the home, which sustains present and future wage workers, free of charge, for bosses. For this to continue women must go on accepting inferior social status, and that in turn means women accepting stereotypical ideas of themselves. This is growing more important to the capitalist class, not less, as it seeks to cut state welfare and throw back the burden of personal care onto the family. At the same time, women work and study alongside men and see on a daily basis that they are equally capable. This generates a counter-pressure to ditch repressive stereotypes and to give women equality. The result is today’s unstable mix of pro- and anti-woman ideas in society.
The elite gives ground to women when it has to, but it needs to keep returning to the attack, always probing for ways to make anti-woman ideas more acceptable. More generally, in the face of growing hatred of neoliberal austerity the elite must also look for new ways to advance right wing ideas among working people.
The views of the elite are mediated via commentators, editors and journalists, MPs, judges, top government officials, etc. These are people who respond to trends, fads and social contagion and also to pressure from below, but ultimately, with very rare exceptions, their horizon of thought is circumscribed by the interests of the capitalist system and big capital. The ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class.
In transgender ideology the capitalist class has found itself facing unfamiliar ideas with contradictory implications. Some of these it has quietly put aside (it cares little whether trans victims of violence are dealt with seriously by the police, for example). But there is also a lot to like, and disseminate through the corporate mass media. Such as these ideas:
- Women should define themselves by stereotypes, not upbringing; their “instincts”, habits of mind and “inner voices” are their true selves, not the result of socialisation
- There will always be a great big pink world and a great big blue one; almost all of us fit naturally with that
- Dissent from stereotypes means swapping between pink and blue (as fluidly as you like), not defying them altogether
- Nothing is a “woman’s issue” unless m2fs can be included, eg abortion restrictions are not about women’s oppression.
In transgender the elite finds a set of ideas in which attacks on women are suddenly and miraculously “progressive”: a limited front of the wider battle, but still, a front in which feminist and left wing opposition has been almost silenced. Annoying the Christian Right is a small price to pay for such a prize.
Naturally the Left (and many trans people) would not agree with the all the ways in which transgender is presented in the corporate media. But nor have they challenged it. When some feminists have decried the elite’s anti-woman propaganda around transgender, the Left has not supported them, or sought common ground. It has joined the attack on them.